A Glimpse Back to the Future

My sermon from October 12, 2014
based on John 13:31-38.

A Glimpse Back to the Future

Preached at the Grand Central Church of Christ,
Vienna, West Virginia

A Song of Forgiveness

There is a point at which sin so entangles us that we cannot even pray for forgiveness. The wrong feels so good; and the good feels so distant. We know God is there, but we have no clue how he can be. Or how he can be there for us.

I’ve been there. You’ve likely been there. The Psalmist was there with us.

It’s at this dead end point—embraced by death and terror—that the psalmist looks back in Psalm 116. Nothing but sorrow. Nothing but trouble.

He cannot even confess. He cannot give voice to the need of his heart. He simply feels dead, trapped, helpless. So his cry to God is simple: “Please, Lord, save me!”

It’s is good that we confess our sins, that we totally come clean to God and appropriate others. But we can’t always do that. We’re too far gone to name our sin, to utter a confession.

All we can say is: Please help me.

God hears. And he saves. “He hears my voice. He bends down to listen.”

When I cannot stand up in the mire of my own bad choices, God bends down to hear me. When I cannot express what I think and feel, God hears anyways.

“I was facing death and he saved me.” All because of one whispered sentence.

“Please help me!”

God does save even those who don’t know how they can be saved. Those at the end of their ropes. Those so deep it seems hopeless. To those so hardened that they crave the very things that ensnare them. One prayer opens us to God’s salvation.

“Please help . . . ”

No matter where you are, no matter how dark it seems, not matter how confused you may be, no matter how tired you feel. You are not beyond God hearing the smallest prayer.

“Please . . . ”

Someday—I hope very soon—you and I can join the psalmist in declaring: “I will . . . praise the Lord’s name for saving me.”

“Get Fat Church, and Let’s Go Home!”

We seldom talk about gluttony. Gluttony—a vulgar word signifying a vulgar want for more, well beyond what is appropriate.

We seldom talk about gluttony because gluttony is one of our favorite American pastimes.

You don’t have to go far to see gluttony in various manifestations.

Sugary breakfast cereals and fatty chips get extra display space at the grocery store. The only virtue those products have is that they taste good. So we eat more than what is good for us—way more! It’s cheap and tastes good. So we eat.

Our homes over the past 100 years have grown from “Home Sweet Home” include the amenities found in health clubs, theaters and parks. Home not big enough? There are plenty out there, no matter how big your appetite.

We want our bodies to stronger and faster and better. They’re never attractive enough or tall enough or shaped just right. We lust to remake our bodies, not for health or fitness, but because we want more approval, self confidence.

We want more channels, more options, more colors, more styles, more selection. More RAM and wider bandwidth Internet so we can get more of what we don’t need.

It is counter-cultural to say: Stop! Enough is enough. Gluttony is so much a part of our lives that the simple phrase, “You don’t really need that” is like a slap in the face.

“Who are you to tell me I can’t have my cake and eat it too?”

Jesus gave us one line of his brief prayer to stop us. To veer us away from gluttony. To stop us dead in our designer-shoed tracks:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Not bread with butter. Not foodie-approved bread from designer bakeries. No jam and certainly not Pop-Tarts. Just bread. Just enough. Just for today.

As we come together today, may we be honest about our food, property, good, and desires.

And may God grant us simply all that we need.

What “The Sound of Music” Taught Me about Church

Hewn from solid mountain were two chapels, one each from the second and fourth centuries. These Christians had worship that was anything but seeker sensitive. What does this tell us about encountering God in our assemblies? Read the rest of this entry »

The Unnecessary Church

Don Miller's recent comment that he doesn't go to church much well describes the feelings of many. He correctly discerns that the institutional church is sectarian and self-selected. So I have to ask if the notion of church is still meaningful? Read the rest of this entry »

Faith in the Workplace [guest post]

This post is by a friend, Adam Kennedy, who works in the financial industry. I appreciate his professionalism, his faith, and his openness. Enjoy this glimpse into his journey. Read the rest of this entry »

Small Things Matter

This sermon was preached at the Grand Central Church of Christ in Vienna, WV, on Dec 29, 2013.

NOTE: The video referenced in the sermon is not included because of copyright. You may see a similar version of it here.

Thanksgiving and Ministry Training

OverThanksgiving I was blessed to visit Harding School of Theology in Memphis. During this visit two things struck me about HST and the community there. First, what they do there is vitally important. The second thing is that what they do there is not important at all. Let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »

“Bring Out Your Dead”

Leadership lessons from Monte Python Leaders are living longer and staying active longer than they ever have in post-Genesis human history. This produces a delay the inevitable handoff of power to younger generations. Read the rest of this entry »

Sad Songs Say So Much

20131121-082454.jpgWe don’t like sad songs. The power of music and poetry tilts our hearts in their direction, and so we avoid sad songs. We lean toward that which is happy, or at least not sad. We foolishly think that joy and tears are enemies. 

The body of poetry and songs we know as the Psalms does not allow us to make such a mistake. These songs, the songbook of ancient Israel and the Early Church, boldly sing sad songs, with neither shame nor regret. One-third of the psalms are what we call laments, poems that confront us full-on with the reality of human loss and pain. 

We don’t like these psalms. We rarely read them. But we very much need them. 

Last week, three people I know were diagnosed with cancer in three different parts of the country. I need songs that sing about that, songs that are real and raw and strong. Songs that admit life is sometimes terribly disorienting. “Sing and Be Happy” would be a farce. 

But we live in the land of Disney World, where things are always supposed to be happy and bright. Where men all grow up to save the damsel in distress, and the girls eqall grow up to be princesses. 

The Psalmists knew better. They knew that distressed damsels do not always get saved, and princesses have real enemies. And so the psalms of lament model for us how Israel, and the church learns to have faith in the midst of disorientation and pain and loss. 

We avoid these psalms at great risk to ourselves. If we ignore these songs of pain and honest emotional distress, then we risk getting stuck in the mire of guilt. If we don’t have a way to express the pain and struggle of real life, then we end up in the dead end thought: if my life stinks, it must be my fault. Or, we have the other risk, the risk of denial. We gloss things over, pretending all is well. But it is not. 

The lament psalms free us from this double trap of guilt and denial. We can be honest with God: “I don’t understand!” “I’m I’m angry!” “I’m beaten down!” “I’m in pain!” “I’m brokenhearted!” These psalms keep our heads out of the sand, to face the reality that life can be very, very hard.

But the also free us from the guilt. They allow us to acknowledge that we struggle in this fallen world. And they allow us to process this struggle with God, among God’s people. The lament psalms bring our pain and questioning out of the theoretical, and land them smack dab in front of God. They are communal cries of pain and anguish that we sing together because God hears his people. 

But crying to God in our distress is not a lack of faith, it protects our faith. Crying to God allows us to be honest with God, and to trust him. We trust him. He is the only one who can bring lasting change to our messed up lives and tear-drenched hearts. 

And so we sing and read these songs. We lament. We grieve. We shout in anger and pain for the injustice of life. And in the company of all God’s people who for millennia have read the psalms, we cry out. And we trust.

[Many thanks to one of my favorite authors, Walter Bruggemann, for sharing his thoughts in this video.]