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

Spiritual maturity has little to do with doctrine | 1 Corinthians 3.1-3

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And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

1 Corinthians 3.1-3

Firstly: Oh. Snap. Knowing the issues this church deals with, that’s got to be so insulting to them in the highest degree. “You are not spiritually mature.” But notice what makes them immature: not doctrine. Paul says time and time again throughout this letter: they’ve got wisdom and doctrine. And yet they are “infants”. Why? Jealousy. Wow.

Think: Do we think that we are “spiritually immature” when we’re “simply” jealous? What of other emotional, heart things? Do we use those things to judge our “spiritual maturity”? Or do we look more to doctrinal knowledge, what podcasts we listen to, what books we read, or how good our “quiet times” are?

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

Faith & Grace Alone: Job & the New Perspective on Paul| Job 9


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How then can I answer him,
choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
Job 9.14-15

Job says he is innocent, but he says he still needs mercy. What does this mean? Perhaps he does see not people in the simplistic way that we often do–or at least as simplistic as we see the ancient Israelites.

Just like in the Christian scheme, I’m starting to think that the ancient Israelites also thought that people were considered righteous only on account of graciously being in covenant with God. All the sacrifices, festivals, laws, etc. were more as signs that they were the people of God; they were not how people became part of that group in the first place. In other words, the sacrifices and laws were outward displays that they were fully righteous before God’s eyes; they weren’t the ways that they “earned” righteousness or forgiveness.
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#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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Is There No Rest for God’s Weary Ministers? | Mark 6


Lucien Simon-Christ Performing MiraclesReading through the sixth chapter of Mark, I recently noticed a way that Jesus relates to his disciples which is, at first, incredibly encouraging, but then gets exceedingly hard.

This is right after he had sent his disciples out, two by two, to try out this whole “ministry thing” by themselves. According to Mark, it was an incredibly powerful and effective time of ministry for them. They saw powerful things done, and they were able to play a part in them. They return from their first “ministry internship”, and this is where we pick up the story.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6.30-31

Jesus’ pastoral concern extends not only to his flock but also to the shepherds. They have done so much ministry and now he insists that they withdraw and rest and eat. Also, they shouldn’t simply do this by themselves as individuals, but with those who are also doing ministry. The leaders of the church should rest together as fellow weary workers.
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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.

How Preaching Saved Me from Evangelicalism’s Bible


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If I’ve learned anything the past few years, it’s that Evangelical Fundamentalism is absolutely right: as I’ve embraced more and more what conservatives often label a “liberal” view of the Bible, it really has negatively affected my spiritual and devotional life.

When you think the Bible is itself the “infallible, inerrant, Word of God”–when you think that the precise words themselves hold a magical power–you do approach the Bible with a greater amount of awe, respect, and mysticism. I’ve written before how it wasn’t until college that I read any of the Gospels on my own, because I had this fear of reading the “literal, unfiltered” words of Jesus. They seemed so big and other-worldly to me.

I’ve loved the Bible my whole life. I still have the first Bible I was ever given as a child. I still vividly remember the evening on my parent’s bed after they had read a Psalm that had been stuck in the middle of the stories about David that it finally clicked for me that the Bible wasn’t just narratives, but also poems and other kinds of writing.

My Southern Baptist upbringing has got it engrained in me that my entire spiritual and devotional life should revolve around this book. No matter how much I tell myself otherwise, something in me always has (and always will) “evaluate” my spiritual health by how I engage the Scriptures, in both quantity and quality.
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Paul: The Second Coming of Jonah?


Jonah-Preaching-in-Nineveh-1923sIt’s always odd when you see something in a text that seems incredibly out of place. I took a lot of Latin in high school and college. I remember the first time I was doing some translation and ran across the word Britannia. I looked up the word in the Latin dictionary to see that it was the Roman word for Great Britain.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of ancient Rome, I somehow don’t think of Great Britain having been a thing. Or maybe I thought they would have been familiar with the region, but that it would have had a different name or something. I don’t know. It was just a really unexpected thing to come across.

A similar experience happened when I was going through the book of Galatians for the first time. In the opening chapter, Paul is telling the story of his conversion, and he randomly says that after he became a Christian, he went down to “Arabia” for three years to, in a sense, figure out what this Gospel was that he would bring to the Gentiles. This is a very odd gap in the understanding of Paul’s life, and no scholar has any idea what he was doing in this time. But, more oddly, Arabia? Again, another regional name I wasn’t expecting to see casually thrown into a Mediterranean-based ancient biblical text.

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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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Seminary & Ministry in the Post-Everything World


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All last week I was in Holland, MI attending another one of our in-person sessions for my seminary program. It was another week with amazing people, at an amazing place, learning and discussing amazing things.

One of that classes I had was my preaching class. Over the course of five days, every one of us in the class got up and preached a 15-20 minute sermon. Every person–again, every. single. person.–did amazingly well. There were many surprises. People delivered messages that we could not have anticipated, in both skill and content.

Imagine listening to 14 full-on sermons in the course of a few days. It’s emotionally draining; it’s intense; it’s life-giving. It’s trying to drink from a fire hose of God’s Word and Spirit.

One benefit of this is that I got to get a glimpse into the future of the Church’s preaching ministry, and I am happy to say that I am really encouraged.

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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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Relentless Mercy (I’m never looking at Jonah the same way again) [QUOTE]

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The forceful rejection of the doctrine of mercy is voiced by a man who was willing to die rather than cause others to die, and who was willing to leave his native land and pay with his life rather than serve the compassionate God. His vigorous and sincere opposition to divine mercy is striking evidence that it is desperately needed. Just as the flight is unqualified, so is the pursuit relentless…

Jonah must bow his head before the absolute sovereignty of the divine will…before he can hear and understand the explanation given by God, who forgives without being lenient. The gates of escape are shut in the prophet’s face; precisely this provides the opening of the gates of repentance to the transgressors with its full significance, since both are direct outcomes of the Lord’s love for His creatures.

The paradoxical tension between the Lord’s inordinate severity with Jonah and His extraordinary leniency with Nineveh teaches us about the absolute sovereignty of the divine will; it is resolved only when Jonah comes to realize that the will of the Lord is not arbitrary, but compassionate, for those who are near and for those who are far from Him. 

–from the JPS Bible Commentary on Jonah, by Dr. Uriel Simon

Jonah: a Children’s Story of Verbs


Jonah-boat-comicMy Hebrew class has moved from learning grammar to the actual process of translation and interpretation. To do this, we’re going through the book of Jonah. Our first interpretive assignment was to look at all the Jonah-related verbs in the first six verses and draw some theological conclusions. Here was my contribution.

But first, my incredibly literal and somewhat stilted translation of the opening verses [Jonah 1.1-6], including all the odd word order and idioms of Hebrew:

(1) And the word of the LORD was to Jonah son of Amittai, in order to say, (2) “Rise, go to Ninevah, the large city, and cry out against her because their evil arose to my face.” (3)And Jonah rose in order to flee in the direction of Tarshish from the toward-facing faces [Hebrew idiom for "Presence"] of the LORD and went down to Joppa and he reached a ship going to Tarshish and he gave its fare and went down in it in order to enter with them to Tarshish away from the toward-facing faces of the Lord. (4) And the LORD hurled a large wind upon the sea and it manifested as a large storm among the sea and the ship thought to shatter towards itself. (5) And the sailors were afraid and they cried out, man to his God, and they were made to throw the receptacles which were in the ship into the sea away from them towards making themselves small and Jonah had gone down into the rear of the vessel and had laid down and slept heavily. (6) And the chief sailor came to him and said to him, “Why are you sleeping? Arise! Cry out towards your gods! Perhaps the god of you will bear us in mind and we will not perish.”

And now for some lessons we can draw…
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A method for humility, according to St. Paul | 1 Corinthians 3:18-19


Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. For it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”
1 Corinthians 3.18-19

What a method for humility. Whenever we feel wise or smart, the best thing we can do is put ourselves in a situation where this is not valued. We must be “simplified” and lose the wisdom, else lose Christ in the process. Here I think of Lesslie Newbigin, who left his lucrative writing and tenured prestige and teaching to work with those who would never know or appreciate his brilliance. This can be a discipline that we do.

For example: Perhaps I should consider ways to stop blogging or cutting it out of my routine in those moments or seasons that I feel it is building me up too much.

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