My Sermons, Pastors, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

What Is Love? (Baby, don’t hurt me…)

This is the first sermon from the series I’m currently teaching at One Church, Love.Sex.Marriage. It’s entitled, “What Is Love?” (Sing it with me: “Baby, don’t hurt me…”)

During the sermon I quote from two great marriage resources, The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell and Love to Stay by Adam Hamilton.

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My Sermons, Pastors, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations

Marriage Resources

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During the sermon series Love.Sex.Marriage., I’m sharing relationship resources with the One Church congregation.

Two excellent marriage resources are The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage by Rob and Kristen Bell and Love to Stay: Sex, Grace, and Commitment by Adam Hamilton.

Zimzum contains study questions in the back of the book, and Love to Stay has a companion DVD curriculum and study guide.

I think either resources would make a great small group study or would help any couple have a closer, richer marriage.

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My Sermons, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

Love.Sex.Marriage.

Love Sex Marriage Bling 960

Today, I started a new sermon series at One Church entitled Love.Sex.Marriage.

There are three big “back to church” times of the year- 1) Christmas Eve/January, 2) Easter-Mother’s Day, and 3) August-October (Back to School).

These are natural times of the year for unchurched and dechurched people to visit a church service. To give new people extra incentive to visit during these three times of the year, I schedule a sermon series that appeals to a top-of-mind felt-need.

For this January, I scheduled the series Love.Sex.Marriage. The series will last 7 weeks, longer than usual for the sermon series I create, but the topic is always relevant. One Church has a more holistic approach to sexuality than many of the churches in our area, so hopefully those who hear the sermons will gain a new, refreshing take on sexuality, guilt, dating, making a marriage work, etc.

One Church sermons are available for free download at http://onechurch.com/all-sermons/.

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Pastors, Preaching

Bill Nye and the Creation Debate

Bill Nye Creation Debate

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” received some criticism from the scientific community for being willing to debate the founder of the Creation Museum yesterday.

His critics suspect that, regardless of the debate outcome, the Creation Museum has already won on the basis of increased publicity that legitimizes unscientific views that are soundly rejected by the consensus of modern science.

I hope they are wrong, but it’s possible that Nye’s critics are correct.

Bill Nye presented his points better than I expected him to last night. The founder of the Creation Museum is highly skilled and well practiced in convincing his audience. Nye calmly and respectfully presented the basic argument that science is based on evidence and pointed out that Creationism is not based on scientific evidence.

Nye may or may not realize that observable facts and human reason are not the foundation of the creationist position. Creationism is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

I view Genesis 1v1-2v3 as “high prose,” an artistically and mathematically beautiful hymn about God, the beauty of the universe and the dignity of human beings. A second creation account begins in 2v4 with a new name for God and a theologically and chronologically different telling of creation altogether. The author/compiler of Genesis makes no attempt to fool any of us and convince us that Genesis is a unified, scientifically tested theory on the origins of the universe.

Most Christians I know both love the Bible and accept the theory of evolution to varying degrees. Thinking Christians in America understand that the Bible must be interpreted. Roman Catholics all over the world see science and faith as compatible. The vast majority of Christians in the world realize that Genesis is simply not a science book.

Christian fundamentalists, however, believe that every word of the Bible originated with God. They view any scientific theory that contradicts a literal, scientific reading of the Genesis creation poem as an attack on their faith. This is the same thinking behind the Church’s condemnation of Galileo for asserting, against three verses of biblical poetry, that the earth revolves around the sun.

Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life because the Church interpreted ancient Middle Eastern poetry literally.

I grew up in a fundamentalist environment, and I share the following thoughts from my own experience of interacting with many fundamentalist Christians. Regardless of Bill Nye’s debate performance, when a fundamentalist is challenged in his or her belief, the fundamentalist’s faith actually grows stronger for at least three reasons:

1. Blind Faith

When a fundamentalist is challenged with facts or reason, the fundamentalist simply doubles down, because in fundamentalist religion, blind faith is seen as a virtue. If the fundamentalist continues to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he or she is seen as being faithful to God. Increasing evidence to the contrary only fuels the fundamentalist’s faith (a false sense of certainty in spite of evidence).

2. A Common Enemy

Being challenged strengthens the fundamentalist’s sense of community and certainty, because the rational challenger (Nye, in this case) is demonized and gives the fundamentalists a common enemy. Nothing galvanizes a group like sharing a common enemy. In this case, creationists’ common enemy are “those godless heathen, secular humanists,” in other words, people who respect evidence and the conclusions of human reason.

3. Martyr Fantasy

Finally, being challenged only strengthens a fundamentalists faith because it gives the fundamentalist the ultimate payoff- it fulfills their apocalyptic martyr fantasy. A fundamentalists ultimate goal is be so “faithful to God” that she or she is persecuted or even martyred for his or her faith.

Even being respectfully and gently challenged by Bill Nye last night is enough to feed a fundamentalist’s martyrdom fantasy. In a creationists’ eyes, it’s the godless scientists verses the “pure” people who are “faithful” to God. Even though he lost the debate and looked foolish, in the eyes of creationists, the Creation Museum founder is now a martyr who is faithful to God in spite of “persecution” at the hands of a soft-spoken, bow tie wearing children’s TV host.

I hope Billy Nye was correct in debating a religious fundamentalist in such a publicized format. Hopefully, his rationality will awaken some younger persons who could outgrow the fundamentalism of their parents. Regardless, the Creation Museum and creationism will profit handsomely from the debate, and their fundamentalist faith may only grow stronger.

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My Sermons, One Church, Pastors, Preaching, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

New Series- We’re All In This Together: Ephesians

Together EphesiansThis Sunday, One Church is beginning a new sermon series entitled We’re All In This Together: Ephesians.  I have two goals for the series:

  1. To apply practical wisdom from Ephesians to our lives
  2. To learn how to interpret the Bible in the 21st Developed World

Ephesians is a great letter for educating the congregation on how to interpret the Bible. There are questions of authorship and recipients, the cultural context of recipients, our relationship to people who practice other religions, statements about slavery and the role of women, and angels and demons.

In addition, Ephesians is incredibly relevant to our time, and to any time, really. It’s message is about hope and empowerment for people who are tempted to give up hope because they feel powerless to change their circumstances. It speaks to a divided American culture and to stressed out people who are not sure how to balance the demands of life.

Here are the sermon titles:

Feb. 2   | Thankful for You

Feb. 9   | Despite Our Differences

Feb. 16 | How to Stay Together

Feb. 23 | Family Values?

Mar. 2  | Angels and Demons

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Leadership, Pastors, Preaching, Uncategorized

The Future of Evangelicals and the LGBT Community

(Also see my four-part post “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay”.)

This weekend, I will interview two people in One Church who have important experiences to share regarding Christians and the gay community. One is the mother of a gay daughter. The other is a woman who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for 14 years.

The vast majority of One Church accepts those who are gay and will welcome their personal stories this Sunday with open arms. I wholeheartedly believe that churches like One Church will increase in number and size over the next ten years, as more and more Evangelicals exit congregations that eschew intellectual curiosity and cultural openness.

As the inevitability of legal same sex marriage takes hold from state to state, the political battle is winding down in the U.S., just as it has in the fifteen countries that have already made same sex marriage legal. I wonder, however, if the battle within U.S. Evangelical churches is just beginning.

Mainline Christians have been debating the ordination of gay pastors for 30 years or more, but because of the conservative nature of Evangelicalism, Evangelicals have largely avoided church disagreements. This is now changing.

I encounter Christians on a weekly basis who were raised in Evangelical congregations but now have no problem allowing for same sex relationships. They recognize that the Bible must be interpreted in the light of its culture on any issue (other examples include slavery, world religions, women’s rights, and science). They have already left Evangelical churches that they perceive as culturally backward. They are not necessarily activists, but they do not want to cause pain to others, support injustice or be on the wrong side of history.

I wonder how the Evangelical megachurches that dot America’s suburbs will fare over the next ten years, as more and more Evangelicals distance themselves from opposing the gay rights movement. I would love to believe that calm, rational dialogue will win out. My best guess, however, based on my experience in the Evangelical world, is that there will be internal strife that will eventually lead to church splits and decline, as younger and more progressive members exit.

With a majority of Americans now supporting same sex marriage and more and more states making same sex marriage legal, it will be interesting to see how Evangelical pastors and congregations respond to a rapidly-changing America.

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Leadership, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Uncategorized

When Pastors Fall

A friend informed me that another pastor in our area was forced to resign after the church discovered that he was engaging in extramarital affairs. That is the second lead pastor within driving distance of One Church to be caught in affairs in the past two years. We should pray for them, their families and congregations.

As a pastor, I feel the weight of knowing that some people expect me to represent Jesus Christ (a horrifying and impossible task). Of course, any socially well adjusted pastor knows that he or she does not deserve to be placed on a pedestal, but congregations tend to do it anyway. Even worse, some pastors enjoy it.

If you have been disappointed by a spiritual leader:

1. Remember that Jesus is the Leader of the Church (Matthew 16v18).

Don’t “Drink the Kool-Aid” for any pastor. Jesus has earned your trust more than any pastor ever could. You can allow a pastor to lead and teach you, but keep Jesus the main thing.

2. Resist the temptation to become cynical.

Some pastors will betray your trust. Most won’t.

3. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

We have all been disappointed, and unfortunately, we have all disappointed others. It helps to know that forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness can take place in an instant, but rebuilding trust takes time.

Whenever someone disappoints us, we can remember how it feels and choose to not cause that same disappointment in others.

A Sobering Warning

Adultery is a sin to which any person is susceptible, and none of us should assume that we are immune. As the well-known Proverb warns:

“18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” [Proverbs 16v18-19]

We also need to know that adultery causes more damage in the form of broken homes, disappointed friends and scarred children than anyone could calculate.

I am aware that people who have already had an affair will read this post, and my intention is not to add further pain to their lives. Anyone considering an affair, however, needs to know that cheating on your spouse will hurt your children deeply and for a long time.

Preventing An Affair

Prevention is option number one. At One Church, one of our values is, “No perfect people allowed.” What we mean by that is that we do not expect our congregation to be super Christians and pretend to have no problems.

Churches who pressure people to pretend are hypocrisy factories. While the Religious Right seems to be focused on preventing same sex marriages, hidden adultery continues to threaten all marriages. For example, I know more than one family in which a spouse acknowledged that he or she was gay after years feeling of pressured to hide it.

We are all dealing with brokenness, so there is no sense in pretending. It is surprisingly freeing to call each others’ bluffs and just admit it.

You have stuff to deal with, and so do I.

Once we admit the obvious, then we can confront our needs, anxiety and addictions. Counseling is readily available. If we don’t face them, they won’t magically go away. We will find ourselves habitually engaging in behaviors that temporarily relieve anxiety but are incredibly destructive to those we love. It’s cliche but true that “If you don’t deal with your baggage, it will deal with you.”

After the Fact

If you have engaged in an extramarital affair, there is good news and bad news.

First the bad news:

Asking God for forgiveness does not remove the pain and consequences for you or your family and friends. God specializes in creating order out of chaos, good from pain, but it will be a far longer and more painful ordering process than you imagined.

Refuse to play the victim game when the process of re-earning their trust takes far longer than you thought.

Now for the good news:

“6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” [Isaiah 55v6-7]

God offers mercy and forgiveness to the truly repentant, and He can grow you into the type of person who deals with your baggage and chooses to be faithful. There is always hope.

We pray that, in time, your family and friends will be able to forgive you and heal. They need to, but that is in God’s hands, and you cannot speed up that process.

Your continued faithfulness over the long haul will rebuild their trust.

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