The latest Barna report is out and lists ten facts about the churchless in America. You can find the report HERE.
The Sunday prior to Thanksgiving I selected an obscure yet helpful text for my sermon. The Book of Romans is often referred to as “the gospel according to Paul,” and it is true that his epic work has been among the most influential sections of the New Testament. All the way through the end of chapter 15.
Chapter 16, however, is unfortunately overlooked. It is the New Testament equivalent to the “fly over states” of the upper midwest. In the first 16 verses Paul names 27 anonymous people who are mostly Gentiles and slaves. Ten of the 27 people are women. Only Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul mentions them individually and concisely, with each statement reading like an epitaph on a tombstone.
I could have gone into the detail about the meaning of each name and offered some speculation regarding how these names fit into the puzzle of Paul’s missionary journeys, but I didn’t. I chose to simply point out the obvious and remind our congregation to remember that whatever we have or have achieved in life has come with the help of others, many of whom go unnoticed to the world. Perhaps a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a friend, or a relative have spoken into your life at a critical point which helped to shape you into who you are today.
Each of us stands on the strong shoulders of someone else. Don’t forget to thank God for them. And if they’re still alive, be sure to thank them for the meaningful contributions they have made to you. But don’t stop there. Consider the possibility that you could pass it on to the next generation.
Some of you have inquired where I’ve been for the last month and a half. Like anyone else, things have been very busy for me both personally and professionally. But I’ve taken some of this time to rethink what I want to do with this blog. So bear with me, and don’t give up. Regular posts will resume soon! Thank you for your support!
Here is a helpful article by Frank Viola published at ChurchLeaders.com. I think he’s spot on! You can read it HERE.
Every pastor has had one or more Sunday worship service they would like to forget. The crowd was down, the room was hot, the music was blah, you name it. But for me the worst is when I drive off the parking lot knowing that the sermon just wasn’t great. Not even good. The content was weak, or the delivery was flat, or both. What do you do following a bad sermon?
1. Be honest about your preparation.
In my experience, content issues are directly tied to the amount of time spent in preparation. It can be tough to have a consistent block of time to do the necessary preparation because ministry needs are inconsiderate. You can’t choose whether or not your week will be free from a funeral or a hospital visit or any number of congregational emergencies. But its not just the content that suffers from lack of preparation. If you’re not confident in your content, you’re not going to be confident in the delivery of the content.
2. Face the music.
I have found that it is helpful to go back and listen to the audio or watch the video of the sermon. Taking time to evaluate the sermon gives one the opportunity to make improvements for the next week. And who knows? It may not have been as bad as you thought!
3. Resist the temptation to seek affirmation.
Every pastor knows who he or she can turn to for a needed word of affirmation, especially after a rough pulpit outing. Seeking affirmation from the fan base doesn’t solve the issue, it provides a false sense of security. Besides, deep down every preacher knows the truth about the sermon at the end of the service.
4. Get back on the bicycle.
If the sermon were an annual event, it would be tough. But you have 6 short days to have an opportunity to “make up” for it. You can’t wallow in embarrassment or disappointment. You’re on the clock!
5. Most importantly, don’t forget the role of the Holy Spirit.
My friend Gary Taylor used to say that God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. Just because you don’t feel great about a sermon doesn’t mean that God didn’t use it in a transformative way. If preaching was all up to us, we’d be standing in front of empty rooms each week. But its not about us. God’s spirit is actively involved in the sermon, and his promise to us is that his word will not return void. We have to trust that his Kingdom purposes do not hang on our sermons.
So is the virgin birth that important? Can a person believe in Jesus without acknowledging it? I believe the virgin birth is important four at least four reasons.
First, it made possible for Jesus to be truly human, yet without sin. I affirm that the Scripture teaches that we are all sinners by nature and by choice. What that means is that we have inherited Adam’s original guilt from the beginning. Its in our nature. Because of our nature, we make behavioral choices to commit acts of sin. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ stands outside of Adam’s guilt. I affirm that though Jesus was fully human, he neither possessed Adam’s guilt nor committed sin in thought, word, or action. The virgin birth provides for a sinless Christ.
Second, the virgin birth affirms the eternal pre-existence of Christ. One of the earliest opponents to the virgin birth was called adoptionism. Simply stated, adoptionism proposed that Jesus was the natural born child of Joseph and Mary, and that upon his birth he was adopted by God to be his son. The only problem with that misguided theory is that is disallows the eternal pre-existence of Christ. I affirm that Jesus has always existed as the second member of the trinity, without beginning or end.
Third, the virgin birth allows for the incarnation. He would be called, “Immanuel, meaning, God with us.” Jesus came into the world fully God as though not man at all, and fully man as though not God at all. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to think of a man wearing a suit. Suppose the white dress shirt illustrates the divinity of Christ. Everyone can see the white shirt. But suppose the man then puts on his suit jacket, representing the humanity of Christ. Does the suit jacket render the white shirt null and void? No. Just because the man puts on the jacket doesn’t mean the white shirt has disappeared. You can still see some of it, though in a limited form. This is what Paul expressed in his Hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus emptied and condescended. Why? He came to be with us to identify with us in order to save us.
Finally, the virgin birth is important because it speaks of our spiritual need. Our salvation must come from the Lord. There was no human means possible for us to save ourselves. An intervention was necessary. On one hand we usually get warm fuzzies thinking about the Christmas story. We imagine the nativity with the baby in the manger surrounded by the adoration of those who gathered. But we need to remember that the reason Jesus came was because we were dead in our trespasses and sins, under the wrath of God. The Christmas story is at the same time humbling yet hopeful.
So yes, it matters!
Skye Jethani has written an incredible piece titled, “The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastors.” Its thoughtful, well written, and worth your time. You can find the article by clicking HERE.
I am blessed to be the father of three children. One of the things that made fatherhood special for me was being present for the birth of each one. Each birth was fascinating—even miraculous! I was there, and have a basic understanding of biology. But my awareness of science in no way diminishes the sense I felt of having witness a miracle.
The birth of Jesus is fascinating—certainly miraculous. Matthew and Luke agree. Without hesitation they affirm that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father.
Just after the resurrection, the virgin birth is the most highly contested event in the life of Christ. Since the second century, the importance of the virgin birth has been embedded in the creeds and confessions of the believing community of faith.
We first apprehend Jesus humanity from below. We see him as a teacher and miracle worker who died and rose again. But the New Testament introduces Jesus to the world from above, pointing out his uniqueness as the Son of God. His miraculous birth and miraculous resurrection serve as bookends that mark off Jesus as one of a kind.
So how did this virgin birth occur? The New Testament is silent about the biology and the physiology of the event. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit overshadowed a virgin girl named Mary. The word overshadowed, however, gives us a glimpse into what took place. It’s cloud language. Take Exodus 24:15, for example. Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the law, and was overshadowed in a cloud. When the tabernacle and the more permanent Temple were dedicated, the glory of God descended on those structures in the form of a cloud. Luke 9:34 tells us that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. And finally, the Bible describes the Second Advent of Christ by saying, “Behold, he comes with the clouds.” Ultimately, there is no biological explanation for the virgin birth. It was a direct miracle of God without human explanation. God became man without ceasing to be God. When God introduced Jesus the world the first thing he asked for is belief.
Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts as to why the virgin birth is important.
Last week I took some time to investigate my family tree. My great grandfather, Frank, came to America from Baden, Germany, in 1869. After some time in St. Louis, he settled in Clark County, Missouri. He was granted U.S. Citizenship in 1890, at the age of 21. What was interesting about his story was that his citizenship papers spelled our last name “Deitrich.” Family lore explains that he was afraid he would be sent back to Germany, so he changed the spelling to “Deatrick.” He was married to his wife Mary for fifty years and together had three daughters and one son, my grandfather.
My grandfather John was a veteran of World War I. Because of his military service, he married later in life. My father was the oldest of three children and grew up without a mother because she died in child delivery when he was five years old. My grandfather died when I was four years old, and I can remember bits and pieces about him. I remember that every time I saw him he gave me a silver dollar. I also remember sitting on the front pew of his funeral with my parents.
Matthew 1:2-17 is a list of the people in Jesus’ family tree. Normally when one comes to one of those genealogies he or she will face the temptation to gloss right over them to get on to the “good stuff.” But it is not just a list of names. Jesus’ genealogy is very important for three reasons.
First, it reveals that Jesus came from the proper lineage. Matthew’s goal was to provide proof that Jesus is the rightful heir to two important promises. God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 was that he would be faithful to continue David’s royal throne forever. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was that he would bless him so that he may bless the world. These two promises came together and were fulfilled in Jesus. Though Matthew is clear to point out that Jesus is the son of God and Mary but not of Joseph, Jesus possessed the right to Messiahship.
Second, the genealogy shows that Jesus came at the perfect time. Matthew 1:17 states, “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.” This statement covers three important transitions in Israel’s history. David to Abraham spans the rise of the nation, from its formation to its height. David to the Babylonian exile is a description of the demise of the nation, and then from the exile to the Messiah expresses the return of the nation to God. Galatians 4:4 says that “in the fullness of time, God sent his Son…” Jesus came into the world at precisely the perfect time.
Finally, the genealogy reminds us of God’s unprejudiced purpose. Providing a genealogy is a very Jewish thing to do. But if you read the list of names you’ll notice some unique features. For example, the genealogy includes the mention of five women, four of whom are gentiles. Three of the women, Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba are noted for sexual sin. And if you read the stories of each male in the list you’ll see that each of them had their personal sin issues. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, but from the very start of his gospel he wanted his audience to know that the gospel of Jesus is inclusive. Broken men and women, Jews and gentiles alike, are all welcome to find grace and forgiveness through the Messiah who had come.
This is the record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham (Matthew 1:1, NLT).
Imagine you are minding your own business and a complete and total stranger asked you a question. Not something you would expect, like “What time is it?” or “Could you give me directions to a particular establishment?” It’s a personal question. Very personal, in fact. Suppose you are going through your daily routine and someone was to ask you the question, “Who is Jesus?” How would you respond? What would you say? Would you know what to say? Would you respond honestly? Or would you couch your response in politically correct language so as not to offend? Would you be confident should that happen to you?
Matthew established three things about Jesus that help understand and articulate who Jesus is.
First, he is the Messiah, or the Christ. The word Messiah means “anointed one,” and speaks of both Jesus role and purpose. At the turn of the millennium, messianic expectations were at fever pitch. People were looking for the Messiah to come, one who would eradicate the rule of Rome from their land and re-establish Israel to her former glory. Jesus was Messiah, but not that kind of Messiah. As God, Jesus stepped out of the splendor of heaven and stepped into our broken world to provide salvation for us. He taught us how to live, then modeled a life of discipleship, and then died our deaths so we could live his life.
Second, he is a descendent of David David was regarded as Israel’s greatest king. The covenant God made with David was that he would maintain a line of successors going forward. And he did. Jesus is tied to David which is important. His royal lineage speaks of his reign. The demands of his rule are rightful. He is able to make the claims he made. C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. Our confession as Christians for 2,000 years has been, “Jesus is Lord.”
Finally, he is a descendent of Abraham. Abraham was the non Jewish founder of the Israelite race. The covenant that God made with Abraham was that he would be blessed in order to bless the world. (cf. Genesis 17:4; 18:18; 21:18) Israel was blessed to be a blessing. Not just to one another, but to the entire world.
These references to Messiah, David, and Abraham help us understand that Jesus came from God to rule over us so we might bless the world. So why is this important?
1. We have to be clear in our understanding of who Jesus was and is. If we’re not clear on Jesus, nothing else really matters.
2. We have to be able to articulate our understanding of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”
3. We have to be prepared to live in light of our understanding of Jesus. In other words, its not enough to know it or even be able to talk about it. We have to live it practically in our every day experience of life. If I know it and articulate it but don’t live it, can we really say we believe it?
Jesus came from God to rule over us so that we might be blessed and bless the world. That’s who Jesus is.