Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category
In the church we are fond of a lot of things that, let’s be honest, have little or nothing to do with Jesus. I’m looking for something in the church I haven’t yet found. After spending the better part of fifteen years preaching in the church and being spiritually beaten to death by God’s people, I can honestly say that something about the church leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a wonder that anyone wants to join up with this club, pay dues, and attend regular meetings.
But church, despite my criticisms, is not meant to be, nor will it ever temporally be, a place of perfection. And the reason people get so bent out of shape is because they expect the church to operate like the local retail outlet: the customer is always right and we must do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy and returning and parting with their money. When the church doesn’t operate that way it’s time for something to change. Churchtopia is what some look for instead of simply a place where everyone who has been beaten, broken, hurt, and undone can meet with like living and treated people.
The church isn’t perfect; duh. What we haven’t figured out yet is this: it’s OK that the church isn’t perfect.
Does what we say resemble what Jesus said? With four Gospels to work with, the words and teachings of Jesus are not hard to find. If Christians really do believe what Jesus said, do we sound anything like him? Do books written by Christians sound anything like Jesus’ appearances in the Gospels? Did he even once mention our need to receive him as our personal Savior? Did he constantly talk about ‘discovering your destiny through your dreams?’ Was church growth a major Jesus topic? If not, why not? And where did we come up with all the things we love to devote conferences to? (Michael Spencer, Mere Churchianity, 54-55)
Of all the things his enemies chose to trap Jesus, politics was the best. Even I could have figured out that one. We can trap anyone in a conversation about politics. I’ve know people who would sell out their own mother because of politics, or, worse, their own child. It was a perfect trap for Jesus–because everyone knows that the Pharisees and Herodians were perfectly innocent when it came to politics!
I’ve often marveled at Jesus’s ability to come up with these so-called one liners that effectively silenced his critics with one fell swoop. “When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” When you come up against someone who knows all too well the tactics of the enemy, and he destroys you with thirteen words (probably less in Greek), what else can you do but leave? I wish I had that power, that wit, that ability to think so quickly.
Usually I think of the good stuff after the person leaves in anger. I wish just once I could say something so witty and thoughtful that a person left me because they were amazed.
The image we have, sometimes, in church and amongst Christians in general, is that being curt is unacceptable, undoing your enemies with words is beyond the pale. What we expect is courtesy and manners. I detect in Jesus’s words to the Herodians a great big, giant, massive, “Shut up already” or “Take this back to the Pharisees and let them smoke this for a while.” Jesus rules!
I know you’re thinking something like, ‘Well, he was Jesus and he could do what he wanted. With us, us saved people, we have to be nice to one another.’ Sure. Whatever.
Personally I think we put too much stock in being nice and having manners. When someone is acting stupid, asking stupid questions designed to do nothing but trap another, the other should be quick to be as witty and thoughtful as Jesus–to silence them and, perhaps, save them from further embarrassment. The problem is that we do not have time to be witty and thoughtful. All we have time for is the jugular. That is, Jesus wasn’t witty and thoughtful for the sake of destroying his enemies, but for the sake of truth.
If we cared about truth, and I suppose many Christians think they do, we would put more time into being witty and thoughtful and saying more with less. A beautiful thirteen word sermon was all it took to shut up stupid people. I like that about Jesus. (*smile*)
A new feature I will try to practice for a while. I have decided that I will follow the Lectionary readings for a while in 2009 for my preaching schedule. As I study and prepare each week, I will post my notes here at the blog for anyone to partake of. It will vary from week to week, but it will always have good resources.
This week’s readings are: Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36-49. My notes are from Luke 24:36-49. You can access all 10 pages of notes from my box.net account.
Notes on Luke 24:36-49: Resurrection Changes Everything
I hope the notes help. Some of them are unfinished thoughts. Others are lengthy quotations. All of them are trying to get at the heart of what happened in the room when Jesus appeared, what it meant, and what it means.
My current reading project is Willimon’s Conversations with Barth on Preaching. It is a fascinating book for any number of reasons, but it is especially helpful if you happen to be, ahem, a preacher. I was warned as a young college student to be afraid of Barth and his strange version of unorthodox orthodoxy, and I’ll confess that even now I am only a very wet behind the ears sort of student of Barth. What I appreciate about Willimon’s reading of Barth is that he is so evenhanded: Critical when criticism is warranted; effusive with praise when it is praiseworthy. What I have learned about Barth from this reading so far is that a) he has a terrifically high view of Scripture; everything he wrote and preached is dependent upon, and infused with, and drawn out of Scripture and b) he has a remarkably, equally high view of the act and work of preaching. I commend this book to you.
In my brief period of reading this morning, I was in chapter 5, Word Makes World. Barth’s understanding of what happens in preaching is simply astounding. I don’t confess to understanding all of the epistemological and philosophical or even theological underpinnings of his ideas, but I did understand what Willimon was saying on page 120. I’d like to share several paragraphs with you followed by a couple of thoughts of my own.
“Christianity is born in an assertion that it is virtually impossible not to see God. Whereas Israel’s story is a long record of an attempt to be faithful to the first commandment, the church’s story is a long story of attempting to be faithful to the first commandment (the prohibition against images) by saying that we are not to make an image for God because we already have the supreme image for God—Jesus Christ.
“Yet Lash also notes that such statements do not do justice to the nuances of our claim of God in Christ. There is, amid Christian claims of unveiling, a strong claim of veiling that is tied, not to God’s inherent obscurity, but rather to the identity of the God revealed in it—the crucified, suffering servant, the weak and poor one from Galilee. In both the person and the work of Christ, we are struck by our unknowing. God came to us, in the flesh, and the way God came to us led us to say, in the words of the Spiritual, ‘We didn’t know who you was.’
“The Jewish challenge to Christian claims of knowledge rests not only in the unique and surprising person of Christ but also in his work. To put it bluntly, if Jesus is the Redeemer, the faithful Jew wants to know, then why does the world not look more redeemed? Why don’t we as Jesus’ followers look more redeemed? This is a serious question for the Christian. Undoubtedly, to persecuted Israel, our claims of the ‘now and the not yet’ quality of the kingdom of God seem a bit limp, and our pointing to the church as the foretaste of Jesus’ complete redemption seems, at best comical.
“Yet, while Christian theology must confess its uncertainty, the constant contestableness of its most cherished concepts, its inherently unstable affirmations, it would do better to admit to its dependency, to receive with thanksgiving the revelation it has, to dare, despite all we do not know, to testify to what we know. It is the nature of the Crucified Messiah to be veiled and unveiled at the same time.” (120)
I like Willimon’s point about the ‘Jewish challenge.’ However, and I don’t think he means to limit it, I’d like to expand that thought a little. I think that challenge is one we face from all people. As a preacher, I honestly have to spend quite a lot of my time convincing people who are redeemed that they are redeemed and that, as such, they ought to live that way. It’s no wonder we are challenged by others in this way who make no claim to faith in Christ. Could it be that we simply or profoundly do not understand the redemption life? Do preachers not do enough to, in the words of Paul, ‘portray Christ crucified clearly’?
It comes from everywhere. I think sometimes I ask myself the same question of the people in the pew (but only, please read this well, only after I have asked that question of myself first!!): Why don’t they (indeed, we) act and talk and treat one another in a redeemed sort of way? Why all the ‘past living’? Is it enough to answer that question with a mere ‘now and not yet’ sort of answer? No. If that answer isn’t good enough for Willimon’s Jewish challengers, I think it is, at times, even less sufficient for the preachers’ congregational challenges. I think it is comical to preachers as well, and I think we are doomed to failure if we don’t laugh. No one can take the church that seriously, and yet we must. Which leads into my second thought.
I love this idea of Barth’s paradoxical tension in the Christian faith and I think Willimon appropriately highlights it for us in Barth. But is this just Barth’s idea? No. This is a Scriptural idea that is only forgotten or misused or paid lip-service to. That is, preachers talk about paradox, but don’t really grasp it or live it or preach it. This does damage to the church because preachers are then held to a level of academic achievement that simply cannot be maintained: “What do you mean I am saved and will be saved? What do you mean the Kingdom is here and we pray the Kingdom to come? What do you mean God is seen and unseen?” But instead of always trying to answer those questions, perhaps it is best to let those questions simmer in the hearts of those asking the questions. Perhaps the answer is not an answer. Silence?
The Scripture is full of this radical, paradoxical tension and it is delightful to behold. Why? Because it destroys pretense and legalism. The greatest threat to the church is the idea that any one idea of any one person is THE idea. Willimon had written on the previous page (119): “Barth fulminates against taking the gospel, which ought to be ‘truth that is new every morning,’ and attempting to ossify it ‘into a sacred reality.’” I think what he means there is just this: The gospel must not be reduced to mere principle or idea or law. When Gospel is ossified, when it is no longer alive, we are doomed. There in that ossification is the death of all that creates life and sustains life because there is the death of grace. (Perhaps I carry this a bit far.)
So Barth rightly fulminated against the idea. Living in this paradoxical idea is one thing. Preaching it quite another, but there it is. It is the story of a God who takes things that are not and makes them into things that are. It is the yes and the no. It is the veiling and unveiling. It is the seeing and blinding. It is the Christus Victor and the Crucified Lord. It is the knowing and the unknowing. It is the glory and the travail. It is crucifixion and resurrection. This paradox is captured beautifully in the Revelation, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center before the throne…” (5:5-6) That scarcely makes sense: A Lion who is a Lamb? A triumphant Lion who is a Slain Lamb?
There at once is the tension, the paradox; the Triumph and the Travail. But we have to live in this tension because it prevents us from becoming (too) dependent upon ideas and structures as opposed to being dependent upon God’s grace through faith. That is, it (paradox) enables, nay, demands that we live only in and by faith. It is only those who cannot live in this paradoxical divine economy who find themselves living opposed to God’s grace. These are the ones who must construct all sorts of rules, laws, and opinions and live by them strictly and force others into the same mold. They miss the new mercies each day. They miss the freedom of being set free. They have traded one form of law for another and become slaves all over again.
The paradox also keeps us alert and searching. There is nothing worse, in my mind, than people who refuse to grow and learn and seek and search. These are the ones who have all the answers, who know what the Scripture says and are, by God, going to let us know. These are the ones who have abandoned any idea of paradox and live only in the world of the black and white where there is no ambiguity—where ambiguity means ‘less than fully saved.’ These are the ones who have ossified God’s grace into another code of law where now there are numerous and multiple conditions placed upon the reception and practice and distribution of God’s grace. They are in heaven by themselves.
Paradox keeps us humble.
This is, then, a serious aspect of the preaching of the Gospel: not to avoid the tension nor to avoid the paradox; not to eschew the mystery nor vacate the majesty, but to preach them both, together, at once and with urgency. It is ours to proclaim, to announce the Kingdom in all of its mystery and majesty, crucifixion and resurrection, turmoil and triumph, slavery and salvation, loss and gain, death and life. It is rather strange, isn’t it, how the same Gospel both opens and closes eyes, unveils and veils God, creates and destroys, saves and condemns. And yet this is the Gospel we preach—Jesus Christ crucified and triumphant. The Triumphant Lion who is the Slain Lamb.
“It must be so solely the truth and miracle of God if his Logos, as he does not regard the lowliness of his handmaiden…or view the unclean lips of Isaiah as an obstacle…does not think it impossible to pitch his tent in what is at best our poor and insignificant and stammering talk about God.” (Willimon, quoting Barth, 121)
This is part 10 of my current series of sermons 90 Days with Scripture. In this sermon from Mark 15, I begin by doing a short survey of the previous 9 sermons before offering a few thoughts on Mark 15. The sermon takes about 25 minutes and ends by wondering how it is that Jesus dying on the cross gives us any hope that God’s promise of New Covenant, New Heavens and New Earth, and Crushing the Serpent (among other things) can actually be brought about. And yet, that is the manifold witness of the New Testament: Jesus’ death does all that and much, much more. There is a lengthy quote from NT Write’s book Surprised By Hope in the conclusion. I have included a link to the manuscript at box.net below. jerry
You can download here: Jesus, pt 3: Mark 15
Or listen online using the inline player below:
Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Part 10: Mark 15, Jesus, pt 3
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This is a podcast of a sermon I preached this past Tuesday evening at a community Thanksgiving Worship event in my hometown. The sermon is 18:14 long and is based on Luke 1-2. A good, thorough reading of those two chapters will aid you much as you listen. You can also access the manuscript at the link below.
The sermon itself opens with a breif look at the current popularity, among some preachers, of preaching sermons about sex. Many people have no problem justifying this activity. I see it as a monumental waste of time. I also point out in this sermon that I think at least part of the reason why preachers preach this stuff is because they are bored; bored with the Gospel Jesus story.
Manuscript: Jesus and Sex
Download MP3: Jesus and Sex
Thanks for stopping by.
Semper Deo Gloria!
I finally managed to find my CD copies of my manuscripts from The Dangerous God sermon series of which I have posted a couple of the mp3′s here. I will be posting more of the mp3′s, but for now I would like to provide you with the sermon manuscripts. These sermons are filled with quotes from authors like David Wells, PT Forsyth, Mark Buchanan, Philip Yancey and more. Expository sermons from the lives of Gideon, David, Joshua, the disciples and more. I hope they are a help to you.
Dangerous God, pt 2: 1 Samuel 17:1-58, The God Who Does Greater with Smaller
Dangerous God, pt 3: Joshua 1:1-18; 5:13-27, The God Who Does the Impossible with the Improbable
Dangerous God, pt 4: Matthew 1:18-25, Revelation 12, The God Who Enters Chaos to Bring Order
Dangerous God, pt 5: Luke 23; Various, The God Who Saves in the Midst of Loss
Dangerous God, pt 6: Acts 2:22-36, The God Whose Life is Greater than Our Death
Dangerous God, pt 7: Acts 9:1-18, etc., The God Who Uses the World’s Rejects
Dangerous God, pt 8: Matthew 5-7, The Dangerous God’s Message to His People: A Radical Way of Counterculturally Living
Thanks for stopping by. Again, I hope you find these sermons helpful.
And, as always,
Soli Deo Gloria!
This sermon manuscript is from this past Sunday (Oct 26) at the church. This is sermon 5 in my short series exploring the narrative high-points of the Scripture from Genesis through Revelation. This sermon focuses on the promised king who was exemplified by the man David. My original intent was to make a few observations about David’s kingship based on 2 Samuel 5-7. Indeed, that’s where I begin the sermon with some excerpts from chapters 5, 6, and 7 of 2 Samuel. As the research progressed I realized that I would not be able to merely talkabout the Israelite king without going back to Deuteronomy and then going into the prophets and eventually tracing this history to the New Testament books of Matthew, John, and Revelation. So, I limited my own thoughts and simply let the congregation hear a great deal more of what Scripture says about the ‘root and offspring of David.’ David is important, as I note in the sermon, but David is not (and was not intended to be) an end in himself. He points us forward to the Great King that the Israelites were to expect and the King we now serve and under whose authority we live.
90 Days with Scripture
Week 5: October 26, 2008
2 Samuel 5-7: The King of God’s People
1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ” 3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. (2 Samuel 5)
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel-I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” 23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. (2 Samuel 6)
18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
“Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD ? 20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
22 “How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel-the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God.
25 “And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you. 27 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. 28 O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” (2 Samuel 7)
David’s story sits in a particularly interesting place in Scripture: after the Judges before the prophets. After the Judges means that he is coming into being at the time when ‘there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ Before the prophets means that he was a powerful figure before the prophets started to lament the corruption of Israel and her magnificent downfall and predict the coming of a King who would be the King who truly followed in the footsteps of David.
There’s a lot that can be said about the Davidic king. David is named in the Scripture almost a thousand times. By way of contrast, Moses was named only around 800 times. I could also note that David seems to be the reason why the book of Ruth was included in our canon. David is the culmination of the books of Samuel & Chronicles. David is the author of most of the Psalms. David is the standard by which all other kings of Israel would be measured. We are told that it was David’s kingdom that would stand in perpetuity. David is no insignificant figure in the history of Christianity. In fact, in our last canonical book, the Revelation, David is prominently mentioned. But more importantly, it is the role of David that is of more significant-his role as king of Israel.
King wasn’t a new idea. The Lord had anticipated that Israel would want a king. In Deuteronomy 17, we read:
14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
By the time we arrive at the book of 1 Samuel, following closely on the heals of Judges when ‘there was no king and every one did as he saw fit,’ we should be expecting what would happen:.
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
David was the height of a righteous king. After David, it pretty much went downhill. There were occasional bright spots, but for the most part the kings of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not walk in the ways of their father David.
It got so bad that eventually the kingdom split, the people, including the king, were carried into exile. The prophets would prophesy that at some point David would regain his throne. Isaiah prophesied: (9:6-7)
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
And also: (11:5)
5 In love a throne will be established;
in faithfulness a man will sit on it-
one from the house of David-
one who in judging seeks justice
and speeds the cause of righteousness.
This is part two of my sermon on the Exodus narratives. In this sermon I focus on Pharaoh and the Passover. This is reverse side of the sermon for last week that focused on Prophets (Moses & Aaron) and the Plagues. The exodus, while a real even in history, also becomes a type of what God has done in Christ. Now he is still setting people free from slavery, but his people are not located in one particular nation, nor are his people from one particular nation. Instead, as John wrote in Revelation (Rev. 7:9), he is drawing people from every tribe, nation, people and language–a great multitude. But again, as I point out, this is not about mere liberation. If God is setting people free he is doing so that he may build a nation of those people who will, in Peter’s language, declare the praises of Him who set them free (see 1 Peter 2:9-10; Colossians 1:13-14). So we have no mere liberation theology here, but a powerful declaration of God who makes himself known (see Exodus 5:2 where Pharaoh says he does not know God; and 6:3, 7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29; 10:2; 14:4, 8 where God says these plagues were that he might make himself known.) Now God is known through Jesus Christ.
90 Days with Scripture
Week 4: October 19, 2008
Exodus 7-12: Freedom for God’s People, pt b
1 Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
4 So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt-worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
9 The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you-so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire-head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-both men and animals-and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
As I said last week, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is likely the most significant historical event to ever occur on planet earth. The problem is that often times the Exodus has been reduced to a mere type with the requisite anti-type being neglected. That is, some have spent so much time focusing on the Exodus as mere Exodus that they have neglected the greater theological significance of the narrative itself. Thus, what I have tried to do in last week and this week is describe for you the theological significance of the type and the direction the type is pointing us; namely, Jesus Christ.
This is all to say that the Exodus narratives and the historical events themselves point us beyond the mere story of a nation being brought out of slavery; people being brought out of slavery is nothing new: We have had that happen in our own nation. This is not to denigrate such an accomplishment, but it is to say that what is more important than the exodus of the nation of Israel is the manner in which the events took place and what the author of the narratives told us about the events that took place. The author necessarily interpreted the events through a theological lens and his perspective is meant to shape our understanding of the God who affected the event itself.
So last week, we looked at the first of two points: Prophets and Plagues. This week, we’ll conclude by looking at Pharaoh and Passover.
First, we’ll look at the Pharaoh who was the king of Egypt at the time. In God’s dealings with Pharaoh we have a demonstration of who runs the earth. Pharaoh thought for certain that it was himself. So he continued time and time again to stand up against the Lord and refused to alter his position.
But you see, Pharaoh was not working alone and he was not only protecting his interests. Pharaoh was working for the enemy doing all he could to snuff out the Lord’s people in order that the enemy might snuff out the Lord’s plans. This is a strange man who sacrificed the lot of his own people because of his stubborn refusal to let Israel go. What we learn is that the gods we set up always betray us in the end. They are only concerned about their own self-interests.
But I wonder: At the outset, we were told that God would make Moses like God to pharaoh and Aaron would be his prophet. So if YHWH was able to make Moses appear this way in Pharaoh’s presence, where did Pharaoh’s strength to resist the Lord come from? Was Pharaoh being played by his ‘gods’? “This is a section that focuses sharply on the conflict between heaven and earth, issuing in the same lesson which, in later years, Nebudchadnezzar had to learn the hard way.” You might recall from my sermon series on Daniel last year:
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
Simply put, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. I suspect that even now we have this strange misconception that we are the ones running the earth and putting up the show. Pharaoh learned this lesson in a terribly difficult way. We see here that God takes back what is his by demolishing all that is not. He said, “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.”
Finally, we have the Passover. In the Passover event we see that God made a distinction between who belongs to God and who does not. He said, “But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal. Then you will Know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
It’s not everyone who was saved. The Egyptians suffered. Mightily. But the bottom line is this: It was only those who were under the protection of blood who were saved. If an Israelite did not paint his door with blood and keep everyone inside, he would have suffered loss. If an Egyptian had covered his door with blood and stayed inside, he would have been saved. It wasn’t just being a part of Israel that saved them, it was being under the blood that made them distinct. He didn’t say, “When I notice you are an Israelite I will pass over you.” He said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” I suppose we might justifiably say that anyone who came under the blood would have been safe.
One writer noted, “Ever since the fourth plague, the people of Israel had been set apart from the Egyptians, but in each case it was the onset of the plague itself that made their distinct status evident.” (Motyer, 126) The Israelites were special people whom God protected. Motyer goes on, “What we can say with certainty is that by the wonder of divine mercy they were the Lord’s people, the subjects of his saving activity, the people destined for deliverance and, in the meantime, in a world under his just and awesome judgment, they were a people set apart, the objects of his loving, protective care.” (123)
God did not allow his people, his special people, his chosen people, his unique people to be washed under the flood or swept under the rug or destroyed by the rebellion of humans. In the Passover God made a distinction and demonstrated in a mighty way that his judgment is just. He made a distinction and demonstrated that he will not allow anyone in heaven or earth or under the earth to destroy his people or the purposes he has planned for them. He demonstrates that he is able to protect those he loves.
It should give us great comfort; great strength; great courage. God demonstrates that he is able to protect his own. The gods of Pharaoh cannot say the same. So I don’t know why people blame God for this episode. We want this contest don’t we? We want to see whose god reigns, whose god is supreme, whose god has the power? I don’t know why people blame god for so much death when people are given every opportunity to come under his protection.
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13″I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
God himself provided the protection for his people. Even now, as then.
We have examined four aspects of the Exodus narratives.
So in the Prophets we have a discovery of who speaks for God.
In the Plagues we have a declaration of who is God.
In the Pharaoh we have a demonstration of who runs the Earth.
And in the Passover we see a distinction between those who belong to God and those who do not.
But it is my contention that we are learning more here than just a mere history of the ancient Israelites and Egyptians. My contention is that we are learning something here about God’s dealings with humans and God’s ability and design to preserve the people he has called into being.
The battle here was that Egypt’s intent was to keep God’s people enslaved and thus prevent God from fulfilling his promise to bring them into the Land.
If the events that took place leading up to the Exodus, the plagues, the confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh, were designed so that God might show his power and his name be declared in all the earth (9:16), then can their repetition in this book serve any less purpose to us? We too are meant to know God. We are meant to know the God who makes himself known even if today we only read about these events we see God who triumphs over the gods we have erected. He says: Go ahead and trust in your gods. Go ahead and put your faith in the gods your hands manufacture. He doesn’t deny us that much. But we should not be surprised, either, when the True God wages war against those gods; neither when we suffer casualties and death because we have not chosen wisely.
The same event is happening, I believe, even today. God desires to be known and has made himself known. And he is redeeming his people from slavery all around the world. God’s people, however unknown to us, but known to him, are slaves all around the world and God is in the process of setting them free-overcoming the powers that hold them captive and setting them free by the Son: If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
But it seems that there is also the same result for those who refuse to know God. He still makes himself known, but now through Jesus; and the results are the same: some will be saved, some will not:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
He is gathering his people from among the nations. He is setting them free through Jesus. He is creating, Peter wrote, a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.’
But we only get there through Jesus. Jesus is our message. Jesus we proclaim. When Jesus is lifted up will he draw all people unto himself. We have only one message of hope and deliverence for God’s people: Look to Jesus. Be free in Christ. He is our Exodus.
I printed the manuscript below for this sermon on Isaiah 3:1-4:1. The audio takes about 22 minutes or so-I am becoming much more efficient in my preaching. In this sermon, I follow on the heals of last week’s sermon which dealt primarily with trusting God. In this sermon, what I did was take that to it’s next step: What will we do when all vestiges of visible strength are removed? It is terribly important to remember that the prophet is speaking to God’s people specifically and not the population in general. Doing this makes the prophet’s message even more significant to people in our generation who believe that we can plunder God glory for our own ends. Israel plundered God’s glory and made their sin and shame their glory instead. As I conclude, it must not be this way for the church.
You can listen here: Plundering God.
Or use the inline player below.
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This continues my series on The Crucifixion Driven Life. This quote is from John RW Stott a scholar admired and respected across denominational lines as a sound expositor of Scripture and a welcome ambassador for the Kingdom of God:
The uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice does not mean, then, that we have no sacrifices to offer, but only that their nature and purpose are different. They are not material but spiritual, and their object is not propitiatory but eucharistic, the expression of a responsive gratitude…What spiritual sacrifices, then, do the people of God as a ‘holy priesthood’ offer to him? Eight are mentioned in Scripture…living sacrifices (Romans 12:1)…praise, worship and thanksgiving, ‘the fruit of lips that confess his name’ (Heb 13:15, Psalm 50:14, 69:30-31, 116:17)…the sacrifice of prayer, which is said to ascend to God like fragrant incense, and our fourth ‘a broken and contrite heart,’ which God accepts and never despises (Mal 1:11, Ps 51:17, Hose 14:1-2, Rev 5:8, 8:3-4)…faith is called a ‘sacrifice and service’ and sixth are our gifts and good deeds, for ‘with such sacrifices God is pleased’ (Phil 2:71, 4:18; Heb 13:16; Acts 10:4)…sacrifice is our life poured out like a drink offering in God’s service, even unto death, while the eight is the special offering of the evangelist, whose preaching of the gospel is called a priestly duty because he is able to present his converts as ‘an offering acceptable to God’ (Phil 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6; Rom 15:16)—The Cross of Christ, 263-264
Always For His Glory!
It is a DA Carson bonanza! Oooh! You know I am big fan of his and I happen to believe, with the exception of his strident Calvinism, that he is a brilliant expositor of Scripture. Anyhow, a friend provided a link, after he did some down-the-rabbit-hole searching and came up with the Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology. Once there, click on the ‘audio’ link on the sidebar and you will be taken to a media page where you can listen or download four different messages from Carson. The four titles are:
- Keeping Up the Conversation
- The Gospel and Postmodern Minds
- We Preach Christ Crucified
- The God Who Helps
Judging from the titles, they might have something to do with the book Carson wrote called Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. I have downloaded them and will begin listening this weekend. Good luck!
Friends, here is part three of my series from Isaiah’s Gospel. In this sermon I discuss the inevitability of people being drawn up the moutain of God. What I noticed, and what is ironic, is that the ‘people’ of the nations say, ‘Let us go to the house of the God of Jacob…’ but the ‘house of Jacob’ has to be implored by the prophet (in verse 5) to even walk in His light. This is extreme irony. Why do the people of God seem to miss so abundantly what the ‘peoples’ do not? I will post the audio later in a Skycast. Thanks for stopping by. jerry
1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.
I think the problem here is that people simply did not believe the prophet. I think the problem we have in our day is that people still do not believe the prophet. He begins chapter 2 the same way he began chapter 1 which leads me to believe that chapters 1 & 2 are somehow intimately linked together. Chapter 1 told us about all the syncretism and idolatry and wasted worship of the people of Israel-the children God had reared, tells us of their soon destruction and rebuke at the hand of God. Hear the Word. Hear the Word. Listen to God. But no. Chapter 2 tells us of the same people, the same prophet, the same God but it doesn’t tell us of the people’s victory, or their redemption, or their restoration. It tells us instead of God’s victory and the establishment of God over and above all idols, gods, and rulers. God will destroy all those hindrances and establish Himself as the only rightful Person to be worshipped. Isaiah 1 tells us of the wayward Israel; Isaiah 2 tells us of the Victorious God. Isaiah 1 tells us of the way things are; Isaiah 2 tells us of the way things will be. The question is, when is the ‘will be’?
In his book Above All Earthly Pow’rs David Wells writes, “The conquest of sin, death, and the devil and the establishment of the Rule of God do not await some future, cataclysmic realization. It has, in fact, already been inaugurated although its presence is quite unobtrusive…Thus it is that, in the period between Christ’s two comings, ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ coexist. As a result, eschatology, or the penetration of God’s future into the current time of sin and death, is light that floods across a number of New Testament doctrines. Certainly in [doctrines of salvation], everywhere there is the ‘already/not yet’ tension that the present of eternity in time creates-or, more accurately, that the presence of Christ’s victory that is already present amidst fallen human life creates.” (208)
Isaiah said, “In the last days…” By this I am fairly certain he is saying that the establishment of the Lord’s Mountain will not conclude the last days, it will not be the dénouement of the last days, but it will happen in the midst of the last days. Could be that a large part of our problem, a significant reason why we have to be called to ‘walk in the light of the Lord,’ is because we are looking to far away, not close enough, for God’s established mountain. Perhaps when we least expected it the Kingdom came upon us. Isaiah here is saying: In the last Days God will break in and establish his rule. In the last days God’s rule will take effect. In the last days-and there will be many or few days after the establishment-in the last days God will make himself fully known when His mountain is raised above all other mountains and thus renders them insignificant.
I think that time is now. I think that we are living in the last days. I think that the Mountain of God has already been raised up. I think all nations are already streaming to that mountain. It may not seem to be so, as Wells says, it may be unobtrusive. We may not see it fully or completely or realize all of its powerful effect, but it is. Jesus said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
This Mountain will be established by God. It will render all other mountains insignificant, meaningless. They will appear at once for what they already are: small and lackluster. But if God’s Mountain has been established in these last days, then why is it people don’t see it for what it is? You know what I mean? We humans are strange like that. We settle. God’s mountain is grand, massive, magnificent and we settle for hills and mounds. And why don’t God’s people acknowledge this mountain’s grandeur? Mostly it is the people of God who miss the greatness of the mountain God established.
Why aren’t people streaming to it the way the prophet says they will? I think it is because people don’t like the rather upside down nature of it. People will stream up to the mountain-well, how do we stream up? I think this is God’s way of saying that this Kingdom of heaven will mark a complete reversal of the way things are and of what people expect. People expect ease. People expect gravity and the least resistance. People expect a grand city-and what do they get instead? They get narrow paths. They get against the grain. They get not a city, but an ugly old tree covered dirt and rock mountain. This is a reversal. This is not what people expect. People expect a Kingdom with pomp and glory and sparkles. Instead we have to climb the mountain. But whether we get there or not, the temple of the Lord is there. And his mountain will be established as the only place where worship can rightfully, joyfully, and significantly take place. All other worship, worship on any of the lesser mountains is idolatry and meaningless and, I believe, justly punished.
And this will be for the people too. This is a vision Isaiah had concerning Judah and Jerusalem but he does not stop there. He says this will be for the nations, the people of the world. In other words, worship at the mountain of God is the past, present, and future of all humanity not just of a particular nation. At his Name every knee will bow and every tongue confess. The invitation is extended to all: Come up the mountain, worship the Lord. And it is the people who will respond: Come, let us go the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.
There will be no other gods to speak of. There will be no other mountains of interest. There will be no other places to go.
But Zion, Jerusalem, will have an appeal that is not based on any national identity. The appeal of Zion will be for other reasons. People will be going up to the house of the Lord not because a particular nation has subdued and subjected all of God’s enemies or because they have been exalted by God. Look what the prophet says will be the magnet that draws people to Zion: The Mountain of the LORD, the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us. We may walk in His ways. The Word of the Lord. He will judge. He will settle disputes. He will bring peace. The attraction of Zion is not political or anything particularly appealing about a national identity.
The appeal of Zion is YHWH himself! The appeal of Jerusalem is not Jerusalem, but God! The appeal of the Mountain of the Lord is the Lord. The appeal of Law and Word is that it is God’s Law and Word. The appeal of the peace is that it is God’s peace. The appeal of the justice is that it is God’s justice. You see we are not looking forward to that day or place or that way because of anything inherently wonderful about all that goes along with it. We look forward to that day, to that place, to that mountain because we look forward to God. The people were not going up to enjoy the view, they were going up to meet God. Something tells me that would be enough.
You understand, the reward here is God. Even eternal life, whatever that means, is not so much about eternal or life. It is about God who gives eternal and life and inhabits them both. It is about God being our God and us being his people. It is about the dwelling place of God being among men. Even now, if we take the last days in the temporal sense of their meaning, even now our reward is not eternal life, or blessings now, or hope, but Christ. He is our reward because honestly, what is eternal life if there is no God? What is life now if there is no Christ? Do you understand?
I noted a couple of things here about this going up to the mountain of the Lord. The first thing I noted is that this will be a place or a time or among a people who will honor his Word. It is the Word of the Lord that will prevail in matters of justice and dispute for people. It is the word of the Lord that will govern and dictate the terms of peace we seek. It is the word of the Lord that will end all wars. I wish that we were that people now. Look again. The people who are going up the mountain are hungry for God’s Word, for God’s law, for God’s teaching, for God’s ways. These are people who are no longer content with the unfaithful words and laws of people. These are people who desire something more, something lasting, something real, something permanent. Would that we had such a hunger now.
I also noticed that Isaiah had something to say about war and peace. We live in a world that is full of war and violence. And we have people working around the clock and on every side saying, Peace, Peace. End the War. End violence. Rebuke politicians who start them and send unfortunate sons to fight them. What we don’t realize is the enmity that exists and that because of this enmity wars will be fought and continue to be fought because people are trying to forge peace upon a world that is simply incapable of having peace. Terry Briley noted, “Rather than disarmament resulting in peace, God’s peace will result in disarmament.” But you see war is simply a symptom of enmity. It reveals the real conflict going on in the world.
If the world really, really, really wanted peace, well, here’s the solution: To the Mountain of the Lord. But I think a case can be made that since the world doesn’t seek God the world probably doesn’t really want peace.
So the prophet ends on a rather strange note: Come, house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Why end here? Well, I think it is because Israel wasn’t currently doing that very thing. Consider this from Deuteronomy 4:5-8:
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
Israel had a special obligation to lead the way. But I also sense here the prophet’s frustration with his people. Come house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. In other words, what are you waiting for? The same goes for us. What we learn in these verses is that even now the Worship of God prevails, even now the Word of God prevails, even now the rule of God prevails. So what are you waiting on? What are you waiting for? Why are we lagging behind? Why are we content to linger in the darkness? Why are we content to disregard the light of the Lord for some other false illumination?
If this is how the kingdom of God works, unobtrusively, and this is the current and the future of things-what are we waiting for? Why do we lag behind while others move on ahead of us? Come let us walk in the light of the Lord. He has already given us the light what are we waiting for? Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself….Then Jesus said, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Those who walk in the dark do not know where they are going. Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This is the text of a sermon I preached on Resurrection Sunday in 2007. It’s a very personal reflection on suffering. 2007 was a difficult year for me physically as I have never been to as many doctors, taken so many prescriptions, and told my health history so many times as I did last year. When it was all said and done, I still have no answers to what was going on inside of my body or why I felt the way I did. I will say that it totally wrecked whatever confidence I may have had in doctors. Chiropractic, cardiology, ENT, General Practice, Urologist–not one of them could figure out what was ailing me. Waste of time and money is what it was. Anyhow, this is the manuscript from Resurrection Sunday 2007.
Resurrection Sunday, April 8, 2007
Thoughts on the Resurrection Life
“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”—Romans 6:5, NIV
I spent the better part of Holy Week lying prostrate on a green, old, cushion-worn couch that sits on the hard, cold wooden floors of my 100 some year old house. For a few hours of the holy week I laid on a cold, plastic hospital gurney in an Emergency Room. For a few minutes I laid on the floor of my study at the Church building. I also spent several hours lying on the not too uninviting bathroom floor in front of the toilet in my house. For some reason, and I don’t know why, but when I am sick, lying on the bathroom floor brings me considerable comfort. I also spent some time in the back of an ambulance, in my bed, in a doctor’s office, hunched over behind a small pulpit, in an emergency room lobby, and in my pajamas.
I did not get a lot of work done this week. I felt rather worthless and guilty. Here it is the most important week on the church calendar, by far, and there I lay: on a couch, on the linoleum, on the carpet, on the bed, on the plastic. I felt ridiculous, absurd, and more than once, like a complete waste of time, a non-benefit to humanity. How can I just lay here? I have to get something done, there are people who are depending on me and the work I do every day.
When I was not writhing in godly pain, I was too tired to read or stay awake. Television lost its distracting benefit after about 5 minutes—and besides, who can sit through more than 2 minutes of Maury? When I did manage to fall asleep the dogs or the phone managed to cut it more than short. When none of this worked, I was twisted and wrenched in a pain that has been described to me in words that range somewhere between equal to and worse than giving birth to a fully gestated human being. I care not to experience either one either again or at all. They say a woman soon forgets childbirth; I wish I could forget what I experienced but for some reason the memories linger on even today. Residual pain from all the work the muscles did over a period of 5 days trying to expel a small stone only slightly larger than a mustard seed.
When the pain came upon me I had a few options at my disposal. First, I could take pain medication. Vicadin is what the ER Doctor prescribed. He may as well have given me M & M’s. Alternately, I could lay there, or stand, or walk, or roll around on the floor like a dog with fleas, or jerk, or shake my limbs as if I had been slain in the spirit. There was also the possibility that I could assuage my pain with a hot water bottle or with the nicely microwave heated bag of field corn that Mrs. S. loaned to me. I could drink water or cranberry juice. There was, surprisingly, the option of going upstairs to the bathroom and taking a long scalding hot shower. The doctor I saw Friday told me this relaxed the muscles and reduced their contractions. This worked well until I drained the hot water tank. It worked 3 or 4 times over the course of a couple of days. I could also spend as much time as I liked saying, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Water, water everywhere…
Well, mine was no crucifixion, but it may as well have been because insofar as pain is concerned, I was being crucified. And I make no apologies for thinking such. Pain is pain and hurt is hurt. In my heart I believed, because the pain was so great, the stress so un-mitigating, and the fear so unnerving, that I was dying.
What a way to spend this most Holy week on the Christian calendar. Surely, I guess, I should have been ‘out there’ among the masses. I should have been conducting Holy Wednesday services, Maundy Thursday Services, Good Friday Services, Sabbath Services and finally Sunrise & Resurrection Services. And each of those services should have been something original, inventive, unique and entertaining—something causing us deep emotional stirrings. But there I lay, on my couch, barely able to lift my eyes let alone my bible or my pen.
I couldn’t even go to school where I believe I have a very serious, real-life, real-time ministry to the masses. But the one day I tried to go, Wednesday, I walked in, grimacing in pain, and walked out, hunched over like Quasimodo barely able to control the nausea rising up inside my esophagus, shamed because I was hurting so badly, embarrassed because I could not stay and discharge my responsibilities in the lunch room, humiliated because I had to make such a confession to a room full of older ladies. There I was: young, vigorous, strong, healthy young man, as weak as a baby, helpless as a cripple, weaker than an old woman.
What a way to spend the Holiest Week on the Christian calendar. Unable to do anything but lay on the couch, in pajamas, wrapped in a blanket, succored by a hot water bottle, crippled with an unquenchable pain that incapacitated me. I could do nothing. The medication didn’t work. I could barely smile. If I received five minutes of relief I suffered for 5 hours for it.
I wish I hadn’t come across this article at Christian Post because it really, really ruined my afternoon: Easter Checklist: 18 Factors For a Successful Church Outreach. Here’s how it all begins:
Easter Sunday is less than a week away and most churches have already laid out their strategies on how to reach the unchurched and non-believers during arguably the most important Christian holiday.
But in case a little help is still needed, C. Michael Johnson, president of Breakthrough Media, suggests 18 factors that can “really” impact a church or ministry’s Easter outreach efforts in a recent “Mindstorm Idealetter” from Breakthroughchurch.com.
To start off, churches need to set real and specific goals that they are firmly committed to bringing to reality. Next, they need to measure their progress in short increments towards reaching the goals. So whether the goal is to see the church packed with 500 people or to transform congregants, the planning committee needs to first set a goal. [Here's a goal: to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people going to hell.]
Friendship is another key factor. Johnson reminds church and ministry leaders that the goal of marketing, in the simplest term, is to develop conversations and create friends. The Kingdom is “all about” friends – “finding friends, being a friend, leading friends to be friends of God.” He suggests churches plan and measure how they are making progress with the friend factor.
After working on the friendship factor, churches need to be prepared to answer the relevancy question – “why should I give you the time of day?” People have spiritual needs and the church should find creative ways to promote how they can help meet these needs for non-churchgoers. The Easter program should not just focus on “us” if the church plans to use the service as an outreach opportunity, but make sure that it stays relevant to even newcomers. [What is more relevant to people going to hell than: Jesus died for the sins you've done and paid the penalty for your transgressions?]
Once the unchurched arrives for the service, Christians need to use the language of dreams to explain what they believe in and invite the visitor to participate in the dream of God for this world. [I really wish I had some idea what this paragraph even means. Seriously, can someone explain to me what this means?]
“The language of dreams (purpose, identity, passion, heart) defines the most relevant, responsive message you can ever use to build lasting relationships with the unchurched,” Johnson wrote, noting that God “wired us” to dream.
OK. So let me get this straight. Once a year or so people, in this case unbelievers, open themselves up to church. Here’s what the article says: “Easter is a rare occasion when many non-churchgoers open themselves up briefly to the Gospel and hearing about the life of Jesus Christ.” So, on this rare occasion when many are opening themselves up, we ought to talk in ‘dream’ language, and we ought also to tell them that the kingdom is ‘all about friends’? (Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I say.” Other than that, we are his enemies. See John 15:14.) The article concludes this way:
Combine the Friend Goal with the Dream Goal and you have the basis of what we call a ‘Community of Dreams,’ which is a pretty good definition of a church,” Johnson wrote, “a community of friends nurturing and releasing God’s dreams into their transforming place in the world.” [Sounds like something I heard on the Electric Company as a kid: Meaning, Less: Meaningless. Point, less: Pointless.]
Churches are also encouraged to move away from predictability and include an unexpected factor in their program. The Breakthrough Media president noted that Jesus in his days did the unexpected and even surprised his mom. [I agree, let's surprise the people who come through our doors on Easter Sunday by not preaching some mindless gibberish about how Jesus wants to be our friend or 'come into our heart' and instead preach a hard hitting sermon about Justification by Grace through Faith. Or perhaps a sermon about how Jesus propitiated God's wrath. Or how God's wrath is being revealed against all ungodliness. Or how about how Paul says in Romans that all are without excuse before God. Or how about God so loved the World that He gave his son to be crucified for our sins. You know, that would really surprise people.]
Other helpful suggestions to improve church outreach include raising awareness about the church, using word-of-mouth church marketing, delivering a good community experience, and following-through with trying to bring people to Christ.
Easter is a rare occasion when many non-churchgoers open themselves up briefly to the Gospel and hearing about the life of Jesus Christ. Churches, as a result, should take advantage of this precious opportunity to reintroduce or introduce someone for the first time to the Gospel and the core tenets of Christianity – the cross, the resurrection, and salvation through Jesus Christ.
So, let me get this straight. After everything else is done, the dreams, the friends, the surprises, etc., only then are we to really get into the nitty-gritty of the core tenets of Christianity. Loosely translated this means: Sucker them in with a bunch of hype and then teach them something else. Or, Hide your true identity until they get in the door and then wow them with your orthodoxy.
I didn’t see preaching of the Gospel at any point in this article. And yet: “Faith comes by talking to people in the language of dreams.” (My loose translations of Romans 10:17.) OK, here are the 18 ‘Factors’ we need to bear in mind when preparing a Resurrection Worship:
1. Goal Factor
2. Friend Factor
3. Relevancy Factor
4. Dream Factor
5. Media Factor
6. Unexpected Factor
7. Awareness Factor
8. Viral Factor
9. Experience Factor
10. Harvest Factor
11. Time Factor
12. Development Factor
13. Numbers Factor
14. Synergy Factor
15. Trust Factor
16. Withreach Factor
17. Community Factor
18. Body Factor
I don’t even know what any of this means. This is from here. Ironically, at the same Christian Post website, the main story on the front page is this: Foolish Preaching of Cross Needed in Churches, Speakers say. Says the article:
“If we don’t understand the harsh reality or theological significance of death, we will never truly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Mahaney stressed.
Just ahead of the start of Holy Week, which marks the last week of the earthly life of Jesus and is considered the most important week of the year for believers, speakers at the Orlando conference spent three days expounding on Scripture passages that spoke of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
Bluntly stated, the cross is bloody, it’s an offensive message and it’s a shameful death in the ears of the world, said Steven J. Lawson, senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., during the Ligonier conference.
The word of the cross is foolishness. In other words, it’s nonsense, pointless, idiotic, and mindless. “That is what the cross is to the natural man,” Lawson noted.
Even though foolishness to many, a straightforward delivery of the message of the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus is power to those being saved, and it is desperately needed in the church today, he added.
“It is a distasteful announcement that the herald brings and yet, he is responsible to God to discharge his duty to bring the entirety of the message,” Lawson said, noting that heralds are marked by the straightforward delivery of the message regardless of what the results may be.
“We need heralds. We need to come back to the foolishness of preaching,” he emphasized to hundreds as he denounced modern trends of replacing theology with theatrics and expository preaching with entertainment.
And the article concludes thus:
So as Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday approaches, Mahaney reminded believers about the significance of this holy week.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ “is not merely a point of doctrine,” he said. “It’s the most gracious divine solution to the problem of sin and death and judgment.
“Easter reveals the divine provision for sin and death and judgment. Easter proclaims that sin and death and judgment don’t have the final words because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death.”
“The forgiveness of sins has been secured and salvation has been secured,” he highlighted. “That’s what Easter announces.”
If I have an audience once per year that I do not normally have the other 51 weeks I preach, I am not going to stand up and tell them, “Jesus wants to be your friend.” Frankly, that is hogwash. Instead, those who are not Christians and who feel like they need to make their yearly haj to their local church need to hear about the coming wrath of God and their destiny in hell because of their lack of faith in the work of Christ. I’m serious about this and preachers need to be serious about it too. What is at stake here is the souls of lost people. What’s more is the integrity of the Gospel message. The above list of 18 Factors is a joke, and, not to put too fine a point on it, bulls***. (I don’t mean that in a vulgar way. I mean that is what it is.)
Preach the Gospel! Preach Christ crucified! Preach Christ’s triumph over the powers of death and hell! That’s what the lost need to hear on Easter Sunday.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS-I hope later to publish the first in a short series of blog posts I have titled: Lament for the Church: Reflections on the Church in America
There is an ongoing debate concerning whether or not preachers ought to talk sex from the pulpit. Well, I’d like to add this point to the mix. According to a new study:
Children who are spanked or given some form of physical punishment by their parents may be more likely to have sexual problems as adults, a new study finds.
An analysis of four studies by Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire-Durham, found that children who suffer physical punishment in the form of spanking, hitting or slapping are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior as adults, it is reported by USA Today.
The study, presented Thursday to the American Psychological Association, suggests that spanked children also are more likely to be “physically or verbally coercing” to a sexual partner and engage in masochistic sex, including arousal by spanking, later in life.
Or, for more click here: USA Today. Or, like I saw at another blog today, Ezekiel 23:20 is justification enough for talking about sex from the pulpit. It is important to talk about sex from the pulpit. Lord knows, Christians need to have a little more sex. Perhaps if Christians would talk more about sex, then we would have more sex, then we could have more Christians in the world without actually having to go out and make disciples. It’s just a thought.
Now we must, more than ever, talk about sex from the pulpit. It is so important that the people in the pew be told about sex from the pulpit by the preacher because if they are not they might experiment and learn things on their own. Children should NOT be taught about sex from their parents (I know, ‘what about all those poor children who have no parents to teach them?’ Yes, woe is they. Besides, I thought that was what the public school was for!) Sex ought to be an openly discussed aspect of our Christian faith. It should not be private, intimate moments between husbands and wives. It should not be between a husband and a wife. After all, Jesus came to give us not only lots of money (Kenneth Copeland, et al), lots of good health (Benny Hinn), lots of Israel (Hagee), but also lots of help in our sex lives (too many to count).
“Who can save me from this wretched body of sin? Well, thank God for Jesus who died for my sins so that I could have a great sex life and my preacher could tell me how!” (My paraphrase of Romans 7:24-25)
The world is in a sexual crisis just now. And now more than ever people need to hear the church’s voice on this matter. So preachers, here’s a challenge. Throw away that exegetical, doctrinal exposition of Romans or Genesis you were planning this week and dive into Song of Solomon: “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies” (4:5). Right now the world needs more Sex. Maybe if the world were taught about the good Ned Flanders version of Christian Sex they would stop indulging in so much empty sex. Everyone knows that sex is the root of the problem. The real battle is being fought in the bedroom. Dive into Ezekiel 23:20: “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”
What more justification do we need? Everyone knows that most depictions of sexual encounters contained in Scripture are positive and for the instruction of the saints. Ezekiel proves that!
If the church would wake up, we could help. Just tell parents to stop disciplining their children, then their children won’t grow up to be sexual deviants. I remember a few spankings I had as a young boy. In fact, a couple of them came at the hands of a certain English teacher and a couple others at the hands of a certain principal and my parents. That probably explains a lot.
Stinking hacker! I don’t know who keeps hacking my blog, but I’m getting sick of it. Don’t you have something better to do? I’m sorry folks, but I don’t even have the technical skills to delete this rubbish. Anyhow, since it’s been hacked and there’s nothing I can do about it, consider this from Colossians 1:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:9-14, NIV).
I think what the church needs to ask itself is this: Will conversations from the pulpit about such things as sex in any way help us ‘grow in the knowledge of God’? I am not saying there is no place for honest discussions about sexuality among Christians or even in the church. I am simply asking if the pulpit is the place for such ‘conversations’ to take place? It just seems to me that the crisis we are facing in our culture is one of over-stimulation of the sex-organs. I’m not certain that topical exposition of good sex techniques is the best way to bring people to a point where they cry out, “Brothers, what must we do to be saved?” Is this the sort of exegetical skills and exercise of spiritual gifts that will make people fall down and cry out, “God is really among you!” Nor I am certain that such expositions are going to in anyway alter the current insatiability of people’s sex drives. In other words, these sermons are not going to help matters, and they might just exacerbate them.
Those in the pulpit have a terrible and tremendous responsibility. It is terrible because if we truly approach Scripture as the Word of God, the Oracles of God, then we have to talk about some terrible truths: hell, human nature, sin, crucifixion and suchlike. It is terrible because it is a heavy burden to carry: we study, learn, grow, and first preach to ourselves. We have the singular responsibility of preaching the Word of God that brings people under conviction and judgment by the Word. It is a terrible burden to carry.
On the other hand, it is a tremendous responsibility! Who else has been given such a profound task, such a wonderful gift, such glorious wisdom–a charge and call from God Almighty!? This doesn’t mean that preachers are especially wonderful, it just means that not everyone is called to do what preachers do: Preach the Word of God. With such a tremendous responsibility comes a certain level of accountability. For example, I could probably make a very strong case that even the blessed Song of Solomon is only secondarily about sex. Preachers thus have the responsibility to make known the mysteries of God, the glories of Christ, and the wonders of the Spirit.
So my honest assessment is this: Preachers who make such topics the topic on Sunday mornings are taking the easy way out and they are short-changing the people they preach to. Christians are not charged with the responsibility of teaching the unbelieving world that once you become a Christian the sex is great, better, and without limits (within marriage). We are charged with proclaiming his mercies, his grace, his Word. Let married people figure out how to have sex or bring them in for private counseling. Encourage single people to remain chaste. Encourage homosexual people to remain celibate. Other than that, what needs to be said? Preachers, teach people about God. Tell people about the coming wrath and how to escape it. Tell people about the cross. Tell people about the crucifixion driven life. Explain the hard things of the Gospel to people who are desperately in need of hearing the Good News about Jesus. I say, preachers ought to leave sex where it should be anyhow: the bedroom. I see very little use in preaching sex from the pulpit.
If you have to advertise that your Sunday Morning sermon is rated ‘X’ then perhaps you really need to rethink what you are preaching or, better, why.
Soli Deo Gloria!