Sermon: “Laws Through Which They Could Not Live” (Ezekiel 20:11-29)

This is the audio (40:26, 29.5 MB) of a sermon preached at our Lithuania home church, Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on August 1, 2021. The main text is Ezekiel 20:11-29.

If we don’t live by God’s law, the alternative is not “freedom”—it is slavery—either slavery to chaos and disorder, or to human-made law. If we will not say to God, “Let your will be done!” then God says to us, “OK, let your will be done.” We probably live in the time where at least people in the developed world have the most self-determination, but it seems to lead to depression and anxiety, rather than to liberation.

God wants us to be holy because it’s good for us, and because of his reputation. If were so consumed with God’s reputation, what would that mean for our personal discipleship—the choices we make on an hour to hour, day to day, year by year basis? For our worship? For our evangelism? We should be shouting it from the rooftops, and it should work into our lives like yeast and affect everything that we do.

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Sermon: “Shame Rolled Away” (Ezekiel 20:1-11)

This is the audio (48:16, 35.8 MB) of a sermon preached at our Lithuania home church, Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on July 18, 2021. The main text is Ezekiel 20:1-11; we also read Joshua 4:19-24 and 5:2-9; Psalm 106:1-12; John 8:1-11; and 1 Cor 6:9-11.

Each of us still lives with the scars and the effects of sin in our life: the sins that we have committed, and the sins committed against us. That is a reality of life in this fallen world. But the good news is that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, for those who believe and turn to God in repentance, we are no longer defined by our past sins.

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Re-Forming Church Biblically

Each tradition needs to think critically before simply adopting practices from other traditions—and perhaps seek out and retrieve better alternatives from its own past. Moreover, churches should be extremely cautious about introducing technology into our worship; it never merely replicates the old—it restructures into something new. If we choose to stick with a technology temporarily during a crisis, we must openly name and steadfastly resist its negative effects, and (preferably) go back to a biblical structure of worship as soon as possible.

Note: This is the concluding piece in a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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“Ancient” Re-Post: Screens, Fatherhood and Distractions

Screens let me be “present” in some limited way with my sister and her husband across the country or across the world. But they also make me absent from those actually in my presence. Screens connect and disconnect.

(December 2013)

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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Guest Post: Why Go Back to Church?

Jesus wants His people to love one another. To love others, you sometimes have to be in the same room. Sometimes you have to hold their babies, wash their dishes, or look them straight in their unmediated eyes as you listen to them share their story. You have to stay in the room when the stories get rambly. You might have to get up and get a box of tissues. You may have to lay hands on them and pray for them. Yes, sometimes you have to touch them.

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Sermon: What Are You Building? (Eccl 3; 6; 7)

Things fall apart, and they don’t bear fruit like they should. Sometimes, a farmer plants a seed in the ground—and there is no rain. Sometimes, an entrepreneur builds a great business by wise decisions and honest dealings—and a hurricane wind comes through and wipes her investment away. Sometimes, a married couple tries for years and years to get pregnant—with no success. Sometimes, a single mom works for years scrubbing floors to get out of debt—and then she gets sick, can’t work, and falls right back into debt. In a broken world, wisdom, hard work and obedience to God’s law don’t always yield the results they should.

But the good news, Paul says, is that there is hope for redemption and re-creation. Human beings subjected the world entrusted to them to frustration, to futility—but because of what one perfect Human Being has done, all of creation can be reborn. The creation itself, Paul says, groans as if in labor pains, waiting for us as reborn human beings to be re-created in our resurrection bodies. In one sense, the creation has more “faith” and hope than we humans have! The trees and beasts of the field know that Jesus Christ is risen, and when he returns they will rejoice to see him restore creation to its full purpose.

This is the video (37.17, 222 MB) of a sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen, NJ, on June 20, 2021 (Father’s Day). The main texts are Ecclesiastes 3:9-15; 6:1-2; and 7:15-17.

We always enjoy our visits to Dunellen, one of ECO’s bilingual churches! Here is the service in Spanish, if you are interested in hearing the songs and the sermon bilingually.

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Pandemic Sermon: Job 42:10-17 and Isaiah 49:14-23, “Receiving Double from YHWH’s Hand”

COVID-19 and the reaction to it has caused deep divisions in our societies, and right down the middle of Christian communities as well….When we come back to meeting together, as a full church, or as an LCC family, or as societies reckoning with the effectiveness of policies (as I hope there will be investigations and evaluations, based in actual scientific understandings of how these viruses work that we had at the time), there will be anger and resentment that has to be dealt with….If we don’t, we could have a permanent division in our communities, which would be tragic.

…As we build back our lives, and build back our church community, can we think of our process as parallel to this—and also see it as an opportunity? Can we articulate our losses, express our anger and our sorrow, hear the anger and sorrow of others, and pray that God would help us to direct it and deal with it appropriately? Can we accept that nothing happens outside of God’s knowledge or control?

February 28, 2021, in 2nd lockdown

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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Online “Church”: Are the Kids Really Fine?

Note: This post is an excursus within a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

In the most recent piece in my ongoing series, I included this statement:

…Reliance on “online presence” may distract us as church leaders from modeling embodied fellowship practices for a younger generation of believers growing up with experiences of friendship that are highly “technologized.” 

Online “Church”: United, or Merely Simultaneous?

In this post, not originally part of my October–November 2020 essay, I would like to develop this point further, because I find that this issue comes up repeatedly in my conversations with parents, fellow professors, and church leaders. Folks who fall into these categories are mostly older than I am (I was born in 1984). In my view, many of these older folks have not adequately reckoned with the differences that exist between their own experiences with digital technology in their adulthood, and the experiences of generations who have grown up with digital technology always being a part of their lives.

The older generations, having come of age in cultures of society, church and education that are formed by reading physical books and encountering peers and authority figures in physical space and time, are better equipped to transfer those educational, spiritual, and social habits into the digital realm and to cope with the shortcomings of digital media, than are younger generations. Put succinctly, we think the kids are fine (even perhaps doing better than we are with all this Zooming!), but they’re not.

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Pandemic Sermon: Ezekiel 11:14-25, “I Have Been a Sanctuary”

The human desire to commune with God is very powerful, and when sacrifice according to God’s law was not available, it was very painful. Many allowed themselves to be squeezed into worshiping God on their own terms, rather than according to God’s law. But other Judeans were faithful and accepted the promise of God’s continuing presence through this time of suffering, a presence revealed in ways that they hadn’t seen before, and trusted that he would eventually bring this time to an end. For these Old Covenant saints who were truly seeking YHWH God, this disruption was a time of “creative destruction” that stripped away many beliefs and practices, and allowed them to see just how big and powerful YHWH truly is.

April 26, 2020, in lockdown

Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

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Online “Church”: United, or Merely Simultaneous?

Note: This post is the next in a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

Worship and Community: “Unity and Presence” over “Mere Simultaneity”

My diagnosis of the problem in the pre-pandemic Western church is that mediating technology has allowed us to emphasize the discursive means of grace (scripture and prayer) while neglecting the performative (sacraments/ordinances, and fellowship/discipleship)—and that in practice the discursive means of grace cannot be fully effective in our lives apart from the others.

One aspect of this has been the substitution of simultaneity for unity. Even unmediated by technology, if the entirety of my pre-COVID worship experience has been simply passive and receptive (hearing and observing the preaching and the musicians[1]) while I am standing or sitting beside someone else in the assembly with whom I am barely acquainted—then there is little benefit to the incidental simultaneity of our passive reception of the information presented to us by the pastor or the worship leader. If this is all that church has been, then it is not surprising that people would feel little loss by introducing the mediating technology, i.e., receiving preaching and music while at home—with or without a pandemic.

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