Bob’s Sermon Notes and Theology

Illustrations, applications, and insights

Book Review – Messy Spirituality

Posted by Bob on July 20, 2007

Michael Yaconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality, is all about living the Christian life in the real world. Overall it’s a good book. It has a good list of strengths. The most obvious strength is that Yaconelli reminds us we are imperfect. Living the Christian life doesn’t mean being perfect. We mess up occasionally and more often than we are often willing to admit. In the midst of our messiness God continues to save us and grant us grace.

Another strength is that Yaconelli doesn’t offer any quick fixes. You will not find a chapter entitled “30 days to a new you.” In fact Yaconelli even has a quote from Eugene Peterson, who entitled one of his books A Long Obedience In The Same Direction. Peterson’s book title speaks for itself and probably represents Yaconelli’s view on the development of spirituality. Peterson is of the mind that spirituality happens over a lifetime. Yaconelli believes the same.

Yaconelli also reminds us that we grow at different rates, in different ways, and in different areas. He mentions a woman who was present in his assembly and she forgot to prepare communion, which they were supposed to have that day. It dawned on her during the assembly that she forgot and she said one colorful word out loud that let everyone knew she suddenly remembered. We all have stories like that but I’m sure there are some who wish we didn’t.

At the start of each chapter Yaconelli has some great quotes from other writers. The quotes are almost as valuable as his prose. One of these days I’m going to take some of his quotes and use them for an article on my blog.

The book does have a couple of weaknesses. It is mostly anecdotal which is both a strength and a weakness. It is a string of stories about real people who mess up (I found myself in a lot of those stories). This fits in well with his purpose – to demonstrate we aren’t perfect. But so many of them left me with the feeling I had reading some salesperson’s book trying to prove how good one can do at selling. There are literally hundreds of stories showing how much you can make selling anything. After awhile you are tempted to say, “Enough already!” A few well chosen stories would have made his point (IMHO) just as well.

I felt he could have used a little more scriptural exposition. There are some great passages that would have fit in well Yaconelli’s premise. Like 1John 1:5-10. John basically tells us that we are going to mess up even though we are in the presence of the God who is light and has no darkness. We are in the presence of perfection. Yet if we deny our imperfections we are self-deceived and call God a liar. Maybe this is a personal preference. I tend to judge lectureships and books by how much they increase my knowledge of Scripture. Others will perhaps like the lack of Scriptural exposition in favor of his stories.

The biggest weakness in my mind is that he doesn’t interact with the tension between stigma (or shame) and grace. Years ago, Phillip Yancy had a back page editorial called “A Tale of Two Sisters” (Christianity Today, December 11, 1995). It was a fabulous article. It’s subtitle was “Can we find a place for shame and grace?” which expresses well what Yancey was trying to do. He told the story of two sisters. One who ruled her family with a legalistic iron hand. Her family devotionals were about punishment from the Old Testament. All five of her kids deal with self-esteem issues but they were all faithful to their mates and raising their children in their faith (save for one). The other lived in grace. Her devotionals were from the Gospels. She didn’t punish her kids and eschewed the legalism of her past. All of her kids were unfaithful, drug addicts, and did not follow mom’s faith. Interesting tale. Yancey did a good job of interacting with the tension those two concepts create. Yaconelli did not. In fact Yaconelli gives the impression that he is like the sister of grace and that he wouldn’t allow the legalistic sister any place in his assembly. Shame or stigma should have a place in our spiritual growth in keeping us on the path (1Corinthians 4:14; 6:5).

Anyway, I would recommend Messy Spirituality for most anyone to read. Its basic premise that our sanctification is lived out in the realm of our imperfections is sorely needed in our churches. It could serve as a correction to our tight-lipped lives where we don’t reveal anything to others about ourselves. I think we preachers especially feel vulnerable about revealing our “messy spirituality” since to reveal such might in the eyes of some make us less of a spiritual leader. I like books that show the cracks in our spiritual journey and this book certainly does just that.

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Pm sermon for 6/10/07

Posted by Bob on June 4, 2007

The text this Sunday evening comes from Nehemiah 13:11. Nehemiah asks “Why is the house of God abandoned (or neglected)? He comes from the king a second time after the wall is built and dedicated only to find the high priest, Eliashib, making room in the temple for the foreigner Tobiah. Nehemiah also discovers that the Levites haven’t received their portions and have gone back to their fields. The question of Nehemiah begs for a sermon but I want to make sure that I put the text in its proper context before making what some might think are obvious applications to the church.

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AM sermon for 6/10/07

Posted by Bob on June 4, 2007

My lesson this Sunday continues the series in Colossians (Living Heavenly Values on Earthly Soil) with a look at 3:1-4. This text helps us to focus on things above. Since Jesus has come from heaven, has been made in the image of the invisible God, has died for us, been raised again, then we need to keep our focus on things beyond this age. Look to the age to come, look to our hope.

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Book Review – Simply Christian

Posted by Bob on May 17, 2007

Simply Christian

How many of us have taught “first principles” classes in our churches? N. T. Wright’s latest offering Simply Christian is an attempt to be sort of a first principles kind of book. It is following in the footsteps of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I’ve been reading NT Wright for several years now and I’ve never thought to associate the words “simple” or “simply” with his writings. He is one of the deepest thinkers I’ve known even though he rarely uses big words. I never need a dictionary in reading him. This latest book continues that trend for me at least.

The book is divided into three sections. He follows a pattern similar to Lewis. The first section discusses four longings that Wright believes are universal to all humanity. He weaves these longings into the rest of the book to show that Christianity does make sense because it answers those longings. The second section of the book is about the Godhead and how God fulfills those longings. The third and last section concerns living out the image we find in the second section.

I had trouble reading the first section. Perhaps because it is Wright’s reflection on how he sees the world. I knew what he was doing but still found it hard to follow. The second section was easier reading but the third was where I found myself slowing down and trying to take in every word. Maybe that’s just me.

Wright states in his forward that he is writing for those inside and outside Christianity. Indeed the subtitle of his book is “Why Christianity Makes Sense.” On the back of the dust cover is the recommendation of several well-known authors. Yet I don’t think that these recommendations will tell others whether or not Wright’s book has really accomplished his purpose. It seems to me that the publisher should have set up some kind of focus group that included a wide range of people inside and outside of Christianity. Then select recommendations from those groups for the dust cover. That would tell us if he really accomplished his purpose.

An interesting development is that Touchstone Magazine is featuring an article by Wright about C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. You can read it online here. It is entitled aptly Simply Lewis. Then if you like you can join in a discussion about Wright’s comments on their blog (here).
Wright brings up some interesting points about Lewis and Mere Christianity that I didn’t know (of course I am not a Lewis scholar or avid fan, just a causal fan). I think it is well worth reading and will perhaps add to your understanding of Wright’s book as well as Lewis’s book.

I really believe that Wright’s book is a valuable addition to a preacher’s library. For me the highlight of the book was his brief section on baptism (p.212-215), . I started emphasizing some years ago that baptism was a participation (and identification with) by faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in my invitations. I think that is the intent of baptism. Wright’s discussion of baptism has really added to my understanding of baptism and its place in the proclamation of the gospel.

The interesting part of the book was his chapter on the New Creation. I was intrigued by his view that we are going to live on a redeemed earth when all is said and done. At this point I’m not sure about the whole discussion (you can go to Bobby Valentine’s blog for a discussion from his perspective on the new creation – Bobby like Wright has some interesting points to make). However, Wright didn’t really deal with the tension in the NT between the idea of a redeemed and liberated creation (Romans 8:18-25) and the idea that our citizenship is in heaven (Php.3:20-21). I have no doubt that part of God’s redemption is restoring creation back to its original state. I’m just not sure whether that means we are going to inhabit it. What I do know is that we will be in eternal fellowship with God in a spiritual bodily state (1Cor.15:42-49) when all is said and done. I’m not sure this is an appropriate topic for new Christians. It will definitely be tough to teach it as Wright does in some of our congregations or even present it as a possibility. I think that is a pretty heady topic but I do understand why he included it.

All in all a good book. It will be valuable as resource material for those teaching first principle classes. It also serves as a reminder to the rest of us as to the general flow and content of the Bible. He seeks to take all the additional stuff religious people have added over the years and boil it down to what is simple and important.

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PM sermon for 5/20/07

Posted by Bob on May 14, 2007

This Sunday evening I’m going to do something I rarely do – preach someone else’s outline and thinking. It will not be a word for word copy since I don’t have a manuscript but the outline clearly comes from someone else. I heard this lesson at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando. I cannot remember the man’s name but I do know that he is the chief Bible teacher at the Holy Land Experience. Although the lesson had some elements of allegory in it, it wasn’t allegorical nor was it one of those “imitate this guy” type of lessons. It really focused on God’s faithfulness in the man’s life and how God will be faithful in ours. The text is 1Chronicles 11:22-25. I haven’t decided on a title. The text is about Benaiah, one of David’s valiant men. He wasn’t one of the “three” but he certainly gained a name. The lesson will focus on the last part of v.22 where Benaiah goes down into a pit and kills a lion. I’m looking forward to studying this text and then seeing if my study leads me in the same direction as the speaker I heard. I hope to have more during the week.

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AM sermon for 5/20/07

Posted by Bob on May 14, 2007

My lesson this coming Sunday will continue the sermon series from Colossians – Living Heavenly Values on Earthly Soil. The text will be 1:24-2:5 and the title will be “A Heavenly Ministry.” I wish I had the time to divide this text up into about three lessons. I will probably focus on 1:24-29 and talk mostly about imitating Paul’s ministry in trying to get the Word proclaimed. Of course that focus may change as I study the the text this week.

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AM sermon for 5/6/07

Posted by Bob on May 2, 2007

My text this Sunday AM is Colossians 1:21-23. I will be focusing on what Jesus accomplished through his cross. The focus thus will be reconciliation. I will start by looking at our alienation from God. Paul says it’s an inward and outward corruption. Our minds and our deeds are evil. Evil here is defined is less than what God wants. In fact we are hostile to God because of this corruption. But God doesn’t allow the fact of our alienation to get in the way of his love for us. He sends his son who through his fleshy body reconciles us to God. The focus on Jesus’ body is possibly to counteract those who teach that Jesus was just a man and that when he was baptized the spirit of the Christ entered him. And when he died the spirit of the Christ left him. Wright (in his commentary on Colossians) thinks that Paul usually uses the word “flesh” for humans to emphasize their rebellion against God. So God is identifying with weak man by becoming just like weak man (minus the sin). So in the cross man’s sin is condemned and reconciliation takes place.

Verse 22 suggests that once reconciliation takes place Jesus presents us as holy, without blemish, and without reproach. Reconciliation is not just for salvation but also for sanctification. We are to be set apart as the holy people of God.

Some see in verse 23 a condition – our faithfulness. We need to remember that conditions and merit are two separate ideas. The gospel is given without merit because merit is gained by Jesus Christ on the cross and in the empty tomb. The gospel is proclaimed with conditions so that we might identify with the Gospel. This verse deals with one single condition after we have entered into the body of Christ.

It is fitting that these verses follow the wonderful portrait that Paul paints of Jesus in 1:15-20. Jesus came into our world to show us the way back home. He is the only one who could reconcile us to God. He is truly the complete one.

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Sermons for today

Posted by Bob on April 2, 2007

Both sermons went off well. One of the elders told me the AM lesson was a keeper. The AM sermon had a couple of glitches in the PowerPoint (actually we use Media Shout for the auditorium presentation but I create the slides in PowerPoint – actually Open Office and then convert to PowerPoint), The first glitch occurred when one of our media guys zoomed in for a slide. I had a map of Asia Minor with Colossae identified and the map was a little on the small side. So Doug zoomed in with the projector. I don’t know what everyone thought about Doug’s actions but I thought it was cool. Anyway, then the slides wouldn’t advance. But eventually they started. On the slide for the invitation when I clicked for the last bullet point to come up, all the other bullet points disappeared. Somewhat disconcerting. I’m getting to where glitches don’t fluster me as much.

The PM went without glitches. I thought that the fonts I used were too small. The song leader (himself a retired preacher) said just before the final song, that he thought it was a very inspirational lesson.

No texts for this week. We are headed to VA to visit Lisa, Dan, Nathan, Jeremy, and Derek. On the way up and the way back we will visit Pat’s folks (Lon and Jeanne Mohundro – Grandy and Nana) for lunch.  I probably won’t post much next week since we will be gone most of the week. I guess I’m going to have a blogfast like Brian. Are you supposed to drink water on a blogfast?

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PM Sermon 4/1/07

Posted by Bob on March 26, 2007

Sunday evening’s sermon will follow my pattern for choosing a text from our daily Bible reading schedule. I’ve chosen 1Samuel 17 and will call it “Faith Without Restraint.” I want to make sure that I just don’t moralize about having faith but want to show the passage in God’s movement toward redemption in Jesus Christ.

What I see in the passage is that David has trust in a God who doesn’t need our resources to deliver us. In fact if we have trust in our resources (like Saul and his army) then when we come up against a stronger opponent then we give up. Our God is able to deliver without our weapons in unconventional ways. God often sets our standards upside down and choses things that we would never think of.

This will be a good follow up sermon for our campaign. By the time I step into the pulpit for this sermon we will have already begun our follow up for our contacts. I’m sure we will find some of them don’t really have any interest. We need to trust God and not let our defeats stop us. He is able to give the victory so we press on.

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AM Sermon 4/1/07

Posted by Bob on March 26, 2007

I don’t think I will plan an April Fool’s sermon for this next Sunday. Instead I will begin my sermon series on Colossians. I’m going to start with the idea that in order for a Christian or a congregation to “Live Heavenly Values on Earthly Soil” it must begin with a faithful church. I will start with Paul’s introduction, 1;1-2. Paul address his letter “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae.”

Paul sees them as a faithful congregation doing the Lord’s will. For those of you who remember reading Gene Getz’s book, The Measure of a Church, Paul’s introduction and prayer often contain clues about the church’s maturity level. For Getz the three words were faith, love, hope. All three of theme are present in Paul’s prayer for them (1:4-5). However, these three will be saved for the next sermon where I will talk about the characteristics of a faithful church. I just mention theme here to establish that this is a mature and faithful congregation.

Not sure just yet what direction I’m heading for this lesson. I will begin study tomorrow and see where it takes me.

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