The reason that we began the Whole Story sermon series in January of last year was for the simple reason that we wanted to inspire you to read the Bible. And the reason we wanted to do that is because the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus. We believe the Bible isn’t an end. Rather, it is a portal, a doorway, if you will, that once opened, brings you to Christ and opens up the world as you step into the fresh, pure air of the kingdom of God that is ever expanding and transforming this present age until its King returns.
I am deeply grateful when one of you shares that this series from and on the Whole Story in the Bible is having its intended effect, by God’s grace. Like a recent email from a dear, seasoned saint among us, who wrote how this series has done “such a terrific job of getting, keeping, and luring us into God’s word and deepening our understanding and appreciation of all he has done for us!” What a marvelous testimony of the presence and work of God’s Holy Spirit!
It is hard to express how powerful such notes of encouragement are for our pastoral team, and for me personally. Over the last 14 years of ministry, the better part of my life has been spent in the hopes that I can get, keep, and lure you into God’s word. That I might deepen your understanding and appreciation for all that he has done for us. It is sheer grace that my little efforts on Sunday mornings have been used by God as merely a channel of HIS transforming work of the Spirit. Grace that is not here merely in the preaching, but in every aspect of the morning service, and in every aspect of this ministry, and in every pastor and elder and deacon and leader and person engaged in trying to help at least one other person move one step closer to Jesus.
That’s who we are family. We are this diverse gathering of people who share this in common: we have been delivered from the domain of darkness, into the Kingdom of the Son. And this is how the Whole Story series and our “Move to the Right” visual complement each other. For we find ourselves in this section of the story, reading the letters that Paul has written to the kingdom. We can call this whole section of the story the “People of the Kingdom.” In other words, what does it look like to be these called out of darkness people, that have been placed in Kingdom communities which we call churches? What does it look like to help each other, now that we’ve been saved by Jesus, keep moving one step closer to him?
Well, the way that we’ll do that is through the proclamation of the Word of God. And not just by me on a Sunday morning, but by a husband to a wife on a Monday morning, by a single mom to her kids on a Thursday evening, by a community group leader to the group that has gathered in their home on a Sunday afternoon, by a single college student to her roommate on a Wednesday night, by a volunteer to a toddler in church time, and on and on and on. Every disciple establishing and equipping others with the Word.
But there is a challenge in this, isn’t there? You see, at times, we come to this book and we feel that it is disconnected from the practicalities and grittiness of daily life. That our stories don’t really seem reflected here. The Bible doesn’t seem to translate, and you would confess that it’s not for lack of desire. You really want it to translate to your life, to your story.
And then there is this further complication: in your strong desire for the Bible’s story to apply to your story you are in danger of merely turning it into a manual for living. As if it is a reference book. So you come to it saying, “Here is my problem, and now I just need to turn to the index, find where my problem is listed, find the prescription, which is of course, in the form of a few verses that I can then take out and apply, and, ‘Voila!,’ I am fixed.”
But friend, you are a complex and complicated human being with a body, soul, mind, and spirit, and it doesn’t work like that. Problems present themselves in our lives forcing us to rethink our lives at a deep level, deep because of the complexity of who we are, and the circumstances around us, and we need something that will address that complexity. Wouldn’t it make sense that such a thing might itself be a bit more than a mere textbook on how to live your best life now?
N.T. Wright says it this way,
“Perhaps, indeed, that is what ‘holy scripture’ really is—not a calm, serene list of truths to be learned or commands to be obeyed, but a jagged book that forces you to grow up in you thinking as you grapple with it.”
You don’t need a textbook.
You need power.
You need something, and Someone, who addresses you in all your complexity, and the complexity of the world you operate in. You need examples and stories of people—not super-heroes, but real people—like you. Complex people. Vulnerable people. People who are flawed and sinful and emotional, operating in real, complex, difficult situations. People who sometimes, like you, want to give up, who have lost hope, who despair and struggle and have come to the place where they don’t know if the good news has any real power in the real world to transform anything. Who ask the scary questions that so many church people are afraid to ask, “Does my belief in Jesus matter at all, or is it all in vain?”
And hear me now. I am not even saying that you are sitting here this morning, and that is what you want. You actually probably don’t want that. You probably would prefer me to tell you that it is really simple, and pain-free, and the Bible is that textbook that is kind of, you know, plug and play. Pop in your problem, say a little prayer, botta-bing, botta-boom, out pops your answer and you are transformed!
But that’s not what you need.
Because as a kingdom people, you operate in the real world of the already-not-yet-kingdom. Sin, in this fallen world, along with the flesh and the devil and all his demons, are what make things so darn complicated.
And so what you need is to see stories of what it looks like to get to that question— “Does my belief in Jesus matter at all, or is it all in vain?”—and to see, in that very dark place, in the lowest depth of that valley of the shadow of death, that it does. Your belief in Jesus does matter. And there is a power for you there. There is a way through, even though that way itself may surprise you.
In my sermon this past Sunday, we looked at just such a story.
A person who is asking—“Does my belief in Jesus matter at all, or is it all in vain?”—in the midst of very real, very gritty, deep relational conflict and pain. Deep-woundedness.
And this person is no super-hero, though he is often made out to be one. He is not invulnerable. He is a flawed, complicated being, who feels deeply his insufficiency and inadequacy. He is a pastor, who loves a people.
And his name is Paul.
May God use his Word to inspire you to help just one other person move one step closer to Jesus.
In the book of James, we meet a follower of Jesus who is going to sit us down for a little chat. And fair warning here: James isn’t really too concerned about your feelings, or how comfortable you are with someone you don’t know nor have ever met getting pretty personal with you.
Sunday's Comin' (July 7, 2019)
I think all of us want to be wise. The question is, how do we get there?
Preparing For May 26, 2019
Do you know why the church exists? Do you know who formed the church, and how it was formed?
Just a brief reminder that a great way to prepare for the service this coming Sunday is to read the text we will be studying together.
Preparing For Sunday May 12, 1 & 2 Thessalonians
This last Sunday, I preached the first of two sermons on Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. Here was the sentence I began unpacking, which is my summary of both letters:
Martin Luther warned that the people of the church are always in danger of their hearts straying from the truth of the good news of the kingdom of God found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
First, it is Palm Sunday. Which means it is the beginning of a week of remembering the most important events in the history of the world: the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, his last meal with his disciples, his death at the hands of sinful men as the result of a sham sentence in a kangaroo court, his burial by those who loved him, and his resurrection from the dead just three days later. All of it for the salvation and rescue of the world.