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Twice in my preaching career I have presented a sermon series on the biblical view of baptism. Both times I covered the topic in four sermons.

Francis Chan says in 4 minutes, 40 seconds what I was trying to say in four sermons.

And he says it better.

Check it out here.

Chan was a keynote speaker at the Tulsa Workshop this year (2013). Several from within the Churches of Christ opposed Chan being asked to speak. Why? Because he is not “in fellowship with us.”

Hum. After listening to his presentation on how one gets “into Christ”–how one enters into fellowship with God, His Kingdom, and others who have so entered–my question to these opponents is this:

If this is not how one comes into fellowship with you–by hearing and believing the Good News, repenting of sin, confessing Jesus as Lord, and being immersed into Christ–then just how, pray tell, does one come into fellowship with you?

Just wondering.

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          With John’s Apocalypse behind us,[1] we now turn our attention to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. The Youth Minister and I are sharing the preaching during this four-week series.

          On its surface, Philippians appears to be a preacher’s dream come true. No dense theology to unravel, no ancient customs to explain, no esoteric argumentation to simplify. Instead, this little gem serves up one memorable phrase after another:

  • To live is Christ, to die is gain (1:21).
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (4:4).
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (4:6).
  • I can do everything through him who gives me strength (4:13).

Each phrase is worthy of its own, independent sermon; each slogan can be, and often is, ripped from its context and made into a bumper sticker. No wonder the “epistle of joy” is a perennial favorite.

          Once this first naïve reading is completed, however, the true character of Paul’s little letter becomes more evident. These memorable passages are not timeless slogans designed to encourage positive thinking. Rather, they are a part of a larger conversation that originated when God “began a good work in” them (1:6) and will end at “the day of Christ” (1:6, 10; 2:16; and see 3:20).

          What is the nature of that work? What is Paul’s goal for this Christian community? How will Paul know that he “did not run or labor for nothing” in the City of Philippi? (2:16).

          The Spirit’s work within all of us is transformation. On that day, we want to be “pure and blameless” (1:10; 2:15). Today we are anything but. Therefore, we have a process of spiritual overhaul to which we must submit.

          Paul’s goal for this Christian community is clear: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). How is that humanly possible?

          Once this question is faced, then we are ready to move past the naïve platitudes and dig into the meat of Paul’s challenge to the church:

  • Be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (2:2, emphasis mine throughout).
  • Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you (3:15).
  • I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord (4:2).

Paul is drawing upon ancient understandings of friendship in order to challenge this community in Christ. According to these ancient understandings, friendship involves “two bodies sharing the same soul [or mind].”[2] If this level of friendship is achieved, then complete harmony is possible, so said the ancient philosophers. Something often quoted and idealized in literature but seldom, if ever, seen in reality.

          As was often his practice, Paul takes a grain of wisdom from his culture and baptizes it into the Christian faith. For Paul, true harmony within a diverse human community is possible—by God’s supernatural grace.

          How do individuals, programmed from birth to value individualism, learn to live in perfect harmony with other, diverse, equally programmed individuals? Humanly speaking, they don’t. They may coexist, they may be civil toward one another in public, they may even go years without a visible fracture or an outward split, but they will never truly become one with one another.

          Why? Because while they may share the same space they don’t share the same mind.

          However, if each member of the community repudiates the mind programmed to value individualism and embraces the mind of Christ, then true Christian community can flourish, so says Paul by the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

          Thus we have Paul’s primary exhortation and every church’s most profound challenge: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5, KJV).

          A church filled with people embracing the mind of Christ? Now that is a preacher’s dream come true!


[1] A nine-sermon series available to hear and download on our church’s website at http://www.3chopt.org.

[2] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.20.

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          “The biblical concept of providence … signals a universally confident belief in God’s loving care and protection of the world. It is grounded in the belief in God as Creator, one who continues at all times to preserve and order the world, holding chaos at bay, and leading the world and all human history toward life and full happiness.”[1]

          Providence is often described as God’s invisible hand with which He guides events in the world. It is to be contrasted with God’s miraculous in-breaking, when the Creator uses his visible hand to make some adjustment to His creation.

          In order to see God’s miraculous in-breaking, one only needs a set of physical eyes. Even the most vicious of Jesus’ critics could not (would not) deny that a miracle had been performed (see Acts 4:16, for example). Seeing God’s providence, His invisible hand, requires something else, however.

          Nine times out of three in order to see God’s providence we must use hindsight. It is only after God has led us through a difficult phase of our lives that we are able to look back, reflect, and then see the hand of God at work.

          Many God-fearing followers of Christ describe this phenomenon: a woman describes her newly-found intimacy with God after several rounds of chemotherapy; a man shares his deeper appreciation for God’s loving kindness after finally kicking a life-long addiction; a man describes his confidence in the face of imminent death as a skill acquired after a 30-year walk with God as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic.

          Seeing God’s providence requires hindsight. But, trusting God’s providence is an act of faith. And often the faith that empowers us to face an uncertain future, trusting that God will see us through no matter what, is a faith that is built brick by brick as we periodically look back over our own lives and the lives of others and see that while God may not remove our suffering as we so desperately desire, He does walk with us through our suffering and sustain us in all ways.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5b-6a).


[1] Barbara E. Bowe, “Providence,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1092.

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I’m starting a short series of sermons from the book of Ruth this Sunday. It is always a revelation to examine a familiar passage of Scripture again for the first time. What appears on the surface to be a sweet, moralizing, happy-ending story turns out to be a direct encounter with the Living God. May He never stop speaking to His people through Scripture.

I’m toying with what to title the sermon series. In 2007, Mark Driscoll preached a similar series and called it, Redeeming Ruth. I haven’t listened to all of his messages from the series but I understand where he got his title.

“Redemption” is the key concern in the story told. In its short eighty-five verses, the words “redeem” and its derivatives (“redeemer,” “redemption”) are used twenty-three times.

            The challenge is knowing who is redeemed. With whom am I to identify in the story?

            Most interpreters and every sermon I have ever heard or preached hold up Ruth as the model to follow. She is, as the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, an admirable character from an ethnic group despised and rejected by the “people of God” who trusted God and was rewarded for her faith. “Ruth believed, trusted, obeyed and was redeemed; therefore, go and do likewise.” Let’s stand and sing.

            That is a fine way to approach the book of Ruth. Indeed, that is the way many interpreters approach it and many preachers preach it, myself included. But, I think there is a deeper level of meaning here.

            I still have a lot of work to do—and a lot of praying to do—before I feel confident that I have heard the full word of God here, but here is my preliminary conclusion: the story is not about the redemption of Ruth. She maintains her integrity throughout the story. The story is about the redemption of Naomi. She is the one who turned bitter against God when He did not act as she thought He ought to act (see 1:19-21 for insight into her disillusionment with the goodness of God). And, surprisingly, she is the one—Naomi—who is said to have “received a son” at the end of the story (4:17).

            So, another deceptively charming little story from the Bible that carries a supernatural punch. I’ll have more to share as the series develops.

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Just read this from the Christian Chronicle, “An international newspaper for Churches of Christ.”

According to their numbers, there are over 100,000 fewer “men, women and children in the pews of Churches of Christ in the U.S.” than there were just 9 years ago.

Tough stuff.

As a Preaching Minister for A Cappella Churches of Christ, it is even tougher, especially after reading through the comments to the Christian Chronicle piece and after sifting through yet another “church growth study,” not to feel guilty, depressed, responsible … something.

Bottom line seems to be: the church needs to do more, be more, do better, be better. And people in roles of leadership feel that immense responsibility very acutely even though the things that need to be done are not all that clear. There are as many solutions as there are those who would be solvers.

But, you know another bottom line? Our culture simply is not interested in traditional Christianity anymore. Been there, done that, tired of it. Grew up with it, memorized it, grew disillusioned with it, and now I hate it. (And, by the way, so does Jesus! Click here to see more).

One response is: that’s right, the Church is ridiculously out of touch with the culture. Therefore, the Church needs to change and give the culture what it wants.

Are we sure that is the right answer? Personally, I’m not so sure.

I agree, much would be better if we changed some things about the way we do Christianity. But, I run into very few people with the wisdom and insight to discern the difference between changing the form and changing the content.

There are some out there. I’m not saying there are not. All I am saying is that right now we need more of them to step forward and lead the way.

Unfortunately, as the situation becomes more and more chronic, fewer and fewer people are willing to step forward to lead us through the difficulty. In fact, some of our best and brightest are stepping down from positions of leadership, which only compounds the problem.

My words fail me. And so I steal some from another who has said what I would if I could.

Jordan Hubbard

Charles Siburt is a mentor for me. He has been struggling with an aggressive form of cancer. I want to take some time to share my thoughts about Charles so that you can understand why I thank God for Charles Siburt. The qualities reflected in Charlie’s life give clues to the traits of a mentor.

1. Charles cares for my family. Charles was the minister at the Glenwood Church of Christ in Tyler, TX. My grandfather was a member of Glenwood before he moved to live close to my family. I was a sophomore in high school when my grandfather passed away. Charles preached his funeral. His care for my family continues on to this day. He always wants to make sure my wife and my children are doing well.

2. Charles makes me feel special. I know that there are hundreds of people that Charles has mentored. But…

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Our world is rapidly approaching a population 7 Billion inhabitants.[1] Of those 7 billion, 2.2 billion claim to be Christians.[2] That makes Christianity the largest religion in the world.

Given its humble beginnings, this raises at least three questions in my mind:

  1. How did a small, penniless, powerless, seemingly insignificant movement become the world’s largest religion?
  2. How did a failed and arguably false messiah (from a strict Jewish perspective) become the most influential human being to ever live?
  3. How has a movement filled with apparent paradoxes and contradictions had such a profound effect on our world?

During Jesus’s earthly ministry, his core of followers numbered 12 men, none of whom appear to have been men of wealth, power, or influence. On the Day of Pentecost, Luke tells us that the followers of Jesus numbered 120 (Acts 1:15). They were scared, confused, and all huddled in an upper room waiting for their next move. From this small, penniless, insignificant beginning Christianity became the world’s largest religion. How do we explain such an unlikely event?

Jesus was a peasant. An itinerant preacher with no political regime, no economic program, no military apparatus, and no means of developing these required resources. At the end of his public life he was crucified as a wretched criminal. He was hung on a tree. By all accounts his claim to be Israel’s messiah had failed. From a Jewish perspective he was more than a failed messiah, he was a false messiah—under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Those closest to Christ claim that he was more than a mere human being—he is God-in-the-flesh (See John 1:1-18). He bridges the gap between humanity and divinity; he merges the spiritual with the material worlds. This paradox—a metaphysical impossibility for many—forms the paradoxical foundation of Christianity. It has been and remains a major stumbling block to belief for much of the world’s population.

No world religion places more of an emphasis on unity than does Christianity. And yet, this movement has been plagued by division and faction from its inception. Today there are some 35,000 sects within Christianity, many of them exclusive and sectarian. Some of them at war with others—killing one another in the name of the Prince of Peace. This contradiction and others like it (e.g., Christianity’s claim to be a religion dedicated to holiness and purity) make Christianity a very unlikely movement to become the world’s largest religion.

And so how do we explain the reality? Christianity, in spite of its unlikely prospects for doing much more than fizzling out in an obscure province of the Roman Empire, is the world’s largest religion. How did that happen? What explains such an improbable event?

The key to Christianity’s success has little to do with what Jesus said or did during his lifetime. The key to understanding Christianity’s massive influence lies in what happened after Jesus’s death.

  • You can question the plausibility of his so-called regime for all eternity.
  • You can doubt the effectiveness of his so-called movement all you want.
  • You can criticize the contradictions in the lives of his followers in every generation.

But one thing you cannot do. You cannot refute an empty tomb! And not simply a resuscitated human being but a resurrected Lord—not merely a new way of looking at this material world but an entirely New Creation inaugurated right smack dab in the middle of the old one.

This is the key experience that changed the world then and it is the same resurrection experience that can change our world today.


[1] There are various sources for world population and each one provides different numbers. My source is the U.S. Census Bureau as interpreted and reported at http://galen.metapath.org/popclk.html, [accessed January 5, 2012]. The Census Bureau’s page is http://www.census.gov/population/popclockworld.html.

[2] Again, various sources are available, each giving slightly varying numbers. Here are a couple of sources that I found: adherents.com; wikipedia.org.

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