For the second sermon in our LifeSign series “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross,” we talked about how Jesus’ cross represents a battle between truth and power. Jesus not only pays the price for the guilty; He also vindicates the truth of those who have been treated unjustly. Jesus’ story has not been passed down to us as the story of a renegade messianic troublemaker who was executed before things could get out of hand. Even though Jesus availed Himself of no earthly power, the fact that we heard the real story of His innocent martyrdom means that truth won over power on His cross, which should give us hope that the truth will ultimately win in our lives as well.
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I had a very uncanny experience today with the Daily Office. In a blog post this morning, I wrote, “My role is less to bring truth down to them from Mt. Sinai and more to name the truth that the Spirit is already breathing in their midst.” Well, what did God put into the Daily Office Old Testament reading today but Exodus 34:29-35 when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and has to put a veil over his face because he’s glowing too brightly? It made me tremble to read it because I thought God was directly confronting and contradicting what I had just blogged about. I wrote in my journal: “Teach me how to understand when I need to go to Sinai and when I need to seek Your word from my people.” But then I read the Daily Office epistle, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, in which Paul uses Moses’ veil as a foil for the way in which God’s truth should be sought under Christ. And that pretty well sent me into orbit. Continue reading →
Yesterday, the young clergy leadership forum heard from Bill Mefford, the GBCS point person for immigration reform and other controversial causes. Bill shared with us that he actually spent most of his career as a local pastor to people in the rural midwest and Texas who would disagree with most of the things he’s advocating now. He said the most solid foundation for being able to speak prophetic Biblical truths in your congregation is for people to know that you love them. They can’t get that from the generic benevolence of a handshake and a warm smile. They need to be pursued and valued. Continue reading →
The second testimony I wanted to engage claims that religious people are “too hooked on truth.” By this, the author means: “They all tell you exactly how things are, with absolute certainty. Almost like only their version of reality is the truth.” An immediate edit I would make is to remove the “almost like” from the second line. Many Christians are “absolutely certain” that they know “exactly how everything is.” Continue reading →
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 →
Those of you who have been following my journey know that I keep on stumbling into Biblical passages that talk about the “fear of the Lord.” It actually started this summer with a sermon I preached in the Dominican Republic on the fear of the Lord in Isaiah 6, even though the phrase didn’t actually appear in the text. Then, in the fall, I came across Acts 9:31: “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, [the church] increased in numbers.” Then I encountered Psalm 19:2: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever,” which prompted a longer meditation contrasting the fear that leads to wisdom with the fear that has to do with punishment. More recently I discovered in Psalm 25 the strange statement that God offers “friendship to those who fear Him.” My latest milestone in this journey came this past weekend preaching on Isaiah 11, in which verse 3 says that the messiah will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” I think there are two ways to understand this statement: one is perverse and the other beautiful.
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.
Jerry Sandusky was on the TV at the gym this morning, since his sentencing is today. He made a statement continuing to deny all the allegations against him. As I saw the words in his statement on the screen, it occurred to me that hell must be something like that: to spend eternity in denial of the mercy from God that makes facing the truth possible. What would have to happen between now and the time that Jerry Sandusky dies for him to get into heaven? Here’s the problem: he was already a Christian. He already said the sinner’s prayer and got baptized. Does he have to do it again? Do his actions retroactively make his “decision for Christ” insincere? Or do they prove that he was born reprobate and should enjoy life on Earth while it lasts because his eternal fate is locked in? Or does he have to make confession and receive penance from a priest? (Surely not, because we’re justified by faith, not works, right?) The resources of popular American evangelical theology fail us at this point because they rely on a hackneyed and caricatured reading of the book of Romans. But the epistle reading from yesterday’s Daily Office — Hebrews 4:12-16 — offers new cement to patch in the quickly crumbling Romans Road of our theology. Continue reading →
Earlier this year, during Lent, I preached without a manuscript for the first time. My preparation process shifted to oral rehearsal after a lot of note-scribbling. This past weekend, after having a very rich but exhausting spirit-filled week, I preached for the first time without rehearsing in advance. I don’t want to say I didn’t prepare, because God gave me a lot of things to think and talk about that came out in my sermon, but the delivery was extemporaneous. I’m not sure whether this will happen every week, but it was a very interesting experience. Listen to the following link and tell me what you think. God bless!
Psalm 119:41-48 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise.
Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,
for I trust in your word.
Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your ordinances. Continue reading →