The Letter to Ephesus

This summer my local congregation, Lutheran Church of the Master, is engaged with a series of sermons from Revelation 2-3. I am filling in for our pastor for many Saturday evening vespers services. So far I have preached on the first three churches of the Revelation. Here is the first, The Letter of Jesus to the Church in Ephesus.

Note: These seven letters were all given by Jesus to John to deliver to the angel/messenger/bishop of each church.

Download audio file here.
Posted in Biblical Theology, Church History, Current Affairs, The Church | 3 Comments/Likes

Jesus’ Upside-Down Kingdom

The kingdom of Jesus turns everything “upside down.” We settle far too easily for a tame and non-threatening gospel where grace does not surprise us. This sermon was preached at Lutheran Church of the Master, Carol Stream, IL, on June 11-12. I share it because I hope it will edify and encourage you if you like to hear a biblical sermon as an audio file.

Download audio file here.
Posted in ACT 3, Biblical Theology, Homiletics/Preaching, Jesus, Kingdom of God, The Church | 3 Comments/Likes

Should Ecclesiastes Be in the Biblical Canon?

iuMy question will likely startle some. It seems obvious to others. Count me among the latter group. I have read the book many, many times but it has never seemed clearly apparent to me that it belongs, even among the books that we call the “wisdom literature.”

I recently read Ecclesiastes again, this time in The Message. Same question: Why is it here? How does it belong?

The writer undertakes an investigation of experience at all levels. He asks questions about creation, justice, the wise versus the foolish, and the just versus the unjust. He insists that though God is sovereign over all things we cannot know exactly what God is doing or why he is doing it. What then is our proper human response? To take what we get now and use it as best we can. (Here is the observation that I wish I had learned much sooner! I tried to connect the dots of providence in my life overmuch and quite often I did so way too simplistically.)

So when various theologians and preachers tell you how God is directing events read this book. It is impossible to know when or how God is ruling over our lives and changing history in our little moment in time. Simply put: it is always a dangerous and problematic thing to become an interpreter of providence. (The Puritans prove my point!!!) The writer (Qoheleth) says “Here is what I understand as good: it is well if a person eat, drink, and enjoy all the fruits of one’s life, for this is a person’s lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:17). Everything has a proper time. There is a “time to be born and a time to die . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh” (3:2-3). But the “why” and the precise “when” are known only to God. The advice of Qoheleth is simple: “Fear God” (5:6).

The historical fact is that the Jewish rabbis fought for a long time over whether to include Ecclesiastes in the canon of the Bible. Most agree that its ultimate inclusion happened because it was attributed to Solomon. (An editor seems to have added a pious conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:9-14.) This message at the end can be summed up by this statement: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13).

I believe it is fortunate that the rabbis included this book in the Bible. Why? (I’ll not give you a pious, highly technical defense of canonicity and biblical authority, though I certainly have a high view of the Bible!)

This book teaches something we desperately need today as much as ever. There is a great gulf between the transcendent God and our human striving to understand and to control affairs. (I remind myself of this as I watch another election cycle unfold and fear the worst outcomes.) We want to determine the best course of action for out times and we believe that we must have some say in it. We kid ourselves. We think that if we do things just so then everything will turn out well (or at least better) because: “It really is a wonderful life.” But this is false piety. True piety trusts God even when things are seemingly meaningless. True piety leads us to surrender to God’s loving care even when we have no idea where it will lead. We all know this instinctively but Qoheleth makes it abundantly plain in Ecclesiastes!


Posted in Biblical Theology, Current Affairs, God's Character, History, Spirituality | 24 Comments/Likes

The Life and Last Days of a Saint: Dr. Ben Campbell Johnson

Since our last update, Ben returned to ICU.

On Wednesday morning, the heart surgeon, Ben’s primary doctor throughout these last three months, shared with Nan that there was nothing else medically that could be done to improve his health. He felt that Ben’s body is just wearing out and it was time to consider comfort care and a move to hospice. 

Dr. Jim Keller, close family friend, a retired Emory doctor and the best advocate Ben and Nan could ever have, came to talk with the other doctors and asked Ben if he knew what was going on. Ben said yes, he did and that he was ok with the next steps of comfort care and hospice.

Ginger and Chris, Ben’s children, arrived yesterday. After they had some time with Ben, Jim Keller arrived and Ben motioned to see him. With the trac, it is very difficult for Ben to speak but when Jim put his finger over the trac, Ben said very clearly that he is ready to die. 

Nan and Ben had some time alone to talk where, several times, he told her he loved her. Nan shared with him that she would support his wishes and told him “I will help you with this”  What unimaginable unconditional love!

Today, Nan and all the children (even Mark on Speaker phone) and Jim Keller met with the hospice coordinator to arrange the move to the hospice unit at Emory later today.

I had the gift of being with Ben and Nan on Wednesday and read Psalms to Ben as he guided which ones he wanted to hear. For the last one, I was really having a hard time understanding him and thought he said ’21’. When I asked him, he shook his head no, then I guessed ‘1’, again he shook his head no, then he mouthed ‘121’ I knew by his expression that this was the right one!

So, I leave this with you now as a gift of encouragement shared by Ben for ‘such a time as this’

Psalm 121 A Song of Ascents. NKJV

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?

My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;  He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.


The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in; From this time forth, and even forevermore.

Amen and Amen

My deacon friend wrote me earlier this week: “Ben will be greatly missed by this (Catholic) deacon.” Though I barely knew Ben he touched my life. I am reminded again that one meeting with one person can touch and impact a life very powerfully. I am sure Ben touched thousands of lives. He was filled with deep joy and empowered by abiding love. I am grateful that I was allowed to see this reality and be touched by Ben’s life. Now I pray for a safe and glorious final chapter in Ben’s earthly story. Go in peace dear brother. God loves you and you clearly loved him. What else can one desire in this life?

Posted in Evangelism, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Spirituality | 12 Comments/Likes

A Swedish House Church Movement of Revival

Pietism produced many expressions and forms. In the end, Pietism was a rival/renewal movement in the centuries following the Reformed and Lutheran Reformations of the sixteenth century. I personally believe the post-Reformation produced a new type of scholasticism that help to reduce the flame of reformation to a flicker. Pietism is quite often seen by modern Reformed and Lutheran confessional adherents as a bad development. If you believe in church renewal and the work of the Spirit you should rethink this idea.


Posted in Charismatic Christianity, Church History, Pietism, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 9 Comments/Likes

Was Pietism an Expression of an Early Pentecostal Movement?

The Assemblies of God maintains an official heritage center called the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Darrin Rodgers is the director of the Flower Center. In this video he addresses the important question of the relationship of the Pentecostal renewal in the last century with the movement of Pietism in the post-Reformation era. It strikes me that honest historical research, which is not built on anti-Pentecostalism, cannot help but draw the conclusions that Dr. Rodgers makes in this helpful video.

Posted in ACT 3, Charismatic Christianity, Pietism, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 11 Comments/Likes

The ACT3 Cohort Group Begins Monday, May 23

On Monday, May 23, the next ACT3 Cohort begins in Carol Stream, IL. We meet in the beautiful garden room at Windsor Park on Rt. 64.

If you are interested in being a participant in this dynamic group you need to decide in the next ten days or so. This will be the best multi-denominational and multi-ethnic group I’ve had in the four-plus years we’ve trained leaders in this context. Remember, this is NOT for clergy only at all. In fact, most of those who come to the Cohorts are not clergy. Contact me directly with any questions.

If the price tag is too steep please let me know your need as I am seeking scholarship monies for all who have genuine need.

Posted in ACT 3, Discipleship, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 5 Comments/Likes

ACT3 Monday Evening Forum

The first ACT3 Monday Evening Forum of 2016 takes place this evening at 7:00 p.m. My guest is Dr. Jon Nilson, professor of theology emeritus at Loyola University in Chicago. The topic is:

“Good Theology Must Be Ecumenical: Why & How?”
Dr. Jon Nilson in dialogue with Dr. John H. Armstrong

We begin at 7:00 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. We meet at Lutheran Church of the Master, 580 Kuhn Road, Carol Stream, IL 60188. There is no charge and no registration. Please come and share your questions with us all. There will be no audio or video taping. I do not have the resources to do this well and no one to help me do it.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Roman Catholicism, Theology, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

Does What We Sing Matter to the Faith of the Church?

Since the 1970s we have had a raging debate about singing and music in the church. This debate has often come down to “traditional” music, or (old) hymns, versus “modern,” or popular music. The real truth is that the great influence on church music has been a combination of the charismatic influence, much of which is good in directing our hearts to God in personal praise, and the popular songs of television and pop-culture. This “performance” music is not good, at least in my view. Why?

People do not participate in “praying twice” (St. Augustine) as much as they watch and observe and see a professional production of varying quality. On contrast, pietism went right to the heart of people when they sang their faith. What happens if we cease to express our communion in the common faith in deep and thoughtful ways?

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Liturgy, Music, Personal, Prayer, Protestantism, Renewal, Spirituality | 19 Comments/Likes

Martin Marty on the Roots of Pietism

The famous church historian Martin Marty is part of a new series on pietism. This short clip is well worth watching. Marty “nails it” when it comes to what was lacking in the early Lutheran Reformation and the doctrinal emphasis that followed.


Posted in ACT 3, Church History, Protestantism, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 7 Comments/Likes