Archive for July, 2017

What the Trinity says about God’s loving nature

July 28, 2017

The New City Catechism Devotional continues to bless me. I’m writing down these words about the Trinity from Kevin DeYoung mostly so I can quickly refer to them the next time I teach confirmation class.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most important Christian doctrine that most people never think about. It’s absolutely essential to our faith, and yet for many Christians it just seems like a very confusing math problem. And even if we can figure out what Trinity means, it doesn’t feel like it has much bearing on our lives, much relevance to us.

The word Trinity, famously, is not found in the Bible, but the word does very well at capturing a number of biblical truths. There are actually seven statements that go into the doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. God is one. There’s only one God.
  2. The Father is God.
  3. The Son is God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is God.
  5. The Father is not the Son.
  6. The Son is not the Spirit.
  7. The Spirit is not the Father.

If you get those seven statements, then you’ve captured the doctrine of the Trinity—what it means when we say there is one God and three persons.[1]

Is that clear to you? Would this communicate with 12-and 13-year-olds in confirmation class?

Incidentally, as I’ve mentioned before, I like the ministry of Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who frequently debates world-renown atheists. One of his arguments for God’s existence is the “moral argument”: in a nutshell, the fact that objective moral values and duties exist means that God exists. If there are laws, there must be a law-giver. If there’s no law-giver, then no matter how strongly we “feel” that something is wrong, what we feel is the result of blind, undirected physical forces: to say something is “wrong” is merely to assert one’s personal taste. (For more on this, see this old post.)

But this raises a potential problem, as many of Craig’s opponents point out: Are these objective moral values and duties good because God says they’re good? Or is their goodness based on a standard external to God himself?

Do you see the problem? If we say “because God says so,” that seems arbitrary.

On the other hand, if the standard by which we measure goodness is external to God himself, then God is unrelated to this standard, and the moral argument goes out the window. (In philosophical circles, this problem is often called “the Euthyphro dilemma,” which was raised by Socrates himself.)

Craig would call this a false choice and say something like this: We can be confident that what God commands is good not simply because he says so, but because what God “says” is rooted in his divine nature, which is only good and loving. You can easily Google his argument, and let Craig speak for himself!

Regardless, the Trinity shows how this is true: God, in his very nature, is a loving relationship of three Persons. From eternity past, this relationship, at the center of God’s nature, demonstrates true love, which is the foundation of objective moral values and duties.

Not that DeYoung was addressing the “moral argument” when he wrote the following, but I find it helpful to this discussion:

“[W]hen you have a triune God, you have the eternality of love. Love has existed from all time. If you have a god who is not three persons, he has to create a being to love, to be an expression of his love. But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing in eternity have always had this relationship of love. So love is not a created thing. God didn’t have to go outside of himself to love. Love is eternal. And when you have a triune God, you have fully this God who is love.[2]

God did not have to go outside of himself to love. To be a loving god, a non-Trinitarian god would have to first create someone or something to love.

Not so the God of Christianity. He is loving by nature, in and of himself, such that the apostle John can say, “God is love.”

Therefore, God does not have to “go outside of himself” to find a standard to measure the goodness of God’s commands. What God commands is good because it springs from this loving nature.

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 26.

2. Ibid., 27.

Alternate street parking in New York and our Christian faith

July 27, 2017

I’m back from vacation! I wrote the following for our church’s weekly e-newsletter:

My family and I returned late Wednesday night from our vacation in Washington, D.C., and New York City. We rented basement apartments through “Airbnb” in both cities. Our place in Washington had private parking in an alley driveway. Our place in Brooklyn, however, had the same parking available to everyone else: on the street.

Lisa read that 40 percent of traffic in Brooklyn is people driving around looking for parking. Having now experienced it firsthand, I believe it!

But at least I know how it works: Twice a week in most places, a street sweeper cleans alternate sides of each street. The times are posted on signs. On Monday, “our” side of the street was being cleaned from 8:30 to 10:00. Lisa and I got up early to move our car and try to find an empty space somewhere else. We failed. We found no empty spaces–except on the side of the street that was being cleaned.

Meanwhile, many of the cars that were parked on our side of the street were now double-parked on the other side of the street. Their owners would then move them to the other side of the street at 10:00 (or about 15 minutes before). So like a couple of locals, we did the same thing.

A friend in Brooklyn told us that for most residents, this is all the driving they do every week: Moving their car from one side of the street to the other, and back again. A couple of times a week. Their car is there if they need it, but mostly they take the subway or walk.

I’m sure there’s a sermon illustration here somewhere.

After all, our relationship with Jesus Christ ought to be at the center of our lives. We Christians belong to the Lord (Romans 14:7-8), and everything we do–whether at work, or at school, or at home with the family, or on vacation, or out with friends–we do for him and his glory (Colossians 3:23-24). We should rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a).

Yet, how often do we treat our Christian faith like it’s a parked car in Brooklyn? It’s something we use once or twice a week. Or when all else fails. But most of the time, we rely on our own wits, or other things, or other people, to get us through life.

What about you?

I hope that Hampton United Methodist is a place where we disciples are learning to depend on Jesus, and trust in Jesus, more and more. Join me in praying that it will be.

“The law must do its God-given duty today”

July 13, 2017

At Wednesday night’s Bible study, we dealt with the question that Paul raises in Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law?” Up to this point in his letter, Paul has argued that, contrary to the message of his opponents in Galatia, obedience to God’s law can play no role in saving us. So it’s only natural that his readers might wonder, What’s the point of the law?

His answer? God’s law “imprisons everything under sin” (Galatians 3:22). In other words, the law makes clear how helplessly sinful we all are. It teaches us that our salvation will come only through an act of sheer grace on God’s part. It reminds us of our desperate need for a Savior.

The law prepares us to receive God’s Son Jesus.

I’ve said in previous sermons that our failure to keep God’s law is at least one-half of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we miss this point, we’ll miss the gospel entirely.

The late Anglican theologian John Stott describes the role of the law as follows:

After God gave the promise to Abraham, He gave the law to Moses. Why? He had to make things worse before He could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really underneath—sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God and helpless to save himself.

And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment… We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so is to contradict the plan of God in biblical history… No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.[†]

No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself.

The law reveals to us who we truly are, without which the gospel will seem irrelevant. I like that!

1. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1968), 92-3.

Sermon 06-25-17: “A Loving Father and His Older Son”

July 13, 2017

Detail of older son from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

Our scripture today tells the story of the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As this sermon makes clear, we Christians—who are justified by faith alone through grace alone—can easily slip into the “religious” mindset all over again: we believe that we have to earn our place in God’s family.

Sermon Text: Luke 15:(11-24) 25-32

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

We got heartbreaking news last week about the University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor last year in North Korea for allegedly stealing some political artwork from a hotel. He died last week of some kind of brain injury, which he received while in North Korean custody.

After his death, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware posted on Facebook that Warmbier “got exactly what he deserved… He went to North Korea for [heaven’s] sake and then acted like a spoiled, naive, arrogant, US college student who had never had to face the consequences of his actions. I see him crying at his sentencing hearing and think ‘What did you expect?’”

As you might expect, she received a lot of criticism for her comments. People on social media were outraged. The university apologized on her behalf. And as tempted as I am to pile on, I remember the uncharitable thoughts that crossed my mind when the news broke last year that Warmbier had been arrested: “Why the heck was he in North Korea anyway? And if he did do something to that artwork—oh my goodness—what was he thinking?

I felt morally superior to him—and obviously this professor did, too.

But why do we feel morally superior? We’ve all made plenty of foolish decisions. We’ve all sinned spectacularly. The difference is, unlike this poor college student, none of us has received a death sentence for it! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 06-18-17: “A Loving Father and His Younger Son”

July 12, 2017

Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

For Father’s Day, I began a two-part series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, otherwise known as the Parable of the Loving Father. This sermon focuses on the more popular part of the parable: the story of the younger son, from Luke 15:11-24. Even six or seven years ago, I thought the younger son’s story was for new converts to the faith—that it didn’t “apply” to those of us who have been Christians for a while. Of course, now I see how foolish that is. In this sermon, I challenge us to think about ways in which we’re a lot like the younger son.

Sermon Text: Luke 15:1-2, 11-24

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

A couple of weeks ago, this headline appeared on The Babylon Bee, that satirical Christian news website: “Father of 3 Wonders When He’ll Get Chance to Influence Others for Christ.” This fake news article continues:

Stating that he had been feeling a sense of purposelessness and melancholy for some months now, local father of three Andrew Harbaugh recently began wondering when he would ever get a chance to impact anyone for the sake of Christ, sources close to him confirmed Thursday.

Harbaugh reportedly spends his days working ten hours at a desk job and his nights talking and playing with his three children.

“I just wish God would place a few people in my life for whom I could make an eternal difference,” Harbaugh told reporters, his head in his hands. “I just don’t have time to do anything for the Kingdom of God while I provide for my family and spend time with my three boys.”

“Surely the Lord will have something important for me to do someday,” he added sadly.

You see the irony, I hope. Like Mr. Harbaugh in this article, each one of us who is a father has a God-given opportunity—a God-given responsibility—to do the most important work for God’s kingdom possible, which is this: sharing with our children the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ through our words and through our actions. We are to live out what it means to be a Christian.

Now, I’m not saying that these words don’t apply to equally to mothers, but since it’s Father’s Day, I’m aiming them at us fathers. Or grandfathers—because this still applies to you: The most important mission that God has given us in life right now is to do everything we can to “go and make disciples” of our children and our grandchildren. And we don’t get to outsource this holy work of discipleship to our wives alone. Being a disciple of Jesus, being involved in church, praying and reading the Bible with our children, is not women’s work! Please, fathers, for the sake of our children’s souls, let’s not shirk our responsibility! If we are to be “imitators of God,” as the apostle Paul says[1]—and we can learn a lot about God our Father from this today’s scripture—then we ought to imitate God in his passion for bringing his children—our children—into a saving relationship with him through Christ! Read the rest of this entry »

My sermons are now being podcast! Have you subscribed?

July 11, 2017

I’ve been working over the past couple of months on creating a sermon podcast. I’ve been tweaking the audio settings, and the audio quality is now good enough for me to be proud of it. Each podcast includes an intro and scripture reading, the audio from the sermon itself, and an outro, which includes an invitation to my church, Hampton United Methodist. I purchased the license for the music you hear at the beginning and end.

My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Click on one of those links to subscribe. The good thing about a podcast is that it enables easy access on your smartphone or any other device.

I hope you enjoy it!

Here’s a screen cap from my iPhone.

Sermon 06-11-17: “That They May See Your Good Deeds”

July 11, 2017

“Lifestyle evangelism” is often maligned among evangelical Christians, yet Peter makes clear that it is a powerful and necessary component for effective witnessing. How do we do it? Mostly by being in love with Jesus. Are we in love with Jesus? 

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:11-17

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Last Wednesday, a nominee for deputy budget director named Russell Vought appeared before a senate panel—a panel that would either recommend or not recommend that his nomination be approved by the full Senate. He got into hot water, however, over something he wrote last year on a blog. He was writing about a controversy surrounding his alma mater, Wheaton College, an evangelical school near Chicago, and the school’s views concerning Islam. In that blog post, he wrote that Muslims have a “deficient theology,” and that they “do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

One senator on the panel called these words “indefensible,” “hateful,” “Islamaphobic,” and an “insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.” So the senator said that he could not recommend that Vought be confirmed.

Which reminds me that I shouldn’t plan on serving in a high government post any time soon! There’s no way I could be confirmed!

In writing what he wrote, however, Mr. Vought was simply affirming a classic Christian doctrine, which all orthodox Christians everywhere have believed from the very beginning of the Christian movement: that salvation is found through Christ alone. As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[1] As Peter said in Acts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”[2]

So it’s not just Muslims, but all of humanity, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, who “stand condemned.” And the Bible even says that nominal Christians who profess Christian faith but whose lives show no evidence of repentance are also in grave danger.

The good news, of course, is that God loves every one of these unbelievers, and every one of those nominal believers, and is at work, right now, to bring them into a saving relationship with him through Christ. In fact, he’s calling people like Vought, like me, like you, like these young people who were confirmed or baptized earlier, and everyone else who follows Christ to play a role in this missionary effort. God’s plan of salvation includes using us Christians to save others. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 06-04-17: “The Holy Spirit Lives Here”

July 10, 2017

In this sermon, I emphasize our church has all the power we need to be successful in the mission our Lord has given us. Why? Because we have the Holy Spirit. Are we living as if we believe it? 

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:4-12

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Roger Moore: If you can’t have fun being a British spy, why bother?

Roger Moore was the James Bond of my childhood. So I love him. And after reading a Facebook post by an Englishman named Marc Hayes, in the wake of Moore’s death last week, well, I love him even more!

When Hayes was seven years old, he was with his grandfather at the airport in Nice, France, and he saw Roger Moore. He said to his grandfather, “Look, there’s James Bond!” His grandfather had no idea who James Bond was, much less Roger Moore. But he walked over to him and said, “My grandson says you’re James Bond. Can he get an autograph?” And so Roger Moore signed the child’s plane ticket. But the child was disappointed because he signed it “Roger Moore,” not James Bond. This kid didn’t know who Roger Moore was. So he and his grandfather went back over to the actor, and the grandfather explained the child’s disappointment.

At this point, Moore took the boy aside, leaned down to him and said,

“I have to sign my name as ‘Roger Moore’ because otherwise…Blofeld might find out I was here.” Blofeld is a famous Bond villain.” Then Moore asked the child not to tell anyone that he’d just seen James Bond, and he thanked him for keeping his secret.

Isn’t that great?

Twenty-three years later, a grown-up Marc Hayes had the opportunity to meet Roger Moore again, this time as part of a film crew that was filming a commercial for UNICEF. And Moore was part of it because he was a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF. Anyway, Hayes told Moore about meeting him when he was a kid. Moore said he didn’t remember the encounter but was glad he had a chance to meet “James Bond.”

Then, after the filming was over, as Moore was leaving the studio, he turned back to Hayes, “looked both ways, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said, ‘Of course I remember our meeting in Nice. But I didn’t say anything in there, because those cameramen—any one of them could be working for Blofeld.’”

I can hardly share that story without tearing up. I’m sentimental about my childhood heroes. When William Shatner and Henry Winkler die, I’m going to be a wreck.

Anyway, I share this story with you this morning because like James Bond, you and I—and everyone who’s a member of Hampton United Methodist Church—have a secret identity. And like James Bond, we have access to a great deal of power. Remember one of the highlights of every Bond movie was when Bond would go into Q’s laboratory and get all these powerful gadgets that enabled him to accomplish his mission? We have something infinitely more powerful than Q’s gadgets. We have the Holy Spirit, which means we have all the power we need to accomplish our mission. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m on vacation this week

July 6, 2017

This is me, not worrying about blog posts!

Sorry I haven’t been active this week: I’m on vacation. When I return next week, I’ll post my last few sermons and reflect on what I’ve learned about the most difficult passage of scripture in the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:18-22, which I’m preaching on this Sunday.