Caesar or the tortured king? (#sermon #podcast)

In one of Jesus’ famous parables, he says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; give to God what is God’s.” This past weekend’s message asks us to consider how we divide our loyalties between Caesar and God, remembering that God chose to represent himself through a man who was killed as a common criminal on one of Caesar’s crosses. Subscribe to the podcast.

jesus vs pharisees

Nothing outside you can make you unclean

In week four of LifeSign’s “Jesus vs. the Pharisees” series, we look at a key moral distinction between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees understood morality in terms of moral cleanliness, basically avoiding things and people who were unclean for the sake of honoring God. Jesus understood morality in terms of spiritual purity, having a heart purified of idols so that we can live simply to love God and other people. Please subscribe to the podcast!

jesus and sinful woman

“Do you see this woman?” (Jesus’ outrageous response to an inappropriate foot massage) #sermon #podcast

Let’s say you’re a rabbi in 1st century Palestine, and you’ve heard of this really hip new rabbi named Jesus that everybody’s talking about, so you invite him to your house for a dinner party in his honor. Because you’re a generous person, you invite everybody in town to come and have some food, but then this trouble-making sinful woman comes in and she gets really intimate with Jesus in a completely inappropriate way, kissing his feet and rubbing them with her hair erotically while he’s eating. You don’t even say anything; you just shoot her a dirty look. And then Jesus responds by going off for being a terrible host, the worst possible insult you could receive from your guest of honor in a culture that prides itself on hospitality. How would you feel? If God speaks to you through this sermon, then subscribe to the podcast and share it with a friend.

“The Sabbath was made for humanity” (#sermon #podcast)

Our LifeSign “Jesus vs. the Pharisees” sermon series continued last weekend with their debate about the Sabbath. The Pharisees were going about policing their fellow Jews for violation of the Sabbath on the basis of defending God’s honor. Jesus tells the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for humanity not humanity for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is very important, but it’s been turned into poison when we make it a duty instead of an invitation. If you haven’t done so already, subscribe to the podcast so that your phone will download each week’s sermon automatically.

“I desire mercy not sacrifice” (#sermon #podcast)

I’ve decided to keep the sermon podcast going for Lent. We are doing a sermon series at our LifeSign contemporary service called “Jesus vs. the Pharisees: A Debate on Holiness.” For the first week, we’re looking at Matthew 9:9-13, where Jesus calls Matthew and goes to a party at his house. When the Pharisees criticize this, he tells them, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’” But were the Pharisees really wrong to criticize Jesus? Matthew wasn’t just somebody who had a few vices and said a few cuss words; he was a vulture of his people. [Sign up to get the podcast delivered to your phone each week!]

jesus vs pharisees

Jesus vs the Pharisees: A Debate on Holiness (my Lenten sermon series)

One of the most important and often neglected threads of the gospel stories of Jesus is the ongoing debate that he has with the Pharisees about the nature of holiness. It’s very important for us to recognize that the Pharisees represent the very best that we could do without Jesus. They were genuinely trying with all their hearts to follow God, but God wanted better for his people which is why Jesus had to come. The forty days of Lent before Easter are a time for Christians to grapple with the nature of holiness together. So for this year’s Lent at Burke United Methodist Church’s Sunday evening Lifesign service, we will be looking at a series of stories that illuminate the distinction between Jesus’ holiness and that of the Pharisees. If you’re not able to make it in person, please subscribe to the podcast. Continue Reading

Wrestling with sex (#sermon #podcast)

This was the final sermon of our Wrestling series a couple of weekends ago. We went through a whole lot of scripture to try to understand where the Bible is coming from about sex. Paul provides us with three excellent principles for sexual ethics in 1 Corinthians 7: 1) “free[dom] from anxieties” (love of self), 2) “promot[ing] good order” (love of neighbor), 3) “unhindered devotion to the Lord” (love of God). So we looked at how these principles applied in various different scriptures, including the question of homosexuality as a concern of promoting the good order of society. Please subscribe to the podcast if you aren’t already.

biblical obedience

What is Biblical obedience? Abraham, Huck Finn, and Adolf Eichmann

There’s a movement within United Methodism called “Biblical Obedience” whose name itself is offensive to many Methodists because it advocates full inclusivity for LGBT people. I’ve already written about my understanding of what the Bible actually teaches on this issue, but what I really want to¬† contemplate today is the question of obedience itself, setting aside the LGBT issue for a moment. The most radical example of Biblical obedience I can think of (other than Jesus’ journey to the cross) is when God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. This story raises difficult questions. Is obedience always a good thing? How do we know whether we’re obeying God or conforming to the world, particularly if our world happens to be saturated in church culture? How does Abraham’s radical example translate into our day? Does it look more like Huck Finn’s quest to free his friend Jim from slavery in rebellion against his cultural values or Adolf Eichmann’s willingness to follow orders and carry out the genocide of the Jewish people? Continue Reading


Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists

I think that the reason many Christians can’t understand each other, particularly with regard to how we read the Bible, may end up boiling down to different personality types. I am an INFP, according to the Myers-Briggs system. I would tend to call it the personality type of a poet, or an English major, or perhaps a romantic. According to the Internet, people like me “do not like to deal with hard facts and logic” and we “don’t understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment.” I think that’s reasonably accurate. But the important thing to understand is that English majors don’t hate truth; what we hate is when people make truth look ugly and stupid (i.e. what an ESTJ probably calls “hard facts and logic”). So I thought I would list some instincts that English majors bring to reading the Bible that make the fundamentalists gnash their teeth at us. Continue Reading


When Bible study becomes your personal bug collection

At this Wednesday night’s Ecclesia National Gathering plenary session, Mandy Smith used a great metaphor that captures what irks me about the attitude toward Bible study I have seen at times in conservative evangelicalism. She was preaching from Hebrews 4:12-13, which says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The Bible is supposed to be a sword that pierces our heart and does spiritual “surgery” on us so that we can be sanctified in our personal lives of discipleship. But we don’t let it do this to us when we have turned the truths of the Bible into our personal ideological display-case like a collection of dead, preserved bugs, each conquered and stabbed with a needle for a middle-school science project. Continue Reading