One of the most obnoxious things about the culture wars is the way that they have bastardized the concept of “holiness.” The most typical way this happens is for someone to say something like “God may be love but He is also holy” as though love by itself has no backbone and makes God into a pathetic doormat, while God’s holiness is what gives Him the fortitude to be mean to people. Or “Because God is holy, He cannot tolerate sin.” When we talk this way, we turn one of the most beautiful attributes of God’s character into an ugly caricature as though God’s holiness makes him a frowning middle school assistant principal eagerly passing out detention slips. Holiness is so much richer than that. Continue Reading
There’s an African folktale that I’ve read with both of my sons. In the story, every child born in a village is given a song that tells them who they are, giving them their role to play within the village community. Whenever kids start misbehaving and causing conflict, the other villagers sing their song to them so that they will remember who they really are. This was basically the topic of a podcast sermon from the Meeting House that I listened to on my drive home tonight from North Carolina. I needed to hear this word because I’ve forgotten my song recently, namely that who I really am is an encourager, not a mocker or scornful accuser. Continue Reading
Sometimes you hear songs that only your eyes know how to talk about. I’ve spent all day talking with my eyes as I listen to a very beautiful album of songs by Zach Sobiech, a kid who died of cancer yesterday after recording an album in the final months of his life. Zach formed a band called A Firm Handshake with his lifelong friend Sammy Brown when he learned that he had less than a year to live. I’ve spent time that I don’t have trying and failing to summon up the right combination of adjectives to describe his music about living richly in the shadow of death. Continue Reading
It’s a strange and beautiful thing to hear someone preaching your own thoughts in a sermon. That’s what happened for me last summer when I heard Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin‘s sermon series “The Songs of Ascent” about King David and the Psalms. My whole life, I have been on a journey of trying to understand the nature of worship. Growing up Baptist, I was instilled with a zeal for sincerity in worship. What is the difference between truly worshiping God and putting on a performance? In one sermon last summer, Jonathan said that King David’s worship was to delight in the discovery of God’s delight in him. This beautiful way of framing things is at the heart of Jonathan’s new book Prototype, which I would buy and ship to every Christian who has been wounded or disillusioned by the church if I had the money. Continue Reading
The LifeSign alternative worship service at Burke United Methodist Church is doing a sermon series called “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross.” Here is a promotional video which I first tried to make of me drawing on a whiteboard and then had to improvise using Microsoft Paint.
This is going to be a short one. I just want to make an appeal for what I would call the pragmatic and aesthetic sides of the gospel. In classical Western discourse, there are three ultimate forms of value that we can assign to an idea: truth, goodness, and beauty. In our modern era of science and logic, truth has been privileged to the exclusion of goodness and beauty. This particularly takes place when we’re talking about the Christian gospel. Continue Reading
For the last month, I’ve been reading David Bentley Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite, which is one of the most profound and difficult texts I’ve read. Hart uses the theology of Gregory of Nyssa and other sources to talk about the relationship between our desire and God’s beauty. On the first weekend in December, Rachel Held Evans spoke to our annual Virginia United Methodist youth retreat about “living in the questions” as a way of understanding our faith. The Saturday morning talk was about seeing the Bible as a “conversation-starter not a conversation-stopper.” Rachel questioned whether the Bible should be viewed as a self-evident “blueprint” for every aspect of life. Weaving her talk together with Hart’s book left me with the thought that reducing God’s word to a finite blueprint not only snuffs out the conversation and fellowship that are supposed to emerge out of our sacred canon; it also kills the worship of our infinite Creator.
I desperately need your help and feedback in pulling this book together. I have shared below summaries for the introduction and the 16 chapters of Mercy Not Sacrifice. I know this is a really long blog post, but it would mean so much to me if you would look at it and help me make some decisions that I haven’t yet been able to make. Paste it into MS Word and print it out if it’s easier. I’m going to be discouraged if nobody responds. I can’t help it. As I learned in church-planter training, God made me a diva for the sake of my calling. If I ever actually publish this thing, I’ll say nice things about you in the front and help you with yours if you ever write one. Continue Reading
Sermon preached 1/14/2012 at Burke UMC LifeSign
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Do you have a place that’s sacred to you? My sacred place is a lake outside of Charlottesville called Sugar Hollow. I went there every weekend when I was in college at UVA. It’s surrounded on three sides by mountains. There’s a black sand beach on which I’ve taken many naps. Whenever I go back to my favorite lake, I get a feeling in my heart as I drive up the steep hill next to the dam before the lake opens out in front of me. It always makes my jaw drop when I see the lake again, because it’s the most beautiful place in my world. Continue Reading