This sermon answers the basic question: What does it mean to be saved?
The Bible claims that God is all-loving and all-powerful. But how can you explain the Bible’s description of God given the existence of evil? Or, let me state the argument this way: given the reality of evil and suffering in the world, God may be all-powerful but not all-loving. That is, God has the power to stop evil but chooses not to. This turns God into a distant, removed, deistic god unconcerned with the affairs of the world.
Or, God may be all-loving but not all-powerful. That is, God loves us enough to stop the suffering in the world but doesn’t have the power to do so. This retains the compassion we so long for in God, but it robs Him of His sovereignty and divinity. So according to this argument, given the reality of evil in the world, God can be all-powerful or all-loving, but not both. If He was both, he surely would have stopped evil and suffering long ago. And yet it not only lingers, it flourishes, rampaging across our globe leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. What kind of God would allow that? Surely not an all-powerful and all-loving God!
And yet the Bible makes the claim that God is both all-powerful and all-loving. He spoke the universe into existence. He is all-powerful. 1 John 4:8 explicitly says “God is love.” He is the very definition of love. So how can you reconcile the claims that God is all-loving and all-powerful with the reality of evil and suffering in the world?
I’m going to be talking about this perplexing question Sunday in week three of our series Step Into the Light. But I would love to get your take. How do you answer this question?
Need some hope to start your weekend? Watch this baptism video and celebrate with Michael and Emily!
Can somebody give me a ‘slow clap’ for Molly? You don’t know Molly, but God is doing something huge in her life. If you can get excited about life change, then you can celebrate for Molly. Molly is an addict. She came to Mt Vernon Church recently through Recovery House (a local residential treatment facility for drug and alcohol addictions). It was a big deal for Molly to even show up to church.
Molly grew up with some bad religious scars from her childhood and vowed never to go back. When she found out that her rehab facility went to church, she almost dropped out of Recovery House simply to avoid going to church. She was skeptical, bitter, and distant.
But then, as only God can, love began to break down barriers in Molly’s life. People began to show her the love of Jesus in tangible ways. Our people welcomed her and embraced her in spite of her addictions. Ladies in our church became mentors to her. She liked the music and engaged with the message. Church took on new life for her. She began to read her Bible and ask questions. Mt Vernon created a safe space for her to explore her faith, and before long the cold embers of belief began to glow warm again.
Easter Weekend Molly requested (and got) special permission to go off campus and volunteer all Saturday morning at our Easter Egg Hunt. Molly doesn’t have any kids. She just wants to be at church now as much as possible. Yesterday I received an email from the staff at Recovery House to let us know the difference God has made in Molly’s life through Mt Vernon. Her time in rehab is coming to a close, but instead of going back home she wants to move to Columbus permanently. Why? In her words, “I do not want to leave Columbus because I absolutely love, love Mt Vernon Church. I can’t believe I am saying this but it’s true.”
You don’t know Molly, but trust me when I say that the Molly I met two months ago would never say that. God is radically transforming her life. God is doing something big. That’s a reason to celebrate! (or at least give a ‘slow clap’)
P.S. While you’re celebrating for Molly, please pray for Karen. Karen is new at Recovery House. She’s where Molly was when she arrived. Easter Sunday was her first Sunday at church in decades. She did not want to be there. Pray that God transforms Karen’s life like He has transformed Molly’s!
Here’s the illustration I used to open up our newest series: Step Into the Light.
The whole jigsaw of the Christian faith falls apart if you take out the resurrection. Our faith is not built on a series of beliefs, how we think the world ought to work, or even a holy book (even though we have all of those). Our faith is built on a historical event: the resurrection of Jesus. So if you don’t automatically take the Bible at face value, is there a foundation to believe in the fantastical claims that a man died and rose from the grave? I believe there is a foundation, and I get there in four steps.
1. Jesus really did die. There was a man named Jesus of Nazareth that lived in the first century and was executed by the Romans through crucifixion. Texts outside of the Bible corroborate this. And the Romans were experts at crucifixions. They had been doing it for centuries. When they killed him, he was dead.
2. Jesus’ body really did disappear. The grave was empty few days later. Even Jesus’ enemies had to acknowledge this. They couldn’t produce a body.
3. Hundreds of people claimed to see him. The disciples claimed they saw him. Paul claimed to have seen him. 500 people at one time claimed to have saw him, and group hallucinations don’t happen. They all claimed to see the same person, Jesus resurrected from the dead. That’s what Paul was listing in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, the people who saw Jesus after he rose from the dead.
4. The disciples transformed from cowards to courageous followers willing to die for their claims about the resurrection. For me the most convincing proof of Jesus’ resurrection. If you look at their lives before the resurrection, they were cowards, even with Jesus in their midst. Afterwards, they were so convinced of the resurrection that they were willing to risk their lives for it, and many of them did in fact die for their belief in the resurrection.
To me, it just doesn’t make logical sense for a bunch of cowards to suddenly flip a switch and be willing to lose their lives for something they knew was a lie. If they knew the resurrection of Jesus was a lie, why not just give it up? They had a good run while Jesus was on earth. People don’t die for something they know is a lie. We know that about human nature. These disciples were absolutely convinced that Jesus rose from the dead, and they were willing to lose their lives for it.
If you look at it with an open mind, I believe the easiest explanation to believe is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
QUESTION: What other steps would you add to build a case for the resurrection of Jesus?
Here is the final week of my sermon series The Jesus You Never Knew.
Don’t overlook that kid on the margins of your youth group. Here I tell the story of one of the elders of our church and how a youth pastor stood up for him when he was at a critical crossroads growing up.
I could charge you $19.95 to give you a secret to church growth, or I could just tell you now for free. It’s not a complicated secret. I never heard about it in seminary. In all my courses of study, in all the conferences I attended, in all the books I read, no one ever touted this secret. But it works. I’ve experienced it time and time again. The reason no one touts it is because it’s simple and obvious. The reason it’s a secret is because people rarely do it. The not-so-complicated secret to getting guests to plug into your church is to learn their names (boom, drop the mic and walk off the stage).
I know it sounds obvious, but we usually approach it from the wrong way. If guests keep coming and decide to plug in, we’ll learn their names. I’ve experienced the opposite: if I learn someone’s name from the beginning, they have a much better chance at plugging in. That means doing the hard work of learning names and faces. And that means learning names as early as possible, after the first time they show up on your radar screen or fill out a visitor card (being an unashamed Facebook stalker helps tremendously with learning names). If you can call a guest by their name the second or third time they show up, you just showed them that you care enough about them to learn their name and you give them an incredible motivation to get plugged into your church.
Don’t believe me? Here are four recent examples:
- When I came to Mt Vernon three years ago, I started getting to know as many names as possible. It included a couple that sat on the back row during our early service. Nice couple, came almost every week. I started calling them by name and greeting them every time I saw them. They soon joined the church and are now serving. Why is this important? Because they had sat on the back row faithfully for ten years without joining. They joined after I learned their names and got to know them.
- A median age couple came one time and filled out a guest card. I learned their names and greeted them the next time they came. They commented on how surprised they were that I would know their names. They’re signed up for our next membership class and are planning on joining the church.
- A new couple came to town from out of state, attended a few times but didn’t show an indication of wanting to plug in. Because I knew their names and because our kids had some sports together, I would see them in town and greet them. Last month, the husband pulled me aside and told me, “I need to bend your ear about something. My wife and I want to join a LifeGroup. We’re not doing a good job planting roots here and we know we need to branch out and join a small group.” He wouldn’t have felt comfortable talking to me if I didn’t know his name.
- I remember one guest in particular that came a few times and then left. I saw on Facebook that she was trying out another church as well. Since I’d already learned her name, I saw her in town a few times and always greeted her by name. Just recently she’s come back, bringing her husband and son, and deciding that Mt Vernon was going to be her church home. I’m not sure all of the reasons why, but I know that knowing her name definitely helped.
Learn names and faces of your guests. Early. It’s a huge opportunity to help them plug into your church.
QUESTION: Have you ever had a positive experience visiting a church where a pastor or leader knew your name? Comment and share your story!