A Sermon I Got to Preach on Isaiah 61 [VIDEO]


Believe it or not, I don’t really have much experience at all in preaching. Yeah, I’ve spoken and “preached” at some things, but I’ve still never offered the preached proclamation at a Sunday worship service. It’s an area I’ve wanted to grow in for a while.

To that end, I took a preaching class last semester for my seminary program. It was a powerful course that changed my whole relationship to both the Bible and the act of preaching. Each of us wrote and presented a sermon on an assigned text. The sermons were recorded, and I’m offering mine here today. It opens with some brief words on the context I had in mind when preparing this.

I hope it meets you and speaks to you, wherever you are. The video is above, the text and my manuscript are below. You can also download files for both the audio or the manuscript.

Special thanks also to an old friend, J. Chord Barnes of ASERWorks Media, for fixing some audio issues in the original recording and remastering it for me. Check him out at the link above. Continue reading

Tender words for a terrified father | Mark 5.35-36

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While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Mark 5:35-36

Jesus first offers comforting words to this father. He doesn’t put down his lack of faith, as he does with the disciples on the boat in the previous chapter, nor does he brag of his own authority to raise the dead. Instead, Jesus simply gives him a call not to fear, only to trust. What sensitive, heartfelt, loving words these are.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #6 [Catch-Up]


After a long break, we’re back with this part of the site. Here’s a little catch up list of where we’ve been since we last posted about this.

Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Job

Job, God, & Satan (Can I get some help from the scholar’s out there?)| Job 1.6-7
God, Social Justice, & Social Welfare | Job 5.15-16
Fragments from a speech by Job| Selections of Job 6 & 7
Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22
In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4

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Righteous Works; Wicked People | Romans 6.20

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When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Romans 6.20

those that are not Christians can still do righteousness. But when they do it, it is from a place that is not there essence. I can’t think of an analogy right now. But, they are free to do righteous sings even though they are not considered righteous people. Is that a good way to put it?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4

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Then Job answered:

“Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
Job 9.1-4

It seems here that Job is no longer clinging to his earlier idea that he is indeed righteous and pure. Instead, he is admitting that his friend is correct: he is sinful and has done wrong things. But, he also points out that God is not a God that would insist that every single little sin and wrong-doing be brought to mind and confessed before relating favorably towards someone.

Job is saying that people are too sinful for God to structure the world in such a way that the righteous are related to in one way and the wicked in another, because everyone belongs fully in that latter camp. There can only be two sets of rules if there are two teams playing the game.

He is in effect saying what Paul says in Romans 3, that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, therefore there is no distinction among people. Ironically, then, Job’s defense here is not necessarily the he is righteous, but rather that he is far too messed up for his friends’ version of reality to be right.

Also of note, the rest of this chapter is more or less Job proclaiming the very things that God uses to rebuke him at the end of the book. Job really does seem to know this stuff.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22


If you will seek God
and make supplication to the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and restore to you your rightful place.
Though your beginning was small,
your latter days will be very great.
Job 8:5-7

We mock Job’s friends, but what this guy says here is exactly what happens at the end of the book! Its practical, prophetic, and foreshadowing the end. We need to cut these guys a break.

“See, God will not reject a blameless person,
nor take the hand of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
and your lips with shouts of joy.
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”
Job 8.20-22

Okay, though I defended this guy earlier, this here is BS.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does Paul Not Believe in Original Sin? | Romans 7.9-11

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I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Romans 7.9-11

Hmm…is it just me, or does this does seem to go against the idea of Original Sin? It sounds like Paul is saying that he was born in purity and “alive-ness”, and it was only later that the law killed him. He does not seem to be saying here that he thinks he was born in death (yes, yes, I know Ephesians says otherwise, but I’m trying to stick to the text in question!)

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does St. Paul Believe in a Hell that Saves? | 1 Corinthians 3.10-17

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According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3.10-17

Part of the problem with how we talk about Hell is the confusing diversity of images and language used to talk about it in the Bible. This is true here.

I don’t want to read too much into this few words, but at least in the first part, Paul seems to be saying that what gets burned in the fires of judgment are more the works of someone than the person themselves. In fact, it seems that the wicked come out the other side of the fire “saved”, with all their useless works and such having been burned away.

But then, the next section clearly says that God destroys “that person” (not just their works). But because it comes right after the statement of the person being saved by their wicked works being burned away, I wonder if this isn’t Paul saying, “yeah, that refining, restorative, salvific fire I just talked about? God will take each person through that destruction–the one that saves.”

Man, the more I’m on the lookout to see any universalistic statements by Paul, the more I’m starting to see things that could definitely be taken that way.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Should Protestantism Still Be a Thing?

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Roger-Smith-cc-rosary-bibleFor years now, I have described my place in the Christian family as a “Protesting Catholic“. I love Catholicism (by the way, Orthodoxy, I’m so sorry you are so frequently left out of these discussions–I’m as guilty of doing this as any). I love the entire Church family, in fact, and I can’t think of a tradition from which I have not benefited greatly from it nuancing, sharpening, refining, or deepening my theological thinking in some way. A friend posted this interview with Stanley Hauerwas, on his new book on the “end times”. It’s a brief interview with some nice quotes and sentiments from the elder public theologian, but this set of lines particularly caught my eye:

My suggestion [that Protestantism may be coming to an end] is meant to be a reminder that Protestantism is a reform movement. When it becomes an end in itself it becomes unintelligible to itself. Protestants who don’t long for Christian unity are not Protestant. There is also the ongoing problem that Catholics have responded to the Protestant critique in a way that the Protestant critique no longer makes much sense. Accordingly, the question is: why do we continue to be kept apart?

I wholeheartedly agree with Hauerwas about the heart of Protestantism and how it should long for unity and, eventually and hopefully, end. So why is Protestantism still a thing I embrace? Why am I not fleeing to Rome, to our Mother Church? Let me offer a few words. Continue reading

When your church’s “cultural relevance” fails | Acts 14.11-18

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When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

 

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.”

 

Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Acts 14.11-18

This is in contrast to Paul’s later methods at Mars Hill in Chapter 17. Here we see that not every “contextualization” is created equal. Sometimes, your “relevance” could be dragging people to worship yourself or false idols. As preachers, we should always be on the lookout for this, and to constantly speak against it.

On another note, that bold part (v.15) should be the model for every single sermon.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Name the Darkness: Jesus & Our Persistent Demons | Mark 5:6-9

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When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

Mark 5:6-9

Well this is interesting. It seems like Jesus had said words of exorcism earlier and it, in a sense, hadn’t “worked”. I wonder if the tradition behind this story was of a man so demon possessed that Jesus’ first try at getting rid of them failed. That certainly seems to be the case here. Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, and it didn’t.

Now, I don’t like pulling what seems like “self-help lessons” from things like this, or appealing to pop psychology, but this could be instructive in a ministry context. Jesus has appealed to his word and his authority to bring healing and to cast out the disorder and evil in this person’s life. It hasn’t worked. It is so big, it goes so far back into the past, and the issues seem so numerous, that it just isn’t going to take a quick shot to the soul.

So in light of this, how does Jesus respond? He asks the person’s name. Yes, the demon responds, but there’s no indication that Jesus is only talking to the unclean spirit here. He asks the man name, and he answers by identifying himself by his evil. But this is still progress. He gives name to what is haunting and hurting him, and this diagnoses his soul and gives Jesus the insight on how to bring healing to this man.

Giving name is powerful for healing and change and even getting rid of demons.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

God, Social Justice, & Social Welfare | Job 5.15-16

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But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth,
from the hand of the mighty.
So the poor have hope,
and injustice shuts its mouth.

Job 5:15–16

I want to take this to all of my conservative friends. They are right that much of the life circumstances of the poor are often from the “sword” coming from their own mouth. But we also see here that their lot is not only attributed to “the sword of their mouth”, but also “the hand of the mighty”. And either way, regardless of the cause of their situation (and its persistence), the people of God are called to follow God’s lead in a commitment to pursue their freedom from these types of bondage–both within them and without. The good news is that this not only gives them hope, but it also shuts the mouth of injustice itself.

And this doesn’t seem to just be in individual ways, but even in systemic ones. Does it not follow, then, that Christian can (should?) in good conscience see their role as political beings as a means by which to accomplish these systemic ends? Perhaps it’s not just for individual Christians and Churches to “serve the poor”, but Christians utilizing political capital to mobilize government resources to follow God’s lead? Just asking.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Logos Bible Software & Evangelical Insecurity


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I use and love Logos Bible Software for my Bible study and seminary work. It really is an amazing piece of software. You can amass such a huge library of books and resources that all connect and sync up to one another.

The one problem is that they can only put the time and resources into putting out books that people will actually buy. This means that their library selection has long been skewed towards a certain demographic: American Conservative Evangelicals, usually of the “Neo-Reformed” variety.

I don’t tend to like the books that are geared for this market. Their theological assumptions seem to come first, and the text seems to often come second. I love reading robust, scholarly commentaries and books that help grow and stretch me; books that focus on the messiness of Scripture and how it is historically and culturally conditioned. Yes, this means I end up preferring writings from “liberal” (God, I hate that term) perspectives and institutions, even if my actual theological conclusions are fairly conservative.

So it’s been frustrating to me that Logos was lacking in this scholarship and thinking for some time. But in the past year, I’ve noticed this changing. More and more commentary series and scholarship book bundles are coming out by Logos that I am loving (though my bank account hasn’t). Maybe I just never noticed them before, I don’t know. But either way, I’m noticing it now, and I’m really happy.

Or rather, I was.
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The Privilege of Holiness; The Holiness of Privilege


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I was at a coffee shop this past weekend doing some schoolwork when this beautiful lesbian couple came in, got some coffee, and left. I don’t know what it was about them, but they were stuck in my mind for quite a while after this. I wondered how the America church would be relating to gays at this point had sweet, loving relationships like that been the primary display Evangelicals had seen all these years.

I remembered that, as I was growing up, one of the primary Evangelical apologetics against gay rights was the whole litany of emotional, psychological, and societal detriments that come with homosexuality. I can’t tell you how many times I was told about the higher rates of depression, suicide, relationship abuse, physical health problems, STDs, and rampant unsafe sexual practices among the majority of gay population. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion was that, when someone moves so radically against “the way God designed things”, great problems are sure to follow.

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Wolterstorff: the liturgy & worship of lament [quote]


job-silohetteLast week, I was in Michigan again for my seminary program. Tomorrow I will post some reflections on my time there. Today, I want to offer you this amazing post-length excerpt by Nicholas Wolterstorff from an amazing piece of his called, “Trumpets, Ashes, & Tears” (pdf):

I suggest that there is yet one more thing which the believer experiences in his life of dispersion and which he brings with him to the liturgy….

As we human beings travel through life we experience pain and suffering–in part our own, in part that of others. Some of this pain and suffering is non-innocent suffering; it is punishment for, or the consequence of, moral evil. But not all of it is that.

The suffering of the Israelites in the brickyards of Egypt was not the consequence of their sin, nor was the suffering of the Jews in the camps of Auschwitz. Some of the suffering of our world even resists our seeing it as the counterpart of anyone’s sin–the accidental death of a child, for example.

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