Archive for the 'Vinebranch news' Category

New sermon series: “All Things New”

August 15, 2012

Here is the schedule for “All Things New,” our new Vinebranch sermon series. I’ll post the first sermon in the series, from last Sunday, later. The theme of the series is our new life in Christ, which I thought was appropriate for the kickoff of a new church year.




08/12/12 New Beginnings John 5:1-18
08/19/12 New Birth John 3:1-18
08/26/12 New Heart Psalm 51:1-19
09/02/12 New Mind Romans 12:1-8
09/09/12 Kenya Mission Trip
09/16/12 New Purpose Genesis 12:1-9
09/23/12 New Family Mark 3:20-35
09/30/12 New Direction Acts 4:1-22
10/07/12 New Destination 2 Corinthians 5:6-21

“Sunday School Heroes”: a new sermon series starting Sunday

May 30, 2012

This Sunday in Vinebranch, we begin a fun summer sermon series called “Sunday School Heroes.” I’m going to preach on classic Bible stories that many of us first heard in Sunday school as a child: David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, and many more. You’ll notice from the list below that we’re mostly focusing on Old Testament stories, which are too often neglected once we graduate to “big church.”

This series will feature children’s sermons and even some classic Bible songs. Rest assured, these stories aren’t just for kids!

A testimony by Edward Galaviz

March 4, 2012

We resumed our series of video testimonies in Vinebranch this morning. In this video, Edward Galaviz describes answering a call to serve the Lord through music. He saw many obstacles to doing so, but the Lord worked it out. As he says, all it took on his part was a simple “yes.”

Do you have a testimony to share? Let me know!

Recommended books on evangelism

March 3, 2012

Tomorrow in Vinebranch we begin our two-part sermon series on evangelism. I’ve read several books to get ready for these sermons. I can heartily recommend a couple. The first is Reimagining Evangelism by Rick Richardson. He handles contemporary misconceptions about evangelism well, and gives us a new way of thinking about how to do it: It’s about inviting friends to join us on a spiritual journey. None of us, after all, has already arrived.

He also nicely emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has already prepared people to hear and receive the gospel; our job is to follow his lead. This emphasis takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

When I was in high school, I desperately wanted to be an effective witness, but I was often uncomfortable with the ways in which I saw it done. I had a friend—Heavy Metal Mark—who was really into hair metal. (This was the ’80s, after all.) He loved bands like Mötley Crüe and their nearest “Christian” equivalent, Stryper. He had long hair and even wore spandex occasionally. You get the picture.

He occasionally went to the mall with a group from my church to hand out gospel tracts and attempt to engage strangers in conversation about Christianity. One day, he invited me to come along. I even considered it. Doing something to be a witness is often better than doing nothing. Plus it might assuage my guilty conscience—since I mostly did nothing.

One of my sisters caught wind of what I was thinking and said, “If I saw Heavy Metal Mark approaching me with a gospel tract at the mall, I would want to run in the other direction!” I got her point and relented. I’m not saying that Heavy Metal Mark’s aggressive form of evangelism couldn’t be effective in some situations, but it wasn’t for me. And that’s O.K.

Maybe witnessing isn’t something we approach as if it were a root canal. Maybe it shouldn’t fill us with dread. Maybe it can be more organic… more natural. Something to fit our unique personalities and gifts. This is mostly what Richardson’s book is about.

Another good book is Can We Talk: Sharing Your Faith in a Pre-Christian World. I was confused about the subtitle, but I think the author, a professor at Asbury Seminary named Robert Tuttle, is being optimistic.

Tuttle made it his mission to identify some universal convictions that the good news of Jesus Christ addresses. For example, one thing that most people in the world share, regardless of culture, is a conviction that they have failed to measure up; they’ve let other people down. He demonstrates through case studies how we can connect this conviction, along with other universals, to the “remedy” provided by the gospel. It’s a very practical book.

I get no “promotional consideration” for recommending these books, although I can be bought. Publishers, please contact my agent. 😉

New Vinebranch sermon series, “In Good Faith,” starting this Sunday

January 4, 2012

Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Among other things, Chesterton is expressing a truth that any experienced Christian has already discovered: being a faithful disciple of Jesus is tough. Why is it so tough? What can we learn from faithful people in the Bible who persevered when their faith was put to the test?

In my new 7-part Vinebranch sermon series beginning this Sunday, I will explore these questions and tackle specific challenges to Christian living, including temptation, doubt, and unanswered prayer. This Sunday, we’ll look at Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness in Luke 4:1-13.

The series will feature children’s sermons each week and, as always, music by Stephanie Newton and the amazing Vinebranch Band.

The schedule is as follows: [Click to expand.]

“Joy to the World,” Vinebranch-style

December 20, 2011

Here’s a highlight from Sunday’s “Christmas in Vinebranch service. That’s the amazing Joanna Stotter singing lead.

About the new Vinebranch coffee mug

December 16, 2011

Wouldn't you love to drink coffee from this mug?

One challenge we’ve had in our Vinebranch service is collecting information on visitors. It’s my fault. I haven’t made it a priority. I invite people to fill out a visitor’s information card, but you know how that goes… I haven’t been deliberate enough about following up on visitors even when we receive their information.

Why? Do I not want them to feel welcome? Even more importantly, do I not care whether or not they are in a saving relationship with Christ? The best way to find out how I can most effectively minister to them is through a personal relationship. How can that even begin if I don’t know who they are?

To that end, I’m pleased to present this coffee mug…

It’s not much. But it’s a gift for first time visitors. Starting this Sunday, I’ll announce that I would love to meet any first-time visitors in the narthex after the service—and to present them with this gift as a way of thanking them for coming. While I’m at it, I can make sure that they filled out a visitor’s card.

If you’re a member or regular visitor in Vinebranch, you may notice that I’m asking everyone to fill out the information card—which may seem redundant and unnecessary. In part I’m asking you to do this because I want visitors not to feel put on the spot when they’re filling out their information.

Make sense? I don’t know a better way to do it. If you have any ideas, let me know!

But you gotta admit: this coffee mug rules!

This Sunday in Vinebranch… Why hell?

September 2, 2011

This Sunday in Vinebranch we begin a two-part sermon series entitled “Heaven and Hell.” The springboard for this series is Rob Bell’s controversial bestseller on the subject, Love Wins. I’ll be referring to the book occasionally, as well as to some of Bell’s critics.

Hell is a classic Christian doctrine that most of us would rather avoid talking about. Yet Christianity has taught from the beginning that eternal separation from God is a real and frightening prospect. And most of what we know about hell is informed by the words of Jesus himself.

How do we make sense of this doctrine today? Is hell compatible with God’s love? How does the bad news of hell square with the rest of the gospel—which, after all, means “good news”? Where do we get it wrong when it comes to our understanding of hell? I’ll deal with these questions and more in a two-part sermon series that begins this Sunday: “Heaven and Hell.” This Sunday’s scripture is Mark 9:38-50.

I’ll also be taking texted questions from the congregation. If you go to Vinebranch, come with your questions!

In the meantime, enjoy this message that I posted on Facebook this week. Click to enlarge.

A couple of links for tomorrow’s sermon

August 20, 2011

In tomorrow’s sermon over Romans 9:1-5, our focus is on evangelism. I’m going to be referring to this episode of Seinfeld, in which Elaine discovers that her boyfriend, David Puddy, is a Christian. He’s never mentioned it before. Worse, he believes that Elaine is going to hell, and he hasn’t done anything to try to change that fact.

The theology represented is terrible, of course—filled with caricatures about Christianity. But the episode does capture some truth about contemporary Christians’ failures to witness to their faith. The money line here is Elaine’s protest, “I’m not going to hell, and you think I’m going to hell, you should care that I’m going to hell!”

I’ll also be referring to this very funny and entertaining episode of This American Life, in which a writer tells her story about a devastating break-up, and how Phil Collins helped her through it.

A few “tough texts” sermons starting this Sunday

August 18, 2011

Don't forget Vinebranch is at two times now: 8:30 and 11:00. Come early, come often.

After agonizing over how to finish off our 12-week sermon series on Romans (understanding, of course, that we could take a year and not finish Paul’s letter), I’m relieved to have a new plan. My original plan—to cover a little of chapter 9, chapter 10, and chapter 12 (using the suggested Revised Common Lectionary readings)—doesn’t work for me anymore. By which I mean it wouldn’t work for the congregation.

Romans 9-11, which is virtually ignored in mainline Protestant churches, raises too many challenging questions to breeze by it. So, this Sunday, I’m covering Romans 9:1-5, and talking about the difficult question that Paul raises: What about ethnic Jews who aren’t Christians? I know what we all want to say about our Jewish friends: Our differences don’t really matter. The Jews have one perfectly good covenant with God, and we Christians have another.

And I would want to say that, too, if I believed it were in the vicinity of what Paul has been arguing for eight chapters of Romans, or what he focuses on in particular in chapters 9-11. But it’s not. And since, as a good Methodist, I am prima scriptura, I want to be faithful to the Bible more than anything.

So this Sunday, I’m talking about the problem of unbelieving Israel in the context of Romans 9, but I’m going to challenge the congregation to think more broadly about the problem: Do we really believe that what God accomplished in Jesus Christ through his life, death, and resurrection is for the whole world—indeed, for all creation—or is it only for the billion or so people in the world who call themselves Christians?

In Romans 9:1-5, Paul expresses great anguish for “his people,” ethnic Jews who don’t know the saving love of God in Christ. Do we, among our circle of friends and family, have that same passionate concern for our people, whoever they may be? If so, how is it reflected in our actions?

So that’s “Tough Text #1,” and it’s this Sunday.

Next Sunday, August 28, I’ll be dealing with another troublesome question raised by Paul in both Romans 8 and 9, that prickly word (and concept of) “predestination.” This sermon will be more topical, but I will focus on those passages from Romans that are used as proof-texts for important tenants of Calvinism.

The strongest, most conservative version of Calvinism, sometimes called the “neo-reformed” movement, which is enjoying a surge in popularity among followers of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, elevates God’s sovereignty so high that human free will—not to mention, in my opinion, love alongside it—becomes meaningless. Calvinism also emphasizes double-predestination, which means that God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. If this sounds harsh to us non-Calvinists, it’s only because we fail to grasp that since everyone deserves hell, the fact that God spares some from it is to his glory. (Such is my revulsion that I struggle to even type those words!)

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get in the nitpicky details of Calvinism, but I do want to rescue these Romans passages from the hyper-Calvinists. What is Paul really saying in context and what does it mean for us today? Avoiding the issue seems irresponsible. If we Methodists—whose founder, after all, was an outspoken opponent of Calvinism—fail to talk about it, our people will only hear popular preachers and teachers in the media talk about it, and what they say often contradicts what we believe.

Finally, on September 4 and 11, I’m going to preach about a religious issue that’s been in the news recently: heaven, hell, who goes there, and why. I’ve read Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins, and some of the book’s critics. I’ll bring that into the discussion.

But do I also have to read that best-seller about the little boy who goes to heaven and comes back to talk about it? Maybe… Ugh!