Friday, September 01, 2006

Mini-Sermon (a young preacher's dread)

I was recently asked to give a "mini-sermon." Yep, that's what they called it. Ten minutes of preaching, no more, to a 50/50 crowd of christians and non. So I decided to tackle a light topic- Who is God?

Here is the unedited manuscript. Feel free to critique it. Upon reflection, learning to communicate Scripture in ten minutes is probably a really good exercise, especially for young preachers.

Who is God and How Do we Know Him?

Welcome to Trinity Church. For many of you this may be the first time to be with us (it is our first official Sunday!). We especially welcome you. The vision of Trinity church is to cultivate communities of Spirit-led disciples who redemptively engage peoples and cultures through Christ for the glory of God. There’s a lot packed into that, but this morning I’d like to draw your attention to one phrase “for the glory of God.” We exist because God exists. God made us and remade us to be truly human, to enjoy and reflect him in all we do. Therefore, we believe that the ultimate purpose for our personal, cultural and social activity is for him, for his praise, glory, honor. Since we exist for God, I’d like to explore a fundamental question with you for the next few minutes—“Who is God?” and, related, “How do we know Him?”

Who is God?
No matter why you came this morning or what you believe, this is an all important question: “Who is God?” If you consider yourself a Christian, this question should always be important, but many of us it isn’t. Many of us think that because we can answer this question correctly, that the question is no longer relevant. But I suggest that there will be many at the gates of Heaven who will get this question right, but will not enter into heaven.

If you are theist, you believe God exists, but you are not part of worshipping community, or don’t really give God a name, you content yourself with the fact that you believe God exists, this question is important because believing that God exists is one thing, knowing him is another. For instance, I can believe my wife exists, but knowing her is something much different, much more personal. Knowing God is no different. Believing he exists doesn’t translate to knowing him.
Perhaps others of you don’t have a clue “what” you believe. You might be the most honest people in the room. You know that this question—who is God—is a question that has been asked by all cultures throughout all time. You know it is important, perennial, and pressing and you’re here because you want to know God.

God is Trinity
Who is God? God is Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. Baffling isn’t it? Clint Eastwood/Frankie Dunn of the movie Million Dollar Baby also thought so. Perhaps you remember one of the opening scenes from the movie, when CE is at mass and he talks with the priest afterward? Priest asks what’s confusing him. CE says it’s the Trinity. The Priest says it all comes down to faith. This is partly true. But its not faith in the irrational. Its not irrational belief in God, but trust in an incomprehensible triune God. The Trinity raises a lot of questions, which, if you stick around, we’d love to explore with you. For now, along with Clint Eastwood/Frankie Dunn, we’ll admit that the Trinity is confusing—3 in 1, 1 in 3. BUT just because we can’t know God comprehensively, doesn’t mean we can’t know him at all. God is knowable and incomprehensible, otherwise he wouldn’t be God.

So, how do we know God is Trinity—Father, Son and Spirit? Well, our vision statement assumes this—we are seeking to cultivate communities of Spirit-led disciples who redemptively engage peoples and cultures thru Christ for the glory of God. But why should you trust us, a new church—we could be a cult or something. Well, God as Trinity is a historic confession that goes back to the Council of Nicea in the early fourth century. The Nicean Creed (381): “And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified...” Here we have the three persons of the Trinity, all equally worshipped as God, something the historic Christian church has recognized as true for 17 centuries. But just because our claim is old, doesn’t make it true. Edward Gibbons, in the Decline and Fall of Roman Empire, laments the outcome of Nicea, asserting that it was the result of heavy handed politics. In order to answer the question, “Who is God,” something greater than mere history is necessary. Something more reliable than human speculation…we need God to tell us who he is…and he has done so in the Bible. Now, if you have a hard time believing that the Bible is without error, I’d be happy to discuss that with you after the service. For now, I invite you to consider it’s claims; God’s claims.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus commands the beginning church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Here Jesus informs his followers that when someone is baptized, when they are identified with the people of God, that they are recognizing God as Father, Son and Spirit. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, concurs: “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” The repeated plural pronoun indicates that the Creator God is plurality. Finally, the apostle Paul writes to an early church at Corinth: “For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," [triune Creator-God] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Just six verses earlier, Paul informs us that knowing God in Jesus happens through the Spirit. So once again, we have Father, Son and Spirit this time collaborating to recreate and reveal God to us, answering both questions: “Who is God AND how do we know Him?” Who is God? He is the triune Creator and Recreator who reveals himself to humanity.

How do we Know God?
How, then, can we know him? According to 2 Cor 4.6, the only way to know God is to see Jesus: For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If we want to know God, we must see Jesus. You see, the knowledge of God is not just mental. It is not sufficient to know that God exists or even that God is Jesus, we must receive light on our hearts. The knowledge of God is not just ethical. It is not sufficient to live moral lives, feed the poor, and contribute to charities. Even patterning your life after Jesus, going to church and attending Bible studies does not equal knowing God.

The knowledge of God is personal. It is light upon the heart. In Paul’s day the heart included the whole person, mind, will, and affection. What he is telling us is, that in order to know God we must see the face of Jesus. But the face of Jesus, like a shadowy photograph, cannot be seen without light on the heart. What is light upon the heart? It is at least two things: illuminating and warming. Like the sun, God reveals himself by clarifying who he is and warming us to him. When the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in our hearts, it doesn’t bypass the mind—it informs us that Jesus is God and that he died for our refusal to accept and honor him. But the knowledge of God ALSO warms the affections, transforms the heart, leading us into an intimate knowledge of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. Where does the light shine? Not a room, or a study, but a heart. Light transforms. It transforms the heart, the affections, the entire person. Light illuminates the mind and transforms the heart. It changes your disposition towards God and everything else. It makes you desire God and worship Jesus because he is God. C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun because by it I see everything else.”

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

Some of you might be familiar with Robert Webber of "Future Ancient" fame. Webber is a prof at Northern Seminary whose writing, speaking and teaching has focused on the relevance of the ancient church- a refreshing perspective in all the highly caffinated ideas about being relevant and contextualized. Most recently, Webber has been working on a project that combines the old and the new, a web-based research project to determine the state of Evangelicals in the U.S. and how to call them to ancient reform.

An article in CT provides a quick glimpse into what this is all about. Webber comments on how the gospel story should impact the church:

"God has always been about the business of creating a people to witness to himself. God calls a family into being with Abraham, calls a nation into being with Moses. And now God has called a universal body of people, the church, to be a continuation of the presence of Jesus in the world and thus a witness to the reality of God and to God's story.

I'm asking people to see all of history through the story of God. God's story is the substance of the church, its worship, its spirituality, and its life in the world."

The project calls for a return to living in the narrative of Scripture in a bolder, more counter-cultural way. This is detailed in the online document called, "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future."

Here is the TOC:


1. On the Primacy of the Biblical Narrative

2. On the Church, the Continuation of God's Narrative

3. On the Church's Theological Reflection on God's Narrative

4. On Church's Worship as Telling and Enacting God's Narrative

5. On Spiritual Formation in the Church as Embodiment of God's Narrative

6. On the Church's Embodied Life in the World


It's worth skimming through to get a pulse where people think N. American Evangelicals need reform and for a model of applied biblical theology.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Fatherhood and the Continental Divide

Last week I hiked up to the Continental Divide in Steamboat Springs, Colorado with my son on my back. The extra weight made it an arduous hike, but it was incredibly inspiring. As I exhaled in awe and in exercise, it occured to me that hiking my son to the Continental Divide is much like fathering.

Like any father, I desire the best things for my son-good friendships, health, joy, stability, and faith in Christ. Some of these things I can cultivate, but in the end only Owen's Creator can give them. Above all, I want Owen to encounter and enjoy the triune God through Jesus. We pray for him and sing spiritual songs to him every night. We continually ask God to give Owen faith, to remake him into the image of Jesus, to make him truly human by rescuing him from his selfishness.

Owen is divided by his sin from God. Through love, prayer, relationship, instruction and discipline, I can take Owen only so the edge of the continental divide between this "present evil age" and the age to come, between sin and salvation. I cannot bridge the divide for him. Carrying him on my back to reach the Continental Divide was difficult, but bridging the divide is even harder, impossible. This requires death, and mine will not suffice. Only Jesus can collapse the divide between Owen and God, only Jesus in his death and resurrection, something that only Owen can embrace for himself. My faith will not suffice.

I can only take Owen so far. But God in Christ can take anyone who is far away and bring them near to him into everlasting joy and life in relationship with the triune God in this age and the age to come (Eph 2.17-18). Come Jesus, come Spirit, and collapse the divide for my son, that he might enter into fullness of joy with his Heavenly Father and his humanity be restored.