Archive for September, 2010

Sermon for 09-12-10: “Salvation, Part 3: Continuing On”

September 14, 2010

Scripture Text: Philippians 3:4-14

Please note: After you press play, the video takes several seconds to load before starting.

So there’s an organization calling itself the Freedom From Religion Foundation who will soon be blanketing the metro Atlanta area with billboards promoting anti-religious messages, un-belief, and atheism. They want people in the Bible Belt to join their cause. One of the billboards will urge passers-by to “Sleep in on Sundays.” As a pastor for the past six years, I can say with great confidence that Americans’ right to sleep in on Sundays is not under assault. Unfortunately! No, listen… I would love to simply laugh this group off. But I don’t like these billboards, I’ll be honest. It feels deeply disrespectful and unfair—not to mention intrusive. Read the rest of this entry »

Pressing on

September 11, 2010

Tomorrow’s sermon, “Salvation, Part 3: Continuing On,” focuses on sanctification—what the Holy Spirit does in our lives between the time we enter into a saving relationship with God through Christ and our death. Sanctification means salvation in the present tense—we are being saved. Our responsibility as Christians is to do what Paul does: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14)

With this in mind, I’m including this breathtakingly great performance of a Bob Dylan gospel song based on that scripture. This is from the Chicago Mass Choir, and it’s everything I love about black gospel. Enjoy!

Physics can’t answer metaphysical questions. Why is that so hard?

September 9, 2010

Kevin Hargaden explains it all in this post.. Yours truly wrote about this a while back right here. Why are so many scientist-types so confused about this?

(I read somewhere that Einstein was as dumb as the rest of us in every other area of life besides physics. Maybe it’s the nature of genius? They’re not well-rounded.)

Regardless, here’s an excerpt from Mr. Zoomtard:

It is utterly conceivable (which is not equivalent with likely) that a universe might be generated through forces of gravity. But the question of God is not a question that is only meaningful if it turns out that he left some fingerprints behind for us to detect. Hawking and all of new-atheism (and indeed much of contemporary Christianity) misses the point when it thinks the deep question of existence is about how things came to be. Existence itself is the issue.

Why anything?

Thank you.

Sermon for 09-05-10: “Salvation, Part 2: Getting Started”

September 8, 2010

Sermon Text: John 11:17-27; Matthew 7:24-27

Please note: After you press play, the video takes several seconds to load before starting.

The following is my original manuscript

I have a friend who grew up Methodist. When she was a child she attended a revival at her church with her family. And when the preacher invited people—Billy Graham-style—to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and accept Christ as Savior and Lord, she did so. She walked down the aisle of the church and made a profession of faith. She was later baptized. When she was 12, she went through confirmation class. At the end of the class, she informed her distressed parents that she would not be confirmed and not be joining the church. She explained, as best she knew how as a young teenager, that she felt like confirmation wasn’t about being in a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ; it was mostly about becoming a part of a human institution; and that her pastor—who was himself still in seminary—made her feel like her earlier decision to follow Christ didn’t really count. Read the rest of this entry »

“The long failure of the Enlightenment project”

September 6, 2010

Here’s an interview excerpt from my favorite theologian, N.T. Wright. I could listen to his voice and accent all day long, but mostly I like the substance of what he says.

Happy Labor Day

September 6, 2010

Here’s a nice reflection from today’s newsletter, “Monday Morning in North Georgia,” written by the Rev. Dr. Jamie Jenkins, an executive assistant to Bishop Michael Watson.

Do you know where Illegible, GA is located? Neither do I. Actually there is no such place.

In last week’s Monday Morning I mentioned that Jonathan Norcross was instrumental in moving Georgia’s state capitol to Atlanta. The computer corrected my spelling of Milledgeville. The results–Illegible.

I apologize to the residents of the fourth capital of Georgia. Milledgeville was named for John Milledge, Governor of Georgia. Situated on the fall line of the Oconee River, Milledgeville was chosen because of its central location and ample springs.

Names are important and attention should be given to saying and spelling them correctly. Read the rest of this entry »

We are not automatically Christian

September 2, 2010

In his book Christianity Rediscovered, Catholic missionary Fr. Vincent Donovan, who died in 2000, describes his work in the late-’60s and early-’70s among a large semi-nomadic ethnic group known as the Masai in East Africa.

After much soul-searching, he decided to throw out the textbooks on “how to do missions”—whose theories had failed to produce converts to Christianity among the Masai for more than a century—and simply present to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He describes great success—and failure. After spending a year with one particular Masai community, patiently telling a people who had no prior exposure to Christianity what Christianity was all about, they reached a moment of decision: would they or would they not accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and be baptized? He gave them a week to decide. When he returned the following week, the elders in the village said, “No. Thank you, but no. We don’t want to follow Jesus.”

He was devastated at first. Upon further reflection, he wrote: Read the rest of this entry »

Miracles aren’t always “miraculous”

September 1, 2010

Gail O’Day, in her commentary on John’s Gospel in the New Interpreter’s Bible, reflects on the difficulty modern people sometimes have with miracles in the gospels. She summarizes the experiences of us believers as follows:

[F]or many people, the experiences of their lives have led them to accept that there is a genuine mystery in the world, that the world is full of evidence that the supernatural does overlap with the natural, that the line between the two is permeable. For religious people, this mystery, the overlap between the natural and the supernatural, is seen as evidence of God’s transcendence of the categories by which God’s creatures understand the world to be ordered and of God’s intervention in the workings of creation. It is thus a question of faith whether one can acknowledge the possibility and, indeed, reality of God’s miraculous intervention in creation.

That sounds about right to me. But I would add a few more thoughts. First, we who have been brought up in the shadow of the Enlightenment, trained to see the world through a modern lens, “wouldn’t know a burning bush if it blew up in our face” (to quote an old John Hiatt song). We literally can’t see supernatural events because our mind is taught to filter them out before we consciously experience them.

(Malina and Rohrbaugh, in their Social-Science Commentary series talk about this in more detail. They argue that our ancient ancestors, who were far less self-conscious than we modern people, didn’t have this internal censor; they could experience reality in a more direct and unmediated way.)

Second, if we understand, as Paul does in Acts 17, that we “live and move and have our being” in God—that God’s Spirit sustains our lives into existence at every moment—then there is a sense in which every moment of life is a miracle. We don’t have life apart from God giving it to us as a gift at every moment. If God were not closer to us than we can imagine, we would cease to exist.

If the above paragraph is true, then miracles are not simply those things that have a supernatural cause. God can and does work in a providential way through the natural world in ways that scientists can explain (without resorting to “and then God worked a miracle”).

But shouldn’t this perfectly explainable providential work also be considered miraculous?

Gail O’Day, “The Gospel of John,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 693.

Odds and ends from last week’s sermon

September 1, 2010

I was a little surprised that no one asked me about the location of John 7:53-8:11 in John’s gospel. Every modern translation that I’ve seen, including the NIV and the NRSV, points out that this “pericope” (the technical name for a relatively self-contained Bible story) was added to John’s gospel some time after the gospel was completed by someone other than the original author. (Bibles often put brackets around it.)

We know it was not originally part of John’s gospel. Indeed, the “feel” of the story  and some of the Greek vocabulary make it seem more like a story that belongs in one of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, or Luke). If you read John 7:52 and skip to 8:12, the narrative moves along seamlessly. Many scholars say it belongs toward the end of Luke’s gospel where Jesus is teaching in the temple. One study Bible I have places it at the end of John—saying that no one knows where it goes. Read the rest of this entry »