Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sermon Starters -- "Hard Pressed, Not Crushed"

Title: "Not Dead Yet"
Location: McCrae Brook Wesleyan Church
Date: January 31, 2021


  • The ravages of COVID, the situation in the country, possibly Monty Python skits ("I'm not dead yet")
  • Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 14, 16-18
  • Prayer
The situation of 2 Corinthians:

  • Paul has been wrestling with the Corinthians for three years -- disunity and factionalism.
  • In one corner, the wise guys who liked Pastor 2 (Apollos) better than Pastor 1 (Paul). 
  • He walked on eggshells in 1 Corinthians. Lost it in a harsh letter. Didn't know if they would listen to him after that.
  • Meanwhile, he runs into big troubles at Ephesus (1:8). He's just left when he writes 2 Corinthians.
  • The tone changes at the end of 2 Corinthians -- chapters 10-13. It's like he finds out they're still not with him. Romans 15:23 reads pretty somber in this light.
I. We may face trouble from the world. 

  • Paul in Acts 19 -- The success of the gospel leads to persecution. On this occasion, he gets out.
  • A lot of Christians are worried about persecution right now. Obviously none of us want that.
  • My tendency to think I'm sick... when I'm not.
  • We are not being persecuted -- Having to wear a mask is not persecution. Having to meet online is not persecution. Losing tax exempt status is not persecution. Having to take pictures at a gay wedding is not persecution.
  • The American church wants to be in power, and it interprets its loss of power as persecution.
  • Paul is thankful for every day he escapes Roman persecution and still prays for the emperor (1 Tim. 2:2). Remember that the emperor of Romans 13 is the same one who will later behead him. Same is true of Peter in 1 Peter 2:13.
  • If we can make the world a better place, I think we should. But our hope doesn't come from a world where everything goes our way.
  • "We are hard-pressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
II. We may face trouble from other Christians.

  • This is the big surprise. Paul is probably more troubled by the Corinthians than the Roman Empire.
  • He got pounded by both "liberals" and "conservatives." I don't really like those terms. You don't really know what they mean until you figure out what people are "conserving" and what people are "liberating." In a college setting, who knows what the "liberal arts are." :-)
A. There were the "liberals" at Corinth.
  • They were the ones that insisted on their freedom. "We should be able to go to pagan temples." "We're not under the Law." "This is a free religion." "A man can sleep with his father's wife." They claimed to know stuff. They thought they were more spiritual.
  • This group would not listen to Paul. They mocked him. They were messing up the church he had founded.
  • Paul cared for them. He does crack down on the guy sleeping with his step-mother, but his goal is redemptive. He wants to see the guy saved in the end. More importantly, he tries to show the "libertines" that Christianity is not about my freedoms or my rights. Serving God is freeing because I am surrendering to the way things are supposed to work.
  • Illustration -- sliding on wet pavement. turn the wheel in the direction of the slide
  • In fact, Christ calls us to give up our freedoms when they hurt others or might cause someone else to stumble. It's one thing to stand up for the rights of others, for their benefit. Christianity has nothing to do with standing up for my rights and freedoms.
  • "We are perplexed, but not in despair."
B. There were the "conservatives" at Galatia.
  • After Paul founded the churches at Galatia, Christian missionaries came and tried to correct Paul's teaching that they did not have to become Jews.
  • They are insisting on following the Bible (as they interpreted it). Get circumcised. Follow the Law. Don't eat the wrong things. Don't touch the wrong things.  Don't eat with the wrong people.
  • They really ticked him off. They were messing up the churches he founded. He doesn't consider them to be real Christians (although Luke may have--Acts 15:1).
  • They no doubt felt the same, considered him a filthy liberal, a heretic. "He eats with the wrong people." "He teaches Jews not to keep the Law." "He encourages people to sin."
  • This is the flavor of people that constantly is getting him in trouble with the Romans as he conducts his mission across the Mediterranean. Eventually, they will get him arrested in Jerusalem. 
  • There are right and wrong answers. It wasn't clear at the time. Paul is in the New Testament. In hindsight, we know he was right. At the time, we have to endure our opposition. 
  • "Pressed down, but not crushed"

III. We may face doubts from inside.

  • Paul did--should I have sent that letter to the Corinthians? "Fights on the outside; fears on the inside" (2 Cor. 7:5). Paul's not usually someone to have self-doubts. But even a Paul can get to that point.
  • Romans 15:23 -- Paul probably leaves the east with deeply mixed feelings. 

IV. A cruciform attitude

  • One that looks at ourselves as living a life like Christ. We are crucified with Christ. We will rise with Christ.
  • Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 14, 16-18

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bob Black's How Firm a Foundation

I want to keep a record of books as I read them this year. I am an alumnus of Southern Wesleyan University (then Central Wesleyan College). I found out last year that Bob Black, one of my college professors, wrote a history of SWU for its centennial in 2006. It's not available on Amazon or anywhere, but I found one on eBay.

It's really well written. These sorts of histories are usually pretty boring, but Bob did a spectacular job. I don't plan to post any notes, but I did read it over the Christmas break and finished it last week. Lots of back and forth between Houghton and Marion College and Central in the early days. 

There are a few books like this one of the Wesleyan colleges. In a world of self-publishing, none of them need to be out of print.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Book Review: Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning

I have been reading some oldies with my daughter. I don't expect to reach my goal of a book a week, but I did succeed this past week. I must have gotten my copy of Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning in some used book store in the late 80s. It's a 1962 edition, and one of its previous owners read it in 1985. 

Without taking the time to do a full review, here are some of the things I underlined. First, the book is divided into two parts. The first part and the bulk of the book gives Frankl's reflections on his time in four concentration camps. Then the shorter second part gives a taste of his approach to psychology--logotherapy.

Here are some excerpts:

Part I: His Reflections

  • "The best of us did not return" (4). This was a striking comment. He indicates that in each moment of culling, escaping death in the camps required someone else to die. Those who survived had to be willing to save their own life over someone else.
  • The insult toward them was worse than the beating. (22)
  • "Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire" (36). "The salvation of man is through love and in love." There can be a time when enduring suffering in the right way is the only way to achieve fulfillment.
  • There was "a strong feeling that fate was one's master, and that one must not try to influence it in any way, but instead let it take its own course" (56).
  • "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way" (65).
  • "If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering" (67).
  • Nietzsche --"He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how" (76).
  • "It is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way" (77).
  • A poet --"What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you" (83).
  • "No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people." "Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society... therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards." (87).
Part II: Logotherapy
  • "Logotherapy focuses on the future" as opposed to psychotherapy, which largely focuses on the past. (96) He speaks of a "will to meaning."
  • "The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves but rather detected" (99).
  • "Man is never driven to moral behavior" (99).
  • "There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life" (104).
  • "The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour" (108).
  • "So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now" (109).
  • "Human existence is essentially self-transcendence rather than self-actualization" (111).
  • "Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice" (113).
  • "Paradoxical intention" is a solution to anticipatory anxiety. Wish the thing you are afraid will happen, and it will help you release from fear.
  • Address hyper-intention (obsession) by de-reflection, transcending yourself as the focus of things.
  • "Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant."

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Soils in the Church (book starter)

I've been contemplating a book idea, and I wanted to jot down some notes in case a moment comes to write it. The idea is to use the Parable of the Soils to analyze the church (rather than using the normal lens of the evangelism of those outside the church). Why is the church susceptible to the Nixons and Trumps of this world? Why has the church so often stood on the wrong side of justice (slavery, civil rights)?

Seed on the Path

  • There are people in the church who are not in the church. While the church always meets visibly, its membership is ultimately invisible.
  • There are the obvious of those who go to church to get "street credit" or to look respectable, your run of the mill hypocrite.
  • Matthew 7:15-23 -- false prophets who bear bad fruit (with love as the measuring stick), not everyone who says "Lord Lord"
  • Matthew 13:24-29 the weeds
  • Matthew 22:11-13 the improperly dressed
  • Matthew 25:44-46 the goats
  • These are not a matter of belief or orthodoxy. It is about fruit and action (love in action). These are those who do not bear the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Concern about right belief is a subsidiary theme of the new Testament (e.g., the Pastorals), and even then it is probably more about teaching on living rather than ideas in themselves.

Seed in the Shallows

  • Frontal assault is the point of the parable, inability to stand persecution because of lack of root.
  • But I would like to focus on shallow Christianity, Christianity without proper rooting and anchoring. 
  • Shallow Christians are easily deceived because their roots are misplaced. Our roots should be in Christ, the person, and in the God who is focally revealed as faithful, loving, and gracious. 
  • I think a key to the deception of the church in recent days is a faulty placement of faith in something disguised as the Bible that is not the Bible. So there is rooting in a simplistic understanding of the Bible, something easy for us to understand but that is easily manipulable into ungodliness or an obstacle to true godliness.
  • There is often rooting in a faulty conception of God, a God that is easy to understand but easily twisted into an abuser.
  • Because we are not anchored deep, shallow ideologies take over--ones we may actually think are deep but aren't.

Seed that is Choked

  • The pressures of life is the point of the parable.
  • But I would like to broaden the consideration to anything earthly that takes our eyes off the heavenly reality. These earthly things can choke out a deeper sense of God. 
  • This can be the ideologies and positions of human denominations. 
  • It can be the mistaking of civil religion and political parties with God. There's Christian nationalism. 
  • Any earthly tribe can do it. 
  • Of course, money fits well with the parable ("you cannot serve God and money").

Good Soil

  • The good soil is everything the other soils aren't. It is rooted in Christ, a proper sense of God as love, and a proper sense of the Bible as a witness. Its values are oriented around self-surrender and love. It yields the fruit of love-in-action.

Friday, January 01, 2021

New Year's Goals (2021)

Every year I set goals for the year (e.g., last year). Most of us don't do too well. But it is useful, if nothing else to be able to look back and remember where things stood a year ago.

1. I would like to read/skim a book a week. My daughter Sophie and I read How to Win Friends and Influence People together recently. Starting the new year with Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

2. I need to continue running. I've signed up for another NY virtual race--1010 miles this year is the goal. 

3. I did not write any peer-reviewed books this year, although I did self-publish my Explanatory Notes on 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It would be nice to write a peer-reviewed book this year.

4. My slow work through interests of my youth inches forward. Goals: P (814); Ca (559); Ch (295); R (198); Q (95).

Happy New Year!