Category Archives: Sermons

The Holy Spirit: Getting the Facts, Missing the Point

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day the church celebrates the reality-transforming, church-birthing, human-metamorphosing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The God who so loved that he gave his Son also so loved that he gave his Spirit … and nothing has been the same since.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. It has been said that a person without the Spirit can never be more than a second-class Christian, but St. Paul went further than that. He said that without the Spirit, a person cannot be a Christian at all: “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).

Without the Spirit, there would be no church. A religious group can have a nave, altar, sacristy, pulpit, and steeple, but they’ll only have a church if they have the Spirit.

The Greek phrase ἐν πνεύματι (in or by the Spirit) appears 152 times in the New Testament. We are led by the Spirit, we rejoice by the Spirit, we worship the Father by the Spirit, are indwelt by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, are marked as God’s people by the Spirit, love each other by the Spirit – I could go on.

With the Holy Spirit, we are connected to God’s own life. With the Spirit, we are connected to each other. With the Spirit we can confess Jesus Christ and actually know him. With the Spirit, we can live the Christian life now and expect glory in the future.

But what is the Holy Spirit—so ominously called by earlier versions the “Holy Ghost”? Continue reading

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How to Get Through Tough Times: 5 Things You Need to Know

A farmer once told me he doesn’t like to get much rain in the weeks after planting because the corn won’t need to send its roots deep to get nourishment. If there is enough moisture near the surface, the plants will root near the surface. Later, when the hot days of July and August dry out the ground, there won’t be enough moisture for the plants to flourish, and yield will be down.

People are like that. It may seem counter-intuitive, but no one flourishes without a fight. That is true both of families and individuals. Flourishing doesn’t happen in the absence of sustained effort; it happens because of it – if people go through it well.

Individuals and families that don’t endure difficulty in healthy ways don’t flourish. They may look impressive on the outside, like a nine-foot cornstalk but, like that cornstalk, they will bring little good into God’s world.

Parents want their kids’ lives to flourish but they also want their kids’ lives to be easy; want success to be right at the surface. They want their kids to have sports’ triumphs, academic honors, and scores of friends. But if life is always easy, those kids won’t root deeply and they won’t flourish. Continue reading

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A Life That Means Something (MS.)

I just want my life to mean something. Ever feel like that? People usually young adults who are just setting out but sometimes middle-aged adults who feel like they have been missing out – have said that kind of thing to me.

I’ve watched as they try to give their life meaning through their experiences, as if having a meaningful experience would make them meaningful. They volunteer at a food pantry, or go on a mission trip, or enroll in Teach for America. Other people try to add something exciting to life, like jumping out of an airplane (for example). And some take on strenuous, test-your-limits pursuits – they join the Marine Corps or go in for an extreme fitness regimen.

Then they wait for meaning to come pouring into their lives. It’s as if they think of their life as an empty vessel which, when they tap into the right thing, will be filled with meaning.

From my observations, the person who says, “I want my life to mean something” is proceeding from a false position; a wrong assumption. His or her life already means something. Everyone’s life means something because God meant them – he made them for a purpose. But that meaning is, at least in part, a significant– sign-ificant – meaning; the kind of meaning a sign possesses. Continue reading

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A Life That Means Something: Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Join Lockwood Community Church’s May 10th service, premiering at 11:00, at this link: https://youtu.be/GqIfTXx03no Today’s message, from Deuteronomy, helps us understand the kind of life God wants for his children – a life that matter; a flourishing life. The manuscript … Continue reading

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A Mind for What Matters: Philippians 4:1-9

The first instruction, given previously and now repeated, is to rejoice always.

Really, Paul? Rejoice always? You have no idea what you’re asking. Working from home amidst a thousand interruptions. The kids are out of control. Can’t find toilet paper. Didn’t get my economic impact payment from the IRS, which I need to pay the mortgage. Will probably lose my job, which means no insurance. And you want me to rejoice?

To which Paul (from a dank, dark prison cell, where he has been quarantined for a long time, separated from friends and family, and waiting to hear the outcome of his trial, which might be death by beheading) answers, Of course! “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And in case you missed it the first two times I said it, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

Many people, hearing this, simply brush it aside as unrealistic and unfeasible. When you’re having marriage problems, when you can’t stomach your boss, when your hopes have been dashed yet again, when you’re sick, and tired, and in debt, how can Paul – how can God – expect you to rejoice? It’s impossible!

Yes, absolutely. It is impossible … for some people, but not for us – if our minds are undergoing a process of renewal. Continue reading

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There Is Love: Our Astonishing Hope (1 Cor. 15)

In the resurrection, Christ cut death down to size. Through Christ, we can rise above our fear of death. The great English poet George Herbert said, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel” – he’s referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus – “has made him just a gardener.” When those who are planted with Jesus come up, they will be glorious as he is glorious.

But our hope is far greater than the hope that we will somehow survive death. The resurrection gives us reason to believe that we will be – that nothing can stop us from being – fulfilled, completed, perfected. Paul puts it this way: “The body that is sown” – gardener imagery again! – “is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…” (vv. 42-43). And verses 52-53: “we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”

Susan Sontag got it wrong. Earth is not a grave but a garden. This – weakness, sickness, inability, depression, aging, loss – is no more the whole story than the kernel is the whole stalk of corn or the acorn is the towering oak. God’s plan for humanity is not pain and suffering but joy and glory. It is not weakness but power. It is not sadness but joy. It is not the shame we know so well but a glory that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human mind imagined. (1 Cor. 2:9). Continue reading

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There Is Love: The Hope of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:19-28)

https://youtu.be/J8H7LpmRyes What are the implications of St. Paul’s teaching (and that of the entire biblical witness) on the resurrection? That is what this audaciously hopeful sermon explores. I invite you to join for the premier at 11:00 this morning or … Continue reading

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First Stone in an Avalanche

In the four Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus – this surprised me when I first realized it and it surprises me still – no one ever uses the word “resurrection” to describe Jesus’s return from death, neither the Gospel writers nor the people whose conversations they reported. They talk about how Jesus rose from the dead, but they never use the one word you would expect them to use: “resurrection.” It’s almost as if they were avoiding it.

That ought to raise a question in our minds: Why didn’t they use the word “resurrection?” The answer, I think, comes in two parts, the first of which is very straightforward: The Gospel writers did not use the word “resurrection” because the men and women whose story they were telling didn’t use the word. The fact that the writers refrained from using what is arguably the most important word in the vocabulary of the early church speaks volumes about their intention to faithfully recount what had happened. Continue reading

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Who Are You Looking For? (An Easter Message)

One of the difficulties in telling the Easter story is that there is almost too much material. Each of the biblical Evangelists gives us glimpses into the story from the perspectives of different people who lived it. One tells what Mary Magdalene sees. Another describes what the other women disciples see. Some tell us what Peter sees, one what John sees, another what Thomas does not see, and yet another what the Roman soldiers see. There are gaps in some stories and overlapping chronologies in others. Trying to put all that together into a cohesive narrative can be a challenge.

I’m not going to try to put it all together this morning – there is not enough time for that. Instead, I’m going to tell the story, at least for the most part, from the disciple Mary’s perspective. There are so many Marys in the Easter story that we need to differentiate between them. This one is routinely distinguished by the town she comes from: Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene or, for short, the Magdalene.

When Mary first met Jesus, her life was an absolute disaster. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “We all have our demons,” but Mary had hers and enough for several other people besides. She was alone, afraid, and confused. Her life was like a bad dream from which she could not wake up. No one was able to wake her up. For the most part, no one even tried; that is, until Jesus.

He woke her up. He gave Mary back her life. He drove away the demons and, in their place, gave her something she had never known: acceptance. And when he accepted her, so did his friends. For the first time in memory, she felt included, wanted. She was part of something, and that felt good. She didn’t always act right, and she knew it, but these people didn’t push her away because she was weird or because she didn’t have it all together. Continue reading

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Holy Week Meditation: Maundy Thursday

If you and I had been with the apostles on Thursday evening of that first Holy Week, this is the kind of conversation we might have heard.

“Sunday was the day. I could just feel it. People were ready. If he’d have called us to take Jerusalem back, thousands of men would have responded. Just the Galileans outnumbered Roman forces five to one, maybe ten to one. And the Judeans would have joined us. Oh, man, he had them in the palm of his hand. If he had said: “Today is the day we back the holy city from the infidels,” it would have happened right then. Instead, he started crying! Sunday was the day. I just don’t get it.”

“Yeah, Sunday was great, but Monday was the day. I mean, he single-handedly took control of the temple. He was a lion! No one could stand against him. And, look: It’s not enough to fight Rome. We can kill every Roman in Israel, but they’ll be right back unless we got rid of the aristocracy, the priests.

“Yeah, if he’d called people to arms on Monday, there wouldn’t have been a Roman left alive in the city by nightfall. By the time they heard about it in Caesarea, the entire countryside could have been mobilized. The aristocracy would be in prison. But instead of calling people to arms, he started teaching from Leviticus and the Psalms. I just don’t get it. What he is waiting for? The blacksmith doesn’t wait for the fire to die down before he forges the sword.” Continue reading

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