Preaching


I realize that I have probably just shocked the life out of you with this post’s title.  However, I thought I would say what I feel a majority of Evangelicals are telling the world these days.  I have not simply grown weary, I have grown exhausted by the rabid fascination most Evangelicals I know have with the coming of the Lord Jesus.  Now, let me be clear that I fully believe in the Lord’s return to Earth to judge “the quick and the dead.”  The growth of the New Testament Church is directly attributable to the apostles belief that Jesus would return in their lifetime.  They could not stomach the Lord returning and their loved ones being left behind to face the judgment.  Accordingly, they were motivated by overwhelming compassion for their fellow-man and engaged in intensive evangelism.  I often fail to hear any underlying compassion behind many of the songs and sermons spewing forth in the modern Evangelical church.  The only thing I hear is “Yay, the Lord is going to return and we will not be here for all the trials and tribulation the world will endure.”  We are so consumed with reading, singing, and preaching about the retired bliss of Heaven’s avenues that we fail to recall that such bliss is not what Heaven is all about.  The Christian is redeemed to give eternal glory to God for the gift of salvation, not to recline in a mansion sipping tea waiting for the next angel choir concert.  When I hear the prophetic prognosticators give us their latest “Return of Jesus” forecast, I fail to hear anything about God’s grace.  I do hear that the Christian is not going to be here and those left behind are going to face unbearable horrors so come to Jesus.  I am sorry, we are simply scarring people out of Hell at that point.  Where is the recounting of God’s great love for us that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins?   It often appears as if the only thing the average Evangelical is on the lookout for is whether Christ is on the next cloud floating by while ignoring the fields ripe for harvest around them.   Furthermore, I think it important to remember, lest we fall guilty of the same sin as the ancient Israelites, that the Day of the Lord will result in judgment upon the Church as well.  Paul told the Corinthians that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  I cannot help but think that the Lord will find us guilty for focusing on His return above preaching the full Gospel and accordingly that the Day of His appearing will not be as pleasant as we would desire.  I sincerely wish we would stop using the Parousia as means to greater attendance figures or increasing DVD and book sales, and instead return to an intense love affair with God.  I pray that my colleagues would return to the fundamentals of our faith and preach sermons on the richness of grace, declaring war on sin, and growing more each day into the redeemed image of our Creator.  Our world lives solely in the moment and has an acute awareness of its needs.  It finds nothing to meet those needs in sermons devoted to whether the European debt crisis is inching us closer to a one world government and the arrival of the anti-Christ.  I once heard a talk focused solely on the fact that the preacher thought the anti-Christ would be Spanish.  Who cares what his nationality is as long as people are trying everything but Christ to fill the intense longing of their souls.  Let us once more give the world Christ and His grace, mercy, love, and peace.  Let us so taste Heaven through communion with Him that we feel the same fire to evangelize that the early Church did.  Let us stop telling the world to go to Hell and instead say to them, “come to Jesus and live.”

Peace be with you.

I will begin preaching through Habakkuk on Sunday if everything goes according to plan.  It will become the sixth minor prophet I have preached through in the last two years (Amos, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Haggai, and Habakkuk) in addition to having taught through Isaiah and Micah in our Sunday School class last Spring.  I had originally planned to preach a topical series on worship after Easter and the four sermons from Habakkuk will be on detriments to worship.  I find it pretty amazing how God works as He molds us into the direction He would have us go.  I have been preparing since early winter for this worship series, but then He drops Habakkuk into my mind.  I will be honest and say that Habakkuk is not a text I have studied that much and so I have been trying to play catch-up.  Yet, as I have studied through Habakkuk I have been humbled by how it fits perfectly into what I have already been thinking through and even more surprising, how it perfectly links to my Holy Week series and Easter Sunday sermon.  I am uncertain why God has led me to the prophets as much as He has lately.  After all, our Community Lenten Series focused around the “prophetic parables” in Hosea and Jeremiah.   However, as Habakkuk so eloquently asserts, God’s timing and purposes are not our own and we must simply rest in them.  I have found two great quotes during my Habakkuk preparation that I thought I would share.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have and that it will encourage you to take a look at the hinge of the minor prophets—Habakkuk.

“Faith and fact are not always compatible in the world of sense and sight, but that is not the whole world.  There is a world of justice that only God fully comprehends.  His people must accept by faith what they cannot confirm in fact.”
C. H. Bullock

“Such a word from God implies that they turmoil and violence and death in our societies may not be evidence of God’s absence from our lives but instead the witness to his actual working in judgment as he pursues his purpose.  No event in human history, therefore, is to be understood as completely divorced from his lordly action and will.  God is always at work, always involved, always pressing forward toward his kingdom.  But the means by which he chooses to pursue that goal may be as astounding as the destruction of a nation or as incomprehensible as the blood dripping from the figure of a man on a cross.”
Elizabeth Achtemeier

Peace be with you.

Here is part three of our Lenten lunch devotions.  We will conclude next week so please if you are in the area come and join us from 12-2 for great food and fellowship.

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

We arrive today at Paul’s third dimension of God’s love, height.  I believe this is the hardest dimension of the four to fathom.  I can use what I have previously experienced and enlarge it to comprehend the width and the length and even the depth of God’s love.  I have never though stood at the base of something and knew that regardless of how hard I tried, it’s peak would remain unseen and inaccessible to me.  Yet, that is exactly the way the Scriptures describe the height of God’s love.  The psalmist prays to God in Psalm 108 and says “for your steadfast love is great above the heavens.”  In other words, there is nothing that will ever be able to stand above God’s love.  What a wonderful truth to let slip into our souls.  Yes, we may sin grievously, but God’s love is such that His forgiveness will still stamp it down if we but ask.  Yet, it goes farther than this.  I do not know about you, but I am often intimidated by things taller than I am.  I get nervous when I have to get something off the cabinet’s top shelf because I generally have to stand on something to reach it and I am always afraid of falling.  I fell down a flight of stairs once and have been hesitant of going down stairs ever since.  I get really nervous driving across most bridges, particularly the high ones.  After all, it is a long way down.  Indeed, when I have something to do that I am dreading, my mind will often endow the task with proportions that often make it much bigger than it actually is.  What a comfort to know then, that I can stare directly at the things I fear the most and see the height of God’s love towering above it.  Paul prayed that we know  the height of God’s love because he had experienced it first hand.  He had stared down everything from angry mobs to ultimately the Roman emperor through the power of it’s height.  He even gazed into Death’s cold, dark glare and said with unbending resolve “O death, where is your victory, where is your sting” for He knew the height of God’s love could overcome even that which we consider to be final.  I do not know what you are going through today, but I pray that you will see that God’s love towers above it, ready to slip between you and your burden and lift it to heights unknown to allow you to walk free.  I pray that this freedom will enable you to face down every fear and sin that so easily besets us and that you may know that God is still in control.

Peace be with you.

There is no one, and that includes Glenn Beck despite my respect for him, who will ever convince me that Jesus’ call to radical discipleship omits advocating for social and economic justice in the world.  However, I will admit that I am greatly troubled by those who think that it is the sole component of following in the Nazarene’s steps.  We lose sight of the fact that humanity’s physical needs are for a corruptible body which will one day molder in the ground when we focus solely on Jesus’ admonition to meet the physical needs of our fellow-man.   When Jesus calls us to promote justice, and yes I know that phrase is not explicit in the Gospels, He does so as a means to evangelism.  Let us be honest, people will be more likely to hear the Gospel call if they first see that we care about them and are not simply trying to get them in our churches and get their money.  Accordingly, churches should be prepared to spend money without expecting an immediate return as building this amount of trust takes time, but is not seeing even one soul come to redeeming faith worth every dime we might spend?  It is this soul saving aspect that fires my passion for social justice.  After all, the story of Good Friday and Easter morning is the story of God providing a means for saving the lost.  So, when I read yesterday an article promoting “Barefoot Sunday” on Easter Sunday I was appalled.  Easter is the pinnacle of the church year.  It is why we mark Christ’s coming at Advent, why we spend Lent’s 40 days preparing our hearts for the glory of Easter, and why we spend the remaining period of Pentecost continually being reminded that as the blood bought children of God we are to fight against sin and live in what Paul called “the power of the His (Christ’s) resurrection.”   Dr. Bart Ehrman said it best when he told our New Testament class at Carolina that without Easter there is no Christianity.  I do not believe anything should compete with preaching the hope of Easter to our fallen world and I find it mind-boggling that Christians are promoting such a cause that day.  The only feet we should be drawing attention to are the nail scarred feet of Jesus and there to offer our grateful obeisance for the gift of salvation.  Please, let me be clear, I think that the Samaritan’s Feet program is wonderful program that should be supported.  I believe that using the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination to remind the world of his call to fight injustice is normally a proper tribute to his life.  However, April 4th commemorates something far bigger than the plight of the world’s shoeless and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he gave his life for the cause of justice, combined.  The whole of humanity’s hopes, dreams, and eternal destiny hang  on hearing the glorious news that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, arose from Joseph’s cold, dark tomb.  Indeed, as Robert Lowry penned so perfectly, “He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”   If we could let the world hear that oppression and enmity have already been defeated, that we do not have to search aimlessly for new solutions, we just have to fix our gaze on the resurrected Lord, then things will start to change in our world.  If we lose sight of this great truth, we can have barefoot Sunday every week while sitting the dark because we have given every dime we have to the poor and the world will still be going to Hell.  Let us rally around the cry, “Christ Above All” and see our world change.

Peace be with you.

We continued our Lenten lunches yesterday and moved on to Paul’s second dimension–length.  I hope you enjoy it and if you are in the area next Thursday will make plans to join us for lunch.  We serve sumptuous soup and delectable sandwiches from 12-2.

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

Last week we discussed the awesome width of God’s love and how it will over wash us if we would but allow it.  Today, we hear Paul pray that we know the length of God’s love.  Length is generally defined as the measure of something at it’s greatest dimension.  Thus, when we describe someone who has robbed a store we do not say that they were two feet wide, we say they are 6 feet tall.  It is this point of greatest dimension that so often arrests our attention first.  How striking it is then that Paul speaks about the length of Christ’s love for I’ll admit that if you are like me, you rarely think of it in those terms.  Yet, it is the length of God’s love that should stir our hearts more than any other descriptor, for it details the full extent that God went to reach us.  Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address that those killed in battle did so as the “last full measure of devotion” to their country.  In other words, they went to the farthest length possible for the cause of liberty.   The Scriptures describe Jesus’ life in similar terms.  Jesus left the eternal splendor of Heaven to come and live amongst the muck of humanity.  The all-powerful, ever-present Son of God clothed Himself in the limiting and powerless attire of human flesh.  Ultimately, this Prince of Glory who had never been apart from the sweet communion of God’s presence would cry out in unimaginable agony from Calvary’s cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” as He gave the last full measure of devotion for us.  He forsook the glory of eternity to die for you and me.  Let us not rest simply in this knowledge, but understand that He is still striving to show His love to us.  He still reaches across eternity with outstretched hand and pleads with us to glance up and take it and be lifted from the muck and mire that He died and rose again to free us from.  Christ’s love extends to the farthest extent imaginable because He knows that our unrighteousness has limited the length of our ability to reach Him to simply gazing up.  How then can we refuse such love?   Furthermore, how can we continue to limit the length of our love to Him when faced with the extent of His love to us.   I pray today that if you have never gazed into the loving face of the Saviour that you would do so and experience firsthand the length of God’s love.  And if you have already fixed your eyes on Jesus, I pray you would measure and see how long your love for God is and seek to extend it.

Peace be with you.

We are trying a new outreach effort starting today at EBC.  We are hosting for the remaining Thursdays in Lent a free soup and sandwich lunch.  Our hope is to attract folks who work in town to join us for lunch and hear a short devotion.  I am focusing on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 throughout this time.  I thought I’d share today’s devotion.  I find my writing for things that I will speak is different from my normal writing style.  If you are in the area we’d encourage you to drop.  We will be serving from 12-2.

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

We do not use the word “breadth” very often these days.  It’s a rather arcane term that signifies width.  I find it fascinating that Paul’s list to the Ephesian church begins with width.  We live in an age that is more expansive than ever before.  We speak today in terms of a global economy in which the economic condition of China is a determining factor in Enfield’s gas prices.  When we need to find something out, we hop on the world wide web and instantly thousands of sources are at our finger tips.  Yet, though we are constantly bombarded with an awe inspiring sense of “wideness” most of us, if we were honest, would say that we are narrow.  We are hemmed in by our own personal experiences and the mundane circumstances of our lives.  Our ability to conceive is constrained by what we know and we have great difficulty reaching beyond that point.  And so, we find it incomprehensible when faced with the unimaginable magnitude of God’s love, a love which sent His only Son to a cruel death on the Cross in our place, to believe that He can love us unconditionally.  We, who can readily remember our worst deeds, find it unbelievable that God can wash away the foulest things we have done and make it as if it never happened.  Hence, Paul prays first that we understand that God’s love and mercy is unimaginably wide.  Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”  Beloved, there is absolutely nothing we can do which the wide expanse of God’s love and mercy would leave uncoverable if we would but look to God for grace.  The beauty of the Cross is that Jesus took upon Himself all our sins and forever canceled their penalty for anyone who would believe in Him.  When I was child, playing hide and seek in my grandmother’s back yard was something.  It was the largest yard on our block and there were unimaginable hiding places.  Furthermore, if you did find the person hiding, they had a vast expanse in which to run from you.  The simplicity of the breadth of God’s love is that we do not have to search endlessly for it, we do not have to go chasing after it.  It is readily accessible to us for it laps like the gentle sea on the shores of our soul ready to wash over us if we would but ask God to do it.  I pray today that if you have never done that you would do so now.  And if you have already the width of God’s love wash over you, that you would ask Him to experience it afresh today.   Paul is quite clear that only by doing this will we ever be filled with “all the fullness of God.”  I am convinced that God desires to break down the narrow parameters in which we operate in order to let His love flow out of us into a world that feels unloved and unwanted.  Would you let Him start with you today?

Peace be with you.

Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” is considered by many to be the definitive work on Joseph Smith’s life as it intricately details the events surrounding the creation of the Mormon religion.  Brodie’s work is by far one of the most intriguing religious biographies I have ever read and should be a must read for Evangelical pastors everywhere.  The Mormon faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the world and its strenuous morals and family values emphasis makes it attractive to many in America.  Evangelicals should realize that Mormonism is not just another form of Protestantism, but is a separate religion unto itself.  Brodie’s book details the almost God like status that Joseph Smith attained with his followers and provides light on the origin of many Mormon practices and beliefs.  People who believe they are finding the true church of Jesus Christ should be made aware of some of the more obscure of these beliefs such as the doctrine of eternal progression which asserts that ultimately a devoted Mormon will become part of the Godhead.  Brodie’s recounting the creation of the Book of Mormon, during a time of great religious upheaval in upstate New York, should give every Mormon adherent pause about the veracity of their faith’s Scripture.  Smith is portrayed as a grand storyteller who uses the events of the day to create the Book of Mormon’s masterful tales.  Indeed, Brodie points out that the Book of Mormon could be considered simply part of the canon of myths and tales New Yorkers spun to explain the existence of Native American burial mounds scattered across the Upstate.  I find it odd that given Brodie’s retelling of the Book of Mormon’s creation why one does not hear more about the same scrutiny being applied to it that is so often applied to the Christian Scriptures.  Do scholars simply find it fantasy and choose to ignore it?  If so, why do they not choose to treat the Scriptures in the same manner, after all I would think a person “deluded” in one religion deserves to be saved from their delusion just as much as one in another.

I think the greatest danger that Brodie’s book exposes is the that the Mormon religion is an American creation, grounded in the American dream.  Smith’s continued quest for power and fortune is often depicted to be central to his actions, as if he needs these things to find fulfillment.  True Christianity teaches that the pursuit of power is not what our Saviour intends for us.  We must remember to follow His example, that He came not to be served, but to serve.  Joseph Smith’s life tragically proves that to fight against Christ’s example will lead a person down a path of destruction.  It was Smith’s grab for power that ultimately cost him his life and forced his followers to barren Utah.  The American Church would do well to heed Smith’s warning before it follows him down the same path.  Finally, Brodie’s work should awaken within every pastor a desire to provide their flock with theological tools to combat Mormonism and other new religious movements.  Pastors are supposed to be God’s under-shepherd and part of our job is to protect our flock from outside attack.  A failure to teach the errors of Smith’s “taste like chicken” theology and those like it is a failure to protect our own.  For example, the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage, an essential plank in their very attractive family values position, flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in Heaven.  The average Christian I know would not even think about making that point and the blame for that starts in the pulpit.  Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that we should step into our pulpits and rant against these groups.  I think such actions are counterproductive.  I do believe though that we should once more teach clear doctrine from our pulpits to the point that people will know when they are hearing unorthodox theology.  We must recall that just as Joseph Smith will one day have to account for his misleading people, we will have to account for failing to simply lead people.

Peace be with you.

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