Resources: Freedom, Community and Ethnicity

Yesterday we considered Acts 15:22-35 at Church in the Square. As the apostles and elders sent a letter to Gentile Christians affirming their salvation by grace and inclusion in the family of God, key themes like freedom, community and ethnicity surfaced. And during the formation of this sermon a few resources (beyond biblical commentaries) helped me along the way. I trust you’ll find them help as well …

We Want a Celebrity, Not a Savior

In October of 2014 the most influential pastor of his generation was compelled to write his letter of resignation amidst mounting claims of purchasing bestseller status and domineering leadership. In August of 2018 the most influential pastor of his generation was also forced to resign prematurely amidst mounting allegation of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. In February of this year a pastor was fired for a barrage of sinful leadership patterns including financial impropriety and domineering leadership.

Children Are Neither Idols Nor Interruptions

In October of last year we welcomed our fourth child. Ten days before his due date and weighing in as our heftiest bundle, Levi was immediately one of us. To be sure biology makes the least debatable case that he is ours and we are his, but experientially and behaviorally he is one of us without question. In other words he is immediately part of our family’s story—body and soul.

How Lonely Sits the City

Jerusalem is devastated. Having recently been destroyed by her national and religious enemy, Babylon, God’s people found themselves identifying as a grieving widow and former royalty. The city used to be great. History repetitiously told of their conquests and triumphs over other peoples and powers. But now she sits isolated in weakness as a result of her idolatry. Once full of people, she is now filled with agony and left to merely lament the heaviness of guilt and shame.

Becoming Political

On January 1, 1802 the newly elected president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson responded to a letter he received from representatives of the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut (1). This Christian coalition reached out to the new commander-in-chief with hopes of extending good will and prayers. They wrote also for the sake of religious liberty. As formerly under a monarchy the idea of civil freedoms was still a bit uncomfortable—like a new pair of shoes; shiny, beautiful, but unworn, rigid, and unfamiliar.

Seven Ways to Avoid Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. Just ask my kids. As my wife and I are daily teaching them to reconcile with mom and dad and each other—for hitting, biting, lying, failing to obey, not showing love, etc—we have learned some words are harder to say than others. We’ve realized, “Please forgive me for ___________ (fill in sin here)” … are the most difficult. Saying I’m sorry or he started it seem to come more naturally. They’ll use a thousand different words before they’ll use forgiveness language. I think like all of us my children realize there’s something weighty about forgiveness. Something is taking place when we request forgiveness which we can be avoided when we seek other means of responding to sin and conflict.

Three Musts for Every Sermon

The Apostle Paul once wrote, we preach Christ and him crucified. When it comes to the sermon content is king because Christ the King is always the sermon’s supreme content. However the shape of a sermon puts this preeminent content on fullest display. So, let’s consider the sermon.

When a follower of Jesus walks away from a Sunday message believing they have heard a “good sermon” I think it’s because three things have taken place within the sermon’s structure. First, the sermon exposed the truth and beauty. Second, the preacher exalted Christ. Third, the message equipped the Church.

Grieving

Grieving is a deeply gospel practice. It’s sanctifying. When we grieve we acknowledge with sorrow that something is not as it should be. And so this year, this week, today I am grieving. In a family meeting last night the elders of Willow Creek Community Church acknowledged with confession and action that things were not as they should be. I won’t recount the details of their confession nor the situations that led to their resignation. I believe those specifics are well document elsewhere. I’d like to consider how we ought to respond as the Church and how I ought to respond as an elder and church leader.

Weak

Many years ago I was preaching on a Sunday morning. As I prepared earlier that week I sensed an acute impulse to personally apply the sermon's main point. I remember feeling remorseful. I remember being anxious. God was inviting me into confession. And he was clear, this was not just for my personal formation during study time, he led me to write this confession of sin in my manuscript. And so on Sunday morning I confessed sin publicly before my church.

Sin

Adam and Eve were just married. And then a snake slithered alongside. But before the snake entered the story, God gave Adam instructions, rules, and terms of their relationship and with respect to the world he created. Genesis 2:16-17 says ...

Word

The Word of God says much about God’s word. It endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). It is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). It lights our path (Psalm 119:105). It corrects (2 Timothy 3:16). It restores (Psalm 19:7). It reveals (Hebrews 4:13). Recorded and collected into an unassuming piece of technology—a book, with sixty-six volumes, written by forty human writers, and all inspired by God himself—the power and importance of Scriptures cannot be overstated. The Word of God is unlike anything.

Wisdom

Scripture is filled with wisdom. Both explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, in the ESV translation of the Bible, wisdom makes an appearance over 200 times. Implicitly, it is much more difficult to count the number of places God’s Word gives us wise content. Nevertheless wisdom is woven through hundreds of Scriptutre’s inspired pages. In fact we would not be wrong to see every word in the Bible as the revealed wisdom of God. Suffice to say, Scripture is filled with wisdom.

MLK

This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assaination in Memphis, TN—April 4, 1968. Today is his birthday—January 15, 1929. Writing a worthy tribute of such a man feels is impossible. After all he was not just one man, he was many. So let me simply say I am in a deep process of growing in my understanding and gratitude for Rev. Dr. King. Therefore my words today may perhaps be much more about me than him—forgive me for that. 

Waiting

Death and taxes have a long lost brother--waiting. After all waiting seems just as certain for us humans as our own funerals and April 15th. Waiting is inevitable. Waiting is hard. And yet, I believe, waiting is for our joy. Much of the Christian life is waiting. This shouldn't be surprising to us, but it often is. Think about it. From Genesis to the Gospels, God's people are waiting. They are waiting on God. They were instructed by him to wait on him (Hosea 12:6).

Neighbor

A religious leader came up to Jesus. He had a question and called him teacher. But his invisible motives are made clear through Scripture's inspiration--he was coming to testJesus. He asked, what's the greatest commandment? Jesus quoted part of Deuteronomy 6, saying to love God with our whole self is the first and greatest commandment. Then Jesus said "and" ... apparently the greatest commandment has an inherent implication. Jesus said, the second is like it, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." 

Wondrous

Nearly every Sunday I walk ten minutes to a coffee shop. My route takes me through a cross-section of my neighborhood--passed as many newly constructed homes as vacant storefronts with nothing left to tell the story but former company names hanging over the front door. I sit at a table with my sermon notes, my Bible, and a cup of coffee. Usually I only have about an hour before I walk to the school where our church meets on Sunday mornings. It’s one of my favorite hours of my week. 

Body

Raising kids is always difficult. At a basic level, parenting is a conflict of wills--the will of a parent and the will of a child. This tension is enough to produce countless premature gray hairs, sleepless nights, and heated conversations. However parenting is more difficult still. After all we do not raise children in sterilized vacuums of culture, we raise them in a maze of cultures and social complexities. Therefore every day as moms and dads we are battling the genuineness of our own will, the development of our children's will, and the prevailing pressures of a surrounding world whose collective will rarely seems to make our jobs any easier.