Monday, March 23, 2009

I did it!

A few weeks ago the senior minister at our church told me that he'd be out of town on March 22nd, and he wanted me to preach that day. I said yes. So yesterday, I stood up in front of a few hundred people and delivered a message from my heart. Then after a break for bible class, I did it again (our church has two separate services, because we can't hold all 1,000 members in the auditorium at the same time).

Here's a link to the recording -- please note that some computers can't seem to handle the "audio" or "video" streaming links. But anybody can download the MP3 and listen to it that way.

I can also burn audio discs, or maybe even video DVDs, for anybody who has trouble with the files and would like a copy. I'll sell 'em cheap, I promise...

It sorta shocked me when I noticed that the sermon was almost 40 minutes long. But after further reflection, that's actually pretty efficient for the tale of my spiritual journey. After all, it took 32 years to write.

Grace and peace, dudes. I've been stressed and focused on this sermon above all else for a few weeks, and now that it's over I look forward to returning to our regular programming. Thank you to everyone who has been sharing with me on my journey so far. Any progress I've made, and any good that I've done, is largely due to your influence.

p.s. -- if you only listen to the audio, the two pictures I mention at the end are shown below.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From the comments -- two new themes rising up

Thanks again for the continued discussions in the comments section. It looks to my untrained eye as if two particular topics keep popping up:

1) Old Testament vs. New Testament, Judaism vs. Christianity -- are they truly divergent? Are they the same? Is the old obsolete, or must we still follow the follow the law... etc...

2) Jesus' death -- was it required to make it possible for us to be saved, or was it a powerful example of the love and forgiveness that already existed between God and man?

Leave it to you guys to take on the simple stuff, huh? :)

Let's explore it together. Here are some more crazy Michael thoughts thrown out there to cause trouble:

#1 -- Old vs. New, Jew vs. Christian... who's got it right?

This one is obviously unsolvable, as most issues are in this blog, but I personally learn a lot from the process of studying these debates. If you'll allow me, I'll vastly oversimplify the issue just to give us something concrete to talk about:

Perhaps at its core, this debate is about who Jesus was. Non-messianic Jews mostly think he was a good teacher but that's all, and Christians mostly think he is the Messiah, and the one who changed everything and created a whole new path to relationsihp with God.

So let's look to the words of Jesus for guidance on the issue of Judaism vs. Christianity, and if the old law still prevails. I'd guess that there are three possible ways he could have resolved this:

1) By saying the old law is fullfilled and its time is past, or implying such by breaking it
2) By saying the old law should still be continued just as it was
3) By saying the old law still stands, but it needs to be taken even further in strictness

Would you believe he did all three simultaneously? He did:

1) In John 5:1-17, Jesus heals a paralyzed man and instructs him to take up his mat and walk. On the Sabbath. The healing and the mat-carrying were seen as "working", which would break the Mosaic law of Sabbath. Jesus didn't argue and said, "My father is at work to this very day and I, too, am working." So here Jesus admittedly breaks Old Testament law.

2) From Jesus' sermon on the mount: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." -- Matthew 5:17-19. So here Jesus says the old law still stands.

3) From the sermon of the mount again, immediately following the quote above: "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."..."You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."..."It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." ...and Jesus continues for a while with the "You have heard it was said" teachings, and each time he takes the OT law even farther. So here Jesus says the OT law was not strict/righteous enough!

He doesn't make it easy, does he? I don't believe he meant to. Every time I think I have him figured out... well, I haven't thought that for a while now. What do you think?

#2 -- Jesus' death. Required sacrifice or powerful illustration?

Alas, I have already written quite a bit so won't spend long on this one. I'll just ask a question in a way I've had agnostics phrase it to me in the past:

Which is more noble:

-- A God who has to kill himself so that his own perfect bloodshed will purify the sinful state of the free-will creatures he himself created, or...

-- A God who became like his creation of his own free will. Not out of obligation or to satisfy justice, but to show in the flesh how much he's loved us all along.

I know, this may not be exactly "fair", pinning human concepts of nobility on God. But in my experience, today's atheists, agnostics, seekers and general non-church-goers aren't interested in concepts that don't at least make some sense to their logical minds.

Would it be so bad to say that it's possible, just possible, that Jesus came and died voluntarily? And to admit that we can't really prove whether or not he was trying to uphold Judaism, tighten it or kill it?

I've read the words of Jesus hundreds of times. And what keeps driving through my brain is this:

Treat each other well. Live according to your highest principles. Trust each other and trust God. Listen to your heart.

I can get that, even when the theological debates excite and confuse me.