I’ve been enjoying the stimulating conversation at the Ecclesia National Gathering in DC. Scot McKnight started things off with a polemic against the “skinny-jeans evangelicals” (like me, sometimes) who tend to define the kingdom of God as happening “when good people do good in the public sector for the common good.” I think his polemic is legitimate. There is a furious backlash among evangelicals of my generation against the culture wars, which can turn us into generic “social justice” activists who no longer have any concept of church. “Kingdom” gets used as a code label to define a here-and-now social gospel over against an “eternal fire insurance” gospel. As McKnight says, “If the kingdom means everything, it means nothing.” He comes up with five Biblical principles for what the kingdom must include. But I think he needs some help from a “skinny-jeans evangelical” heckler like me, because I don’t think his five principles avoid reaffirming and returning to the problematic Christendom of the past. Continue Reading
I preached this weekend about the ascension of Christ. As I shared in a blog post earlier in the week, I think it’s important to consider why Jesus ascended to heaven instead of sticking around in visible fleshly form in His immortal body. The dialogue between Jesus and His disciples in Acts 1:6-11 helps to shed light on why His ascension was part of God’s plan. Below I’m sharing the sermon audio along with a written summary:
Postmodern thinkers sometimes settle for deconstructing the motives of their critics instead of making defensible arguments. Unfortunately, a recent Mere Orthodoxy piece exhibited this behavior, promising to explain why the American suburbs are a good, wholesome place, but focusing its energy on developing a caricature of suburbia’s critics as “urban gentry and intelligentsia.” I’ve used that rhetorical trick before: Bob criticizes X; Bob is a snobby aristocrat; therefore everyone who criticizes X is a snobby aristocrat. Well, I’m not an urban gentry. I’m a suburban pastor. And there are things about the suburbia where I live that hinder people from entering the kingdom of God. Continue Reading
A friend of mine who recently had a major shift in his theology wrote the following comment on his Facebook page in response to the Boston Marathon tragedy:
Tragedies like the one in Boston seem to divide people into two camps. One clings to the “natural goodness” in humanity and swoons over the stories of heroism and chivalry while the other sees this as further evidence that our hearts are desperately wicked and in need of a Redeemer. I was once a believer in the first camp but no longer. I know the evil I am capable of all too well. I never stopped to consider that if humanity is so good, what need is there of a Savior? Boasting in our random acts of human kindness has a tendency of blinding us to our real need for Christ. God resists the proud, but gives grace and mercy to the humble.
I’m not going to use my friend’s name because I love him and this is not about shaming him, but this kind of commentary happens often enough that we need to ask whether it’s appropriate to speak this way about other peoples’ tragedies. Continue Reading
I’ve got issues with how people talk about heaven. It bothers me that the most popular Christian books are “proofs” of the afterlife instead of accounts of how people have lived out the kingdom of God here on Earth. Last week, part of my sermon text came from a passage in Hebrews 11 that refers to the hope of the Israelite patriarchs: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises… They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” It is one thing to live in the hope of a promise that will not be fulfilled in your lifetime; it is another thing to live in a nihilistic indifference to God’s beautiful creation because you’re ready for Him to burn it up and rapture you away. The way that my favorite podcast preacher Jonathan Martin put it in his sermon last week is that we don’t need to get ready to leave Earth and go to heaven; we need to be ready for the day that God brings heaven to Earth.
In the wake of the amazing Missio Alliance conference, I wanted to continue to wrestle with the question of how we talk to strangers about Jesus on airplanes and other places. This reflection was started by Rachel Held Evans’ post on the topic a few days ago to which I responded with a comparison of Rachel’s reflections with street evangelist guru Ray Comfort of Way of the Master. A reader cried foul because it seemed like I was making a mischievous, unstated argument that was “set up,” which was a fair critique since I didn’t share my own commentary. This morning during church, I asked God how should we talk to strangers about Jesus. And the answer that came into my brain was this: assume that they’re angels and breathe the kingdom with them. Continue Reading
This Sunday, I preached on how Jesus’ call to take up our crosses is not an endorsement of a life of stress and overscheduling but rather a call to join the procession of condemned prisoners out of worldly expectations and into freedom. If we are “crucified to the world” as Paul says in Galatians, then we can be fully human like the son of man who leads us. If you want to know what this has to do with a rave and a banjo, you’ll have to listen to the sermon.
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This week’s sermon concluded our post-Christmas sermon series “Spiritual Not Religious” in which we were exploring some basic human longings that all people share whether they follow Jesus or not. This last week I preached about our innate human longing for relationships. I think this is the strongest longing we have. We make a lot of choices in life out of the need for authentic companionship. The question is whether our relationships are dysfunctional or healthy. In the first half of my sermon, I talk about tools, idols, and foes: three forms of unhealthy relationships in which we either try to get the other person to orbit around us, fall into another person’s orbit, or clash endlessly because neither one can overpower the other. The second half of my sermon discusses three metaphors for the structure God provides for us to have healthy relationships: the family of God, the body of Christ, and the kingdom that is created by the Holy Spirit.
In March, I fasted from blogging for Lent. April and May of 2012 were dominated by thoughts about our United Methodist General Conference. There was also a series of violent tornadoes that John Piper decided to interpret as God’s wrath against America for homosexuality or abortion (I can’t remember which one). Since homosexuality dominated the conversation around General Conference, I wrote a few pieces about it, striving to be both faithful to scripture and faithful to people I love who are gay. I also preached a sermon comparing and contrasting the uniformity and top-down vision of the Tower of Babel with the chaos of Pentecost. So here are the 10 from April and May. Continue Reading
I’m spending this week at the Virginia conference’s New Church Leadership Institute training for church planters. Don’t worry, Burke UMC (if you were worried). I’m not planning to do it for a couple of years if it turns out that it’s my calling. One of our projects for the first day has been to come up with a vision statement for our future church plant. So I wrote one and came up with a description for each component of it. I’m not completely satisfied with it. What do you think? Here it is: Becoming a people of imagination who delight in God, learn the sound of His voice, and run the race of His kingdom. Continue Reading