Archive for August, 2010

Sermon for 08-29-10: “Salvation, Part 1: Saved From What?”

August 31, 2010

Sermon Text: John 7:53-8:11

The following is the original manuscript.

I was in need of technical support for my blog this week. So I sent an email to the blog provider describing the problem. I was then contacted by someone in tech support who identified himself as a “happiness engineer.” Isn’t that great? Do colleges offer that degree now? Man, I studied the wrong thing in college! I majored in electrical engineering, but happiness engineering sounds like much more fun. I don’t know… that sounds like a degree that that number one party school over in Athens might offer, huh? I’m kidding! But can you imagine the electives? What fun!

What a nice concept. If only we could call a happiness engineer whenever we were feeling unhappy. “My football team lost yet again to that number one party school over in Athens—and I’m not happy about it! Can you help?” “The kids are fussing and fighting again, and I’m trying to hold onto my sanity. Can you help?” “I failed that exam! My grades are suffering, and I have to get the Hope scholarship. I’m not happy. Can you help?” “I can’t believe I’m so busy and stressed out all the time. It’s just overwhelming. I’m not happy. Can you help?” “I’m really struggling in my marriage, and I don’t know how to make it better. I’m not happy. Can you help?” “I think I might have a drinking problem; it’s affecting my work and my family. I’m not happy. Can you help?” “I just got the results from the doctor, and the news isn’t good. I’m not happy. Can you help?” Read the rest of this entry »

CBS Radio Mystery Theater’s “Who Made Me,” broadcast October 7, 1975

August 27, 2010

I used to listen this E.G. Marshall-hosted radio drama on a handheld Coke-bottle-shaped radio when I was a kid in the ’70s. WSB Radio broadcast it. (Yes, there was a time when AM radio wasn’t just political blow-hards 24/7.) Mystery Theater was a revival of radio drama in the age of TV. I fell in love with it. Thanks to a friend who gave me several DVDs worth of episodes on mp3, I’ve been listening again.

I like this episode. I know it’s dated: we no longer live in the Cold War era, and most of us don’t fear nuclear annihilation (although we fear plenty of other things). And it’s heavy-handed (the way these Twilight Zone-ish sci-fi stories tend to be) as it knocks the listener over the head with its message of love. But more than anything it speaks to our deep and persistent longing for God.

(I regret that the original commercials were edited out. That’s the best part!)

Like falling in love

August 27, 2010

I’ve recommended this book to and purchased it for people who want to know more about the Christian faith. Here’s a nice excerpt I re-read this week that speaks to me. I’m going to reflect on these ideas (and others) as I deliver my upcoming four-part sermon series on salvation.

This message [of the gospel of Jesus Christ, though, is so utterly unlikely and extraordinary that you can’t expect people simply to believe it in the same way they might believe you if you said it was raining outside. And yet, as people hear the message, at least some find that they do believe it. It makes sense to them. I don’t mean the kind of “sense” you get within the flatland world of secular imagination. There the only things that matter are what you can put into a test tube or a bank account. I mean the kind of sense that exists within the strange new world which we glimpse, even if only for a moment, in the way we glimpse a whole new world when we stand in awe in front of a great painting, or are swept off our feet by a song or a symphony. That kind of “making sense” is much more like falling in love than like calculating a bank balance. Ultimately, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a matter of believing and trusting in the God who would, and did, do such a thing.

N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 207.

Sermon for 08-22-10: “On This Rock”

August 25, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:13-18

The following is the original manuscript of the sermon.

Last Tuesday, Stephanie and I had the privilege of performing music for “54 and More,” our church’s senior adult fellowship group. What a warm and gracious audience they were! When Jerri Davis, the emcee of the event, introduced us, she said, “Brent and Stephanie are down in Vinebranch on Sundays.” At the end of the program, I  gently corrected her, saying that starting today, we are no longer down in Vinebranch.” We’ve all been saying, “down in Vinebranch,” so long that it’s going to be hard to change the way we refer to it. But starting today, we are no longer down anywhere—down in the basement, down in the dark, without windows and sunlight. We have moved up to Main Street. We have a prominent location, a beautiful sanctuary, and a beautiful building that blends the best of old and new.

We are here in part because this church dreamed we would be here. Read the rest of this entry »

A polite religious flame war

August 24, 2010

Back in the good old days of the internet, before the advent of the World Wide Web—not to mention Facebook—when the internet was confined to ASCII text on mainframe terminals, we Georgia Tech students used to have heated arguments called “flame wars” with other academic types around the world on Usenet newsgroups. Today I relived a little bit of that spirit in a thread on Facebook related to Christianity.

These things never start out as flame wars. You add a little kindling, and someone else adds a little more, and before you know it…

Someone posted a link to an article talking about how American Protestantism—given its checkered history with slavery, violence, and warfare, etc.—is really the most dangerous religion in America (not Islam).

I don’t care about political discussions, but when the conversation turns to questions of Christian faith, I get very interested. I will excerpt the debate between me and another person (who I don’t know). I’ll call him James. Read the rest of this entry »

Vinebranch video: “A New Song,” for our first Sunday in the new chapel

August 23, 2010

This video was shown in Vinebranch on August 22 as part of our celebration of the newly renovated chapel.

Sermon for 08-15-10: “Can You Hear Me Now? Part 6”

August 23, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 28:16-20

[Click the play button below to listen or select this link to download the mp3.]

The following is the original manuscript of the sermon.

Do you know what this is? This is our United Methodist Book of Discipline. This book is our church’s law book. It sets the rules and guidelines for how we are to be the church. It tries first of all to be faithful to scripture, to the Christian tradition in general, and to our own Wesleyan traditions in particular. There are things in this book that I have to abide by or they will come and take my recently hard-earned credentials away, and say, “You are not a pastor in our church anymore.” There are things in this book that we as a local church have to abide by or they will come and change the locks on the door and say, “You cannot meet in this building anymore.”

This is, in other words, a very important book that we are supposed to follow. So when it defines the mission of the church and says, “Here is what the Church is supposed to be about,” we need to listen: “The mission of the Church,” it reads, “is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” If we are faithful to this mission, that that means that everything we do as a church should move us in the direction of making—what?—disciples of Jesus Christ for the—what?—transformation of the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Vinebranch’s new home

August 19, 2010

Don’t forget that this Sunday, the Vinebranch worship service will be moving into the newly renovated chapel. The interior of the chapel has been redesigned from the ground up for Vinebranch, with a clean, contemporary feel. Most of the technology required to run the service is “under the hood,” hidden from view. It’s been engineered to make optimal use of sound, lighting, and video.

But it also honors the past with its beautiful stained-glass arched windows and gothic exterior. Just as it was when it was completed in 1938, the chapel will once again be a sanctuary for weekly worship—during which songs of worship and praise will be sung, the Word of God proclaimed, and the sacraments administered.

Our sermon is entitled “On This Rock,” and the scripture is Matthew 16:13-18. We will celebrate Holy Communion.

Biblical illiteracy in pop culture

August 19, 2010

This is beyond trivial—not to mention ancient history—but for reasons I can’t explain I was mesmerized by this clip from the making of “We Are the World,” in which Daryl Hall for some reason can’t stop looking at his music—even though he only has one short line! And it’s not like he’s reading the music because he sings it differently each take! But he’s not nearly as bad as Kim Carnes. Huey Lewis must be a genuinely nice guy, because notice how patient he is with her as she continually fails to stay on key.

Steve Perry is the real hero here, though. He changes the phrasing and vocal melody each time through, but whatever he does sounds perfect. He’s so nonchalant about it, too.

All that to say that while I was wasting time on YouTube, I heard the original song for the first time in 25 years. I noticed something I had never noticed before: Willie Nelson sings, “As God has shown us/ By turning stone to bread…”


Isn’t that exactly what God (through Jesus) doesn’t do during the wilderness temptation? Moses gets water from a rock, but Jesus refuses to turn stone to bread—because, as he quotes from scripture, we human beings don’t live by bread alone.

How come nobody caught this? (I hope that if it were Bob Dylan’s line to sing, he would have pointed out this error.)

Someone with more time on their hands should probably reflect on the irony in this mistake—as it relates to the nature of temptation, celebrity, and greed, etc.—but that’s not me. Not that I credit Michael Jackson or Lionel Richie (who wrote those words?) with being Bible scholars, but I’m genuinely surprised that that mistake slipped through.

Hipster Christianity

August 17, 2010

Someone sent me a link to this recent Wall Street Journal op-ed and wanted to know my thoughts…

My first thought is that the Wall Street Journal must have had some space to fill! There is very little substance here. Notice that the author, Brett McCracken (who has a blog here), doesn’t cite any evidence that young people either like or dislike these recent church trends that he criticizes. Young adults may be fleeing church in droves (I doubt that’s anything new), but it’s hardly because of what people like Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll are doing.

On the contrary, I’ll bet that young people disproportionately go to Rob Bell’s and Mark Driscoll’s churches. Are young people going to these churches and somehow not being “reached” with the gospel? Are they not growing in discipleship and love? If Bell and Driscoll are—as I suspect—filling their churches with young adults, another interpretation could be, “We need more churches like this!”

I can’t say, but neither can McCracken. The long and short of the piece is, “I’m 27 years old, and I don’t like it. I can speak authoritatively for my generation.” He’s also able to see into the hearts of pastors and worship leaders who have edgier sermon topics and music, and who take advantage of the latest technology. He implies that they’re acting in bad faith: they’re only doing these things to attract young people, not because they really believe in the messages they’re communicating.

How does he know? Since I only have a passing knowledge of Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll (who are very different from one another), I have no idea to what extent I “agree,” theologically, with either of them. But I have no reason to doubt that, like most pastors, they’re sincerely doing the best they can to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who need to hear it.

By all means, we worship planners—especially those of us who are involved in something usually called “contemporary worship”—don’t want to pander. We don’t want to chase after a demographic. The questions we need to ask are the following: “Are we being faithful to the gospel in the messages that we communicate? Are we leading worship with integrity? Do we really mean the words that we say and sing and pray?” If we answer these questions “yes,” what does it matter what style or form worship takes?

As someone with otherwise strong opinions about liturgy and tradition, I’m almost surprised to read that last sentence, but that’s what I believe! After all, regardless of our best and most thoughtful worship planning, the Holy Spirit enables true worship and makes it effective. It’s not ultimately up to us. Didn’t Paul say something about that? “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).