Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sermon Manuscript: Jesus Rules

Jesus Rules

If you could believe any religion, which one would you choose? That’s kind of a stupid question, isn’t it? I mean, we’re all here at Heritage CHRISTIAN Church. Most, if not all of you, have already made your decision. You are a Christian.

But why? Why do you choose to be a Christian? It’s not exactly the most popular religion available to you. It doesn’t get good press, particularly the evangelical brand of Christianity.

If religions were nightclubs, Christianity would be where all the awkward people who can’t dance go. The cool people tend to stay away. So if you’re trying to get ahead in this world, if you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you may want to find a new place to dance.

But you know, deep inside, that there’s something different here. It may be awkward and weird at times, filled with people you wouldn’t want to be seen with, but it’s got something that no place else has, something that you would hate to leave behind.

Sometimes this thing that makes Christianity so different gets lost in the noise and clang of politics. Sometimes it’s discarded altogether and replaced with something inferior. Sometimes the very core of our belief gets trampled or trivialized. It gets glossed over. It gets forgotten. We close our eyes to it, or we roll our eyes at the sound of it. We cling to something more popular. We champion something that makes us look better. We raise the banners that play to the cameras and we turn our backs on that which makes us truly Christian.

But it’s the gospel that tells us who we are. It’s the gospel that makes us Christian. No one else has this. No one else believes it. You can’t find it anywhere else on earth but in this funny little dance hall with the awkward people that you’re embarrassed to introduce to your cool friends.

And it’s this funny little message that doesn’t make any sense on earth, but you’ve bought into it along with all the weirdos and crazies and human embarrassments. And you come to this funny little dance hall with all these people you’d never call friend but you call them brother and sister, and you dance and you sing because it’s the gospel that ties you together. It’s this funny little message that changed your big important life and now you see that it was never you who was big and important, but it was Jesus who was big and important all along. And it’s his gospel, and it’s his funny little dance hall, and it’s his people that come here to sing and to dance for his glory instead of for the cameras, and the pub, and the status, and the hollow hand-clapping of human admirers.

The gospel itself is easily mistaken for an imposter. After all, there are lots of “good newses” in the world. You’ve just won the lottery! Hey, that’s good news. I’m pregnant! That’s good news, most of the time. The Buckeyes are going back to the National Championship game! Well, I don’t know if I can handle that again.

The true gospel, the truly good news that defines Christianity, hasn’t changed since it was first preached. It’s a message that’s even older than the writing of the New Testament. It has stood the test of time. It has withstood countless attempts to change it, twist it, reshape it, repackage it, and outright deny it. It is the rock upon which men and women have broken for twenty centuries. It has offended and comforted, angered and pacified. It has been laughed at, made mockery of, and derided by kings and critics. And millions who believe it have willingly given their lives for it, refusing to deny it despite the fire, the blade, or the beasts. It is the gospel of God, and on it I take my stand, in it I find refuge, and through it I find salvation.

Listen to what Paul writes in I Corinthians 15.

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

This is the message that makes Christianity unique among all the religions of the world. Jesus died for our sins. He was buried. And he was raised again on the third day. That’s something that you don’t find anywhere else. Nobody else died as an atoning sacrifice for your sins. Nobody else was raised from the dead. The gospel is our message. If you believe it, you’re a Christian, no matter your background. If you don’t, you’re not, regardless of how often you go to church.

The formula that I had always heard for the gospel, and the one that is probably the most popular among evangelicals, goes something like this: Jesus died for your sins so that you can go to Heaven when you die. Or, Jesus died for your sins so that you can have a relationship with God.

Now, that’s good news, right? But is it the good news? Is that the gospel as it came to Paul? It’s not, is it? Going to Heaven and having a personal relationship with God are true and good, but they are theological addendums to the gospel. They are the result of the gospel. Those things are possible because the gospel is true.

The gospel itself is news. In other words, it’s a report of the facts of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth on the days we now call Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And it is verified by the prophecies of the Old Testament, as well as by the eyewitness accounts of more than 500 people.

Jesus died. “Oh, that’s too bad.” He was buried. “I heard that.” He rose from the dead. “Wha?!?!” Let’s look at this a little more closely, and then I want to talk about what it means. Let’s look at the scripture again.

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

First, Jesus died for our sins. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but there is a lot of evil in the world. To put it simply, evil is what God calls sin. Most of us agree that there is a lot of sin out there somewhere, but not necessarily in our own lives. But, the Bible tells us that we’re all born into sin, and we’re all sinners from day one.

This wouldn’t be a problem for us if God were just cool with sin. Unfortunately for us, he’s not. God’s not okay with sin because he has never sinned. He is perfectly good, holy, righteous, and just. And because he is who he is, he has to judge us for our sins. We must be punished, and that punishment is death, and even eternal death in hell.

There is so much more to say about this, but I want to get to the good news. Jesus stepped between us and the judgment of God. That’s what his death on the cross was all about. Because he is the Son of God, and never sinned in any way, in his death he took all of God’s punishment against all of our sins, for all of us.

The second part of the gospel is this: Jesus was buried. In other words, he really died. He wasn’t mostly dead, he was all dead. He was dead, embalmed, and buried in a tomb with a heavy stone rolled over it. He was dead.

So far the gospel is good news for us, but bad news for Jesus. Our sins are forgiven, but he’s dead. But really the last part is the best part: On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He died, but he was too strong for death to hold him down any longer.

The resurrection of Jesus is the victory that gives all of us hope that death does not have the last laugh. In Jesus, death died, and it doesn’t haunt us anymore because we can stare it in the face and smile, knowing that as Jesus rose again, we too will rise again.

This is the gospel. Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus Christ was buried. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. Receive this. Believe this. Take your stand on this. Be saved by this.

But what does it all mean? What has changed in the world because Jesus died for our sins and rose again? How does the gospel change everything for everyone? Most importantly, what do these facts tell us about Jesus? If the gospel is the story of what happened to Jesus on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, then what does that story tell us about Jesus?

I think the gospel tells us three things about Jesus. I’m certain that there are more, but for our purposes, I want to look at the following three things: 1. Jesus rules. 2. Jesus rules. 3. Jesus rules. It sounds complicated, I know, but let’s just start with the point about how Jesus rules. Flip back a book to Romans 9, and we’ll look at verses 1-5.

1I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Jesus is God over all. Did you see how Paul just kind of slipped that in there? He was going on and on about Israel, then he mentions the name of Christ, and, oh yeah, he is God over all, forever praised! It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

Jesus rules. He is God over all. He is forever praised. He is the King of creation. No power can prevail against him. No plan can prosper against him. His reign is universal. There is nowhere you can go where Jesus is not king. Now there are plenty of places you can go where he is not recognized as king, but there is nowhere that he does not reign as God over all, right now.

Are you allowing Jesus to rule in every area of your life? Have you handed everything over to him, or are there things that you’re holding back? Is there anything that you’re unwilling to let Jesus change about you?

Being a nerd, I didn’t date much all my life. But I always seemed to have a crush on some girl. I always wanted to be in a relationship, but it just didn’t happen for me very often. So I started to wonder if I had “the gift.” Have you heard of “the gift?” The gift of singleness? That thought scared the heck out of me. I didn’t want the gift. I don’t like the gift. I’ll give the gift back. I’ll regift the gift.

But I came to a point where I had to say to Jesus, “If you want me to be single for the rest of my life, I’ll do that.” Thankfully, five years after that I got married. But I had to surrender that to the rule and reign of Jesus, just like I have to surrender everything else to him.

Maybe it would be helpful for you to sit down sometime and write out where Jesus does and does not rule in your life. I’m sure there are plenty of places where you have submitted to him. But if you’re human, that means you’re inconsistent, so there are plenty of areas that are not submitted to the rule of Jesus.

Once they’re down on paper then you can be reminded to submit those things to Jesus. You can look at your list and say, “Jesus, I have surrendered my television watching to you, but I haven’t surrendered my spending. I surrender my money to you Jesus.”

Jesus rules. He is God over all. He is God over all of you [plural], and he is God over all of you [singular]. You must acknowledge his rule in every aspect of your life. You must submit everything to him. You are not God. He is God. Jesus rules.

Now, on to my second point. Jesus rules. Let’s slide over a chapter to Romans 10:9.

9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

In the Roman Empire there was only one Lord, and that was Caesar. Caesar was the emperor. He was sovereign. There was no other ruler. He was it. He was the only Lord, and to claim otherwise was an act of treason. To publicly claim that somebody else is Lord could very well get you killed, or at least thrown in prison.

So that’s how you have to approach Romans 10:9. We can’t understand this verse until we understand the price you could pay for saying something as dangerous as “Jesus is Lord.” That statement doesn’t put us in any danger. But for our 100th-great grandfathers and mothers of the faith, believing this and confessing this, was likely to get them killed.

The Christians claimed that Caesar is not Lord, and that, in fact, a Galilean crucified outside of Jerusalem is Lord. Caesar is not Lord, Jesus is Lord. And there can be only one Lord, because Caesar wouldn’t share his throne with anyone, and neither will Jesus.

Jesus rules, and nobody else. There is no other Lord but Jesus Christ. Nobody else died for your sins. Nobody else rose from the dead. No other savior lives and reigns today. He alone is Lord.

Have you ever heard of syncretism? Do you know what that means? According to the Encarta World English Dictionary, syncretism is “the attempted combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice.”

When I was in college they started making this music called rap-rock. Have you heard of it? It’s rap and rock combined. Syncretism is like rap-rock for religions. You take two or more things that seem like they wouldn’t go together and you mash them up into one new thing.

Do you know who the premiere rap-rock religion artist is of our time? Oprah. Yeah, she rap-rocks, religiously speaking, of course. The religion you find on Oprah’s show is part New Age and part Christianity. It’s syncretism. She mixes spiritism, meditation, poisitivism, reincarnation, and all the palatable things of Christianity, and she offers it to millions of women every day. And it’s infectious. It sells. But it’s not Christian.

This sort of syncretistic Christianity is the religion of the day in the West. It’s palatable. It’s fluffy. It urges you to go out and do good things. It tells you to be positive. It teaches tolerance and acceptance. It teaches anti-judgmentalism. It’s easy to embrace and doesn’t demand anything from you.

It sounds great, except that it’s completely hollow. It makes no account for human sin. It rejects God. It tells you that you don’t need Jesus. It rewrites Scripture. It tells us that Jesus was a great teacher whose example we should follow every day, not the crucified and risen Lord before whom we should bow and to whom we must give an account for every careless word and deed.

Your Christianity is not Christian unless Jesus is your only Lord. Beware of the teachings of Oprah and others like her. She may do good deeds, but she does not recognize that Jesus is Lord. Before God all our righteousness is as filthy rags. You can’t do enough good to get rid of the evil inside you. You can’t out-righteous your sin.

Jesus alone is Lord. If you have invited someone else to share the throne of your heart, it’s time to give them the boot. Jesus rules, by himself. He does not share power with Caesar. And Caesar can be anyone or anything. It could be a celebrity, or a politician, or a cause, a philosophy, a desire, money. Caesar can be anything. But Jesus will not share power with Caesar. Caesar has got to go. Jesus rules.

Now, on to my final point. Jesus rules! Let’s look at Romans 11:33-36.

33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
          How unsearchable his judgments,
          and his paths beyond tracing out!
34"Who has known the mind of the Lord?
          Or who has been his counselor?"
35"Who has ever given to God,
          that God should repay him?"
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
          To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Jesus rules! He is amazing! He is awesome! He is worthy of praise. Few things in this world are truly praiseworthy, but Jesus surpasses them all. He is great and glorious. He rules!

There is nobody like him.

He is holy.
He is merciful.
He is just.
He is righteous.
He is loving.
He is kind.
He is strong.
He is glorious.
He is understanding.
He is untamable.
He is unconquerable.
He is unassailable.
He is uncompromising.
He is unchanging.
He is all-powerful.
He is all-knowing.
He is all-forgiving.
He is all-encompassing.
He is all-surpassing.
He is all-seeing.
He is all-hearing.
He is all-being.
He is all-doing.
He is all places.
He sees all faces.
He knows all hearts.
He heals all wounds.
He answers all prayers.
He is with the lonely.
He is with the downcast.
He is with the rejected.
He is with the outcast.
He is with the prisoner.
He is with the sinner.
He is with the slave.
He is with the weak.
He is with the rejected.
He is with the broken.
He is with the weeping.
He is with the mourning.
He gives strength to the weak.
He gives hope to the hopeless.
He gives faith to the faithless.
He gives love to the unloved.
He chases the runaway.
He runs to the prodigal.
He protects the orphan.
He provides for the widow.
He houses the alien.
He clothes the naked.
He feeds the hungry.
He shelters the homeless.
He heals the diseased.
He hates cancer.
He hates AIDS.
He hates malaria.
He hates the sex trade.
He hates the slave trade.
He hates the drug trade.
He hates drunkenness.
He hates adultery.
He hates divorce.
He hates pornography.
He hates addiction.
He hates deception.
He loves truth.
He loves grace.
He loves mercy.
He loves healing.
He loves patience.
He loves kindness.
He loves gentleness.
He loves faithfulness.
He loves reconciliation.
He loves humility.
He loves redemption.
He loves sacrifice.
He loves obedience.
He loves trust.
He loves longsuffering.
He loves honesty.
He loves charity.
He loves love.
He loves me.
He loves you.
He loves us.
He died.
He rose again.
He rules.

Let’s pray.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sacred & Secular Belief (Or, Why I Am Not a Democrat) Part 4

In case you were curious: part 1, 2, and 3.

"Vote your conscience." I'm sure I've heard this plenty of times. When you don't know who to vote for, then you should vote your conscience. It's a wonderful sentiment, except that it's a terrible idea. I'm convinced that voting your conscience leads to a bloated, over-sized government with a god-complex.

Today, we look to the government for that which the ancients looked to their gods. Bad harvest? Look to the government for help. Lost your job? Go to the government. Drought? Call Washington. The Government is our Pantheon. Washington is our Mount Olympus.

The State has stepped where it does not belong. It has dangerously overflowed its banks. There is nothing for which we do not instinctively look to the government first. Elections are won and lost based on inane promises of controlling something as trivial and fickle as the market price of a gallon of gasoline. It is truly absurd.

Voting your conscience makes sense only for those who are unwilling to fulfill the calling of the Church in the world. Voting your conscience is passing the buck. You're hiring someone else to do the work you are called to do.

Teddy Roosevelt's father hired a man to fight in the Civil War on his behalf. His situation was understandably difficult. He was from New York, and his wife was from the South. How could he go to war against his own brothers-in-law. Still, Teddy never did live down the shame of his father's choice.

The same thing is happening in the Church today. We are hiring a political party to go to war on our behalf. We are turning to a presidential candidate who wants to turn the mission of the Church into the will of the State. Of all the ways the Church has prostituted herself, this is perhaps one of the most deceptive. When has it ever worked out well for Jesus when his bride has linked arms with the State? When has the body of Christ ever needed the long arm of the law to fulfill its mission?

Don't vote your conscience, obey it. Then, if you must, go and vote your intellect. Vote for the candidate who is most likely to gather the government back within its proper boundaries. Vote for the candidate who understands that the State can never do the work of the Church, and who will limit the size and scope of the State appropriately.

I've come to understand that my secular belief, my political philosophy, ought not to mirror my sacred belief. Rather, my secular belief ought to create space for the sacred. My philosophy must create room for my theology to be practiced.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Destroy God's Temple (Not that You Would Want To)

This is my really long manuscript for the sermon on community I'll be preaching on the 26th.

How to Destroy God’s Temple (Not that You Would Want To)

If you’re at all interested in history, archeology, world religions, or even architecture, then you probably get fascinated by temples. Even if you’re not interested in those things, or in other words, if you have a life, temples can still be intriguing places.

Some temples are beautiful structures, or located in peaceful environments. Even if you don’t follow this specific religion, you would probably still want to visit these places. There are other temples, however, that you would never want to visit. Like, for example, this guy’s. 

Any temple where the chief priest is holding a flaming, beating human heart in his hand is not a temple I want to be in. But, to each his own, I suppose.

The idea of a temple is pretty simple, really. It’s a god’s house. In biblical times, the architecture would often be modeled after the king’s palace, or vice versa. For the nations that did not worship Yahweh, as Israel did, their temples would house the idols of their gods.

Israel’s temple is often described as the house of Yahweh. And yet they instinctively knew that God did not dwell in houses made by human hands. So there was a tension there, that this temple is our God’s house, and yet he doesn’t live here. He is too vast and great to be confined to one small building on earth. Heaven is his throne and the earth his footstool. His house cannot house him.

But that didn’t make the temple obsolete or inconsequential. Instead, it was one of the three great symbols of Israel’s national identity, along with Torah and the land. It was the hub of her religious practice and worship.

So when it was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was a calamity of calamities. Along with being carted off into exile, it was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to Israel, and therefore to the whole world. Torah, temple, and lend were all that Israel had, and in 587 the Babylonians took their temple and their land. It was catastrophic.

After the exile a second temple was built. But it was never quite like the first one. Even though Herod the Great made all kinds of improvements to it, and made it a truly remarkable temple, it just wasn’t the same. There was a lot of ambivalence about whether or not this was the true temple.

Paul, who, as an ex-Pharisee, was a former temple advocate, declares emphatically that this temple is not the true temple. Something has caused him to change his mind. Let’s look at I Corinthians 3:16-17 together.

16Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

One quick note on the language here. These yous are not singular yous, they are plural. That’s why the NIV translates it “you yourselves [plural] are God’s temple [singular].”

The new temple of God is the people of God. The Christian community is the temple. The temple is no longer a building, it’s no longer isolated in Jerusalem. The temple is God’s people. Wherever they gather, that’s the temple.

This is a radical reinterpretation of the temple, obviously. It affirms the ancient notion that God does not dwell in houses built by human hands, and it also fulfills the ancient prophecy that God will live with his people. Immanuel, God with us. All who call on the name of Jesus Christ are part of God’s new temple on earth.

The community of God is the temple of God. This gathering here tonight is a temple. It’s a house of God. Your community is a house of God. The Nehemiah Project, when you all gather, is a house of God.

And the difference between the new temple and the old is that God actually lives in this one. The Holy Spirit lives in you. God does not dwell in houses built by human hands, but he does dwell in communities built by his common act of grace--Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. God has built himself a house, but instead of brick and mortar, he has used flesh and blood.

After I graduated from Ohio State in 2001 I moved back to Toledo to help support the struggling college ministry, which was called Unbound, of the church I grew up in. The first night that I was there we were supposed to have a service, but there was nobody to speak, nobody to do music, and we were locked out of the building. So the eight of us that were there decided to go play miniature golf. That was my first night of full-time ministry.

Over the next two years God built himself a temple. He brought some great people into the community of Unbound, and he raised up a whole lot of people from within it. We saw people get saved, and the community grew to about 75 people, with attendance over 100 several times, which is pretty remarkable considering the church itself didn’t average 300 in attendance.

God was so faithful during that time. He really was building himself a temple called Unbound. And he does some really cool things sometimes.

At one service in 2003, right in the middle of the sermon, about 10 or 12 people walked into the gathering and sat right up front. Now I wasn’t speaking at that service, so I was sitting in my seat, “Who the heck are these people? Pretty stinking late is what they are.” And then the sermon ended, and the worship music started, and then I realized why they were there. These folks who had never come before and never came again brought such an energy, as the congregation, into our worship, and our whole group was brought into the presence of God. They even impacted that band. It was amazing.

It was as though God was saying, “Unbound is not my only temple on earth. Here are some folks from a different temple, a different community. See how beautiful it is when you come together.”

I actually have a couple of minutes of video that I’d like to show you from that night. I know it’s self-indulgent, but forgive me. I sacrificed my own worship experience to grab my video camera and record it, so I think I deserve it. Here, watch this.

[I'm going to show the "We Are Hungry" portion of the video from this entry.]

Maybe for some of you that would be considered an off-night. But for us, for the congregation to be louder than the band, for that many college kids to be raising their hands at a regular worship service, that was a big deal. That was an act of God. That was a moment of temple for our community. It was a night after which we all said, “That’s why we do what we do.”

You are a sacred people. This is a sacred assembly. This community is holy to God. But it’s not because you were holy to begin with, or because you do sacred things. You are God’s temple by his choice, not by your own righteousness. You are not a sacred assembly because you do sacred things, you do sacred things because God has made you a sacred people.

God’s Spirit lives in you personally, and he lives in you corporately. The presence of the Spirit of God is what makes Christian community distinctive from every other gathering on earth. God has chosen to dwell by his Spirit among his people, and he has declared that his people are his temple. It is his Spirit that makes this community holy. It is his Spirit that makes you, as individuals and as a group, holy. He has set you apart as a people that he might make of you a temple worthy of the presence of his very own Spirit.

That’s the high calling of Christian community. That’s the glory of the Church--to be the living temple of the living God. And that’s why Satan is so anxious to steal, kill, and destroy any and every Christian community.

But we can be wise to his plans. I promise you that Satan will attempt to destroy this community this summer. He will also attempt to destroy the h2o church plant team. He will try to destroy OCF. He hates God so much that anywhere he finds a temple of God, a community of God’s people, he will try to tear it to the ground.

So, let me tell you How to Destroy God’s Temple (Not that You Would Want To). I know, it took me a long time just to tell you the title of my sermon. But I see in the first six chapters of I Corinthians six ways that Satan, or you, or I can destroy God’s temple.

The first way to destroy God’s temple is to Form Factions. Look at 1:10-12.

10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Imagine an old temple building that has been divided into a hundred tiny rooms with makeshift walls. Is it even a temple anymore? It probably looks more like a prison with a hundred tiny cells where each little group tries to worship the same God in their own way. What is so sacred about that? Forming Factions is one of the surest ways to destroy a temple.

Factions and divisions are abominations for the Church because Jesus Christ died for our sins, and on his cross was crucified every dividing wall and every hostile attitude in all the world. Let’s look quickly at Ephesians 2:14-22.

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

God combats factions with the cross of his Son. In the death of Jesus enemies become friends, rivals become family, the fractured become united. God loves unity. It’s who he is--the tri-unity. Factions and divisions come from Satan, but God comes against these with the very cross of Jesus Christ.

You can participate with God in his war against factions by being humble toward your brothers and sisters. You don’t have to be right all the time. You can be the first one to apologize. You can be the one to cross the barrier and say, “Please forgive me.” You can be the one to listen twice as much as you talk. You can be the one to initiate reconciliation. You can be the peacemaker. You can die to yourself. You can bite your tongue. You can give a gentle response. You can speak words that heal.

The Church is in short supply of unity these days, but it’s on God’s heart. When you stand before God face-to-face, with the light of his glory radiating over you, won’t all of your differences seem so petty? Won’t all of the arguments seem so inane? Won’t you weep over the small things that kept you apart? I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Luther, I follow Calvin, I follow Rob Bell, I follow Mark Driscoll, I follow Erwin McManus--it's all so petty. Besides, those guys would slap you if they heard you talk like that.

The first way to destroy God’s temple is to form factions. The second way is to be ashamed of the gospel. Look at 1:18.

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Being ashamed of the gospel is like being unsaved. It’s the same as not believing it. Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and now he’s the king of all creation. This is what makes us who we are.

Yes, some people will not believe it, and they will go to hell. If that makes you intolerant, close-minded, uncool, or whatever, so be it. You can’t change the gospel without making it unchristian. You can only make it more palatable by removing the key ingredients. It can only become universally acceptable if you remove the parts about sin, resurrection, and Jesus’ kingship. And then it ceases to be the gospel.

Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The gospel is power. It defines the temple. It defines our community. If you change the gospel you destroy the temple. Don’t let the haughty skepticism of Starbucks atheists and dime-a-dozen would-be philosophers shame you into compromising the truth by which you are saved.

The second way to destroy God’s temple is to be ashamed of the gospel. The third way is it’s cousin--the desire for worldly wisdom and acceptance. Look at 3:18-19.

18Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.

Jesus is going to make you look stupid in the eyes of the world. Are you prepared to deal with that? Can you live with that kind of scorn?

Because let me tell you, you can fall over yourself apologizing to the world for how the Church did this and Christians did that, but they will never accept you until they believe. You can distance yourself from these Christians and those believers and even the Church in general, but they will not accept you until you become like them in their unbelief.

God’s way is the way of humiliation. It is the way of foolishness. It is the way of a Crucified King, a Risen Lord, and a Living God. The acceptance you so desperately want from the world cannot happen unless you compromise the God who has already accepted you, who has already embraced you, who has loved you from the very beginning!

God accepts you! Who needs the world? God has loved you from the beginning of creation! Who needs the coffee shop when you have the church? Who needs the bar when you have the temple? God accepts you. Don’t be afraid to be a fool for him.

The fourth way to destroy God’s temple is to harbor sin. Look at 5:1-2.

1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

I mean, sometimes you’ve just got to kick somebody to the curb. Dude, if you’re sleeping with your mom, or your step-mom, or doing something that even the worst sinners would be like, “Dude,” then you’ve got to go.

In verse 11 Paul says, 11But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

Should Christians be judgmental? Yes. Of other Christians. God’s temple is a sanctuary for sinners, not for sin. I know that excommunication has a bad reputation, but it’s biblical, as long as the intent is for future restoration.

Harboring sin in God’s temple destroys the sacredness of that place. Sin is contagious. It will infect the rest of you if you let it go unchecked in the community. Harboring sin will destroy God’s temple, and it will get ugly.

The fifth way to destroy God’s temple is to publicly dispute with one another. Look at 6:4-8.

4Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!

7The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

Suing is not the answer for Christians, especially when it comes to disputing with each other. Taking it to the press, taking it to your friends, is not the way to handle a dispute. Find an arbiter within the church. Find someone who can be a peacemaker between the two parties. Boy do we look bad when we tear each other down in front of unbelievers.

The final way to destroy God’s temple is to be sexually immoral. Look at 6:18-20.

18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Not only are you, collectively, the temple of God, but your bodies, individually, are temples of the Holy Spirit. What you do with your body matters. What you eat and drink, and especially who you have sex with, matters to God.

In fact, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. If you’re single, your body belongs to God. If you’re married, your body belongs to God and to your spouse. You were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body.

The biblical standard is clear, don’t have sex with anyone except for your spouse. How many more churches have to be torn apart by adultery, and how many more fellowships of people your age have to be ripped to shreds by premarital sexual relationships, before we finally get this?

Sexual immorality will destroy God’s temple that is the Christian community, and it will desecrate God’s temple that is your body. Flee from it. Just run. You don’t have to fight it. Turn and run away. You can even flail your arms like a schoolgirl if it will help, just get the heck out of there.

Six certain ways to destroy God’s temple: Forming Factions, Being Ashamed of the Gospel, Desiring Worldly Wisdom and Acceptance, Harboring Sin, Publicly Disputing with One Another, and Being Sexually Immoral.

All of these things and more were happening in the church in Corinth. They were a messed up temple. The whole thing was falling apart.

Now what about you? Have you been destroying God’s temple in any of these ways? Have you been a faction former? Have you been gossiping about and slandering your leaders? Have you been compromising the gospel? Have you been harboring or hiding sin? Have you been publicly disputing with a brother or sister? Have you been sexually immoral?

Now is as good a time as any to repent. Now is as good a time as any to bring what has been committed in darkness into the light. Find someone you trust and talk to them. Confess your sins, because God is faithful to forgive them. Heaven is waiting to pour out healing and reconciliation. But there can be no healing in the darkness. There can be no redemption for what is not confessed.

You are the temple of God. God’s Spirit lives in you and among you. You are a sacred community. Will you keep it sacred?

Let’s pray.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Unbound. Hard to believe this was five years ago.

Preacher's Block

Something happens to me from time to time. I can't write a sermon. I don't know if it's writer's block or preacher's block or both, but it's really frustrating. The first thing I think of when this happens is what might be coming between me and God. I do pray and search my heart, but sometimes there isn't anything that jumps to the front of my mind. Not that I'm ever without sin, of course. But what I'm thinking of falls more into line with sinful patterns of thinking and behaving.

So anyway I pushed through it today and finally have some traction. I'm in the middle of writing two sermons, one on community and the other on the gospel. These are things I've preached countless times, and yet it's been a tough row to hoe so far. I started off on the gospel sermon and got two pages into it when I realized that I hadn't accounted for the crucifixion and resurrection. Sheesh! Talk about overthinking it. So I put that on the shelf for now and am focusing on the community sermon.

The text for community is I Corinthians 3:16-17. This is where Paul radically reinterprets the temple. He says that the Temple of God is now the People of God, which might be acceptable to diaspora Jews, but not if he were including Gentiles, which he is; and it would probably be acceptable to most Christians, but not if he were including really bad Christians, which he also is.

The Corinthians were pretty much getting everything wrong. In the first six chapters of I Corinthians Paul addresses several of the issues of the church in Corinth. I'm taking the liberty to use six of these to answer the question: How to Destroy the Temple of God (Not that You Would Want To). That's the title of my sermon.

The six ways to destroy the Temple of God (the Christian Community) are:
  1. Form Factions
  2. Be Ashamed of the Gospel
  3. Desire Worldly Wisdom and Acceptance
  4. Harbor Sin
  5. Publicly Dispute with One Another
  6. Commit Sexual Immorality
I don't know if that's an exhaustive list, but it's what I find in the first six chapters of I Corinthians. I'll post the full manuscript when I finish.

(I'm trying something new where I include multiple links in my posts. {How's that for irony?} This could be dangerous, and I don't endorse everything to which I link, as I have tried to use a diversity of resources not called Wikipedia. I'll see how it goes.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sacred & Secular Belief (Or, Why I Am Not a Democrat) Part 3

For reference: part 1, part 2.

Because I understand the Church to be the body of Christ on earth, I understand the State to not be the body of Christ on earth. In other words, the Church has a specific, God-ordained mission to accomplish in the world. Likewise the State, but the two are not the same. The Church is called to preach Christ crucified and resurrected; care for the sick, poor, and oppressed; reconcile disparate factions and establish unity; and many other things besides, all in the name of Jesus. The State is called to govern justly and protect its people.

The trouble with political liberalism is that these lines become blurred, or more accurately, the State takes on the work of the Church. And the trouble with the State is that it will never fully cooperate with the Church, and like all institutions, will never relinquish power once held. Unlike John the Baptist, the State will never declare, "I must decrease so that [Christ] may increase."

What scares me about many politically liberal evangelicals is that they don't seem to understand the exclusively one-way relationship between the Church and State. As the State collects power to do and to act according to its will, the Church is emasculated. It is fenced-in. It is cordoned off into a quaint corner of culture, more to be admired as a curiosity than to be submitted to as Christ's very life on earth. (Wow, am I sounding Catholic yet?)

What I fear for my politically liberal Christian friends is that they are cutting off their legs without knowing it. They are jumping into bed with a partner that does not know how to love, only rape. The Church can never hand over its duty and its glory to the State. In the long run there can be no Church-State partnership because the State will never submit to the Church.

When we join with the State, when we look to the State to enact "Christian" policies and adopt "Christian" legislation, we surrender our right to the prophetic. (Wow, am I sounding Anabaptist yet?) We cannot sell our prophetic voice for political policy, because political policy is a vapor that breaks and dissipates on the rock that is Jesus Christ. The Church must be separate from the State because the State is temporal and the Church is eternal. For the same reason the Church must be greater than the State.

There is no salvation in government. There is no hope in public policy. It is not theirs to enact, it is ours. Jesus is King and God over all. One day every politician's knee will bow before Him. Our hope is not in politics. Rather, Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
--Joseph Hart, "Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy"

God redeems. He buys me back when I sell myself to sin. He purchases me with the blood of His Son; and it seems He does this time and again, day after day. He forgives and forgives and forgives. 

Would that I could but get it right, then I would have no need of His forgiveness. Would that I continue to get it wrong, that I might receive His forgiveness every hour. I am a continual sinner and a reluctant saint.

How can I draw near to the One clothed in glorious light? Would His glory be sullied by my shame? Would my darkness snuff out His light? Oh thank You, Jesus, that I am small. I cannot change You. I cannot degrade You. My sin is a grain of sand before the mountain of Your righteousness.

I need You, Jesus.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Abortion Survivors--Who Knew?

I came across an interesting case of a child who has survived an abortion. I've heard that this sort of thing happens regularly. I wonder why it's never reported on? You would think that abortion survivors would make a great thinkpiece in the NY Times. (If the NY Times has done an article on abortion survivors, I will gladly eat my sarcastic words.) But, alas, there are other, more important things to report on, like Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears--you know, the things that truly matter in life.
25% of American pregnancies end in abortion. 25%! Would you live in a town with a 25% murder rate? Would you send your kids to a school where 1 in 4 will be killed? Would you participate in an activity that killed a quarter of its participants? Would the military consider a battle a success if it took on 25% casualties. (Think of the media outrage over that one!) Is there any more dangerous place to be in America than in your mother's womb?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Giving Birth

I've had an idea for a screenplay running around in my head for almost four years now. Back in 2004, while I was in Yosemite, I wrote almost 80 pages. But I've scrapped it all, started over, and have written 25 pages in the past three days. It feels like I've been pregnant with this idea for four years, and now I'm finally going into labor. (I'm sure my wife would point out that this is, in fact, nothing at all like that, and who am I to suggest such a thing.) Strangely enough, even though this is an R-rated script, I feel that writing it is an act of obedience to God. Whether or not it ever gets sold, the act of writing it, and finishing it, is and will be a huge step for me as I continue to grow and try to follow Jesus.
The best part about this process is how I've been collaborating with my wife on it. After the kids go to bed, we sit down and talk through the characters and events in the story. She gives me great feedback like, "I don't think she would do that, no matter how much of a bitch she's supposed to be." (I know, she totally has a foul mouth.) She's also being a really great listener, and I find myself going on and on about random little details in the story. This process has been great for our marriage as we do something fun and creative together. I love that the script is ours, and not just mine.