Last night, we had a group of about 20 or so young adults (18 – 25) in our living room for an “Ask Us Anything” session. Most of them are dealing with a lot of disillusionment and hurt from the church settings in which they’ve grown up.
Angie and I keep reminding them that Jesus is faithful no matter what they’ve witnessed from his human representatives in the church. We also keep reminding them that the church is Jesus’ idea, in its purest form, and that the church needs them now more than ever.
What I find encouraging is that, while they wrestle with big questions, they want to find a way forward. They want to have stronger faith and be more spiritually mature and closer to Jesus in spite of having big questions.
I share this to inspire YOU to keep going! Keep hoping. I love this quote from Brian Zahnd about the future generation of our faith…
If I’m hedging my bets on the survival of the Christian faith as we hurdle into a secular age, it’s because the King of hearts is still so beautiful. I’m willing to bet my grandchildren’s faith on the beauty of Christ.
~ Brain Zahnd, When Everything’s On Fire
I know that this season of ministry is more challenging than perhaps any other in your lifetime, but like the old song says, you’re on the winning side. So keep going until God tells you to take a rest.
The Fatal Disease of White Supremacy
White supremacy has taken life and vitality from more non-white people than we’ve begun to imagine, yet it so often runs rampant like an undetected cancer upon our society. Why haven’t we eradicated it yet?
Why has this disease spread so wide and far and done so much damage to the systems designed to sustain a functioning society while simultaneously remaining undetected (or at least unacknowledged) and uncured?
In my latest article, take a shot at the WHY behind that question.
Lectionary Sermon Starters
For Sunday, May 29, 2022
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
While we’ve come to think of salvation as an individual conversion experience, the word really signifies something much bigger. It’s a theme that runs throughout scripture.
The Old Testament points toward a coming salvation, both in symbolism and in prophecy. The gospels introduce the One who himself IS salvation. The epistles expand upon the saving work of God in the world today. And the Bible closes with the Revelation, a declaration that salvation is absolutely assured to those who are allegiant to the Lamb.
In this passage in Acts, we are given two stories of individuals who experienced salvation personally – Lydia and the unnamed jailer of Philippi. That is to say, each of them was privileged to personally experience the delivering and saving work of God in the world for themselves in a way that forever changed their lives.
Lydia is an example of the way God works in the lives of those with influence. She’s a seller of purple-dyed cloth, which indicates she has a mind for business and the ability to persuade other people. Once she enters into the New Covenant community of followers of Jesus and publicly identifies with him through her baptism, she presumably turns her riverside gathering of Jewish women into a church.
In the jailer’s case, he had a lot at stake. It’s possible (though not necessarily settled historical fact) that he could lose his life for losing prisoners. He surrenders to the God who is always actively saving and his household follows with him.
There are several possible preaching themes in this passage.
- The “salvation” theme: While salvation is a grand thematic arc in scripture, it’s a gift that can be personally experienced and entered into by anyone willing to yield to God’s work in their lives through Christ.
- The “influence” theme: If you’ve chosen to follow Jesus, God wants to influence your social circles through your witness. As Lydia’s riverside synagogue-turned-church and the jailer’s household illustrate, your faith can have a ripple effect on all those who are close to you if you’ll allow your life and message to carry the goodness of the grace of God to others.
- The “power of worship” theme: Paul and his companions had been beaten and chained up, but chose to openly and audibly give glory to God in the middle of these terrible circumstances. Their joy obviously influenced other prisoners to stick around after the earthquake had freed them, which then moved the jailer to turn his life over to God rather than taking it with his own sword.
God reigns supreme. That’s the theme of the 97th psalm.
Nature yields to his absolute power as the mountains and the stars give him praise. The nations of the world – especially Zion, the faithful of Israel – praise him for his delivering power. All other “gods” and kings ultimately bow down to him.
But what really grabs my attention is the last three verses. This God who reigns over the entire universe is also the personal guard and rescuer of all who are willing to follow him. Therefore, the proper response to God is our joy and our rejoicing.
In other words, there is a direct correlation between our growing trust in a saving God and the joy that flows out of our lives. Happiness might be based on our surrounding circumstances, but joy comes from deep within, where God is at work and where our growing faith in him produces a peace and assurance that passes all human understanding.
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
No matter your interpretation of the Revelation, we usually all agree on the meaning of this part of the final chapter of the Bible. Namely, that the invitation to come into the Kingdom of Jesus is open to anyone, anywhere, who wants to come in.
At this point in the Revelation, the Lamb is on the throne. War and death and disease and suffering are all done. Evil has had its way for its season and has now been overthrown. The enemy’s time is up.
And when all is said and done, the invitation to us now is wide open. The forever Kingdom of God is inclusive of all who wish to enter, of all who recognize and worship the Lamb of God.
My old pastor, Rick Warren, often spoke of our approach to evangelism by saying, “If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it.”
When we met with our young adult group last night in our living room, one of them asked a question about how to interface with those from other faith backgrounds. Do we need to argue for the validity of the pathway of Jesus, convincing them that they are wrong and pointing them toward the truth in Christ?
And my answer flowed partly from this passage.
If you tell the story, with both your life and your lips, that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of what God is all about, that he suffered both for and with us, that he offers grace and forgiveness for all of our sins, and that he rose again and conquered death, then the beauty and uniqueness of that story, combined with the influence of the ever-present Holy Spirit, will do the work of convincing and converting the heart. You won’t have to push or pry or beg.
Often called the “High Priestly prayer of Jesus for his people,” this part of the Gospel of John is Jesus’ prayer to the Father on behalf of all who have followed or ever will follow him. And in this part of his prayer, Jesus prays for unity within his body. He even provides, basically, the basis of the unity he desires to see.
Notice the repetition of the word “that,” or the phrase “so that.” It appears five times in this text, and what follows is Jesus’ hope that 1.) God’s people be ONE, and that 2.) the world sees the oneness of God’s people as a testimony to the identity of God.
The more we are willing to work together and to walk arm-in-arm with one another, the more the world sees our togetherness as a witness to the truthfulness of our claims about Jesus Christ being God in the flesh.
Creative Sermon Series Ideas from MinistryPass
My favorite resource for sermon series and message ideas, complete series graphics, and video bumpers (but NOT full notes or sermon outlines) to get you started is MinistryPass! Each week, I’ll feature a series I would recommend checking out for the upcoming season of the church year. This week:
From the Description:
Unity is essential for the church, as the body of Christ, to succeed in preaching the gospel to a lost world. The Western world is filled with fragmentation, most notably due to the Enlightenment ideal of individualism. By contrast, the church is meant to be a place where unity is encouraged and lived out, a haven where life is lived differently from the rest of the world.
Books, Links, and Resources for Pastors and Church Leaders
I also want to share helpful and encouraging resources each week including articles I’ve read, books I love, and practical tools for leadership. This week:
- Pastor Rick Warren writes, Four Ways to Keep Your Emotional Tank Filled
- Chuck Lawless offers 7 Problems When Ministry Leaders Isolate Themselves
- BOOK: Healing Our Racial Divide, by Derwin L. Gray
- Daryl Crouch with Lifeway Research writes 3 Practices That Reveal the Power of a Vulnerable Pastor
- Eric Geiger writes, Care for your Community; Don’t Merely Consume From It
- And whether you agree or not, an insightful commentary in The Atlantic by Tim Alberta on How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church
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Coaching for Pastors and Leaders
When a leader grows, the world gets better. Healthy teams, led by healthy leaders, create healthy organizations! Whether you’re going through transition, walking through discouragement, or pressing onward enthusiastically, I’d love to have a conversation with you about what leadership coaching can do for you and your church or organization.
Also, if your church needs help with communications, website design, social media, or marketing with paid ads to reach newcomers, that’s what I do full-time now and I’d love to help!