Sermon 10-02-16: “Keeping the Promise, Part 7: Why We Witness”

October 21, 2016


Despite what you may have heard, every true believer in Jesus Christ has already received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Does this thought intimidate you? After all, if we already possess the Spirit, then that means we have access to the same power that the apostles possessed in today’s scripture—and they were turning the world upside down with the gospel. What are we doing? This sermon explores the good news of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I hope you’ll be encouraged. (No video this week, only an MP3.)

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

If you go to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem—where the Temple used to be located, before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.—you’ll see a Muslim shrine known as the Dome of the Rock, considered the fourth holiest shrine in Islam. Non-Muslims are allowed up there, but, out of respect for Islam, we are not allowed to pray—out loud—or carry Bibles there.


Oddly, this law is enforced by Israeli soldiers who patrol the Temple Mount. They carry big Uzis, and if you bring a Bible with you, these soldiers will confiscate them at gunpoint! Needless to say, I didn’t bring a Bible. I have great respect for 18-year-old kids carrying Uzis, believe me! Read the rest of this entry »

John Piper: What are the commands of Jesus?

October 15, 2016

johnpiperIn his sermon “This Man Went Down to His House Justified,” from August 6, 2006, John Piper spurns the emphasis that secular people often place on Jesus as a great moral teacher. Not because he isn’t that; rather, it’s because apart from the salvation that Christ came into the world to offer us, his moral genius is beside the point. The moral commands of Jesus, Piper implies, are not useful guidelines for people in general; they are instead

descriptions of the way new human beings behave who have been born again; who have therefore been enabled supernaturally to see the glory of Jesus; who have recognized the incredible outrage of their sin; who have ceased to trust in anything about themselves; and who have cast themselves entirely on Jesus for mercy, for righteousness, and for forgiveness.

I like that! While Piper doesn’t let us disciples off the hook for living up to Jesus’ many commands, he rightly recognizes that apart from God’s saving grace, made possible by Christ’s atoning death, we are helpless to carry them out. God must first perform a supernatural action, which he does through justification and new birth.

Moreover, he emphasizes that our obedience isn’t something we perform in order to be saved; rather, we obey in response to the salvation that he has already given us.

I would only add one thing: even after we have been born again, we will still fail (unless or until we are perfected in love, this Methodist pastor hastens to add) to cast ourselves “entirely” (superlatives make me nervous) on Jesus for mercy, righteousness, and forgiveness. As Paul writes in Romans 7, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”

But Piper’s right: Inasmuch as we do cast ourselves on Jesus, our obedience, along with many good works, will result.

I’m joining the Wesleyan Covenant Association

October 14, 2016
Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, addressing the inaugural WCA conference.

Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, addressing the inaugural WCA conference.

Last Friday, I joined over 1,700 fellow United Methodists from around the world, including many clergy colleagues from North Georgia, at the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in Chicago.

You can read about the meeting here. According to a founding document that was approved at the meeting, the organization exists to “advance vibrant, scriptural Christianity within the global United Methodist Church.” It continues:

We affirm that the core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture. We look to the Bible therefore as our authority and trustworthy guide, which “is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16; NRSV). Illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience, the revelation of Scripture is the church’s primary and final authority on all matters of faith and practice.

We affirm classical Wesleyan doctrine and the historic faith, which the church has used to define the parameters of Christian teaching.

We believe that both women and men are called to and gifted for ordained and licensed ministry, and both genders are able to hold any role of leadership within the WCA.

The WCA specifically renounces all racial and ethnic discrimination and commits itself to work toward full racial and ethnic equality in the church and in society.

We believe marriage and sexual intimacy are good gifts from God. In keeping with Christian teaching through the ages and throughout the Church universal, we believe that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union. We affirm faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness as equal paths of discipleship.

In grace and truth, we seek to love God with our whole hearts and afford every person compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity.

Among other things, the WCA urges our bishops to fulfill the promise they made at General Conference to appoint and convene a commission to resolve the crisis that threatens our denomination’s existence, and to do so quickly. It urges them to call a special General Conference in early 2018 to vote on this commission’s proposals. It rejects any plan for unity that involves the so-called “local option,” which allows individual congregations or clergy to decide whether or not they’ll submit to historic Christian doctrine regarding marriage and sexual ethics.

I affirm each of these points. And along with the WCA, I reject “unity” at any cost. If we can’t agree on a proposal that will enable our church members to live together with integrity and in good conscience, then let’s create a plan for separation.

I know this sounds drastic. Why has it come to this? Why has the WCA formed now?

One reason only: Since the bishops promised to form their commission at General Conference in May, in exchange—they vainly hoped—for breathing room to solve the problem, covenant-breaking among clergy and annual conferences has only increased. As one WCA statement points out, “at least nine boards of ordained ministry or annual conferences and two jurisdictional conferences have pledged not to conform or comply with the requirements of the Discipline.” One jurisdictional conference even elected a bishop who is herself in a same-sex marriage, in defiance of church law.

In general, I’m a reluctant “join-er” of organizations. But I decided to be part of the WCA because, like Wesley, I am a “man of one book”—or at least I want to be. And despite what you’ve heard, the issue that divides our denomination isn’t marriage and sexual ethics—those are merely symptoms of the real issue.

The real issue is the authority of scripture: will we as a denomination be faithful to God’s Word or won’t we?

A part of me wishes I could be among the famous “Methodist middle,” and sit outside the ring while Methodists further to the left and right of me duke it out. It would certainly be better for my career. But I can’t. When I was ordained in 2010, I told God, my bishop, and our annual conference that I believed in our church’s doctrines, which included its traditional stance on marriage and sexuality. My fingers weren’t crossed behind my back. I wasn’t equivocating.

I wasn’t even—to use the popular parlance of candidates for ordained United Methodist ministry—”conflicted.” Not by 2010. I’ve long since repented of the ways I played fast and loose with God’s Word in the years during and shortly after attending a liberal mainline seminary. But in 2010, I meant it.

My point is, if I weren’t convinced at ordination that our church was right about marriage and sex, that this is what I believe God is telling us through his Word, based on our best exegesis and interpretation of scripture, I would have found another church in which to minister. At least I hope I would. (God knows I’m a hypocritical sinner.) To do otherwise would compromise my integrity even more than it is routinely compromised by sin.

All that to say, within the next couple of years—in fact, before the next scheduled General Conference of 2020—we’ll know whether or not we will, as a denomination, strive to be faithful to scripture as our “primary and final authority on all matters related to faith and practice.”

In the meantime, I intend to play my part to ensure that we do. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

That’s why I went to Chicago last week. And that’s why I’m joining the WCA.

Will the Spirit reveal something beyond what is written in the Bible?

October 13, 2016


My friend Brandon tagged me in this post. Rev. Guyton is an author and fellow United Methodist pastor—and one who identifies himself as a progressive evangelical.

In response, I wrote the following:

So our Lord is telling us that he will reveal something in the distant future (for example, that the meaning of marriage is up for grabs) that will directly contradict what he would reveal to us through Paul and the other apostles in the near future? And contradict what he himself already taught in Matthew 19/Mark 10? Is that what Morgan thinks “progressive revelation” is?

As to what Jesus meant, did the Holy Spirit not inspire the apostles and evangelists as they eventually wrote down what became the New Testament? Didn’t this represent new and additional information? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit guide all of us as we read and apply his word?

In his Eerdmans commentary on John, D.A. Carson addresses the possibility of continuing, definitive revelation head-on, emphasizing both the finality of God’s revelation in the Son, and the intended audience of Jesus’ words in John 16:12-15. Jesus is directing these words, Carson says, to the apostles in their lifetimes, not to future disciples. Moreover, this further revelatory work of the Spirit, which the apostles couldn’t bear at this particular moment, would help them understand the full meaning and implications of the revelation of God in Christ—which was (or would be after Christ’s ascension) a finished work of God.

Why was the Spirit’s guiding role in the lives of the apostles so important? Because they were the ones who transmitted and interpreted the events of the life of Jesus—writing, shaping, and influencing the books and letters that became the New Testament.

We who are the spiritual descendants of these first disciples already have the New Testament. There’s nothing more that needs to be said. As I said above, while the Holy Spirit plays a role in helping us apply the revelation of Christ to our circumstances today, this is different from saying that there’s further revelation.

It is important to recognize that the disciples who will directly benefit from these ministrations of the Spirit are primarily the apostles. In two of the the other Paraclete passages, explicit reference is made to reminding the disciples of what Jesus said during the days of his flesh (14:26) or to the fact that they had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (15:27). Both references rule out later disciples. Here, too, the primary focus of the Spirit’s ministry is doubtless on those who  could not, when Jesus spoke, bear more than he was giving them (v. 12), but who would need to be guided in all the truth of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus that they had been privileged to witness. At least part of the consequences of that unfolding is this Gospel of John.

Derivatively, we may speak of the Spirit’s continued work in the disciples of Jesus today. But that is not the primary emphasis of these verses; and in any case it is impossible to think of such continuing ministry of the Spirit leading men and women to stances outside the enriching and explanatory ministry he exercised amongst the first witnesses, which is crystallized in this book. That the emphasis is so transparently on the first witnesses, on how they came to what we would call a fully Christian understanding of all that Jesus is and did, drives our attention to Jesus himself, and away from subsidiary themes like discipleship, the continuing work of the Spirit and the like.[†]

I know from reading Guyton’s blog and other online interactions that Guyton’s testimony of faith includes a rejection of the Christian fundamentalism so pervasive in the American South. By putting so much weight on one particular proof-text, however, how is Guyton not being just like a fundamentalist, albeit from the other direction?

While I’m sure he would disagree with Dr. Carson, I hope he would appreciate that Carson is interpreting these verses in the context of the entire Gospel.

D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 541-2.

A devotional for our church’s chili cook-off

October 7, 2016

Our church had a chili cook-off on Wednesday night. Fittingly, I shared a devotional about chili—or something very close to it—from the Bible. The scripture was Genesis 25:29-34.

You may be familiar with the scripture: Esau, Isaac’s older twin son, came home from work, exhausted and famished. Meanwhile, Jacob, his younger twin brother, was cooking what the Bible describes as a “red stew” (which might have been similar to chili). Esau asks for some. Jacob offers it to him on one condition: his brother must sell his birthright to him. Esau agrees, saying, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”

A birthright entitles the oldest son in a family to receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance. To say the least, it was incredibly shortsighted of Esau to give it to his brother in exchange for a bowl of stew.

But aren’t we a lot like Esau? Don’t we often act like small things are matters of life-and-death: that smartphone, that relationship, that job, that paycheck, that prize, that status symbol? You name it.

But give Esau credit: If he were about to die, his birthright would be meaningless. Unfortunately, we often realize what’s most important in life when we don’t have much of it left.

If only we could realize it sooner!

Jesus tells several parables about the value that we ought to place on what’s most important. In one, he says that a pearl merchant sold everything he had to acquire one perfect pearl, which he rightly perceived was worth everything he had—and more (Matthew 13:45-46).

Most of us Christians say we believe that Jesus Christ is the most important thing in our life. Does our life reflect that belief? A lot of the time, it probably doesn’t.

In fact, how different would our lives look if our thoughts, words, and actions matched what we said we believed?

Needless to say, Jesus isn’t like us. What he said he believed and the way he lived his life were in perfect harmony. For example, when he was on the cross, suppose he asked a question similar to the one that Esau asked: “I’m about to die; what is the life of [insert your name here] worth to me?”

We know for sure what his answer would have been: “It is worth everything to me. Let me show you.” Because then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit in order to save each one of us!


More on Andy Stanley and the role of scripture in the early church

October 4, 2016


I wrote a blog post a month ago criticizing this meme, taken from a recent Andy Stanley sermon aimed at unbelieving millennials who reject the authority of scripture. My little post was a drop in the ocean: many prominent pastors and theologians have also weighed in. In fact, the overwhelming negative reaction compelled Stanley himself to respond here. His response defends his preaching methodology against critics and assures us that he is an inerrantist.

From my perspective, the issue has never been his personal view of the authority of scripture. A friend of mine directed me to this post. As I told him at the time:

I’m sympathetic with what this writer says, but read the first comment: Stanley was wrong about what the earliest Christians believed about the Bible. This seems to me beyond question. If he wanted to argue (as I know he has in the past) that the historicity of the resurrection proves that Jesus was right about the Bible and therefore the Bible is true, then he can make that argument. But his words about the early Christian view of scripture (which he either misunderstands or misrepresents) don’t bolster that argument. While there are good historical reasons to believe in the resurrection independent of belief in the inspiration of scripture, the apostles rarely if ever proclaimed the resurrection apart from how it fits in the Bible’s grand narrative.

That’s why, for instance, the Nicene Creed says that Jesus was resurrected “in accordance with the scriptures.”

It was never one or the other.

If Stanley wants to teach college kids apologetics, more power to him. But I don’t think the best strategy is to minimize the authority of God’s Word. He’s getting flak right now because that’s what he’s done—whether he intended to or not. If he’s as prone to misinterpretation as you suggested earlier, then he ought to work on speaking clearly.

He hopes that people will follow Jesus first and believe the Bible later. What I fear will happen instead is that, like my particular tribe of mainliners, they’ll follow a “Jesus” who often bears little resemblance to the Jesus of scripture. After all, I’m often told, Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible.

Stanley only sees the problem through the lens of disaffected former evangelicals or fundamentalists who’ve left the faith or rejected many of its traditional doctrines. (I’m looking at you, Rachel Held Evans.) I guess he knows from whence he speaks. But for what it’s worth, I’m part of a Christian tradition that, generally speaking, hasn’t held to a high view of scripture in its recent history. To say the least, it hasn’t helped us reach the lost for Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, my mainline Protestant experience suggests that when we unmoor Jesus from the Old and New Testaments, we’ll come to believe that there really are no lost people, anyway—or, if there are, the condition is strictly temporary. God will save them in the end. (Sadly, this doesn’t help our churches pay their bills.)

Stanley says in his response that he’s been called a heretic by people who misunderstand his view of scripture. They’re wrong, obviously. But while we’re hunting for heresies, why not start with old-fashioned Pelagianism? No millennial, despite how clever we preachers address their doubts, will come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ apart from God’s grace (see, for instance, John 6:44).

What role, I wonder, does Stanley believe the Holy Spirit plays in his efforts to reach millennials? When Stanley writes about reaching the lost in his book Deep & Wide, as in his recent article, does he ever discuss the work of the Spirit?

Regardless, here’s a more thorough response to Stanley’s controversial sermon, by Michael Kruger. I like this part a lot:

Stanley states, “Christianity made its greatest strides during the 282 years before the Bible even existed.”  In other words, between 30 and 312 AD (when Constantine became emperor), Christians did not really have a Bible they could use and quote from.

Thus, Stanley adds the following, “Christianity was not born on the back of the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says.”

This entire reconstruction is deeply problematic on a number of levels.  For one, Christians did build the Christian faith on the back of the “the Bible says, the Bible says.”  They did this because they already had the Old Testament Scriptures from the very start.  As observed above, the apostles in the early church repeatedly cited the Old Testament Scriptures as a basis for their beliefs.

As for the New Testament, these books were also functioning as Scripture very early.  Even in his own day, Paul’s letters were read and copied as authoritative apostolic documents that the church was supposed to obey and follow (e.g., 1 Cor 14:371 Thess 2:132 Thess 2:15).  Even other New Testament letters viewed Pauls’ books as “Scripture” (2 Pet 3:15-16).

This pattern continued in the second century where we see a “core” collection of New Testament Scriptures—four Gospels, Paul’s thirteen letters, Acts, and a handful of other books—functioning as the Word of God in local congregations. They were being read, copied, and cited as Scripture alongside the Old Testament.  These New Testament books were even used as the basis for preaching.

So, when Stanley says there was no “Bible” during this time period, and that Christians were not using the Bible, that is simply not the case.  On the contrary, the early church was very textually centered and scripturally oriented (for more, see my The Question of Canon).

Perhaps Stanley could respond by saying that there was no “Bible” in the sense that all the Old and New Testament books were bound in a single volume you could pick up and hold.  He is technically correct that we do not have a single volume like that until the fourth century.

But, it is unclear why that matters. Just because all these books were not bound in a single volume did not mean they were not known and used as Scripture.  After all, in Jesus’ day the Old Testament books were not bound together in a single volume.  And yet it was clear that there was an Old Testament canon during that time which both Jesus and the apostles regularly used.

Sermon 09-25-16: “Keeping the Promise, Part 6: Our Witness”

September 30, 2016


This sermon is mostly about integrity: Do we believe what we say we believe about Jesus? Have we experienced the gospel as genuinely good news? If so, why wouldn’t we tell others about what we’ve experienced? Yet most Christians would rather undergo a root canal than initiate a conversation about their Christian faith! Why is this? And what can we do to change?

Sermon Text: Acts 1:1-11

Have you heard of Penn and Teller? They’re a comedy-magic duo famous for outlandish and often squirm-inducing magic tricks. I used to watch them on Letterman when I was in college back in the ’80s. They’ve been around a while, and they’re very good at what they do. Penn Jillette is the half of the duo that speaks. His partner, Teller, never speaks.

Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette

Anyway, Jillette is an outspoken atheist. I mean, he really, really doesn’t believe in God, and he wants you to know about it. Which makes it all the more surprising, several years ago, when he posted a video on his blog describing an encounter he had with a Christian businessman who, like other fans, met Jillette after a show. This Christian began by telling Jillette how much he enjoyed his work. He was sincere. And then he said that he would like to give Jillette a gift. And he handed him a new Bible—from the Gideons, I think—and said he really hoped he’d read it.

And I watched the video—Jillette was deeply moved by this man’s gift. So much so that even as he was describing the incident, tears were welling up in Jillette’s eyes. And he said something surprising. This man—who, again, isn’t anywhere close to becoming a Christian, at least right now—said that he doesn’t respect Christians who don’t share their faith with others. Christians who don’t do that thing that all of us Methodists promise to do when we join a United Methodist church. “I don’t respect it at all,” he said. He continued:

If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And [eternal life] is more important than that! Read the rest of this entry »

“Hello, darkness, my old friend…”

September 29, 2016

I am a naturally anxious person. Given the large role that anxiety has played in my life, as I now see, I’m embarrassed to say I only realized this fact recently. A therapist gave me some helpful advice: Be on guard, every day, for occasions in your life that produce anxiety. Every day, he said, given my particular programming and hardwiring, there will be opportunities for my anxiety to express itself—loudly. Every day!

Yet I’m still surprised when anxiety comes. It sneaks up on me nearly every time—so much for standing guard! But when it comes, at least—after a requisite amount of panic—I am able to say, “There you are, old friend. Welcome back.” And the anxiety becomes less menacing and more cartoonish. I can see it for what it is, in all of its irrational glory.

An archival post this week by Will McDavid at the Mockingbird website has also helped me. He traces the epidemic of anxiety in our culture to our modern, scientific worldview. As he explains in the post, modernity has given us extravagant confidence in our ability to perceive reality: This worldview tells us that everything we can know about reality, we can know through our five senses—and our emotions. Descartes had something to do with it, which you can read about in the post.

The bottom line is this:

There is now in place a law of perception – for something to be real, we must grasp it fully. Subordinating truth to the measure of the knowing subject—haven’t we all been there? ‘Prove it!’, or “I just have to see it for myself” are expressions of our need to experience truth directly; in a church setting, this often means a need to feel something during the Eucharist, or a need to feel close to God. To say we can be close to God without feeling that way is a gracious word, but to us a counterintuitive one.

How different, McDavid writes, is the biblical worldview. As David writes in Psalm 139 (emphasis McDavid’s):

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

The Psalmist not only asserts God’s geographical omnipresence, but also he discusses God’s omnipresence with regard to human perception. David’s meaning of “darkness” here likely includes times of suffering and personal hardship in which God may not seem to be present or active, as in John of the Cross’s “Dark Night” of the soul.  Although the Psalmist perceives only darkness, he can nonetheless objectively confirm and be comforted by the fact of God’s equal presence in that which seems darkness and that which seems light.

The psalmist can “objectively confirm and be comforted by the fact of God’s equal presence in that which seems darkness and that which seems light.” That’s what need! The obstacle that most often impedes my ability to do this, however, is a tendency toward what McDavid calls a “fetishization of emotionally knowable spiritual experience.” While I’m not Pentecostal, I tend to think that spiritual reality is true only inasmuch as I feel it.

As I’ve blogged about before, I fall victim to the scheme that Uncle Screwtape describes to his nephew Wormwood:

Whenever they are attending to Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the actions of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.[†]

C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 195.

God “puts a hook in the nose” of adversity

September 27, 2016

In 2 Kings 19, Judah’s King Hezekiah is afraid for his kingdom: He has watched Assyria lay waste to one nation after another, including, by this point, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Now the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, is threatening to do the same to the Southern Kingdom.

Hezekiah prays a desperate prayer for God to intervene. God answers his prayer through the prophet Isaiah, who shares with Hezekiah the word that the Lord spoke concerning Sennacherib (from 2 Kings 19:21-28).

“She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

“Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest lodging place,
    its most fruitful forest.
I dug wells
    and drank foreign waters,
and I dried up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.’

“Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should turn fortified cities
    into heaps of ruins,
while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

“But I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come into my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.

I find this passage to be a powerful and incredibly comforting message of God’s sovereignty. Sennnacherib believes that he’s been calling the shots, yet he hasn’t done anything that God hadn’t “determined” and “planned” from “days of old.” The very God whom Sennacherib has been mocking is leading him like a domesticated farm animal.

Lest I be accused of divine determinism, I see nothing here to suggest that Sennacherib isn’t acting freely, including the freedom to work great evil, for which he will be judged: it’s just that God, knowing “before all worlds” what Sennacherib would do in these circumstances (“I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in”), has factored Sennacherib’s freely chosen actions into his own plans—to work around them and through them to accomplish God’s purposes.

Needless to say, if God works his sovereign plan even through his enemies, how much more so through his beloved children?

Think of how this applies to our lives. No adversity we face has taken God by surprise. As with Hezekiah and Judah, God has “factored it in” and will redeem it. If only we’ll believe it!

Notice also that this isn’t the neutered God of mainline Protestantism who does nothing with evil except suffer it alongside us. God is active. Indeed, he is the main actor in its midst.

Does this thought not reassure you and comfort you? It does me!

Sermon 09-18-16: “Keeping the Promise, Part 5: Conversion”

September 24, 2016


Saul of Tarsus was an unlikely candidate for conversion, a “hostile witness” against Jesus who had no prior reason to believe that Christ was resurrected before meeting him on the road to Tarsus. While Luke doesn’t present Paul’s conversion as a template for everyone else’s conversion, we all must be converted. This sermon explores a few things that our conversions must have in common with Paul’s.

Sermon Text: Acts 6:1-7

Filmmaker Oliver Stone has a new movie out this weekend about Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy and computer genius who leaked top-secret information a few years ago and fled to Russia. Right now, many Americans are arguing over whether Snowden is a hero, who deserves a presidential pardon, or a traitor, who deserves life in prison—or worse. One thing’s for sure: If he leaves Russia, he’ll be arrested immediately and brought back to the U.S. to face trial. If he stays there, he’ll be safe. The U.S. doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Russia. As long as he’s there, the Russians aren’t going to do anything to help us bring him to justice.

Believe it or not, something similar is happening in today’s scripture: A Pharisee from Tarsus named Saul has gone to the high priest in Jerusalem to get extradition papers to arrest Jewish Christians who have fled government persecution in Israel and are now living in Damascus. Saul is trying to extradite these Christians, to arrest them, and bring them to justice in Jerusalem.

These Christians didn’t leak top-secret information, obviously. But they have spread information that the government in Jerusalem considered very subversive: that this man Jesus, who was tried, convicted, and executed for treason and blasphemy, didn’t stay dead: he was resurrected instead, and now thousands and thousands of people are joining this Jesus movement known as “The Way.”

This movement must be stopped, and this man Saul, who later was re-named Paul, is just the man to do it. Read the rest of this entry »