Category Archives: Theology

Obstacles to Faith and the Service They Perform

A doubting friend once said to me, “If God exists, why doesn’t he tell us plainly? Why doesn’t he write it across the sky for everyone to see?”
That question is based on an assumption that is patently false and, upon reflection, even silly: the assumption that God’s aspiration for humans – his end goal in creating them – is their assent to the fact that he exists. This is to woefully underestimate both God and humanity.
God’s objective is the creation of a race of great and good beings who can interact with him as they add to the love and blessedness of the universe. The biblical pictures of this – of humans reigning with Christ, crowned with glory, and filled with joy – is nothing short of spectacular. Once we have seen this, the idea that God’s big plan is merely to get people to believe he exists is laughable.
Still, the problem remains: why is belief in God so difficult? Why are there so many obstacles to faith in the awe-inspiring God and Father of Jesus? That there are obstacles is undeniable. The church has never said otherwise, and the biblical data confirm it. Included among the obstacles are: the presence of evil which, on the surface, seems to contradict the existence of a loving and good God; the lack of incontrovertible evidence; and the discrepancy between what those who claim to believe in God say and how they act.
On the one hand, it is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such obstacles. On the other hand, if the biblical God does exist, it must be assumed that the presence of such obstacles does not hinder his efforts in forming a glorious, joyful, and powerful humanity but rather advances it.
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The Power of Idolatry and the Idolatry of Power

The last sentence in St. John’s first letter is: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” It’s placement as the apostle’s final word gives it substantial weight. He clearly regarded it as important.
We do not. The sentence hardly seems to fit our postmodern era. Idols were a part of their culture, not ours. Humanity has advanced beyond our ancestors’ crude worship, lavished as it was on lifeless, heartless symbols and images.
Think again. Consider the images that we have endowed with power: the apple with a bite taken out of it (Apple Corporation); the golden arches (McDonald’s); five yellow bars, radiating out like sunrays (Walmart); the smirky gold smile (Amazon). These images connote power, even world dominance.
One year out from the U.S. general election, I can think of two other symbols that connote power. The Donkey and the Elephant. Continue reading

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Is Time-Change a Real Thing?

Historians attribute the idea of Daylight Savings Time (DST) to a New Zealand entomologist named George Vernon Hudson. Near the end of the 19th century, Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, recommending a two-hour time-shift in October, which would be reversed in March. Apparently, the entomologist wanted more daylight hours to search for insects.
The idea evoked interest but failed to get traction. Ten years later, an Englishman named William Willet lobbied to make twenty-minute time changes on four consecutive Sundays in April, then invert the process on four Sundays in September.
It was the Canadians who first tried the idea in 1908 and the Germans who went wholesale for the idea in 1916. The German rationale for the change was that longer daylight hours would mean less artificial lighting, thereby saving fuel that could be used by the military in the First World War. The idea soon caught on in England and France.
The U.S. was late to the game. Though the nation tried it briefly in 1918, they jumped off the bandwagon in 1919, and did not get back on until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act in 1966. But in 1967, the people of Arizona and Michigan rebelled, and returned to standard time and Indiana didn’t get on board as a state until 2006.
Does DST really help us? Continue reading

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I AM the Light of the World

http://www.lockwoodchurch.org/media (listening time approx. 28 minutes) Jesus makes the extraordinary claim that he is the light of the world. This claim is rooted in Old Testament texts and is made in conjunction with the Jewish Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). … Continue reading

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What if You Were Going to Live Forever?

In the 1980s, the denomination I served encouraged me to attend a conference on evangelism presented by Evangelism Explosion (known familiarly as EE). This enormously popular approach to personal evangelism was pioneered in the 1960s by D. James Kennedy, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was and is used throughout the world.
It was hard for a shy introvert like me to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know. It was even harder to strike up conversations about spiritual matters with people I assumed didn’t care. EE was designed to help people start and guide conversations to a particular end: the acceptance of receive Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior.
At the EE conference, attendees were taught to ask people two questions, designed to coordinate with one another, and both including the prepositional phrase, “if you were to die tonight.” Both questions also included the idea of going to heaven.
There were things about the training I appreciated and things that made me uncomfortable. The discomfort came largely from the similarity between the EE program and programs that teach sales techniques. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I was selling Jesus the way the kid at the front door sells vacuum cleaners. It seemed to me that, in both cases, the immediate goal was to get the person on the other side of the door to say yes to something they might not really want and probably didn’t understand.
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God and the “Do Not Call Registry”

People in our church received phone calls, reputedly from the IRS or law enforcement, to inform them they would be arrested within the next few hours because of their tax debt. After setting their hair on fire with threats of arrest, the caller offered to put the fire out. They could avoid arrest and jail time by making the minimum payment required by the IRS. A means for delivery of payment was detailed.
Those calls are, of course, a scam. The receiver’s Caller ID has been “spoofed” and the number of the real caller hidden. A fake, and frequently local, number appears on the caller ID. I’ve even received a call the phone display indicated was coming from me.
The FCC encourages Americans to hang up as soon as they realize they’ve answered an unwanted call. Even better, they recommend not taking the call at all, unless one recognizes the number on the Caller ID.
I registered our phone on the “National Do Not Call Registry,” thinking that would give me some leverage with telemarketers, but we still receive numerous calls each day, often from spoofed Caller ID numbers. I used to stay on the line, wait for a real person, and then tell them that I am on the ‘Do Not Call” registry and politely ask that my name be removed from their database.
That used to work. Not anymore. The last few times I’ve waited for a real person to whom I could make my request, the caller hung up as soon as he heard the words, “I’m on the …” I didn’t even get the chance to finish the sentence. A lot of good it did to get on the registry. Continue reading

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Religion Is Not a Shortcut

When religion is transformed from a response of faith in the God of heaven into an instrument for getting things done on earth, it is disfigured. It may retain the accoutrements of true religion – ritual, liturgy, personal prayer, offerings – but its essential nature has been altered. It preserves “the form of godliness,” as the Apostle Paul put it, while “denying its power.”
For as long as people have been religious – which is to say, for as along as there have been people – this has been a problem. When God ceases to be “the Beginning and the End” and becomes the means to an end, religion becomes a merely human tool.
There are illustrations of this phenomenon in the Bible itself. One particularly revealing instance happened early in the history of the nation of Israel. The Hebrews first identified as a distinct people group during the centuries they spent in Egypt. After their escape from Egyptian oppression and their migration to a suitable homeland, Israel operated under divinely given laws, summarized in what we know as the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments themselves were engraved on two stone tablets and kept in a specially made and ornately decorated box known as the Ark of the Covenant. (Think Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The ark, which was considered sacred, was only to be moved by religious professionals and was never to be directly touched.
As sometimes happens with items of treasured status, people began to think of the ark superstitiously, as if the box itself possessed inherent power. So, when Israel’s war against the Philistine kingdoms began to go poorly, someone floated the idea that the ark could be used to rally the troops, bring God’s favor, and win the war.
The immediate effect of bringing the ark into battle was everything Israel’s leaders had hoped for. Their soldiers were inspired and their enemies were intimidated. But it is dangerous to try to use God as a means to an end, no matter how important the end. The Philistine armies crushed Israel’s troops, forced them to retreat, and captured the ark.
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“Allow Me to Introduce Myself” – Jesus

Imagine you are an actor, who has moved to Los Angeles, is sharing an apartment with four other people, working odd jobs, and waiting for your big break. One day your agent calls. A famous director is looking for someone to play a role in his new major motion picture. The audition is at 3:00.

So, you call your part-time employer, tell him you’re going to miss work today, and you go in for the audition. You’re given a script with the lines: “Don’t even think about it. Please. Please. You’ll ruin everything.”

You ask, “So what is this scene about?” and are told, “The Director isn’t telling anyone. Just do your best.”

You don’t know if your character is a scientist, working in a lab with highly explosive material or a spouse whose partner has threatened to file for divorce. How can you know how to act if you don’t know the story?

That is the same kind of problem many people have in trying to live as a Jesus-follower: They don’t know what story they’re in. This text will help us understand our story. This message is based on John 1:1-18, and is meant to open the new series, “Allow Me to Introduce Myself” -Jesus. Each week of the series, we will be introduced to a truth about Jesus from the Gospel of John, revealed in Jesus’s fascinating “I Am” statements. Continue reading

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Jesus Stories

Kevin Looper preaches from Mark 4 and 5, with insights into who Jesus is and what he is like. In the heart-pounding adventure of the turbulent night at sea and in the heart-stopping horror story centered around the tombs, Kevin points out the startling insight that the disciples (in the first story) and the demons (in the second) were afraid of Jesus and that Jesus was afraid of nothing! Continue reading

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Now You See Me (John 14:1-12)

People read about God’s wrath in the Bible, hear how Jesus died in our place, and bore our sins, and conclude that an angry God just had to punish someone and Jesus (who is not angry) didn’t want it to be us. So, he deflected the blow and took the punishment. People don’t usually put it that crudely but that is how many people understand what happened.
This summary of the good news sounds a lot like bad news, but because there is truth mixed in with the falsehood, people swallow it whole. The worst part of it may be the heretical way it separates the Father and the Son into a kind of good cop/bad cop team. Instead of seeing a Father who is determined to rescue his children, we get a God who is determined to hurt them. Instead of the biblical understanding that sin is ruining us, we get a God who will ruin us. Fortunately for us, the Son, who in nicer than his Father, intervenes. Otherwise, we’d all be toast.
That is heresy. The Son is not the good cop and the Father the bad cop because they are both good and neither one is a cop. This teaching does one of the greatest disservices possible: it makes it almost impossible for a person to fully trust the God and Father of Jesus.
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