Friday, March 2, 2018

Sermon Rewind: All Grown Up part 3


So in the second week we covered this idea that Christianity doesn't exist because of the Bible anymore than you exist because of your birth certificate. The purpose of your birth certificate is to document something that happened. If your birth certificate ceased to exist, would you cease to exist? Of course not, in the same way if the Bible ceased to exist, Christianity would still continue on.

Why? It's simple, Christianity doesn't exist because of the Bible, the Bible (the New Testament specifically) exists because of Christianity. The Bible exists because people witnessed something that happened that was worth documenting. The Bible exists because within our human history this man named Jesus enters our world, says some crazy things, then backs up those crazy things by rising from the dead after he was crucified.

Jesus is crucified around 30AD, three days later he rose from the dead and the church was born.

On August 6th, 70AD the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman legions. That historic event and others before it and surrounding it are not recorded in the documents of the New Testament because they had not happened yet. This fact tells us that the dating of all of the New Testament writings is before this time. This puts the dating of all the New Testament documents earlier than 70AD. And the earlier they are the more reliable they are.

The writers of the New Testament were not writing what they believed, they were recording what they saw. They were documenting historical events regarding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Once Constantine rose to power as the undisputed emperor in 312 AD, he needed to find something that would unite the empire. He chose Christianity. Under severe persecution Christianity grew exponentially leading up to Constantine's rule.

This happened before anyone held a Bible in their hand. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd century Christians believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so. For the first 300 years of Christianity’s existence the debate was not centered on a library of books called the Bible, the debate centered on an event.

The question wasn’t “is the Bible true” the question was “did Jesus rise from the dead?” And all the evidence well documented by those first century witnesses and writers point to a resounding yes. For people like John, Peter, Luke and Paul the unequivocal answer was "yes" and they were willing to die to for their "yes."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon Series Rewind: All Grown Up part 2

The gods of the No Testament

In this message we took a look at one of the main reasons people walk away from faith.  We said that everyone who de-converts steps away from a version of Christianity.  It might be super-liberal, super charismatic, super fundamental, super Baptist, whatever the case may be, people who step away from Christianity step away from a version of Christianity.

There are two main characteristics of these versions of Christianity that people walk away from:

1. A Somebody-told-me-so-god: Here's how God is present, here's what they said God is like

2. A Bible-tells-me-so-Jesus: Everytime I asked a question the answer was, here's what the Bible says.

Whatever version of God we are presented with when we are young carries weight for how we think about God when we enter our adult lives.  Karen Armstrong says this in her book The Case for God:

"Many of us have been left stranded with an incoherent concept of God. We learned about God at about the same time as we were told about Santa Clause. But while our understanding of the Santa Clause phenomenon evolved and matured, our theology remained somewhat infantile. Not surprisingly, when we attained intellectual maturity, many of us rejected the God we had inherited and denied that he existed."

To some degree this is all our experiences. Because most of us were presented with a concept of God when we were very young. So I want to share some of these "gods" that we grew up with. Ideas, images, understandings of "god" that are popularly taught, or that we got into our heads when we were young, but that are wrong.  That we need to let go of.

1. Bodyguard god
-This is the god that never allows anything bad to happen to us.

2. On Demand god
-This is the god that does at least what we would do if we were god.

3. Boyfriend god
-This is the god whose  presence is always felt.

4. Guilt god
-this is the god who enjoys making you feel guilt and shame about your life.

5. Anti-science god
-This god forces you to choose between science and religion.

6. Holodeck god
-This is the god that becomes whatever or whoever you want god to be.

I'm sure there's more, but these are six wrong versions of God.  The somebody-told-me-so-god that many of us were presented with when we were children.  If you or someone you know walked away from faith or struggle with faith because of one of the versions of god there's good news, none of these are an accurate portrayal of the God of the library of books found in the Bible.

This series is based on Andy Stanley's series titled Who Needs God?

For the full message video click here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sermon Series Rewind: All Grown Up

Atheism 2.0

We just finished the sermon series All Grown Up at Covenant which was based on Andy Stanley's sermon series Who Needs God.  

This series was received so well at Covenant I thought I would offer a summary of each message over the course of several blog entries.  

The idea of the series is that we need a "grown up" faith to go along with living in a "grown up" world.  We need "grown up" answers to our "grown up" questions.  In an adult world we need adult answers to our adult questions.  The answers we have carried with us from childhood don't always withstand the rigor and experience of adult life.    

The first week was called Atheism 2.0.  We referenced several books by modern atheists that have shaped the nature of atheism in our world today.  Books like A Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam  Harris, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.  

By discussing what we don't believe it can help clarify what we do believe and why.  So we shared six belief's shared by atheists and discussed them:

1. The Illusion of the Mind
2. The Illusion of Freewill
3. The Illusion of Value
4. Something Came from Nothing
5. First Life Emerged from no Life with no Help
6. Natural Selection is Responsible for All Life after First Life

1 Peter 3:15 reminds us: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

I don't know about you, but for me, thinking through what atheists believe in a respectful way helps bring clarity to what I believe and why.

For the full message video click here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Two Year Anniversary

Today (October 1st) marks my two year anniversary as Pastor of Covenant Community Church. I have felt so blessed and privileged to be in ministry with this incredible body of believers. I have been living a dream and look forward to leading the church into the wonderful future God has for her. 

To mark my two year anniversary, I want to share ten things I'm most thankful for as Covenant's pastor:

1. The way the people at Covenant welcome anyone who walks through our doors

2. The incredible support they offer their pastor

3. Their willingness to try new things

4. Their commitment to serve the Asheville community

5.  The incredible staff I get to work with everyday

6. Their love for Jesus

7. Their desire to be a part of something bigger than their individual selves

8. Their grace for my shortcomings as their pastor

9. The way they love on my family

10. Their generosity 

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the great responsibility God has entrusted to me, but I try to have the same mindset John had when he proclaimed "He must increase, I must decrease." I understand God has called and positioned me where I am for a reason, however, I also know it's not about me, it's about getting out of the way of what God wants to do through me and through this body. 

I have loved the two years I have been at Covenant and look forward to many more years and many more people connecting with God, each other and our community.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Lessons from Pain

I recently hurt my back while on vacation. I think I did it on a roller coaster (the Rocking Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios to be exact). I remember feeling a weird sensation in my back while riding it. It was about six hours later that the pain set in and I found myself lying on a bench telling my family to go have fun.

I think it's a bulging disc and it has gradually gotten less painful (or that could be the Advil talking) after eight days. I didn't sleep on the floor last night which is progress.

In my better moments I have used it as an opportunity to ask myself: what is God teaching me through this?  

Here's five things I've come up with.

1. I am loved
It is very obvious that I have people in my life who genuinely care about me. It's not that I didn't already know it, this situation just confirmed it even more.

2. Help is available
Many people have offered to help in various ways. One person even offered to help unload the van on our return knowing it would be at 2am in the morning.  I reached out on Facebook for resources and people responded with options and prayers.

3. I'm not alone
There have been so many people who know exactly the kind of indescribable pain I'm in.  There's just something comforting about knowing that other people have felt what I feel. That kind of solidarity creates automatic empathy. Maybe pain is God's way of bringing humanity together.  

4. If I want to do something bad enough, I can
The next day we were at Magic Kingdom for the Halloween Party. It was a bid deal for our family. My 8yr. old daughter is into the Disney villains right now. Her favorite is Maleficent. At the end of the night they have a special villain show on the main stage at Disney world. She kept jumping up and down trying to see. I decided I would give her the best seat in the house: on my shoulders. After five or six attempts and various shots of pain, she was up there. She was going to see the villain show no matter what it took.  

5. There's a reason for this
Maybe God is teaching me to be more empathetic, maybe I needed to slow down, maybe He needed to show me the support I have in my life...whatever the case may be, I know deep in my bones that God has a reason for me to be going through this right now. It's not fun, but I trust in His purposes.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Scared in or Loved in

I was visiting a young man in the hospital yesterday morning after his surgery and he put something so simply into words that it has stuck with me throughout the day.  I'll call him John.

John had family in town last weekend and one family member who attended Covenant with him isn't used to our type of church.  We are a modern Methodist church and this man is used to his conservative baptist church.  

It sounds like they had an interesting conversation after the service and John summarized it for me this way:  

You can be scared into it or loved into it and I'd rather be loved into it.

I hope I'm that pastor that always leads be to be "loved into" a living and growing relationship with Jesus Christ and not "scared into" it.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Cost of Freedom

I know it's late, but I wanted to recap the main idea from the sermon last Sunday.  

Using the story of the Exodus, I landed on this idea: 

God doesn't just want to set you free, he wants to keep you free.

After the Israelites were set free from being slaves in Egypt, they found themselves in the desert where they became slaves to their own devices.  Some of them trade one type of slavery for another.

It started small, they complain about water and God provides.  Then they complain about food and God provides them with Manna.  They complain about not having meat, so God sends them quail. More quail than they can handle.

Each time they complain their attitudes escalate to the point of thinking they were better off as slaves in Egypt.  God constantly reminds them to trust Him by obeying Him and the people continue to complain and distrust God.

With the last complaint about meat, God gives them so much meat they get sick off of it and some of them die.  Numbers chapter 11 recounts the story and ends with their bodies in graves of their own cravings...their desires, their cravings, their lusts (the KJV word used for cravings) lead to their deaths.

The Israelites who craved meat allowed that craving to get the best of them.  They were set free from slavery only to find themselves in another kind of slavery.

Don't we often do the same thing?  God has set us free from guilt and shame and sin and death and made a way for us to resist temptation.  He has given us the Holy Spirit to convict us, lead us, guide us and be our advocate.  Yet, we often allow our desires, our cravings, our lusts to move us into dangerous territory of prisons of our own making.

God doesn't just want to set you free, he wants to keep you free. 
And it takes being intentional about staying connected to God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit for us to remain in the freedom Jesus offers us.

In John 8 Jesus says it this way (31-32): "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

Paul said it this way in Galatians 5:1: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

The cost of freedom is discipleship.  Discipleship is remaining in a a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by being intentional about staying in love with our savior. 

He doesn't just want to set you free, he wants to keep you free!