Sermon: The Redeemed Community, 1 Peter 2:4-10

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV)1468506_581101655289536_301432628_n

 

Barronelle Stutzman and Religious Coercion

The Alliance Defending Freedom has a video on Barronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington State sued for not providing services for a same-sex marriage.  On Feb 18, 2015 a State Judged ruled that by not making arrangements for the service, Stutzman violated anti-discrimination laws, stating:

“On the evening of November 5, 2012, there was no conflict … The following evening, after the … enactment of same-sex marriage, there would eventually be a direct and insoluble conflict between Stutzman’s religiously motivated conduct and the laws of the State of Washington.  Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly-licensed business, Arlene’s Flowers.”

I want to point out two things about this.  First, this isn’t the case of refusing to sell a product to someone.  It’s a crucial distinction to make.  Refusing to be engaged creatively with something against your conviction is different from not provided a material product to someone you disagree with.  As the facts in the judges opinion noted, she was willing to provide flowers, but not do the arrangements herself.  While flower arrangements might not be expressive as lyric, the parallel is demanding that a musician compose a piece celebrating something he or she disagrees with.  (We have no problem when a musician asks a politician to stop using songs because of party affiliation.)

The second thing is that, as Stutzman explains, for Christians marriage is sacred.  It is a sacred event.  Christian weddings are worship services.  For some traditions they are sacraments, in the same category as the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.  In other words in a Christian understanding this is coerced participation in a worship service.  Stutzman had provided services to one of the plaintiffs for nine years.  She understands the difference between providing flowers for a birthday or valentines day and participation in what Christians understand to be a sacred ceremony.

There are attempts to reduce our first amendment right to the “free exercise of religion” into freedom of opinion or freedom of worship.  But exercise, for any religion means that convictions must be lived out through real decisions.  Whether that is through the decision to act, such as feeding the hungry, or a refusal to act, as in the case of conscientious objection to military service, the exercise of religion cannot be reduced to personal thought or private worship.  When someone is coerced by the state into participating on a creative level against their convictions in an event they understand as worship we are in danger of losing even that emaciated understanding.

Sermon: Matthew 2:13-23

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:13-23 ESV)

10 things I love about being a pastor.

I’ve seen several lists around the internet of difficulties pastors face.  Ministry is unique in several ways and pastors do face stress, but all jobs have their own difficulties.  It’s natural for any group to blow of steam by commiserating and sharing war stories when they get together.  (And fellow ministers, if you don’t have some brothers who you can complain to and with whom you can share your struggles, you need to find some.)  However, in serving God and His people there are so many more delights than difficulties and I wanted to share a few that come immediately to mind.

Here are 10 things I love about being a pastor:

  1. BaptismGetting time to think deeply about significant ideas.
  2. Working with such a variety of ages.
  3. Seeing people in the church care for one other.
  4. The privilege of walking with families through deep sorrows and great joys.
  5. Watching husbands’ and wives’ faithful, committed love for each other over years and decades.
  6. Hearing funny stories of things kids said during family prayer – not so much for how cute the kids are, but knowing that parents are passing on the faith.
  7. Having something I’ve said challenged with a reference to scripture, they know where the real authority in the church is.
  8. When I see people with nothing in common but Christ spending time together.
  9. When people introduce ideas for ministry with a desire to lead.
  10. Watching God’s work of grace and redemption in spite of the sinner in the pulpit.

Pastors, what would you add to the list?

The 6th Circuit upholds states’ ban on same sex marriage

The decision And a summary.

Judges Jeffrey Sutton and Deborah Cook’s majority opinion in this is absolutely brilliant common sense and refreshingly humble. Among the points is that if our society is evolving to redefine marriage, then it should be allowed to evolve through the will of the people in the legislative process rather than through the courts.

 

The Gospel’s Great Enemy (Acts 6:8-15)

A sermon on Acts 6:8-15

 

 

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:8-15 ESV)

(OK a couple of notes I said Richard Hawkins instead of Dawkins, I was probably on my way to saying Christopher Ditchens.  Also, the paraphrase from Matt Chandler of Village Church in Dallas was referring to the past not his current congregation.)

William Gurnall on “Spiritual Pride”

I’m working my way through William Gurnall’s,  “The Christian in Complete Armour“.  While I’m not a new to Puritan writings, I haven’t read extensively either, so I continue to be surprised at how unlike the stereotype puritans the real men actually were.  The self-righteous, quick to condemn killjoys of popular thought simply hasn’t emerged from the pages of Richard Baxter, John Owen, Thomas Watson, or William Gurnall.  In fact quite the opposite.
Take for example the following passage on spiritual pride from The Christian in Complete Armour:

O how uncheerfully, yea, joylessly do many precious souls pass their days!  If you inquire what is the cause, you shall find [that] all their joy runs out at the crannies of their imperfect duties and weak graces.  They cannot pray as they would, and walk as they desire, with evenness and constancy;  they see how short they fall of the holy rule in the Word, and the pattern which others more eminent in grace do set before them; and this, though it does not make them throw the promises away, and quite renounce all hope in Christ, yet it begets many sad fears and suspicions, yea, makes them sit at the feast of Christ hath provided, and not know whether they may eat or not.  In a word, as it robs them of their joy, so [it robs] Christ of that glory which he should receive from their rejoicing in him.

In other words, it is sinful spiritual pride to base your joy on your own performance.  Here is a masterful surgeon of the soul at work.  It might appear very humble and devout to mourn failings in your piety, and Gurnall acknowledges that we should “mourn for those defects thou findest in thy grace and duties”, but to do so without also rejoicing in the Christ who redeemed you in spite of your failures is to look to your own righteousness instead of his.  To focus on our failures in this way is to believe that our personal holiness, rather than Christ, is the source of our joy.

O, if thou couldst pray without wandering, walk without limping, believe without wavering, then thou couldst rejoice and walk cheerfully.  It seems, soul, thou stayest to bring the ground of thy comfort with thee, and not to receive it purely from Christ.

If our chief end is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”, we fail to do so by seeking our joy in ourselves, even our desired righteous and holy selves, instead of Christ.  We rob Christ of glory when our hope is in our perfection instead of his.
In thinking about the spirituality characteristic of many churches I have realized many are based on a cycle of guilt and redoubled effort.  Too often I hear comments from people that reveal that their spiritual feelings are based on messages or experiences that stir emotions of guilt, most often expressed as “stepping on toes”.  Too often I’ve been in worship services where I feel like my will had been absolutely battered and bruised.  And all too often the solution is not “rest in Christ”, “trust in His work”, “look at the cross”, but “try harder”, “recommit”, “decide today”.  The so called gospel I hear from many pulpits is: Jesus loves you, you’ve failed, return to the Law with stronger effort.
Brother, Sister – If you feel inadequate as a disciple, that you could be a more committed and devoted follower of Christ, you’re right  – we all could.  Repent, and as Gurnall says, “Christian, even while the tears are in thy eyes for they imperfect graces … thou should rejoice, yea, triumph over all these thy defects by faith in Christ, in whom thou art complete…”

Calvin on the source of Truth

Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts.  If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we with to dishonor the Spirit of God.

John Calvin, Institutes 2.2.15