Why you need to hear Jonathan Martin preach about heaven

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.

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God”

The Daily Office New Testament reading for today, Hebrews 11:1-11, includes a common proof-text for justification by faith in Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” I was a little surprised by how the sentence finishes out: “For whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Then when I looked at the Greek, I discovered that the Greek word for God, theos, wasn’t even there: χωρὶς δὲ πίστεως ἀδύνατον εὐαρεστῆσαι. I think the translators inserted God because the previous verse includes God after the same verb: εὐαρεστηκέναι τῷ θεῷ. But technically speaking, verse 6 should read: “Without faith, it is impossible to be pleasing.” So I thought I would narrate my journey of trying to explore what in the world this commonly quoted line really means. Continue reading

Word, life, light: the eternal side of Christmas

I decided to do something different for my LifeSign sermon this weekend. Normally for Christmas, we look at the accounts of Christ’s birth given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark starts with Jesus’ baptism rather than his birth. John describes Jesus’ incarnation from His eternal perspective as the Word of God who became flesh. Part of John’s opening is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, John 1:5, which says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not seize it.” Since there’s a lot of darkness in our world right now with school shootings and fiscal cliffs in the news, I felt called to preach on John 1:1-5 about the hope that is established by the incredible eternal identity of the baby who was born in Bethlehem. I will summarize my message below. Here is the audio: Continue reading

Review: The Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

The Awakening of Hope, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book, is a breath of fresh air in a time when American Christians are in need of hope. We’ve been through a bitter election season. War continues to rage in the Middle East. The problems of our government seem intractable. Wilson-Hartgrove’s book offers what I would call an incarnational catechesis to tell us how to live as people of hope. Rather than talking about Christian doctrine in the abstract, he organizes his catechesis as the explanation of different spiritual disciplines, offering a “corrective to our belief-only Christianity,” as Shane Claiborne writes in the foreword. Continue reading

Strength vs. integrity: a Biblical response to the presidential debate

What I learned from last night’s final presidential debate (which was the first one I watched) is that the way you “win” mostly has to do with how long you can talk without taking a breath or how willing you are to yell “Liar, liar, pants on fire” while the other guy is in the middle of what he’s saying. The fundamental thing Romney and Obama agreed on is the importance of projecting strength in US foreign policy. “Strength” seems to be defined as not apologizing for anything the US has done in the past and making sure that other nations understand that the US knows what’s best for them. I realize we live in a secular nation-state, but I am really bothered by how thoroughly un-Biblical that way of thinking is. Whether or not it’s effective foreign policy from a realpolitik perspective, the Bible calls us to integrity, not strength.

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Bad things happen: I will hope in God

We had a memorial service tonight for September 11th at Burke United Methodist Church. It was perhaps the most meaningful event I’ve ever attended that had something to do with 9/11. It wasn’t grandiose or fancy in any way. Maybe 30-40 people attended. About a dozen different people shared testimony and each of them had something completely different to say. Continue reading

My Soul Languishes for Your Salvation: Monster-Psalm Meditation #11

Psalm 119:81-88
My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word.
My eyes fail longing for your word, saying, When will you comfort me?
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke; yet I do not forget your statutes.
How many are the days of your servant? When will you judge my persecutors?
The arrogant dug pits for me, which are not according to your Torah. Continue reading