[Sermon download is available at the end of this post.]
After his resurrection, at the very end of the gospel (Matt. 28:16-20), Jesus tells his disciples to "make disciples" by going, baptizing, and teaching people to obey everything he commanded. Last week, I commented
on what Jesus meant by his commands. But in this sermon, I discussed how and why we should make disciples.
There are two things to notice. First, Jesus begins by telling his disciples (and those of us overhearing this conversation) that he has "all authority in heaven and on earth." He has the same authority that God has, to direct and offer commands and instructions. And yet, God's (and his) authority is always relational
--while he commands, he also equips and resources his people with everything they need to accomplish his commands.
Second, Jesus closes his statement by promising to be with them (and us) to the very end of the age. He guarantees his own presence with us while we go about this disciple making process.
And how do we make disciples? We 1) go; 2) baptize; and 3) teach. In this sermon, I explain how these three ideas fit together to suggest that we ought to be actively trying to influence
those we are already
around. I also encourage us to get on board with Jesus' mission, which can often be quite different than what the church presents as its mission.Sermon: On Making Disciples
After his resurrection, why did Jesus command his disciples (and us) to teach others to obey everything he
commanded (Mt. 28:19-20)? Why didn't he encourage his followers to obey the law, or the scriptures that they knew? Was he against the law? But what about Mt. 5:17?
Find the answers here
I did some calculations the other day. Based on our definition of "faithful," which generally means attendance at bible studies and worship services, I counted the number of times a church member who has been a Christian for 10 years has sat through a sermon or bible study.
Many of our churches have a Sunday morning bible study, a sermon, a Sunday evening bible study or sermon, and a Wednesday (or midweek) bible study. Each year, that Christian sits through 50 weeks of 3 to 4 lessons each. Conservatively, over 10 years, that Christian sits through a minimum of 1500 bible studies and sermons!
Yet, in many churches, membership is declining, church leaders struggle to create and maintain programs, and members become religious shoppers, consuming goods offered by staff while being unwilling or unable to offer anything in return. (Quite the opposite of the vision of church and fellowship offered by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:26.)
I wonder how many who have consumed 1500 bible studies and sermons could teach a class or preach a sermon if called upon? I wonder how many who consume these lessons become a provider by serving others?
I'm only asking questions, not criticizing. Only you know if you are a consumer or not. My larger point is the ineffectiveness of many teaching/preaching programs. Are we really equipping people for works of ministry?
If we believe Eph. 4:7-16 then we will be building churches around the goal of maturity. Maturity is clearly not reached when people know things about the bible. But in the words of Paul, maturity is reached when we are equipped and actually live out lives of service. This is the purpose of the fivefold ministries--training and equipping in different parts of body life so that the whole body works together and grows up into the head, Christ.
So how does teaching fit in? Most teaching, mine included, appears designed to provide information. This isn't negative. But the quality of information can be misleading. For example, information for its own sake is pretty much useless. Information that corrects thinking and gets people on the right track is useful.
But it still comes up short. It's missing an ingredient, specifically a movement towards action. Many sermons or bible studies contain a "call to action" or an "application." But these things are often in the realm of personal repentance or left out as a concept or construct that doesn't really hit home.
What if, instead of forming bible studies, sermons/lessons moved people towards banding together into a service group? What if churches put their resources, time, and energy behind these service/mission groups? What if staff devoted more time to equipping these groups to find ways to serve rather than staying in an office studying and preparing.
What if fellowship happened not through a fellowship meeting or a small group, but in the actual practice of ministry? What if fellowship became real and not abstract?
What if teaching became less and less about production, length, and quality, and more targeted, laser-focused, and directed towards immediate application?
Such lessons could be tested by how well the congregation serves as a result. It requires much from the congregation: a movement away from consumerism, a commitment to live out the gospel, and an ability to stop looking at the preacher as a performer but as one with a specific ministry task given by Jesus himself (Eph. 4:7-16).
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'd sure like to find them out.
[Sermon download link is at the end of this post.]
I had to do it. As much as I wanted to avoid it because of all the controversy surrounding it, I didn't feel I'd be doing right by the church to preach through Matthew but avoid this topic for my sake.
So we put it on the preaching schedule--Matthew 19:1-12, Divorce and Remarriage.
I preached what I found in the text. And as you might imagine, I preached a non-traditional interpretation of the topic.
Yes, Jesus provides an understanding about marriage and divorce. But no, he's not talking to people considering divorce. And he's not even really talking about divorce--he's actually being challenged about a point of law by the Pharisees...who are there to "test" him!
Jesus' prohibition about remarriage after divorce is cultural and clearly intended to protect, help, and benefit women. I daresay he would answer differently today, enlarging his "prohibitions" and applying them both to men and women, and laying the smack down to those who would hypocritically try to apply his teaching to benefit themselves.
The problem is when we take this scene, which has very little information, and create a universal, timeless doctrine by which we can measure others' lives. Jesus was clearly concerned about relational integrity, which is why he reminded them of the way it was in the beginning.
One of the things I pointed out was, if you were nowhere to be found while a couple went through marital problems to the point where things broke down into a divorce, you sure don't have the right to label their divorce (or them) as "scriptural" or "unscriptural."
This is not one of my best delivered sermons. I was very nervous and went "off script." But it's one of my more passionate sermons. Please listen, and leave some feedback.Sermon: Divorce and Remarriage
[Sermon download link is at the bottom of this post.]
Did you know that Jesus himself only uses the word "church" twice (both times in Matthew)? That's it.
The first time is in Matthew 16:18--"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it." The "rock" Jesus will build his church upon is the foundational confession made by Peter that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, the son of the living God.
The second time Jesus uses the word "church" is in Matthew 18:17--"If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." What is Jesus talking about it?
If we read the entire chapter of Matthew 18, we see that Jesus is concerned about relationships and reconciliation. When he uses the word "church" here, he is not discussing church organization or structure, leadership, or acts of worship. For Jesus, "church" simply was not something you do on Sunday, but was a way of life you lived all the time.
He concentrates on reconciliation because he knows how hard it is to maintain relationships with others. It is easier to simply ignore or avoid those on Sunday whom we don't like or have a problem with rather than humble ourselves and seek reconciliation with them.
But to follow Jesus, we must actively
seek to be reconciled to each other. To be reconciled with each other, we must approach them with humility, care enough for them to go after them when they've been offended (or caused offense), and freely forgive, just as we've been forgiven.Sermon: Reconciliation
Churches of Christ tend to focus more on Paul's letters than on the Gospels. This is for a good reason: We assume people are good and will live out the ethical teaching of Jesus, so we go to the letters to find the matters that are supposedly more confusing--issues about church organization and structure, worship, and leadership.
This is a good approach, but we run the risk of becoming just like those Jesus did battle with in the Gospels--the Pharisees and teachers of the law. This approach by itself will not turn us into Pharisees, but it can contribute to a Pharasaical attitude by privileging doctrinal points above the relational connection we have in Christ.
The Gospels and the Letters should be read together. Jesus teaches us much about our inner lives, where our heart's desire should be, and how we can be truly pleasing to God. Paul does the same in his letters, but it's easier to overlook there because he also teaches about how churches should operate.
We need balance. Gospels only leave us without any real sense (except a constructed sense) of how the early church functioned. Letters only leave us without any real knowledge of the founder of our faith. We need both, in tandem with each other.
Not Gospels vs. Letters, but Gospels + Letters = The Whole.
[Sermon download link is at the bottom of this post.]
Does that title make sense to you? Is there a difference between the two?
It took me a long time to learn that there is, in fact, quite a difference. I grew up in a good church that shaped my faith well but with one glaring problem: I believed that the goal of Christianity was the acquisition of factual knowledge. So many of my bible classes focused on memorizing the names of the books of the bible, of the kings, of the disciples, the itineraries of Paul's trips in Acts, and so on.
It was going to be knowledge of these things that would help me overcome doubts and well-meaning but biblically "wrong" people who just wouldn't read the bible for what it simply says.
In college, I ran across this phrase from Paul: "I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10-11).
This phrase blew me away because I noticed, as if for the first time, that Paul didn't say he wanted to know about
Christ or about
the power of his resurrection. He actually wanted to know Christ in some relational way that would connect him to the actual experience of Christ.
In this sermon, I explore the example of Peter and how quickly he went from proclaiming the truth about Jesus--that he was the Messiah--to being accused of being Satan himself because he stood in the way of God's plans.
Peter was a great bible student (he knew all about
the Messiah) but his bible knowledge did not equip him to actually know
Jesus. To know Jesus, you must go beyond mere knowledge of him, understand his mission, and follow him into that mission--into a life of service and sacrifice.Sermon: Choosing to Know Jesus Instead of Knowing About Jesus