Letter from Polycarp to the Philippians 110-140 C.E. Chapter III.II

These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter. which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, “is the mother of us all. For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin”

FBC. Win. Pastor Bruce Taylor. September 6, 2009.

FBC. Win. Pastor Bruce Taylor. September 6, 2009.

 

Pastor Bruce starts off with a scripture reading, which is 1 Corinthians 9:19-27. He uses the ESV translation, and so he receives automatic props for that, haha. In any case, the sermon starts off with a word of wisdom, that we need to be thoughtful and be wise when we reach out to people, and that we ought to think about when and how we reach out to people. We also need to make sure that we don’t get arrogant or dismissive, and have the attitude that our way of doing things are the only right way and that just because some people use different strategies, it does not make them wrong or bad.

We’re told that we have freedom in Christ, and that we need to be ready to engage people where they are. He uses the example of if we’re going to minster to a culture, say doing missionary work, we should learn their culture, language and customs, and build and reach out by being intentional. We need to sacrifice the things don’t matter for the sake of the gospel. We need to restrict ourselves for the sake of the gospel. We need to develop a selfless mindset as ministers of Christ, and even though because of our freedom in Christ we may have certain rights, we need to be prepared to lay down our rights for the sake of the kingdom. He does add though, that the one thing we don’t sacrifice or compromise is the truth of God’s word. When talking with senior citizens, or youths, we need to connect with them on their level, and on their turf.

Note: it would have been nice to get a few bible verses in there, because I know there are some great ones to be had, or at least have him reinforce the verse he already presented. Because it seems like he read his string of scriptures, and it contains so much good stuff, but then he talks about concepts and truths found there without pointing back to the exact verse it’s found in. The more things that are anchored in specific scriptures, the better. As well, I would offer a word of caution that we don’t contextualize too much. We don’t have to dress like a goth to minister to a goth, and we don’t have to be over 60 to minister to a senior. The goal is not to be relevant, but rather to be faithful to the word. The gospel message transcends all cultures and economic and political circumstances .And I don’t think Pastor Bruce would disagree with me for a second, but I wanted to get that in.

In a slightly different vein, we are told that no one is exempt from the great commission, from going out into the world and making disciples and baptizing them. He then makes the point that “Loving God and loving other people is not optional. It is absolutely core to our faith. If you do not love God with all your heart mind soul and strength, and if you do not love people as yourself, then you need to talk to me. Because you need to understand the grace of God through Jesus Christ more if that’s the case.” At this point I did get in contact with Pastor Brent and asked him about that, specifically because I was concerned with how he was using the law. He reassured me that “Jesus calls us to live in His fulfillment of the law, we are to at least agree with the need for that in our lives, yes with brokenness in our understanding that we cannot do it perfectly but still our desire should be to live it out.” In short, I think that what is going on is not an improper use of the law, but rather a lack of precise language in defining it. For me, the insertion of “If you are not striving to love God with your whole heart” would have made all the difference, and that was what I believe he was getting at, and I agree with him on that for sure. Because remember, it’s not possible to actually love God with our hearts, soul, mind and strength, because that command to is the law and not the gospel. Rather, we rest content and joyful that Christ kept the law for us, and that through him we have mercy and grace and his righteousness when we don’t keep it.

In any case, we are told that the number one way we give God glory is through sharing the gospel, and that we need to run a good race. We need to be intentional with our whole week. That we are not being called to do more things, but rather to be intentional with our training. We can get a lot of knowledge, but not training. And in order to run the good race, and be fit for service, we need to engage in the application of our knowledge. We are then told that we need to move forward, and not be afraid of what people think about us, or what people think at work, or how we’re perceived by the community, etc. We need to overcome our fear, and do it for the gospel.

The last section is dedicated to a gospel message, and laying out for us the state of our souls and the need for a Savior. He says that a crucial element to salvation is that we admit our sins, and that “you cannot become a Christian if you have not admitted your sin. That’s the way Christianity works.” The foundations are found in a repentant heart in which we do admit our sin, and that if you don’t understand how sinful you are, you will never know that you need God’s mercy.

To illustrate the point, he does a test and starts us off at 100% “morality points” and then with each question we answer with a no, we lose 25%. The questions are about whether we love God perfectly as we should, love our neighbor as we should. Always spoken in a manner that exalts God, and always given him our talents and gifts. Inavertedly, everyone answers no, and everyone has 0%- which is to show the need for a Savior. And while I grasp the purpose and construction of the test, I think it’s imprecise. Because I would argue that as we are dead in our sins and are totally depraved, and born with original sin, that we start off in the negatives, as it were. We’re born at -1% and every sin brings us lower and lower and compounds the problem. As well, breaking one sin is as breaking the whole of the law, so that even telling a single lie is enough to send someone to hell and to render them at 0%

In any case, he talks about the great exchange, and how Jesus takes our 0 and gives us his 100%. That when God sees us, he sees all the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He tells us that it’s not a matter of getting all your ducks in a row, or dotting all your I’s and crossing your T’s in order to make yourself more acceptable to God. Not at all. In fact, when you do that you’re actually running from God rather than to God, because you’re trying to be your own Savior. [Which is a fantastic point]

Lastly, he tells us that victory is only found in Jesus Christ. It starts with his work and continues with his work. That our faith is not about figuring it out and making ourselves good to God, but that our faith is centered around the concept that I am a broken and sinful individual, and I received Jesus Christ because I have no hope other than him. And every day when I make a mess of things, I continually am receiving grace as through Jesus Christ as I am repentant and walk with humility concerning my flaws and inability. That I can only rely on God, because everything else is going to be sinful.

REFLECTIONS

This really was an excellent sermon, made all the more so once I spoke to him and cleared up that issue I had. I already mentioned that it would have been nice to have his points anchored more firmly in specific scriptures, instead of just talking theology without any references. But again- his theology was spot on. One thing I’ve notice about Pastor Bruce, is that He definitely is right up there in his understanding of what the gospel is and how it works, and he probably explains it better and more thoroughly than anyone I’ve heard yet.

One point that really stuck with me though, and that I’ve been mulling quite a bit, is the part I bolded. Not the point he was making, but rather how as a believer I make myself acceptable to God. Because I know that nothing I can do can make me more acceptable to God, and yet oftentimes I find myself trying to do exactly that. If I wake up, get on my knees and pray for half an hour, then read my bible, then not engage in any big sins, then love my wife the way I ought to, and then maybe help a lady with her groceries at the store,  and then maybe mention Jesus in a conversation, I’m feeling on top of the world. I’m feeling that I really managed to please God today, and I’m feeling really saved. And yet if I haven’t read my bible in a few days, and I get needlessly angry at my wife, and I sit around at home and do nothing, and I don’t share the gospel with anyone, then I feel miserable and really unacceptable to God, and I feel like I have to make up for it or do something “godly” to get back in with his good graces.

But that’s not how it’s supposed to work, and in fact that’s not how it works at all, and sometimes I have to remind myself that. Because the reality for Christians and the point which needs to be driven home, is that if you don’t understand the gospel, then when you struggle and sin [and I do mean when, and not if] you’re going to think that God is disappointed in you, and you’re going to run from him rather than to him. That’s because you won’t understand that God’s pleasure in you is not predicated upon your moral behavior, but rather on the cross of Christ, which is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. That stark reality is something that I cling to and hold dearly, and this sermon really brought that out for me. And so good stuff.

Note. sermon available at http://grou.ps/fbc/

MGA. Connected by Blessing. Sept 20, 2009. Pastor Glen Forsberg

Connected by Blessing. Sept 20, 2009. Pastor Glen

The sermons starts off by reading 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 from The Message Bible.

A few seconds later, he begins a prayer that includes the line “Father we thank you for the Word of God tonight.”  The only problem is that the Message Bible is not the Word of God, but rather a really miserable and sketchy paraphrase that more often than not does a poor job of reflecting the text, and is not accurate by any means. If you don’t want to use a form driven interpretation like the ESV, NASB or NKJV, then at least use a meaning-driven one like the NIV, or if you must, the NLT. But the Message? It’s not a legitimate source for the public reading of scripture, or for any serious study of the word, and so as usual this point gets picked off and hammered on.

In any case, Pastor Glen covers a lot of ground in this sermon, all having to do with blessings, and the ways they work and how they connect us. He makes the observation that healthy relationships begin by acknowledging the blessings of God, and that the blessings of God make us rich in attitude, relationship, perspective, faith, hope, love, etc. He goes on to share about how blessings consist of many things. He talks about the blessings of creation, how God spoke the world into being, and the spoke the blessing over us. That he blessed Adam and Eve, and then commanded them to multiply. We’re told of all the ways that God’s blessings were given to man, and that in turn man’s responsibility was to work and produce and be productive. I really enjoyed how he handled this section, as he showed all the good things that God had given man, and that we really recipients of so much blessing.

The next part of blessings included the benedictions that we find in scripture, and this is where we run into some problems. Pastor Glen started off his sermon reading from The Message Bible, and then jumps to another translation to give the benediction found in  Numbers 6:24-26. “The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” which is from the  King James Version. Why isn’t he quoting from the Message version, which goes “God bless you and keep you,. God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper.”? Why the inconsistency? A little later on he repeats the benediction again, this time losing the “thee’s” and replacing them with “you”, possibly using the NASB version or some similar version.

As a point of note, I really don’t like when Pastors use all sorts of different translations and bible versions in their sermons. I think they need to pick one and stick to it, and use it all the time. More often than not it seems as though many pastors are picking the ones that they think works best for the points that they’re trying to make in their sermons, [which is prooftexting], and I find that a very dishonest way about doing things. And so we  see different translations all throughout this sermon, and I just don’t think that’s the best way of going about it. I’m not ncessarily accusing the pastor of prooftexting, but I think he’s running into one of the shortcomings of utilizing multiple bible translations and paraphrases to make his points.

As it were, the point is that we see in the benedictions that God is pouring out his blessings on his people, with the next aspect of blessings includes generosity. God is generous and created all things on earth and above and below earth. He created a variety of amazing creatures, using the illustration of a unique underwater creature that he saw, and that God is displaying the splendour of his might and the generosity of his spirit that he might bless us with all that has been made. He then makes the point that he also made mankind and all people just as he wanted to make us. And so we need to be careful not to tamper with our bodies, or destroy and ruin what God has given us, as we are created in his image and he has blessed us as we are.

Shortly after that, he makes the comment that “And yet God comes along, after we’ve made our mess, and he says “my grace is sufficient for you.” Pastor Glen is speaking in terms of salvation, except that’s not what this verse is about. 2 Corinthians 12:9 has 38 words in the verse, and he quotes 5 from it, and out of context. To wit- the reason God’s grace was sufficient for Paul was because God gave him a thorn because in order to keep Paul humble, due to the revelations that God had given him. Because of the sufficiency of grace, God’s power would be made perfect in weakness. It is not saving grace, but Romans 8:31-39 grace. Which is not to say that his point isn’t true. Because it is, God does come along and offers us grace in those circumstances, absolutely, but the verse he used is not a way to show that. And it’s worth pointing out that the snippet “my grace is sufficient for you” is not found anywhere in The Message Bible, but is from yet another translation.

After this he makes the statement that “the mercy and grace of God is overwhelming, and where we should be reaping the benefits of our sin, we are instead reaping the benefits of his mercy and grace.” This is a really great point! He continues and says that worship is a part of his blessing, and that we need to discover the God of renewed minds, redemption, regeneration, creation, recreation, and reconciliation. And again, really great points. It would have been nice to stay parked here for a while and unpack that a bit, but I understand that he’s giving a broad understanding blessing, and that would have been beyond the scope of the sermon, and so that’s fine with me. But still- what a wonderful reminded and word that was!

He talks a fair amount about the blessings of Abraham, and quotes Genesis 12 about how through Abraham all would be blessed, and that blessings were the bedrock of Abraham’s mission. He recounts the story of Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau. And how blessing is important, and that the father’s blessing is such an important aspect of family, and that parents should bless their children. He talks about the power of blessing, about how sin brings generational curses, such as Exodus 20:5 with sin coming to third and fourth generations, but the blessings of god influence thousand of generations, as stated in  Deuteronomy 7:9.

He spends some time in Ezekiel 16, one of my favorite chapters, and talks about how at some point we were lying in our own blood, spiritually speaking, and God caused us to live. This whole section is excellent, about the state we were in before God picked us up, and is really good stuff.

He shares some thoughts on Amos, which I will address in my reflections, and then finishes it with some thoughts from 2 Corinthians 5, and the idea that we all have the same opportunities to be blessed. And that God’s blessing are so wonderful, that we don’t know all the wonderful things we have in store for us as children of God

REFLECTIONS

As a whole, this was not my favorite sermon, thoughI did find certain elemnts of it instructive. There were some really good parts, such as walking about the blessings of creation and the Ezekiel 16 part, but as a whole I was too distracted by the way he used scripture, with the partial verses, different versions, out of context verses, and then some misunderstanding and twisting of scripture. To give you an example of the latter, I’ve transcribed Pastor Glen at length, when talking about a verse from the prophets that he couldn’t remember the reference. But he says

“Just as the Lord would take out of the mouth of the lion two legs and an ear, so he would rescue his people from the enemy. So what’s he’s talking about? He’s referring to a shepherd who’s looking after the sheep. And one sheep strayed from the fold, and a lion got ahold of the sheep. The shepherd goes looking for the sheep and he sees the sheep that was taken by the lion is already gone, and all that’s left is two legs sticking out of the mouth of a lion and a piece of an ear. But that shepherd is so determined to save the that sheep, that he grabs those two legs two legs out of the mouth of the lion and pulls it out. He says “this does not belong to you lion. This belongs to my master. I am saving it for my master.” That’s exactly the picture of Christ. You were just about gone. The enemy had you. He was just about to digest you. Then Christ on the cross came along. He grabbed ahold of those two legs sticking out of the mouth of the enemy, and he pulled you out and said “This is my sheep! It belongs to me. And enemy you will not have it!”Halleluiah. That’s the blessing of your creator!”

Here the problem. The verse he is quoting from is Amos 3:12. “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed. “ What is happening here is not God saving us from the mouth of Satan, but rather the Lord sending an army to destroy most of Israel, as punishment for their spiritual and social corruption, and to put them into the mouth of Satan! The Lord sends the lion to destroy and consume the people. He is sending them into its jaws!  This verse is composed of vivid imagery and prose to expresses the total destruction that was to be visited upon Samaria and Israel, though a tiny “remnant” would be left. We see this echoed in Amos 5:3, where only 1 in 10 survive. The whole sheep isn’t pulled out. The whole sheep is devoured. Only the ears and feet remain. To say this is a picture of Christ is to say that God feeds most of the people to the devil, and then only saves a few. That doesn’t work at all, and so this would fall under a illegitimate use of scripture.

[NOTE. I have spoken to Pastor Glen about his use of the verse, and he was incredibly gracious towards me in his reply. To quote a portion of his response " In re-reading the text and the commentary I have, - I must admit that you have a legitimate point.  This story was not in my written text; - it was an “extemporaneous foray”, - which obviously wasn’t prepared.  The context doesn’t support my application.  Thank you for your note of correction." I must admit that given his explanation and the way in which he responded, tells me a lot about this shepherd, and I have every respect for this man and for this response. ]

Lastly, at the end he shares some thoughts from 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, except he doesn’t reference the verse. I had to find it myself. He preaches it from The Message Bible, and he reads it as one verse or two verses that are knit together, when in reality he jumps all over the place. I’ve included all the verses in the section, and the bolded letters are the ones that he reads, and the other ones in normal font he skips. So it comes out as “

If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do. Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.

Though this may seem like a nitpick, something about that bothers me. Because I wouldn’t mind something like this  if he told us that he’s going to pull select verses and speak them together, but it seems to me that everyone hearing them  believed them to be two verses in sequence, and not an amalgamation of 6 verses. As a whole though, I found the technical and theological construction of this sermon to be on the weaker side, mainly for the way that it seemed that the bible verses [and therefore theological underpinnings] we’re quite right  and I think he may have been better off taking one or two concepts involving blessings and delving deeply into them and fleshing them out, rather than  taking such a broad view of what blessings are.

MGA. Pastor Glen Forsberg. Connecting. September 20,2009

MGA. Pastor Glen Forsberg. Vision Series 2. Connecting.


Pastor Glen starts off by saying that we need to be connected two ways; vertically with our Father in heaven, and horizontally with our neighbours. Much of the sermon is dedicated to the idea that there are different ways to be connected, and different levels of connectedness, with spiritual connections being the deepest level.  He talks about how wonderful it is to be connected with God, and talking with other believers about spiritual matters. He then makes the point that we connect really easily with our generation, but it is harder to connect with other generations, due to not having shared life experiences, and yet there is so much to learn from other generations, and that inter-generational ministry and communication is a wonderful blessing.

The next big chunk of the sermon is dedicated to reading the whole book of Philemon, which I really enjoyed, and I have to give him props for not only reading that much scripture, but also walking through it. It was sort of like “exposition-lite”, where he talked about and expanded most verses, and so that was a treat. The basis of reading into this is that we as Christians have been given the message of reconciliation, which he references with 2 Corinthians 5:19-20.

He makes the observation that the letter to Philemon is the story of two people connecting, Onesimus and Paul. A few minutes offering a fiction and theoretical account of how Paul and Onesimus might have met and about discovering their shared relationship to Philemon. This was an entertaining account, and while we have no way of knowing whether it happened as he described, I think it may have gone more or less like the picture he painted, and I appreciated that there were no crazy conjectures or embellishments in his story.

He then talks about how with Christ, our relationship with God gets restored so that we can restore relationships with others. That wherever Paul is going and whatever he is doing, he is sharing the love of Christ with others. He reinforces the importance of connecting people with God, so that they then can be connected with others in the most wonderful way, as brothers and sisters in Christ. The example he gives is that after Paul sees Onesimus converted, he sends him back to Philemon as no longer a mere slave, but a brother in Christ, which then restores their relationship. Paul connects Onesimus to God, and then Onesimus to Philemon.

As an interesting factoid which that pastor mentioned, [and which I was aware of, and was hoping he would mention] was that it was said that Onesimus later became the bishop of Ephesus, as revealed by Ignatius of Antioch. It would have been nice for Pastor Glen to tell us where he found this information,  because church history is so important and I find Ignatius’ letters a good read and it may have encouraged his flock to dig deep into this. As it were, the notation is found in St. Ignatius; Letter to the Ephesians, AD. 110. To add another quasi-historical tidbit to this, early Christian tradition, as represented in the apostolic constitution, pegs Philemon as eventually becoming the Bishop of Collosae. The point was that you never know what wonderful things the person that you convert will do for Christ, and so we can never be judgmental with who we try to connect to God.

Lastly, Pastor Glen reinforces this sermon with two points.

  1. Are you connected to Christ? Because Christ came to connect you to himself.
  2. If you are connected to Christ, you are called to be a connector to other people.

We are exhorted that our greatest joy is to connect people to Christ, and that one of the best ways to get connected to other believers is to be a part of a small group, which he then elaborates a bit more on small groups.

REFLECTIONS

As a whole, this was a very good and enjoyable sermon for me to listen to. What I found especially memorable, was his use of the letter to Philemon to get his point his across, and the fact that he read the whole book. This letter really was a perfect companion to his message, and as he interpreted it rightly, really drove his point home. I found myself thinking about this sermon for the better part of the day, especially thinking about what a wonderful illustation that the pastor used, and the importance of finding the right scripture to make one’s point- or more accurately, being able to properly pull out of scripture the lessons and thoughts and applications that lie therein. And so props for the excellent use of scripture.

As well, I spent some time reflecting on my own connectedness with God, and what a joy and comfort it’s been in my own life, and how grateful I am that even though I was dead in my sins, and how I had no merit before God, and nothing to make me lovable or worthwhile or worthy to save, that God desired to make me one of his sheep, and he gave me to Christ, and Christ purchased and redeemed me and connected to me through the imputation of his righteousness- what a God is this! I just had nothing, and then Christ gave me everything. And that really blows me away thinking about it some times.

That aside, There were two aspects of the sermon that I did not enjoy, the latter moreso than the former.  The first was his use of The Message Bible for the scriptural reading. I will hammer this point across every chance I get. The Message Bible is not a bible at all, but rather it’s a paraphrase, and very poor one at that. It is not a legitimate expression and interpretation of the Word of God, and I believe that this church really needs to stop using it the way they are. Utilizing the Message Bible is tantamount to declaring “we have a low view of scripture.” and it’s very oft-putting. If they don’t want to use a form driven version like the ESV or NASB or NKJV, then fine. Use a NIV if they want to, or if they absolutely must, use a NLT. But the Message? You just can’t do that guys. [For more information on why The Message Bible is horrible and illegitimate, click here]

Furthermore I also did not care at all for the altar call at the end of the sermon, mainly because the gospel message was achingly incomplete and insufficient. I’m not a fan of most altar calls as it were, as many of them strike me as shallow and skin deep, and leave out important concepts of biblical salvation. Not only that, but they tend to use weird, unbiblical language like “you need to ask Jesus into your heart.” As it were, I’ve included a transcript of the altar call at the end of the service.

“Is there anyone here that would say “Brother Glen, I need to be connected with God today. I need the Lord in my life. I want to be connected with him. Would you just  lift your hand and say by doing so  “pray for me”? [then points out some people and says “Amen. Bless you brother Anyone else?.” Honest hearts and honest hands that are being raised and saying I need connection with the heavenly father today…. “ Father God, I thank you for these folks that have raised their hand and said “I need to be connected with God.” Today may Jesus Christ become Lord and Master of the hearts of these three people who have raised their hands and said “Christ, I give you my life,. I want to be connected with you, I want to be a follower of Jesus for the rest of my day”. And just pray this prayer right now. “Dear Jesus, take me. I am yours. I want to be connected with you. I give you my heart. My past, my present, my future. I give it all to you Lord. Come into my life and transform me Lord into being what you want me to be. In Jesus name. “

This sort of altar call is a recipe for false converts and unregenerate goats. Why? Because there is no Gospel here. There is no good news, but rather there’s just a bunch of platitudes that any man would jump on. “The opportunity to be connected to God? Wonderful! Being like Jesus? Even better!” But how on earth do you give an altar call without mentioning Christ dying for the forgiveness of sins, and explaining what that means and how it works?  You simply can’t. Allow me to write out a more thorough and complete and biblical gospel message.

“Is there anyone who wants to be connected with God today? Let me tell you how. First, recognize that you are a sinner. We live in a fallen, fractured world where we do wrong and daily sin against an perfect, unflinchingly holy God. Because God is just, he must punish our sins, and the wages of our sin is death and hell. Without divine intervention and left to our own devices, we are all lost and damned. Because the reality is that all it takes is one sin, and there is not a single person on this earth that is good”

[Note, what you are doing is giving them the law to convict them of their sins, to appeal to their conscience, and show that without Christ they are helpless and lost. A good source for this is Ephesians 2:1-9]

“But God, being rich in mercy, because he loves mankind so much, did not want to leave us dead in our sins. And so he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, who was God in flesh to die for our sins.  Jesus Christ, 100% God and 100% man, had the sins of the whole world put upon him on the cross, and bore the wrath of the father for those sins. We deserved to be punished, and yet Christ took our punishment. We owed God more than we could ever pay, and Christ paid our fine on the cross with his death, so that we wouldn’t have to. And so if we repent of our sins, and put our complete faith and trust in Christ, that he paid the cost and that he is the son of God and died for our sins, and then rose again after three days, then we are forgiven and are born again and are new creations in Christ. We cannot earn our salvation, but rather we have been saved by grace through faith, putting it in Christ alone, for the salvation of our souls. Put your faith and trust in Christ, and be connected with him forever.”

When you preach an altar call that has nothing to do with sin, or you don’t even mention that Jesus Christ the Son of God died on a cross and then rose again for the forgiveness of your sins, then you have failed. You are not preaching a gospel message, but rather a seeker-sensitive, self-help meaning that has robbed Christ of his power and the cross of it’s magnitude and efficacy. I know that is harsh, and it pains me to say it because I desire to be gentle, but the gospel is too important to be handled in such a way, and defending the purity and the power of the gospel is the hill that I will fight on and die one. And so I consider that altar call to have unfortunately been a waste of time, and unless there is some direct follow up where all those things are explained and walked through and a commitment is made and the faith is put into that expanded interpretation of what is actually going on, then  a weird, vague, false gospel is being presented, and the biblical understanding of justification is lost in the melee.

FBC. Love is Job One. Pastor Brent. September 6, 2009

Love is Job One. Pastor Brent. Matthew 22, September 6, 2009

So the sermon starts of with a biblical presentation of what Christianity is, and he offers a quick primer on creation and sin. We are told that “the purpose of the law is to direct men to Christ. God did not give us the law to make us guilty, but to show us we are guilty…and to keep us from saying silly things like “I’ve done my best, and I think god will accept that…. The law is not a pass/fail test, because everyone has failed….God must judge each and every sin, and he will”. And these are excellent points and very well stated. I was somewhat amused at this point, because it is the equivalent of a theological brawl, as he comes out swinging within the first two minutes, punching hard fast but doing so lawfully. The purpose of the law is to condemn us of our sins and point us to Christ, and I think everyone is feeling it. He then gives us some bible verses to prove his point Romans 3:17, Galatians 3:24-25

I think at this point it may have been more effective to point the law at the congregation, and not in theoretical sense. It’s been my experienced that when you speak in the abstract, most congregations don’t think it applies to them, or rather they have an intellectual assent to it, but the knowledge of their depravity has never really sunk deep into their bones/  But when you start sweeping your arms over the room and say “You have all sinned. No one here is good enough, and you are all condemned save for the cross of Christ.,” that turns up the heat and get’s them thinking. Anyway, that’s just a minor quibble. Moving on!

The next major section of this sermon involved the concept of love, and how Jesus was able to distil the whole law of into two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” We are told to love God, but that love is misunderstood and misused quite often. “Belief in God does not equal a love for God”. It is said that Jesus was never a minimalist. Jesus never sought to attract crowds, but rather he putting hard demands on his followers. Ie. take up your cross and follow me. We are also told.

  1. Jesus often tried to dissuade, rather than persuade people from following him, and teaching them that they must forsake all for his namesake.
  2. Jesus must be Lord. You can’t love him as the lord your God unless he is the Lord your God.
  3. You must get reconciled to God through faith. Ephesians 2:8-9. You will never get saved and in a right relationship with God by your effort, but rather you must be born again. [At this point he hammers away that it’s by faith alone and  in Christ alone that we are saved.
  4. We cannot love God unless we love his Son and receive him as saviour

But this is where I begin to have major problems with this sermon, when he begins talking about how we are to God with all our heart and soul and mind- how we are to love God with the totality of our faculties, that these dynamics marry our intellect and our emotion, so that we love God with our whole being. That we are to make the most of every minute and use that time to love God, and how a love for God will  impact what we do with our time and resources and service to him.

He tells us that Jesus sets the bar really high, and that we need to do away with low living. That we need to get up to the plateau that Jesus is calling us to. At this point, Pastor Brent indicates that shortly he will call believers to the front who want to love God with their whole heart and mind and strength. It is again reiterated that we must love God and love people, that wee cannot love people if we don’t love God, and that we need to love our neighbours and serve them with compassion and sacrifice.

A few parting observations are love is not listed as a spiritual gift, as anyone can do it. As well, there’s a link between love and connecting. How do you connect with people? Be friendly. Be helpful. Meet needs. Be generous. Be gracious. Be kind. Read 1 Corinthians 13. and 1 John to get some ideas on how to love. And lastly, the case is made that if you’re dissatisfied with your life as a believer, or unhappy with your life, then you have problems with your love life with God. And the good news from Jesus is that Jesus has a prescription for you to love the lord with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbour, and that will make it better and make all the difference in the world.

REFLECTIONS

I’ve been trying to get ahold of Pastor Brent to get some clarifications for his sermon, but I’ve been unable to. The reason for this is because it appears a confusion of law and gospel is being advanced, even though I know for a fact this church does not teach things. to touch on what appears to be happening, is that in the second half of the sermon, he begins to use the law unlawfully, by advancing the unbiblical idea that we as christians are capable of loving God with all our hearts and souls and mind. He says that Jesus set the bar really high, and that we need to get up to that plateau that Jesus called us to. The only problem is that he bar isn’t just set high, it’s set impossibly high. For a reason. The distilled commandments to love God and love others is STILL THE LAW! It is still that aching, back breaking, burdensome curse of a law that neither Peter nor Paul nor we could ever hope to keep. The commandment to love God and love others is not the Gospel, rather these commandments are the law which drives us to Christ. And so when you say that the prescription for feeling dissatisfied as a believer is to follow the law, you’re treating law with more law, which only serves to compound the problem.

If there is any person who thinks they are loving God with their whole heart and soul and mind, that’s when you crank up the law like the Jesus did to the rich young ruler, to show them they are liars if they think they have kept it.  Even sinning once in a day, is evidence enough that they don’t love God as they wish. In fact, that sin that they committed, though it may seem small and insignificant is, to quote John Bunyan, “a dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, and the contempt of his love.” That is what is contained in one sin, and everyone sins every day. Including the person who thinks he loves God perfectly

So what is the point of those two commandments? To show us, like the law does, that we can’t ever hope to meet that standard, and that we are utterly helpless and depraved, and that serves to drive us to our knees before God praying for mercy and forgiveness because we just can’t ever hope to Love him like we ought. That when we think about how we don’t love God as we ought, we are so humbled by His grace towards us, that by professing Him as our Lord and Savior he loved God perfectly for us. Are we to love God? Absolutely. Are we to strive to love him with our whole hearts? Of course we should. But we never will, and we should never pretend that such a prospect is attainable. We don’t need more law. The prescription that Jesus gives us is not more law, it’s more grace. And more mercy. And more forgiveness of sins. The prescription is not more law, it’s more gospel.

That having been said, I am confident that Pastor Brent would agree with me on that. I don’t believe for a second that he believes it is possible to attain the keeping of the law, and yet because I analyze everything, I think the language used gives that false impression to some that it may be so. I think part of the problem is because the “love God and love others” is manifested in two different ways in scripture. One is as a summary of the law, [two greatest commandments] and another way as the natural inclinations of a believer who has been washed with the blood of Christ and is conforming to that pattern of sanctification and righteousness by bearing fruits and growing in our affections for the Savior. As for me, I like to see those two manifestations clearly delineated, and I’m probably too sensitive to the fact that it seems like oftentimes they aren’t. And so I’m not knocking the sermon for this, just wishing for a bit more clarity when dealing with these issues.

Need More Sermons

In case everyone is wondering, right now I’m only able to review the sermons from the churches that have posted them online. I don’t review every one, but usually the ones which interest me and which I feel are beneficial to post about, and which contain something specific I wish to highlight. I do however listen to every one, and so if your church does not post them online, please encourage them to do so. If they don’t have the means or the ability to do so, I would be more than happy to pay for a CD or a recording of the sermon, and then post it online. If your church does not record the sermons, but you wish to see them reviewed, if you find a way to record it and send it to me, even if the quality is bad, I’ll review and share my thoughts.

Freedom and Belonging. [Part 1] Glen Forsberg. August 30, 2009

Freedom and Belonging. [Part 1] Glen Forsberg. August 30, 2009


This is apparently a two-part sermon, with this first part dealing with the concept of freedom and the second belonging. He gives us the two verses which he is basing his sermons off of, Galatians 5:1 is the captivity verses, and 1 Corinthians 12:27 is the belonging verse.

Most of the sermon is based off of the idea that we live in a broken, fallen, and fractured world. Because of this, we live in a world full of evil and heartache and heartbreak and hard times and times of distress and loneliness and hurt and pain. And these are all things that people are dealing with and facing in their everyday lives, and need freedom from them. We are told that “there is a cry in our world for freedom from evil, freedom from oppression, freedom from disease…freedom from broken relationships, freedom from the pain of rejection. Soldiers and civilians alike have given their lives for the cause of freedom. Children and adults in our world have been known to celebrate the experience of freedom from slavery, addictions, abuse, fear depression and illness, but the ultimate freedom of all folks in the freedom in the heart. You can suffer external attacks against you, but if you never allow any enemies to control your spirit in prison, you are a free man and a free woman.”

He mentions that a place of safety is the church, and that people need to find a good church that they can be involved in and find that peace about it, and that it can be home to them. That church should be the safest place ever, as it’s a home of Christian believers where people ought to be loved as they are.

Another aspect of the sermon is the idea that there are people who are physically freed, but emotionally and spiritually bound. If this is the case, “Jesus has come to champion the freedom of the slave. If you are held captive, Jesus has the key to your cell door.”  Jesus is able to set everyone free and deliver you from spiritual, mental and emotional bondage. He makes the case that there are thousand of institutions which deal with mental and emotional bondage, but until you discover who Jesus is you’ll never be perfectly free. That is a great point, by the way. That focus and emphasis on what can only be found in the Saviour.

He then rightly attacks the idea that life is meaningless, that we are blobs which involved from nothingness and this world is pointless and ultimately meaningless, but instead offers the ulterior, true perspective that we are in fact children of God who have a worth and purpose and that God is in control of this world and that everything was created by God with purpose and intent and with a master plan at play.

Returning to the idea of a broken world, he talks about the sin and evil in this world, using two illustrations which have been in the news as of late, the young girl who was kidnapped and held captive and raped for 18 years, and finally freed, and the story of the man who killed and raped a mother of two children, and all the horror and grotesquerie that is associated therewith. He then talks about the nature of sin, how we are bound up and held captive by original sin, defines and elaborates on what original sin is [which I liked] and that the only way to be free from this is through Christ.

Lastly, he draws the parallel between these people who committed these heinous acts, and us. How we think these people are so bad, but when in reality we are just as guilty. We have hated and thereby have committed murder, that we have lusted and have committed adultery. We are no better or no less sinners than them, but that we all need one thing to be set free and to be led out of captivity, and that’s through Jesus, and that the only cure for our malady is the Gospel.

REFLECTIONS

This really is a skillful sermon. Pastor Glen rightfully weaves law and gospel in equal doses, using the first and second and even third use of the law, and then gives us an overflowing abundance of gospel and of the merciful sacrifice of Christ on a cross for the redemption and forgiveness of our sins, and then life ever-after. It pretty much is a comprehensive evangelistic sermon, explaining why we fell, how we live with original sin, why we sin, and what is the cure for our sin.

I only have two notes of concern. The first is that I wished he would have quoted more bible verses. I know based on my knowledge of the bible that when he was talking in theology-heavy language that what he said was founded in the scriptures, but it would have been nice to get the references. For example, when talking about Genesis and original sin, he might have pointed us to Romans 5.

The second and more problematic is that right off the bat he quoted us Galatians 5:1, which was not used in context. Galatians 5:1 says “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. The verse isn’t about captivity in the way he’s using it. Rather, the verse is saying that Christ has set us free from Jewish ceremonial laws and regulations, but not from obedience to God’s moral standards.  Paul is speaking to the church about men who wanted the Christians who were saved by faith and grace alone to attach works to their salvation. The verse is about the Judaizers who were trying to force circumcision on believers [see Acts 15]. That verse is followed up by “ Look: I, Paul, say to you that  if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” I suppose it has “slavery-type implications”, but freedom from the curse of the law, and freedom to be saved by grace is different than the sort of freedom he is referring to. Relating back to the first point, there are other scriptures which he could have used to make his point, but the Galatians one was not one of them.

In any case, the sermon was quite good, and I recommend that you listen to it. It’s only about 47 minutes long, but the last 10 minutes of that is singing and praying, so that cuts it down to a bout 35 minutes or so.