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The Man in Need of Healing

One consequence of the human condition is that we are all in need of healing. Things are broken in our lives, and at almost any given moment, we are either consciously or subconsciously looking for a way to improve that. There are many options to which we can turn — but only one option that can deliver. Do you want to be healed? If the answer is yes, watch this sermon as we consider how the tiniest bit of faith in the true source of healing is all it takes.

June 30, 2024 | Watch

The Living God

The sovereignty of God can be incredibly comforting, but in the face of suffering, it can also be perplexing. What do we do when we know God is in our circumstances, but we don’t like them? The Old Testament prophet Elijah, in his own moments of need, encountered the sovereign, living God. In turn, God used him to bring grace, truth, and life to others — foreshadowing an even greater prophet to come, who would offer deliverance and life to all. Watch this sermon as we consider the power of the living God.

June 23, 2024 | Watch

Year End Reflection: Friendship

Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world  Summary and Connection Tim Keller once said that in the Bible, the two features of real friendship are constancy and transparency. “Real friends always let you in and never let you down.” And the definition of a true friend perfectly describes the one who made us his friends: Jesus. First, Jesus brings us all the way in. He holds back nothing of God’s ultimate plan for us, and he leaves no questions unanswered about whether we are loved, whether we are saved, whether we are his. Nothing that we truly need to know remains unsaid between God and us. Jesus said to his disciples: “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Second, Jesus never lets us down. He lived for us, died for us, rose again for us, and is coming back for us. He has covered our past, our present, and our future, and he gives his Spirit to be with us until he returns. That’s never letting us down. And he calls us to be his friends. Only two people in the entire Bible prior to Jesus were called friends of God: Abraham and Moses. In John 15, suddenly there are twelve friends of God. Now, there are billions. Your community group is filled with friends of God! This is all because our friend — the one who always lets us in and never lets us down — chose us. Jesus chose us and gave us a mission: to love one another and to bear fruit that abides. “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” Where does this love come from, so that we will love one another? From Jesus, our friend. He is the friend who makes all other friendships possible. In friendship with God we are blessed to have these friendships with one another. Discussion How can we give thanks to God for his friendship in this group? How can we celebrate the friendships that we have with each other in this group? How can we give thanks to Jesus for his friendship with us? Think about fruit. It is organic, cannot be forced, and is part of the integrated life of a plant. How can we draw others into friendship with God — not with programs or challenges or methods, but as part of bearing fruit? Remember that we do this with the promise that, “You will love one another.” In light of all of this, take time to discuss your group’s successes and highlights from the year, as well as challenges experienced and expectations for the future.  Sending God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.

June 17, 2024 | Read

is Christianity Depressing?

Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world  Opening Prayer Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your steadfast love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a perpetual reverence and love for your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Responsive Prayer — Psalm 16 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; In the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; My flesh also dwells secure. You make known to me the path of life; In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Summary and Connection We are in a sermon series called Good for You? and this week we are asking, “Is Christianity Depressing?” It could certainly seem so, given the persecution faced by the early Church and the kill-joy reputation of the Church today. Christianity seems obsessed with sin, righteousness, and death, which is quite opposite from our modern pursuit of happiness and pleasure. There are countless books, programs, products, and podcasts that promise you can achieve happiness in so many days, in so many steps, or in so many easy payments. Those same books and programs don’t exist for trials, suffering, and evil. Yet, in spite of our cultural obsession with happiness, our rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are increasing, and loneliness is epidemic. Many are crying out, along with the author of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). We wish to be happy, but we are not. What are we missing? The “vanity” of life is that life and its joys are quickly passing away. We cannot make a single moment last forever. The 20th century philosopher Hannah Arendt, drawing upon Saint Augustine, saw that, “The trouble with human happiness is that it is constantly beset by fear,” the fear of losing what we want. The only thing that we can truly love and that can truly make us happy is a “lasting enjoyment for its own sake.” In other words, only an undying joy can undo the fear of death that robs us of all other happiness.  This is where 1 Peter 1:6-9 has something to say to us. In this letter, the apostle Peter is comforting Christians who are in the midst of great loss — what he calls “various trials” (verse 6). However, not only are these trials ultimately inconsequential compared to the future joy that lies ahead for these Christians, they also become the assurance of that joy. It is because of their faith that these Christians are being persecuted. Yet, it is also by their faith that these Christians can endure persecution. So in both professing and persevering, the readers of this letter are assured of their genuine faith. Significantly, the object of this genuine faith is a “lasting enjoyment for its own sake.” So now, in the midst of loss, these Christians can “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” because they are, as Peter says right before this passage, “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (verses 3-4). So is Christianity depressing? Let’s read the passage and discuss. Discussion Questions 1. Looking at the Bible Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage? Do you notice keywords, parallels, or surprises? What does Peter say is the relationship between trials, faith, and joy? 2. Looking at Jesus At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. How does genuine faith in Jesus — in his life, death, and resurrection — transform our trials into joy? 3. Looking at Our Hearts In what passing things are we looking for happiness? How do we need to be transformed so that we experience the “inexpressible joy” that Peter promises to believers?  4. Looking at Our World In what ways are you persevering now, or can you persevere now, that will result in “praise and honor and glory” when Christ returns? Think about this question in terms of your work, your daily responsibilities, your relationships, and the way you parent, participate in church, and care for your friends.  Sending God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.

June 9, 2024 | Read

Is Christianity Sexist?

In order to address what the Bible has to say about men and women, it’s important to consider the broad sweep of the Bible’s message. When we do that, we discover that the Bible affirms the equality, the complementarity, and the unity of the sexes.

March 13, 2024 | More...

Will Science Dispel Christian Faith?

Contrary to what people think, modern science and Christian faith are not in conflict with one another because science can only answer certain questions, science addresses different questions, and there are some questions science can never answer.

February 7, 2024 | More...

Grace, Then Gratitude

For many of us, the thing that we fear the most is being insignificant. This is why we are so driven and ambitious—we think that we have to do everything we can to prove that we are significant and that our life counts for something. We scramble to find whatever meaning, value, and purpose this world alone can offer.  Although it is true that there is no good or fulfilling life without significance, through Jesus we are offered not only significance but grace. While we may be tempted to try and prove our worth to God or others, God relates to us not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of grace. Our life is simply a response to his love. Accepted First God showers his love upon us simply because he loves us—not because of what we have done, will do, or what potential he may or may not see within us. This is what gives us absolute and utter security. If we do not do anything to win God's love, there is nothing that we could ever do to lose it either. Furthermore, grace means there is nothing we could ever do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we could ever do to make God love us less. His love for us is immovable. This is the difference between Christianity and every other religion. Religion requires you to obey before you are accepted. But the message of Christianity is that you are accepted in and through Jesus Christ first, despite all your faults and failures, and therefore, you obey—not in order to try to win God's love or out of obligation, but out of gratitude for the love you have first been shown. Consider the Exodus story. God could have given his people the Ten Commandments while they were living in bondage in Egypt and required them to follow the law before he rescued them. But instead, he rescues his people first. It is only after he delivers them from their bondage that he then gives them the law in order to show them how to live their lives in response to his love.  It is not law, then grace. It is grace, then gratitude. Contra-Conditional Love Grace is the most powerful force in the world. And yet, at the very same time, it is the most difficult thing for us to accept because it is an affront to our pride and self-sufficiency. When we accept God’s grace, we acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves.  Years ago I had a conversation with a college student who told me, “I hate the very concept of grace because I want God to love me for me. I want God to love me for the things I do for him because then I know what I'm worth. Then I know that I'm valuable.” I tried to help her see that grace is far better. Consider the words of Victor Hugo who said, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” God's love is not conditional or even unconditional. His love is contra-conditional. In Jesus Christ, he does not merely love us as we are. He loves us despite who we are and despite what we have done. That is why Pastor Jack Miller used to say, “Cheer up! You're worse than you think! But in Jesus Christ, you are more loved than you could ever imagine.” The House of David In 2 Samuel 7 we read that several decades after God raised David up to be the prince over Israel, David decides to build a house for the Lord. David is living in a luxurious house with paneled walls made out of fine cedar, and he realizes that by contrast, the Ark of the Covenant—the place where God said that he would dwell in the midst of his people—is being kept in a tent. It suddenly dawns on him that his housing is better than God’s! David, understandably, wants to do something for God by building him a permanent house.  But rather than allowing David to follow through with his plans, God responds by saying God is going to make a house for David, and David's son, in gratitude, will be the one who builds a house for the Lord. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God says, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” God makes this unconditional promise to David—not because of any merit on David's part but out of sheer grace. This is how God works with all of us. Like David, we might want to go out there and do something great for God as a way to prove our worth or win other’s respect and admiration. But God’s grace always precedes our work. He makes the first move and takes the initiative. His grace comes first.  If you continue reading through the Bible, you discover the house of David eventually comes crashing down. The kingdom is plagued by civil war, and eventually, the Babylonians conquer David's kingdom, setting fire to the temple that Solomon builds and carrying away the last kings in the line of David into exile. And yet centuries before, the prophet Isaiah promises that one day a child will be born who will establish and uphold the throne of David with justice and righteousness forever.  The promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7 points us forward to Christ, the true son of God, who knows God as Father. That is why Jesus is repeatedly referred to as the Son of David. When Jesus begins his public ministry, he proclaims: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” And when Jesus establishes the kingdom of God, he says that he will build a house for the Lord in the midst of his people, not in a temple made out of human hands. This means that the moment we put our faith in Jesus, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Building for the Kingdom After becoming a Christian, we might start talking about bringing the kingdom, building the kingdom, advancing the kingdom, expanding the kingdom. But “bringing the kingdom” is precisely the one thing that we cannot do. Only Jesus can do that.  Matthew 6:33 tells us we are called to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We are called to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, to testify to the kingdom, to inherit the kingdom. The kingdom is not something that we achieve through our own effort but rather something we receive as a gift of grace. But that does not mean that we are supposed to sit back and passively await the coming of the kingdom in its fullness. We may not be able to build the kingdom of God, but we can and must build for the kingdom of God. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright writes, “The final coming together of heaven and earth is, of course, God’s supreme act of new creation, for which the only real prototype—other than the first creation itself—was the resurrection of Jesus. God alone will sum up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. He alone will make the ‘new heavens and new earth.’ It would be the height of folly to think that we could assist in that great work. But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom…You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.” The kingdom of God is a present reality because the kingdom is present in Jesus. It is a kingdom of grace, which means that it can only be received. That is why Jesus said in Luke 12:32, “‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’” He went on to say that only those who receive the kingdom like a child will ever enter it. How does a child receive the kingdom? With empty hands. Our faith does not add or contribute anything to our rescue. Faith is simply empty hands which receive what Jesus gives. And what Jesus gives us is himself. Wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom. There is grace. ___ Adapted from David and The Good Life: Grace, a sermon delivered by Jason Harris on October 23, 2022. Listen to the sermon or read the full transcript. Christ and Contemporary Culture is a journal written by Jason Harris which reflects on the intersection between Jesus Christ and our contemporary culture. If you are skeptical or resistant to Christianity, the hope is that you might pause to reflect on your pre-existing ideas about the way things are and perhaps think again. For those who have embraced Christianity, these posts will serve to encourage you in your ability to communicate the gospel in a way that takes our current cultural context seriously. Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee

August 9, 2023 | Read

Beyond Morality: Living a Life of Worship

When most of us think of the “good life,” we are not merely imagining an ethical or moral life but a life that is truly worth living, even in the face of the existential problems with which we must contend. Luc Ferry, a French philosopher and self-proclaimed atheist, offers this interesting thought experiment: Imagine we could wave a magic wand and cause everyone living today to begin treating one another perfectly, with equal dignity and respect. There would be no more war, genocide, racism, or xenophobia. There would be no need for a police force or a standing army. Our judicial system and prisons would eventually disappear. And yet, Ferry suggests that even if we were to wave that magic wand, the most profound existential challenges we face would still not be resolved. This is how he puts it,  “Still—and here I have to weigh each one of my words—none (I really mean none) of our most profound existential problems would be resolved if this came to pass. Nothing, even in a perfect realization of the most sublime morality, would prevent us from aging; from witnessing, powerless, the appearance of wrinkles and white hair; from falling sick, dying, and seeing our loved ones die; from worrying about the outcome of our children’s education or from struggling to achieve what we want for them. Even if we were saints, nothing would guarantee us a fulfilled emotional life.” The point is that morality is indispensable to human life. And yet, it is not enough.  We read in the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel about the importance of living a life of worship before God. David is far from perfect, but that is not what matters. What matters is that whether winning a great victory or committing an egregious sin, David lives a life of repentance and faith. Whether in triumph or defeat, hope or despair, David does not run away from God. He runs towards God. And that is what fills his life with enduring meaning, value, and purpose. What Is Worship? The problem with religion is that it leads us to think of God like a genie in a bottle—rub the lamp and out will pop God to grant you your wishes. Religious people tend to think God is there to serve us, to fulfill all our dreams, and to make us feel good about ourselves. We assume that if we are good enough, pious enough, zealous enough, devout enough, if we say all the right prayers, observe all the right rituals, and keep all of the right rules, then God is obligated to bless us and to make our life go well. We are not really interested in God for who he is—we are merely using God to get whatever we want. And if God does not deliver, then we become angry, bitter, and resentful because he did not fulfill our expectations.  It is critical to realize that the real God will challenge our dreams, not merely fulfill them. The poet W.H. Auden once wrote that a Christian is someone who says, “I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.” God is not here to serve us. We are here to serve him. In fact, in Hebrew the word “worship” and “serve” are the very same word. God is not here to worship us. We are here to worship him. God is not supposed to follow us according to our terms. Rather we are supposed to follow God on his terms. And if we do, then he promises that he will bless us—not out of necessity, but as a pure gift.  Christianity offers this unique view of salvation: God relates to us on the basis of sheer grace, which means that a relationship with God is not something that we achieve through our own efforts, but something we can only receive with empty hands. Religion leads us to say, “I obey, and therefore, God accepts me.” But the gospel tells us, “God accepts me, despite my sin, through the substitutionary sacrifice of another, and therefore I obey.” We strive to love, serve, and honor God, not motivated by mere duty or obligation, but motivated by gratitude and joy for what he has first done for us—not as a way to try to win God's love, but in order to demonstrate that we already have it. If we know that God has done absolutely everything that is necessary in order to cover our sin and put us in right relationship with himself, then that will infuse our life with insuppressible joy, regardless of our life circumstances or personal challenges. There is, of course, a rightful place for lament as we mourn those aspects of our lives or within the wider world that are not yet in line with his purposes. Nevertheless, the foundation of a Christian’s’ life must be one of joy. The English author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.” Why Worship Matters When Isaiah has a vision of the Lord seated enthroned above the ark of the cherubim in Isaiah 6:5, he immediately says, “‘Woe is me! For I am lost!’” Isaiah acknowledges that he is a sinner and “a man of unclean lips.” But despite Isaiah’s sin, God does not strike him down. Instead, one of the seraphim flies to the altar, the place of the sacrifice, and removes one of the burning coals and places it on the lips of Isaiah saying: “‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” God has now made Isaiah clean.  This, of course, was just a vision. We get something far better. There are only two places in the New Testament where the Greek word for “mercy seat” or “place of atonement” is used—once in Romans 3 and once in Hebrews 9. In both cases, “mercy seat” or “place of atonement” is used not to describe a place but a person. Hebrews 10 tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could never do anything to actually take away people's sin. This is just a symbol meant to prepare us for the ultimate high priest who does not enter the most holy place within a humanly constructed temple, but rather he enters into the presence of the divine being himself. And there he offers not the sacrifice of an animal, but rather the sacrifice of his very own self. He gives himself for us so that our sin might be covered by his blood, and so that God in his mercy might forgive us and cleanse us so that we can enter into his holy presence and live. Jesus is the mercy seat and the place of atonement. He is the true prince of peace and the one who makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace and live. And the mercy seat is open, still.  The gospel tells us that God is so holy and you and I really are so flawed that Jesus had to die. There was no other way for us to be able to enter into God's holy presence and live. And yet, at the same time, God is so loving and you and I are so valuable, that Jesus was willing to die for us. When you take these two truths deep into your heart and into your life, then that is what unlocks the joy. Morality and ethics are essential and important, but they are not sufficient to actually live the “good life.”  The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a historic document of faith from the 1600s, begins with this question: What is the chief end of man? In other words, what is the meaning of life? The answer is short: To glorify God and to enjoy him forever. As C.S. Lewis astutely observed, those two commands are actually one and the same. In commanding us to worship him, God is inviting us to enjoy him. The only way in which we truly learn to live the “good life” is through worship, by living our lives before the God of grace. And when we do, it will fill our lives with insuppressible joy.  ___ Adapted from David and The Good Life: Worship, a sermon delivered by Jason Harris on October 16, 2022. Listen to the sermon or read the full transcript. "Christ and Contemporary Culture" is a journal written by Jason Harris which reflects on the intersection between Jesus Christ and our contemporary culture. If you are skeptical or resistant to Christianity, the hope is that you might pause to reflect on your pre-existing ideas about the way things are and perhaps think again. For those who have embraced Christianity, these posts will serve to encourage you in your ability to communicate the gospel in a way that takes our current cultural context seriously. Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee

May 18, 2023 | Read