Archive for January, 2013

Why do churches attract mostly “buttoned-down, moralistic people”?

January 17, 2013

In his book Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley said that he believes unchurched people should like church because unchurched people liked Jesus. We who are the church ought to be like Jesus. If not, the church is doing something wrong. Pastor Tim Keller makes the same point in his book about the Parable of the Lost Sons, The Prodigal God, only he makes the point more strongly: For Keller, it isn’t a question of style—the way the message is packaged—but substance: we’ve got wrong message.

Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.[†]

Or the message doesn’t communicate to our culture today the same way it did back then. That’s usually what I tell myself. Yet, the very success of churches like Keller’s—in hip, urbane Manhattan, of all places—ought to make me wonder.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (New York: Riverhead, 2008), 18-19.

A good reason to believe in God

January 16, 2013

For a few months now, Scot McKnight has allowed a philosophy professor named Jeff Cook, a Christian, to guest-post on his Jesus Creed blog. Cook’s first series of posts was the Top Ten best reasons not to believe in God. The second series, which finished up today, is the Top Ten best reasons to believe in God. As interested as I am in apologetics, I found most of these reasons to be persuasive (why wouldn’t I, right?), if a bit mind-numbing. Not being a philosopher myself, all those P’s and C’s make my eyes glaze over. I prefer my arguments to be more narrative, if you know what I mean.

Still, even I thought the argument for today’s reason—love and freedom—which ranks #1 on his Top Ten reasons to believe in God, was straightforward and easy to follow. You might think that “love and freedom” are two reasons, but his point is that love is only possible if we are also free. (This should be uncontroversial, except to the most hardened Calvinist!)

Anyway, I’ll excerpt the argument and then add a few words to his.

P1  If materialism is true, love is a chemical reaction in your skull.
P2  Love is not simply a chemical reaction in your skull.
C1  Materialism is false.

Very few of us are able to look at our beloved, at our child, at our comrades and actually believe that our connection to them is *exclusively* chemical activity. Certainly some of it may be. But I would suggest many of us experience something more.

P3  If materialism is true, all our thoughts and actions are determined by the unthinking, non-rational movement of chemicals in our skulls.
P4  If P3, then if materialism is true we have no freedom of thought and action.
P5  We experience freedom of thought and action (we are in fact free of total coercion in both our thinking—what we believe—and our behavior—what we do).
C2  Materialism is false.

We think the human beings around us ought to do certain things (“avoid abusing children” for example) and believe certain things (“other human beings are valuable”). But if materialism is true our beliefs and actions are all determined by the unthinking matter in our skull over which “we” have no control.

He goes on to argue not only against materialism but for God. See the post.

In my view, this is a strong argument. Human freedom is a major problem for the philosophical materialist. Why? Because they live their lives as if freedom and love (and justice and any number of other things) have real meaning. In fact, we all do. We want badly for love and freedom to be real.

As far as I know, we can offer a strictly scientific or materialistic account for why we have the (illusory) experience of love and freedom, but this account is unsatisfying to those of us who aren’t complete nihilists.

And I know the counterargument: So what? We can want love, freedom, justice, beauty, God—and anything else—to be real and objectively meaningful, but our desire, no matter how strong, doesn’t make it so.

And of course that’s true.

But I used to hear the late Christopher Hitchens (and probably Richard Dawkins) talk a lot about “Occam’s razor”—the idea that the simplest explanation is best. So why resort to the “God” hypothesis if the atheistic hypothesis works just fine: Darwinian processes explain everything, so why bother with God?

I disagree that Darwinian processes “explain” everything, for a number of reasons. One thing it doesn’t explain, as Jeff Cook’s post pinpoints, is this desire. Throw the Christian God back in and suddenly that makes sense, too.

Here’s why Paul is not a male chauvinist pig

January 15, 2013
Of course you recognize this Gamorrean Guard from Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi.

Of course you recognize this adorable guy from Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi.

In my sermon on Sunday, I made an argument that the apostle Paul is neither a male chauvinist pig nor a helpless victim of a patriarchal culture who unconsciously reflects its oppressive values. I made this case by pointing to other parts of Paul’s letters that contradict this idea—especially his words in Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 11, and Galatians 3:28. How can we, the church, argue that women shouldn’t serve in leadership roles in the church based on Paul’s words (in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, for example), when Paul himself, in other places, indicates that they are and should?

As I said Sunday, Paul can’t mean that all women at all times and in all places should remain silent in worship in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 when, in the very same letter, 11:4-5, he assumes that women aren’t silent (“but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled…”), nor should they be.

As always, we have to interpret difficult passages of scripture first in light of scripture that’s clearer and easier to understand. Therefore, whatever we think Paul means in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, he can’t mean that all Christian women at all times and in all places are prohibited from participating fully in church leadership. He must be saying something else.

My favorite theologian and Bible scholar, N.T. Wright, makes the same argument in the following video clip—except with an English accent, so you know it must be true.

Notice he refers the listener to his commentary, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters, for his argument about Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which in my view are among the most difficult to understand in all of the Bible.

His argument takes up several pages in his commentary. Let me try to represent it as succinctly as possible. First, the key to the passage is to understand what Paul is getting at in this passage: Women must be allowed to learn and study God’s word, every bit as much as men. Women should do, for example, what Martha’s sister Mary does in Luke 10:38-42. In the culture of the Ancient Near East, that Jesus permitted Mary to sit at his feet alongside the men was a radical gesture; Paul’s words are in that same spirit. Therefore, his words about “full submission” in v. 11 describe a woman’s attitude as a fellow learner: in submission not to men, but to God.

Verse 12, however, is more controversial. Of this verse, Wright says,

Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ (the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years). It can equally mean: ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’ Why might Paul need to say this?

There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion—the biggest temple, the most famous shrine—was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area. As befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.[1]

So in a pagan religious milieu in which women held great power over men, Paul wants to make sure that these Ephesian Christians don’t get the wrong idea: “I’m not saying that Christian worship in Ephesus should mirror pagan worship, in that women now get to dictate to men; only that they should be encouraged to learn alongside them.”

We’re not out of the woods, though: What do we make of this weird part about Adam and Eve? We know that Paul can’t be blaming Eve for Adam’s sin—in which case we’d have to throw out large chunks of his argument in Romans! He’s referring instead to the nature of Eve’s sin: ignorance. Unlike Adam, who deliberately sinned by breaking God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve sinned because she failed to understand the command, which was given to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17. Seriously: read these verses in the context of the entire chapter.

Now read 1 Timothy 2:13-14 again: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve…” Paul doesn’t say this in order to establish an ontological hierarchy: “See, men are superior to women.” Rather, he’s reminding Timothy that when God gave the command to Adam, Eve wasn’t yet created! Eve was created some time later, in Genesis 2:21ff. So Eve had to learn about God’s command concerning the forbidden fruit later—and she failed to learn it well, obviously. For all we know, Adam failed to teach it to her properly. As a result, she fell into sin.

Adam sinned too, of course, but the nature of his sin was different—and in some ways worse, at least based on an Old Testament accounting of sin.

So Paul is using this illustration from Genesis 2-3 to stress the importance that everyone—both men and women—be given the opportunity to learn the word of God.

Finally, what about v. 15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” Unless we imagine that Paul has forgotten about salvation by grace through faith, we know he can’t be saying that women are saved as a result of their ability to give birth. That’s preposterous! Since the Creation story of Genesis 2-3 is still in view, Paul has in mind Eve’s punishment for her sin, described in Genesis 3:16 (“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children). Eve’s punishment doesn’t cut women off from salvation: for women, like men, will be saved through faith, love, and holiness.

I’ll leave you with Wright’s words again:

What about the bit about childbirth? Paul doesn’t see it as a punishment. Rather, he offers an assurance that, though childbirth is indeed difficult, painful and dangerous, often the most testing moment in a woman’s life, this is not a curse which must be taken as a sign of God’s displeasure. God’s salvation is promised to all, women and men alike, who follow Jesus in faith, love, holiness and prudence. And that includes those who contribute to God’s creation through childbearing. Becoming a mother is hard enough, God knows, without pretending it’s somehow an evil thing.[2]

1. N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 25.

2. Ibid., 26-7.

Rachel Evans’s new book and the “literal sense” of scripture

January 11, 2013
Rachel Held Evans, sitting on the roof while failing to make her book's point.

Rachel Held Evans, sitting on the roof and failing to make her book’s point.

It’s hard not to like Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Stylistically, she’s the anti-Chan of Christian writers. Her prose is lively, funny, self-deprecating, at times deeply insightful—as I indicated earlier this week.

No doubt, you’re now waiting for my Big But, and here it is: I don’t trust her.

It’s not that I can’t get behind the book’s premise: that the concept of what she calls “biblical womanhood” is a myth. It’s impractical; it’s highly selective; it disregards context; and it does violence to what the Bible actually says: because the Bible, a diverse collection of books, doesn’t present one model of what a woman should be.

Nothing about this premise bothers me. I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist home. I believe in egalitarian marriage. I believe women should be ordained—obviously, I’m a United Methodist. And I went to a liberal mainline Protestant seminary where anyone espousing the very conservative views of womanhood that informed Evans’s Christian upbringing would be laughed off of campus.

My problem is with the way she attempts to prove the premise: by supposedly taking the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—as literally as possible for one year. Each month, she tackles a new theme related to the concept: domesticity, modesty, purity, submission, etc. The first problem is her understanding of what counts as literal. For example, as penance for, at times, being the “contentious wife” of Proverbs 21:9 (“It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife.”), she literally sits on the rooftop of her house—one minute for each instance of contentious behavior.

She said that some of her blog readers reminded her “about a million times that the Bible didn’t explicitly command contentious women to sit on the their roofs.”[1] That’s putting it too mildly: she well knows that no one in the history of the world, much less the history of the Church, has ever prescribed this practice. Not only does the Bible not “explicitly command” the practice: it doesn’t even hint at it. It doesn’t imply it, even after the most careful, nuanced reading. No reasonable person would ever think, upon reading Proverbs 21:9, that sitting on a roof is a “biblical concept.” It’s a figure of speech.

And what’s her point anyway? Does she imagine that living with a contentious spouse—wife or husband—isn’t an unpleasant experience? I agree that we should apply the proverb to contentious husbands as well—and, by all means, I’m sure that sexism and patriarchy factor into the proverb writer’s words. But it’s not as if Proverbs has nothing to say about a man’s behavior, either.

So Evans is overreaching a bit. No big deal. Except it is sort of a big deal in the book. Heck, there she is on the cover of the book, sitting on the roof!

If Evans were reading this, she would accuse me of missing the point: Whether or not the Bible says to do this, this is just the sort of thing that we ought to do if we’re going to “take the Bible literally.” And why don’t the Bible-thumpers do this, too—since they’re all about prohibiting women from preaching in church? Logically, what’s the difference?

The difference is that this isn’t even close to what it means to take the Bible literally. The “literal sense” of scripture—by all means the Church’s primary way of reading the Bible—doesn’t imply that we flatten every metaphor, every figure of speech, every instance of poetic license in order to make it literally or historically true. The literal sense of scripture means that we take scripture the way the Bible writer intended it to be taken. We take it at face value.

In the case of Proberbs 21, the writer was employing a figure of speech, and he meant for us to take it that way. Similarly, we understand that Jesus’ parables don’t describe actual historical events, or they do so only incidentally. Farmers will occasionally sow seeds on rocky ground and among the thorns, after all. A Samaritan might have helped an injured Jew on the side of a road at some point in history.

What bothers me most about the sitting-on-the-rooftop chapter is that it’s part of a larger pattern of misrepresenting, intentionally or not, the Bible and Christian practice. Another example: In an exercise on obeying her husband, she found 1 Peter 3:1-6, which includes the words from v. 6, “Sarah accepted Abraham’s authority when she called him master.” Because Evans “wanted to try and take this passage as literally as possible”[2] she decided to start calling her husband “master.”

As before, this isn’t even the literal meaning of the verse. It’s literally a directive for wives to submit to their husbands (which, based on everything else we know from the New Testament, is mutual). Why does this matter? Because she’s supposed to be making the point that we arbitrarily “pick and choose” what to take literally and what not to take literally. Except in this case, it isn’t arbitrary; she’s just confused.

She makes the same mistake when it comes to the “Proverbs 31 Woman” and Paul’s so-called “command” for women to grow their hair long.

In doing so, she trivializes legitimate disagreements that Christians have about interpreting scripture. The literal sense of scripture matters. In the literal sense, after all, Paul says that women should remain silent in church and cover their heads. I interpret those verses literally. In doing so, however, as a responsible Bible reader, I have to ask further questions: What situation in this particular church is prompting Paul to say these words? Does he intend for these words to be general rule for all Christians for all times and places, or is he directing these words to a certain group of women at a certain time? If we made his words here into a general rule, would it contradict what Paul says elsewhere?

But Evans knows this already! Later, in the chapter on submission, she does a nice job interpreting some of these controversial Pauline passages with exegetical care and nuance. True, Paul has often been misunderstood, she writes, but here’s what he’s really saying.

I have a hard time squaring what she writes in the submission chapter with her complaint, early in the book, about “theologians from the apostle Paul to Martin Luther” forcing women into subordinate roles, while “noting somewhat begrudgingly that women are nonetheless necessary for procreation.”[3]
I’ve read this passage from the Introduction a dozen times. She’s not saying that some Christians misuse Paul to do this—I would agree with that. She’s saying this is what Paul himself does.

I’ll leave it to Luther scholars to defend their guy, but Paul neither said nor implied any such thing! On the contrary: Paul was anything but a woman-hater, as I’ll be happy to tell you about this Sunday!

1. Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 17.

2. Ibid., 55.

3. Ibid., xxvi.

Sermon 01-06-13: “Vinebranch Bookclub: Francis Chan’s ‘Multiply'”

January 10, 2013

VB bookclub facebook

Despite its title, Francis Chan’s new book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, is less about making disciples than being the kind of people who are disciple-makers. In this regard, the book ought to have more to say than it does about sanctification—that grace-filled, Spirit-led process of change by which God transforms us into the people he wants us to be. Most of us haven’t arrived yet—to say the least. In the meantime, however, we can still do good work for God’s kingdom, not by our own strength and power, but by the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. As I argue in this sermon, sanctification isn’t so much about trying harder as trusting more.

Sermon Text: Matthew 28:16-20

The following is my original sermon manuscript, with footnotes.

For nine years Angus T. Jones has been the one-half man on TV’s most popular sit-com, Two and a Half Men. He earns $350,000 an episode, which is a nice gig. Except now he’s telling his viewers to please stop watching the show. He calls it “filth.” Why is he jeopardizing his career in this way? Because he recently became a Christian.

A recent article in Christianity Today interviewed some prominent Christian intellectuals about whether or not a celebrity like Jones should come out so publicly so soon after his conversion. I personally think it’s great that Jones is witnessing in this way, but I appreciate the wisdom of something a professor at Calvin College said: “While conversion can happen in an instant, sanctification takes time… Christian wisdom isn’t implanted in us by some sort of magic, like a mental upload in The Matrix.”

He’s completely right about that. Conversion is often the easy part of being a Christian. In fact, conversion is to being a Christian what falling in love is to being married. Those of you who have been Christians for a while and are married know what I’m talking about. Learning to live our lives as Christians—learning to repent of the sins that were part of our lives before we found Christ, learning to resist the new temptations that come our way, learning to develop Christlike love for God and neighbor—these things take time and effort. For the vast majority of us Christians, it will take a lifetime and then some. Most of us won’t become perfect until the other side of death and resurrection. Read the rest of this entry »

“Atheist church” is an opportunity, not a threat

January 10, 2013

I completely understand why Britain’s first “atheist church” feels threatening to many Christians there. (If it didn’t have at least a little shock value, why else would HuffPost pick up the story?) In fact, the pastor of a nearby Catholic church doesn’t like it at all:

“How can you be an atheist and worship in a church? Surely it’s a contradiction of terms. Who will they be singing to?

“It is important to debate and engage with atheists but for them to establish a church like any other religious denomination is going too far. I’m cautious about it.”

Having read Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide, however, I’m thinking of these things in a new way: Why see the atheist church as a threat? Why not see it as an opportunity? Just think: here are all these unchurched people who obviously feel such an unmet need for love, community, and companionship that they’ve gone to the trouble of gathering here in the first place! What a mission field!

What can nearby churches do to welcome them to the neighborhood? How can they show hospitality? How can they bear witness to Christ’s love?

Maybe, for example, a real church can use its experience and resources to help the atheist church get involved in service projects to the community. I bet they could partner with them in any number of ways. Who knows?

One thing’s for sure: being angry about it—as many members of the atheist church expect Christians to be—won’t help anyone.

Methodists believe in the doctrine of election, too

January 9, 2013

I recently referred to Francis Chan’s “nearly Pelagian”—what I could rightly call semi-Pelagian—”disregard of the role of God’s grace in sanctification.” As if on cue, Arminian Baptist theologian Roger Olson has an evenhanded article about different evangelical perspectives on election (full article behind subscription firewall) in the most recent Christianity Today, which includes a discussion of semi-Pelagianism.

He helpfully describes it with an illustration:

Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that human beings take the initiative in their salvation and service to God. We decide whether to be saved or enter into God’s service completely by ourselves, without prevenient (or necessary) grace. (Prevenient grace is grace that convicts, calls, illumines, and enables. Christian theologians disagree about whether it is resistible or irresistible, but all evangelical theologians agree it is necessary for the first exercise of a good will toward God.) Some years ago, a popular television series featured angels in human disguise helping people in distress turn to God. In one episode, a beautiful young angel with a Scottish accent counseled a man to “reach up to God as far as you can, and then he’ll reach down and take you the rest of the way.” I call that “Touched by an Angel theology.” By itself, without careful biblical and theological clarification, it expresses semi-Pelagianism.

Moreover, he calls semi-Pelagianism “arguably the default view of both salvation and service among American Christians, especially younger Christians. But all branches of Christianity have condemned it as heresy, because it completely contradicts Scripture.”

Did you read that? All branches of Christianity condemn semi-Pelagianism, including us Methodists. I emphasize this because, as Arminians, Methodists are sometimes accused of being semi-Pelagian by our Reformed brothers and sisters because we affirm a limited but (we believe) necessary role for free will in the process of salvation. As Olson writes,

According to Wesley’s essay “On Predestination,” faithfully following Arminius, election (predestination) means that “God foreknew those in every nation, who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things.” He based this on Romans 8, especially verses 29 and 30. Like all Arminians (and many who do not use that label but agree with its essential doctrine of election), Wesley affirmed free will, enabled by grace, because otherwise, “[I]f man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, words, or actions.”

Free will, enabled by grace. Olson goes on to emphasize a point that can hardly be made loudly enough: “[W]hatever role humans play in their salvation, salvation is God’s work. Even Arminians, at their best and truest, believe sinners receive saving grace only because God enables them to receive it with the free response of faith.”

“It has to get messy before it gets clean”

January 8, 2013

rachel_held_evans

This week’s Vinebranch Book Club book is Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In the following passage, she writes about new domestic chores she’s taken up in her attempt to be a truly “biblical woman” (Proverbs 31:15, Titus 2:5). Using a Martha Stewart book as a guide, she’s decided to maximize her limited kitchen space by cleaning out and organizing the contents of her kitchen cabinets and drawers. Not that I know anything about housekeeping from personal experience, but I liked this insight.

Mom did this every now and then when we were kids. She’d put a Carole King tape in the stereo, empty all the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen, and clean the whole thing top to bottom while singing at the top of her lungs about the earth moving under feet and the sky tumbling down a-tumbling down. Amanda and I watched, bewildered, among the stockpots and frying pans. Shouting above the music, she told us, “It has to get messy before it gets clean”—a philosophy that pretty much sums up every meaningful experience of my life, from homemaking to friendships to faith. Sometimes you’ve just got to tear everything out, expose all the innards, and start over again.[†]

Truer words…

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 28.

Wright on reading the Old Testament

January 7, 2013

Before I knew which direction yesterday’s sermon would take, I thought I might spend time dealing with the inspiration of scripture and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”) Two-thirds of Chan and Beuving’s book Multiply is about the Bible—what it is, why we read it, how we read it. And the truth is, that part was perfectly good. (Did Chan delegate the Bible stuff to his coauthor? Multiply feels like two books. The tone of the second part is more grace-filled and less Francis-Chan-ish than the first.)

While preaching about the inspiration of scripture will make a good sermon some day, I decided the problems raised by the first third of the book—specifically, Chan and Beuving’s nearly Pelagian disregard of the role of God’s grace in sanctification—were too large to ignore.

While I was thinking about the inspiration of scripture, I revisited N.T. Wright’s wonderful little book on the authority of scripture, The Last Word. Wright deals nicely with the persistent problem of how Christians handle the Old Testament. We can neither embrace it as a normative guide for Christian living nor reject it by that reductive reasoning that ends every argument with, “Yes, but it also says we can’t eat shellfish! You don’t get to pick and choose!”

Well, yes, in fact we do get to pick and choose—or at least the Church does. And the reason we do so, Wright explains, is that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the two testaments. Here’s his rationale, which I find helpful:

It is not hard to imagine illustrations of how this continuity and discontinuity function. When travelers sail across a vast ocean and finally arrive on the distant shore, they leave the ship behind and continue over land, not because the ship was no good or because their voyage had been misguided, but precisely because both ship and voyage had accomplished their purpose. During the new, dry-land stage of their journey, the travelers remain—and in this illustration must never forget that they remain—the people who made that voyage in that ship.

Perhaps the best example of this line of thought anywhere in the New Testament is one of the earliest: Galatians 3:22-29, where Paul argues that God gave the Mosaic law for a specific purpose which has now come to fruition, whereupon that law must be put aside, in terms of its task of defining the community, not because it was a bad thing but because it was a good thing whose task is now accomplished. But, as the whole letter indicates, the people of God renewed through Jesus and the Spirit can never and must never forget the road by which they had traveled.[†]

N.T. Wright, The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God—Getting Beyond the Bible Wars (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 57.

Sermon 12-30-12: “Andy Stanley’s ‘Deep and Wide'”

January 4, 2013
Brent shared insights from Andy Stanley's new book in this post-Christmas sermon.

I shared insights from Andy Stanley’s new book in this post-Christmas sermon.

This sermon, using insights from Andy Stanley’s new book, “Deep & Wide,” challenges us to reconsider our commitment to reaching lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I argue, we often fail to be like Jesus in this most important respect: we don’t love unchurched people nearly as much as Jesus does! Also, using insights from Andy’s own story, I challenge us to see what God is doing even through the challenges and setbacks of life.

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

We just got back yesterday from visiting Mayberry, North Carolina. Well, not exactly Mayberry… Mt. Airy, the hometown of the late great Andy Griffith and the town after which the fictitious Mayberry was modeled. You can tour the town in a vintage 1961 Ford police cruiser, just like Andy Taylor and Barney Fife drove on the show. Nearly every shop and restaurant has either Mayberry in the name or a name that’s related to the show. There’s a Floyd’s Barber Shop. We ate at a place called Barney’s Cafe—and there were of course pictures of Barney Fife everywhere.

It’s completely hokey, completely cornball, completely cheesy, of course… But you know what? If you’re going to be Mayberry, be Mayberry all the way, you know? Go all out! Embrace your inner Goober! There are Andy Griffith Show fans as far away as Japan. You want them and every other fan of the show all around the world to know that this is the place that they simply must come in order to have the authentic “Andy Griffith” experience—and they’ll spend a lot of money on food, lodging, and tacky souvenirs while they’re here! Read the rest of this entry »