The Sermon I Should Have Preacher: The Gospels

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This is an ongoing blog series where upon completing a sermon series, I mention a few things I myself learned that may or may not have made it into the final draft of the series.

Last year when I was planning my sermon series for the 2016 calendar year, I decided to spend the Fall talking about practical holiness.  As I began putting together those sermons, I hit a wall very early on.  The problem was that I could not talk about practical holiness without first helping my congregation develop a fuller understanding of the mystery that is the gospel.  Therefore, a 12 week sermon series on holiness as described in Romans 12-16 became a six week series on “What is the Gospel?” followed by another six weeks in Romans 12-16.

I finished my first six weeks in the gospel last Sunday.  I very roughly structured the series on the five (or six) major atonement theories.  I tried to pick one passage per theory that I thought defended that particular theory well.  So very roughly the six sermons went like this:

2 Cor. 5: The Gospel and Ministry of Reconciliation

Romans 1: The Satisfaction Theory

Ephesians 2: Ransom Theory

Colossians 2: “Christus Victor” And the overthrow of the Rulers and Authorities of our World. (This is the only one online currently and you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJbo9DCG4WY)

Romans 8: Recapitulation Theory

1 John 4: Moral Influence Theory

With those in mind, after spending the last couple months doing some deeper thinking about the core of our Christian faith and revisiting both the the events of Jesus’s life and how the epistles interpret them, here are some things I learned.  These are not things I knew all ready but things I genuinely realized.

  1. Yes the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition has major qualms about the “wrath of God” and maybe rightly so.  But unfortunately for us God’s wrath is all over the epistles.  Even Jesus in the gospels does his fair share talking about it.  With that said, I still don’t believe God was so angry that God needed to watch a Quentin Tarantino (or even, *cough* a “Mel Gibson”) movie to suddenly be okay with it all.  But God is angry at the sinfulness of the world and Jesus came as a solution to it.  There is no way to be biblical and not to address the wrath of God.
  2. The epistles don’t concentrate on the cross nearly as much as we do today.  In fact, in most of the epistle passages listed above almost all the events of Jesus’ life are mentioned or alluded to in some way.  The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost and Jesus’ second coming all appear together almost all of the time.  In the epistles the gospel is not about the cross but about the entire “Christ event.”  If we want to talk about salvation in a biblical way we must talk and give equal emphasis to all of them.
  3. With that said, I was surprised at how often Pentecost and the Holy Spirit itself comes up in talking about the gospel.  The good news according to the epistles is not just about forgiveness on the cross but about the release of the Holy Spirit into the world to equip and enable us to live holy lives.
  4. The ransom theory is extremely difficult to defend in any biblical way.  Going in I knew that the Old Testament provided very little evidence that Satan somehow controlled the entire cosmos.  But I was sure the New Testament at the very least alluded to it.  I was wrong.  The New Testament does not in any way teach it.  Ephesians 2 comes the closest but it doesn’t even mention Satan by name.  It talks about the “ruler of the prince of the air” which was actually a title for Caesar.

So those are some thoughts about the gospel.  They are things I genuinely learned in the last couple months.  I hope to do this from here on out with all my sermon series.  I also hope to back date one to the minor prophets which I spent the summer preaching through.

In completely unrelated news this here blog post is apparently my 200th!!!  Here is a picture of an anniversary cake to celebrate.

Image result for anniversary cake

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Flush Away Your Wrath: Anger Addictions Pt. 2

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Yesterday I wrote about the similarities between sexual temptation and anger temptation and noted that both are seemingly prevalent and destructive.

I had a few friends respond to yesterday’s post and they raised some great questions concerning anger.  The first had to do with definitions.  The second had to do with reading Ephesians 4 where Paul seems to take a mild stance towards anger by saying, “In your anger do not sin” but then comes back a few verses later and says, “Get rid of it all together.”  Today I hope to address both of these in turn.

As far as definitions go, I do not assume any passion that is directed toward or against something is “anger.”  Instead I think anger is best understood as relational.  It is hostile passion that is directed towards somebody or a group of somebodies.

In this case being mad that the Chiefs lost their playoff game last winter (and boy was I mad!) does not fall under the category of an anger addiction.  However, seven months later if I am still angry about the game and demanding Andy Reid’s resignation, using various curse words to describe the coaching staff and insisting Alex Smith be traded to a 1A High School football team, then I would need help with my anger problem.

As far as the context of Ephesians and James go, I think Paul and James would agree with that definition.  Anger seems to be understood as directed against somebody and is summarily dismissed for those reasons.

With that said, Ephesians 4 is fascinating.  Yesterday I planned to write about James 4, where I will end today, but a friend brought up Ephesians and I found it to be more formative.

The chapter begins with the wonderful exhortations to no longer be infants but to grow up into Christ who is the head.  This involves no longer being Gentiles whose thinking is futile but instead putting on a new self which consists of righteousness and holiness.

Then Paul digs into the particulars of righteousness.  First, Paul says to put off falsehood.  Next Paul says to not sin in your anger and not to let the sun go down on your anger.  Then Paul moves on quite abruptly with no further qualifiers.  This is quite unfortunate because we have no idea from Paul what letting the sun go down on your anger means or what sinning in anger would look like.  We have to make educated guesses, like the NIV did by translating it, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

If that was all the New Testament said about anger we would be left  with our own assumptions and say things like, “Anger is just fine if you resolve it quickly.”  Or, “I can be angry all I want just as long as I don’t “sin” in it.”  And many have said those things to justify their acts of rage though few have taken any effort to define what “sinning in anger” even means.

But those two verses are not all we have.  In fact, Paul comes back in verse 31 and suddenly makes a sweeping statement to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  The Greek for “getting rid of” might translate into modern English as, “throw away” or “flush down the toilet.”

The words cover the gamut of all forms of anger and their expression.  Bitterness is the slow burn anger that festers over time.  Rage is the quick burn anger that blows up in a second.  Brawling is the physical blows caused by anger.  Slander is the verbal blows.  And malice is the manipulative scheming that one who is angry (or bitter) engages in.

With that in mind, I repeat what I said yesterday, “There is no room for anger in the Kingdom of God.”

I think when Paul said, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” he meant the minute you find out you have any bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander throw it away and never take it up again.  Put another way, I don’t think Paul was talking about “going to bed mad” or daily anger but he was talking to the very present day.

In sum it might paraphrase to, “deal with your anger today before it destroys your tomorrows.”  Then, tomorrow (and every day after) live the new life of 4:32 which reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Now if we turn to James’ witness in the first chapter of his epistle we find the same idea at work.  James says in verses 19 and 20, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

With all this said, one of the greatest temptations for me has been anger.  It has been a thought and heart battle to stay gentle and kind and compassionate towards those who disagree with me.  As I have spoken to other pastors, I find many have admitted the same thing and most of us deal with it daily, despite attempting to put it away for good.

More bothersome than that are the clergy (and their spouses) who have given into anger long ago.  They pastor and preach with angry hearts and do severe damage to their congregations and no one seems to notice or care.  So tomorrow I will close this short series by suggesting a few interventions church boards and denominational committees can take to keep their pastors kind and compassionate and help them throw away the anger that manifests itself in all its forms.

You can read part 3 here.

An Evangelistic Confession

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I have a very dear, older saint in my church who continually reminds me that every sermon must present the Romans Road Gospel.  She wants every sermon to end with new Christians confessing, “I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but I confess with my mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead so that I can live eternally in heaven.”  This prayer is sometimes called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and in her thinking, such sermons should always end with an altar call where people pray the prayer in front of the entire congregation.

I politely disagree with her but putting aside my theological convictions I do try to preach a more evangelistic sermon when the biblical text lends itself that direction.

Such is certainly the case with my text for next week, Acts 9, which narrates Saul Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus.  It is a rich text that I have worked with for a few weeks (you can look at my early exegetical notes here) and certainly Saul meeting Jesus should lead to the congregation meeting Jesus.  Furthermore I have several new attendees for whom a “Damascus Road” moment would do a lot of good.

However, my shy congregation does not respond to altar calls, at least in the “going down to the altar” kind of way.  Furthermore, as I read other articles, books and blogs, I sense a growing conclusion that the altar has had its day and is on the way out.  After all the altar call is only 150 years old, which is pretty young when you consider Christianity is 2,000 years old.

So I have had to rethink the response time and do so in light of resurgence of the Lord’s Table, which was the universal Christian response to the sermon until the altar call replaced it in evangelical congregations.

So today as I put the finishing touch on my sermon I rather painfully rejected the typical altar call.  Instead I wrote a congregational call and response to follow the sermon and precede the Eucharist.  The confession is below.  It is intended to encourage the congregation to join Saul on the road to Damascus and to confess their wickedness in the light of God’s new-found grace.  It is also based off of a sermon of John Wesley’s where Wesley states, “For the Christian only 2 truths remain: I am a wretch but Christ has died.”

Feel free to add or subtract or use this in your own evangelistic sermons or private prayer and devotional times.

The regular type is the congregational confession.  The bold is the priest’s blessing.

I am a wretch.  I have sinned against God, my neighbor, myself and creation.

But Christ has died so receive forgiving grace.

I am a wretch.  I am walking death that causes death wherever I go.

But Christ has died so receive life giving grace.

I am a wretch.  I have hurt others and myself and continue to do so.

But Christ has died so receive healing grace.

I am a wretch.  I am helpless to save myself and all my self improvement projects end in disaster.  And all my them-improvement projects destroy the them’s I am trying to improve.

But Christ has died so receive transforming grace.

Church will you rise out of death?

We will.

Church do you receive the resurrecting power of God?

We do.

Do you hear the call of Christ to come and die and find you may truly live?

We come, we die.  Christ give us life.

Amen.