Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Going on to Perfection

Psalm 38 + Psalm 119.25-48
Genesis 9.18-29 + Hebrews 6.1-12 + John 3.22-36

I am always torn between "getting back to the basics" and "going on to perfection." The author to the Hebrews seems to believe they are opposed to one another. "Let us go on to perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation..." Skipping to the end of the passage he says that it is his hope that we would "realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

It all makes me think, am I pushing ahead? Or have I become sluggish?

John the Baptist is all about pushing ahead. Even as he and Jesus are baptizing together, John is pointing to Jesus. "He must increase, I must decrease." This is, I think, the heart of holiness. Atheletes push on to get bigger and stronger and faster. Christians push on so that they can become smaller so that Christ can become bigger. Am I pushing on? Am I becoming smaller? Is he becoming bigger within and through me?

A while ago, I proposed three questions we can ask ourselves to gauge our growth:

1) Scripture: Am I asking more and harder questions about scripture and the faith?
2) Worship: Am I coming to worship with a growing sense of awe and expectancy?
3) Ministry: Am I ministering to the lost with a greater passion for grace?

I think these are good places to start if indeed we want to realize the full assurance of our hope.

Almighty God, send upon us your Holy Spirit that we may be so filled with your love and grace that there would be no room within us for anything but you. And being filled with your love and grace, may it spill forth from our lives to the glory of your name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

And Jesus Looked Upward and Said...

Psalm 2, Psalm 110:1-7
Jonah 2.2-9 + Ephesians 6.10-20 + John 11.17-27, 38-44

Next week I will begin my second year of coursework in the DMin program at Trinity School for Ministry. It is a fascinating place to study with others who are Evangelicals like myself, but who are also shaped by the Anglican tradition like I have been in the last few years. Many people ask me why I chose to study at an Anglican seminary, and the answer is very simple: Prayer is at the center of their community.

I was born and raised and now pastor in the Church of the Nazarene. I was educated in the Church of the Nazarene, first at Mount Vernon Nazarene University then at Nazarene Theological Seminary. In both of those places we had the opportunity to attend chapel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Those chapel services were very formative and I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend. But looking back, something was missing. At Trinity every day begins AND ends with the community gathering together to pray. Prayer is the center of their community.

Prayer is at the heart of today's readings as well. Jesus' miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was accomplished through prayer. Jonah's release from the belly of the fish was accomplished through prayer. The Ephesians text is famous for its image of "the full armor of God" but sometimes we are so fascinated by the armor imagery that we miss the real point which comes immediately after the description of the armor:

"Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me..."

The armor is great, but the power is in the prayer. We have been taught, I think, that prayer needs to be a regular part of our daily lives, but I wonder how much we think about praying as a church? How much time do you spend praying with someone else? In a small group? As the body of Christ? Let us resolve this year that prayer will be not only the center of our personal lives, but also the center of our Church life as well.

Ever-present God, who never sleeps nor slumbers but is always attentive to the cry of your people, may your Holy Spirit stir up within us a heart of prayer that will center us in your will, both as individuals, in our small groups, and as a Church. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Go to Siloam and Wash

Psalm 85, 87 + Psalm 89.1-29
Joshua 3.14-4.7 + Ephesians 5.1-20 + John 9.1-12, 35-38

Much is made of the theme of love in Christianity, and rightfully so. We are, after all, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. This IS the greatest command. Corollary to it, however, is a theme that emerges quite clearly in today's lessons. John tells of a man who was born blind. His disciples inquired as to why the man was blind. Jesus response was that this man was born blind in order to bring glory to the Father. As the story unfolds, God is glorified, but not through Jesus miracle or even through the man's love. The man told everyone:

"Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."

God was glorified through the blind man's obedience. Paul cautions his audience:

"Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."


"the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient."

Even in Joshua, God's mighty act is remembered because Joshua was obedient to God's command to select 12 men who would each place a stone as a memorial to God's great power. The Westminster Catechism reminds us that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." That can only happen if we are obedient to the will of the Father. Sometimes God asks us to do big things, sometimes small. Sometimes God's command makes sense, other times it does not. What is important is that whatever God asks, we obey.

Most glorious God, whose glory was revealed to your people through the many miracles you preformed, may your glory be revealed to the whole world through our obedience to your will for our lives. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Christmas Sermon

Following is the sermon I preached on the 1st Sunday of Christmas. It is a bit more topical that I prefer, but it tied the three sermons (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, 1st Sunday of Christmas) together well and began a conversation that will carry us well into the new year. It has created alot of discussion, some good and some not so good, but since people seem to be talking about it - and since it touches on some other online conversations I've had recently - I thought I'd post it.

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One of the questions I get asked quite often around here is, “why have so many of our children walked away from the church?” Closely related to that question is another one that it also very frequently asked, “what is it going to take to start getting our younger people back?” These are not easy questions. And there are no easy answers. But if I had to start to answer those questions, I would start with the incarnation – the birth of God in the person of Jesus, our Immanuel, God with us, fully God and fully human. The birth of Christ is where God’s answer to these questions of salvation begin, and so it is fitting that it is where our thinking about these questions of salvation begins.

I know that many of you were unable to attend one or both of our Christmas services this year for various reasons, and so what I’d like to do is pull together all that has been said, bring in our texts from today and begin thinking together about bringing faith and the community of faith back into the lives of those younger people who have either walked away, or who have never been a part.

On Christmas Eve we talked about the disturbing side of Christmas. The part where we have to choose. The story of salvation in Christ begins with a story of two kings. King Augustus and King Jesus. Both approach being King in very different ways. Augustus on a throne; Jesus in a manger. Augustus wielding power; Jesus serving in weakness. Augustus as the perfect representative of culture and country; Jesus as the perfect representative of God's love and God’s Kingdom. Christmas is so disturbing because now we are without excuse. We have to choose. We cannot hedge; we can serve only one master: which king will it be?

To be Christian then is to convert from being a follower of King Augustus, to being a follower of King Jesus. That conversion must bring about a transformation of our beliefs, of our behavior, and of our worldview. If any of the three fail to be transformed we will ultimately fail in our quest for holiness.

Yesterday morning we considered the idea of the word becoming flesh. When Jesus was born, the word became flesh. God’s nature became human. God’s deepest belief was put into action. Who God is was revealed by what Christ did. The word became flesh and there was a perfect consistency between what Christ taught and what Christ did. Words took on flesh. Jesus didn’t just tell us to heal the sick, he touched the lepers. Jesus didn’t just tell us to love the unlovable, he had dinner with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus didn’t just tell us to feed the hungry, he fed the 5,000. Jesus didn’t just tell us to love our enemies, pray for those who harm us, and forgive those who do wrong to us. Hanging on the Cross, Jesus cried out, “Father forgive them!” Belief and behavior came into perfect alignment as the Word of God took on the flesh of humanity.

So why do so many young people walk away from the church, and what do we have to do to start reaching young people? Our words have to become flesh. Our seen behavior has to match our said belief. Young people have no tolerance for saying one thing and doing another. And no matter what experts say, young people know the basics of what the church ought to be about: loving instead of fighting; encouraging rather than gossiping, sacrifice rather than selfishness; praising instead of complaining; inclusiveness rather than prejudice. We could go on and on listing the things people know the church ought to be, but suffice it to say people know the church ought to be, and expect that it will be, a totally different place filled with totally different people.

But what have they found? Usually just more of the same old worldly stuff. I’ve spoken with several people who were raised in this church but don’t come any more. I make it a point to ask them why. You know what their number one answer is? “Those people don’t act any different than the people I work with who don’t claim to be Christians.” I’ve heard people tell me they don’t come because they are tired of all the gossip that goes on. I’ve heard people tell me they don’t come because they heard people talking about the way they looked or smelled. People have commented that if we loved as much as we complained maybe they would come. Young people are looking for transformation. They look to the people of the church, but too often we have let them down by not being transformed ourselves so that our beliefs are seen in our behavior. If we want to start getting the younger generations back, we are going to have to be transformed – sanctified – wholly, entirely, fully so that the Word of God becomes flesh in our lives and in our behavior, just as the Word of God became flesh in the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem.

On Christmas Eve we talked about the need for not only transformed belief and behavior, but for a transformed worldview – the way we look at and think about reality (life, the world, and ministry). This is where our text this morning comes into play. The author of Hebrews claims that “since the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”

When we look back across the history of the church, they see two predominant motives for living a Christian life: to glorify God, and for fear of death. In the early days of the church, lets say the first three hundred years, people converted to Christianity in order to glorify God. We know that fear of death was not a motive for them because it was converting to Christ that was often the cause of their death. Being Christian was illegal, and the penalty was often death. If they were in fear of death, as the author of Hebrews puts it, they would have not converted to Christ and would have not risked their life by being part of the church. They followed Christ in order to glorify God.

But in the fourth century something changed. Christianity became legal, and it even became the required religion of the empire. This began the motivation to convert from fear of death. During this period, to be a good citizen meant to be Christian, and to deny Christ was to deny the decree of the Emperor, the penalty of which was often death. Convert or die. This was also the period where the crusades occurred. Where the Christians sought to evangelize the pagans by giving them a choice: convert or die -- fear of death.

Over time, that ultimatum changed from a physical choice to a spiritual choice. The 19th and 20th century are marked by evangelism that forced people to choose between eternal life with God or eternal torture in hell. Same tactic of fear. Most of us here today became Christians because we were told that if we don’t come up to the altar and repent and give our hearts to Jesus we will surely die. We were so afraid of hell that we went up to the altar to buy our fire insurance. This conversion of fear became the norm in the church for many centuries and it became so ingrained in us that it effects the way we do everything. Evangelism became about concocting plans to back people into a corner and force them to make the choice to convert or burn. Discipleship became about how one makes sure they don't slip back into hell. Worship became just one more tool to get people saved – complete with extended altar calls and 42 verses of Just As I Am. Even the way we make decisions has largely been influenced by this worldview of fear. “If I do x or y or z will I go to heaven or hell?” This worldview of fear has just been normal for the church for most of 16 centuries.

But in the 20th century, something again changed. No one is sure yet what exactly changed, but people began walking away from this fear for various reasons (some which are good, others which are bad). Today, young people don’t operate out of a fear of death. They are every bit as spiritual as the generations who have gone before them. In many ways they are more spiritual. But they don’t buy into this theology of fear and they want nothing to do with those who do. They have been set free from the fear of death, and are looking for a place to understand God and to glorify him. The pendulum has swung from glorifying God, to fearing death, and now back to glorifying God.

So, I’ve been talking way too long and I really need to get to the point. The point is this: if we want to reach younger people, we need to be transformed. Not just in our beliefs and our behavior, but in the way we look at ministry together and the way we think about ministry together and the way we go about ministry together. We need to come to terms with the freedom from death Paul championed. We need to truly embrace the freedom from fear that we find in our reading this morning. We need to truly understand the truth of the Christmas story, that Christ came to earth as a baby so that “through his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” We need to be freed from our obsession with and our fear of death and hell.

And then we have to be re-invented to begin operating out of a default setting of glorifying God. How do we glorify God with our thoughts, with our words, with our actions? How do we worship God – not to get people saved but to glorify God? How do our discipleship ministries make fully devoted disciples of Christ whose lives glorify God? What does it mean for outreach and evangelism to be understood as both glorifying God and helping others glorify God. Being the Christians God created us to be, and being the church God is calling us to be, requires that we understand and embrace the simple truth of Christmas: God became human “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”

Merry Christmas – you are FREE!

To the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Hiebert, Paul. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of HOw People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).

"What is the gospel and what changes must take place when one becomes a Christian?"

It is a question we have all wrestled with many times. Hiebert gives three possible answers: (1) a change of belief; (2) a change of behavior; (3) a change of worldview.

Asked another way, "What must take place for a conversion to be genuine?"

Hiebert suggests, Conversion to Christ must encompass all three levels: behavior, belief, and the worldview that underlies these. Christians should live differently because they are Christians. However, if their behavior is based primarily on traditional rather than Christian beliefs it becomes pagan ritual. Conversion must involve a transformation of beliefs, but if it is a change only of beliefs and not of behavior, it is false faith (James 2). Conversion may include a change in beliefs and behavior, but if the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form of Christianity but not its essence. Christianity becomes a new magic and a new, subtler form of idolatry. If behavioral change was the focus of the mission movement in the nineteenth century, and changed beliefs its focus in the twentieth century, then transforming worldviews must be its central task in the twenty-first century (11-12).

In the first section of the book (chapters 1-4) Hiebert gives a philosophical foundation for understanding "worldview." In the second section (chapters 5-9) he traces the development of worldviews from "Small-Scale Oral Societies" to "Peasant Worldviews" to "The Modern Worldview" to "Postmodernity" to the "Glocal Worldview."

Chapter Ten is Hiebert's proposal for a "Biblical Worldview" and Chapter Eleven is his discussion of "Transforming World Views." (if you don't have time to read the whole book, read the intro and then chapters 10-11 to get the thrust of his proposal without all the background).

So having read the book in light of the quote from the introduction above, the first thing I wonder is if Hiebert is really making a case for entire-sanctification. Yes, technically entire sanctification is a transformation of the heart, but does that transformation not necessarily yield a transformed worldview. Is not the holiness of life as important of the holiness of heart?

If this is the case, that conversion is not just a new belief that results in new behavior, but also requires a "second work of grace" by which one's entire worldview is transformed, then we holiness folk ought to be on the leading edge this transformed worldview. We simply must ask the logical evaluative question: how is that working out for us?

Lets not take much time with new converts, we all know holiness takes time. Lets look straight to the old-time, mature and entirely-sanctified saints in our churches. Do their lives give evidence to having a transformed worldview? Do they look at the world differently? Are their values, and priorities and allegiances notably different than all the good people in our communities? Are our churches notably different in the way they approach life than the rest of the world? Do our churches present a radically different kingdom ethos than the secular world of individualism, materialism, consumerism and nationalism?

I was watching facebook the other day when a mentor of mine (a female) posted this update:

What would you have done when the strange man you just met because you are giving him a ride into town says, "I have just gotten out of a psychiatric hospital. I was there because I pleaded innocent by reasons of insanity to the two felonies of kidnapping and rape."

Dee gets it. That is a transformed worldview. Maybe it was dangerous, but I think we are called to take up our crosses - that sounds pretty dangerous to me.

O that I had that kind of faith. O that my worldview might be transformed.