Archive for July, 2010

Brad Anderson on answering his call

July 27, 2010

As part of our “Can You Hear Me Now?” sermon series, Brad Anderson, a former member of AFUMC who left to pastor Union Hill UMC, talks about his call into pastoral ministry. This video was shown in Vinebranch on July 25.

Sermon for 07-18-10: “Can You Hear Me Now? Part 2: Paul”

July 22, 2010

Scripture Text: Galatians 1:11-24

The following is the original manuscript of the sermon.

A couple of months ago, we had to put our dog Presley to sleep. Very sad—unusually sad for me, and I’ve certainly lost other pets over the years. Some of you who’ve known me only since I’ve been at this church might be surprised by this admission, because I often said mean things about him when he got older. I lost my patience with him. I yelled at him a lot. If it’s any consolation, in his old age, he had gone completely deaf, so it’s not like he heard me! He had just become increasingly high-maintenance in his old age—he would do annoying and disobedient things that he didn’t do when he was younger. Guess he figured he was too old to care anymore. More than a few times in the past couple of years I’ve thought, “I’m never having another dog!” Read the rest of this entry »

“Set apart before birth”?

July 22, 2010

In last Sunday’s sermon, I made the seemingly bold assertion that we Christians, like Paul, have been set apart before birth to take part in God’s saving mission in this world.

How do you feel about that? Maybe you think, “My life isn’t anything special. I mean, sure, Paul’s was special. He changed the world! Me, who am I? What am I doing? I would have to really flatter myself to think that God really cared about me in this way.”

Hmm… Maybe you buy into this pervasive, depressing, destructive idea that our lives are nothing more than a grain of sand on a nearly endless beach—and how could God—any god—care so much about us? Isn’t it wishful thinking? Aren’t we deluding ourselves? I’ve seen best-selling author and atheist Christopher Hitchens make that argument in a live debate I witnessed—that we Christians are really full of ourselves, really conceited, to think that our lives matter in that way. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Protestantism still a good idea? (Part 2)

July 22, 2010

[Click here for Part 1 of this discussion.]

It began as a simple digression. I was teaching a Sunday school class on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.1 I asked the class what they thought about Paul’s devil language in Ephesians 2 (which he returns to elsewhere). Who is this “ruler of the power of the air,” and what does it mean? I asked the class if we—sophisticated 21st-century people that we are—really believe in Satan.

I enjoy asking this question because it generates interesting discussion. As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I do believe that demonic forces exist—although I try to treat the subject with the same circumspection with which scripture treats it. The New Testament assumes the existence of demonic forces, but doesn’t say much about how they manifest themselves in the world—not nearly as much as some Christians want it to say. So I don’t try to, either. Read the rest of this entry »

“Can You Hear Me Now? Part 2” video

July 19, 2010

In this video, shown in Vinebranch on July 18, AFUMCer Bruce Johnson talks about his experience of answering the call to head up the Paraguay mission team.

Each week of this six-part series features a new video of Alpharetta Methodist people talking about how they’ve answered God’s call in some way.

What does it take to be saved?

July 19, 2010

I was at a coffee shop last week working on a sermon when an old friend from college walked in. I’ll call her Janet. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years. She’s a Facebook friend, which nicely streamlines the process of catching up with one another after being apart for a while. In other words, I kinda sorta knew what was going on with her, and she kinda sorta knew what was going on with me. Easy!

She had one pressing question for me—which caught me off-guard and left me feeling slightly bothered. She said, “I don’t mean this in a judgmental way at all, but is Steve a Christian?”

Steve (not his real name) is a mutual friend from college, who also happens to be perhaps my closest and best friend today. I met him, as did Janet, at the Baptist Student Union, when all three of us were still Baptist. (Oddly enough, none of us is today—not that it matters.) Read the rest of this entry »

What’s in a name?

July 15, 2010

In the interest of time—and in the interest of not being boring—I can’t always say everything I want to say in a 20- to 25-minute sermon. I didn’t even get to my favorite part of Sunday’s scripture, Exodus 3:13-15.

As we discussed on Sunday, Moses only accepts his call to go back to Egypt with great reluctance. One of his objections was that he didn’t know God’s name. The Israelites would want to know, Moses told God. They would ask, “What is the name of this God who sent you to us?” Presumably, anyone sent by God on such an important assignment would be on a first name basis with this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (It may be hard for us moderns to grasp how important and powerful a person’s name was for people living in the ancient near east.) Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon for 07-11-10: “Can You Hear Me Now? Part 1”

July 14, 2010

Scripture Text: Exodus 3:1-15

The following is my original manuscript.

Today is part 1 of our new six-part sermon series on hearing the call of God in our lives as disciples. I first got the idea for this series last year when I was teaching a Sunday school class on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. What impressed me in that letter was the apostle Paul’s confidence of his calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He knew that what he was doing with his life was what he was called by God to do. And he knew it in spite of all the trouble that he got into—not simply from the Romans or from people of other religions—but from many of his fellow Christians, who disagreed with his strong conviction that non-Jews did not first have to become Jewish in order to be Christian.

He knew his mission; he knew his calling; and it guided his life’s work. I asked the Sunday school class: “Have any of you ever been called by God?” And they looked at one another and shrugged… And no one raised their hand! I was surprised. Because if we are disciples of Jesus Christ—which we are by virtue of our faith and baptism—then we have been called and we are being called now to use the gifts God has given us in ministry to the world. It’s not just something that happens to professional ministers like Don, Larisa, or me. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Sunday’s “Can You Hear Me Now?” video

July 13, 2010

Here’s Renée Sassaman talking about her work among homeless people in downtown Atlanta. This video was shown in Vinebranch on Sunday, July 11. For each week of our six-part series, we will interview Alpharetta Methodist people about ways in which they’ve answered God’s call.

Is Protestantism still a good idea? (Part 1)

July 9, 2010

My short answer is “yes.”

For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, I have followed with interest what I perceive to be a trend of adult Protestants who are “crossing the Tiber” (as they say) and confirming as Roman Catholics. (I refuse to say “converting” to Catholicism because in my view that implies that Catholicism is a different religion.) Here’s one recent article from the Christian Century on the trend.

Let me hasten to add the obvious: traffic between the two traditions flows in both directions—as the success of Alpharetta Methodist bears witness. We welcome a large number of new members from Catholicism. And we do so with little fuss or fanfare. We Methodists are a pretty laid-back bunch who don’t divide easily over doctrinal differences. Please note: we have plenty of doctrinal differences between and among us, but we don’t easily let them stand in the way of doing the work of Christ, which is far more important than the sign in front of the church building. Read the rest of this entry »