How Much Faith?

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

In his sermon “The Law and the Promise,” Tim Keller offers his response to those who come asking, “How much do I have to trust God in order to be saved?”

Keller said:

If you are about to fall off a cliff, maybe you’ve already fallen, you’re falling off and you’re on your way to your death, you look up and see a branch sticking out of the side of the cliff, you look up at that thing, and I want to know, “How much faith do you have to have in order for it to save you?”

The answer is, “Just enough faith to grab it.” Because, your faith does not save you at all. It’s not the strength of your faith…it would be the strength of the branch that would save you, not the strength of your faith. If the branch is strong enough to save you, you’re saved.

It is not the quality of your faith, but the object of your faith, that saves you. Trust in God, who is mighty to save.

Sermon: A Lasting Peace

This sermon was delivered to the First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, Texas on October 10, 2021.

Scripture Reading: Joshua 11:16-19

So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death. 18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle.

Sermon: A Lasting Peace

First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, good morning. It is good to be together in fellowship, it is good to worship God, and it is good to come together in search of what is good, lasting, edifying, beautiful, praiseworthy, and true. 

Now, I trust that many of us together in this room know God. But for those that aren’t so certain, for those who are seeking, for those who might be wondering if God is there or if God can be known, well, it is my prayer this morning that God would draw near to us all, not so much that we would find God, but that God would find us and help us not only to see a path forward for how we should live, but that we would see God, that we would encounter Jesus, and that we would all, together, more fully trust him.

I want to tell you how I came to be here today. 

About ten days ago Pastor John Wheatley called me. I missed his call because I was in class, and then I went to lunch with a friend. I had left my cell phone in my desk drawer. 

When I came back from lunch, John came walking down the hall on the second floor at Truett Seminary, and stopped by my office. He then said, “Hey buddy, I normally give a little bit more lead time when I need someone to step in and preach, but I was wondering if you knew anyone who could come and offer the message at FBC Valley Mills on October 10.”

I said that I might be able to do it. I also said that I’d need to talk it over with my wife, Molly, because if you are married, well, maybe, well, you might understand.

So, the question is whether or not John meant “me” by “anyone,” or if he meant “anyone else.” 

Regardless, I’m here. For the record, I did receive clearance from my wife, Molly, to come and be present with you. And I’m glad to be here. My wife is a United Methodist minister, and she is preaching this morning at First Methodist Killeen. Maybe she is planning to say some things about me in her sermon this morning and wanted me out of the way. I guess I’ll have to watch it later on YouTube to find out.

At George’ Restaurant this past Monday John and I had lunch, and he told me what you’ve been up to. He shared that you have been reading the book of Joshua. He shared that you’re moving through the conquest. He had said to me that if I wanted to preach another text, if I wanted to break up the march that had begun with the comforting of Joshua and the crossing of the Jordan and the capture of Jericho, that I could. But I said that I would be happy for us to continue on, to keep going, to take the next steps with Joshua and the people of Israel, and to see what we might learn together.

I want to commend this congregation for reading this book together, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. In Joshua 1, Joshua is not only told by God to “be strong and very courageous,” but he is also told, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then, you will be prosperous and successful.”

That’s a command with a promise. 

Aside from plain, straightforward obedience to that command, some of you might wonder from time to time, “Why in the world do we read these Old Testament stories?” Some of you younger people, in particular, may think as I did in a few, but not all, of my history classes, “These lists of difficult to pronounce names, the foreign geography, these ancient events…why should I care?”

That’s a good question. Let me give you a couple of reasons why we should care. First, we should care because these stories reveal something to us about the human condition, the nature of humanity, and the difficulties of life. Our world continues to be one of conflict, warfare, and strife. While each of us in this room may feel this to be true by differing degrees, that is the world we live in, one that is “not as it should be.” Facing reality is a first step toward wisdom.

But there is a second reason, a theological reason, that I’ll put to you very briefly, and very simply, though it could be the subject for a whole other sermon. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And in Luke’s gospel, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus told his two traveling companions that everything written in Moses and the Prophets somehow pointed to him. The remainder of the New Testament contains citations and allusions to the Old Testament. Without knowledge of the Old Testament, we will not very well understand the New.

We must tend to the book of Joshua, and all of the other books of the Old Testament, not only so that we can better understand history, not only so that we can better understand the world of Jesus in the first century, a world that was steeped in these stories and narratives, but in order that we might more fully understand the character of God as it is revealed in all of Scripture. 

The stories of the Old Testament become our stories in and through our faith in Jesus, and by knowing these stories, by studying these narratives, by searching these words and considering them prayerfully, it is our hope that God might bring us to greater maturity and a deeper faith.

With that end in view, let’s turn our hearts and minds, together, to the reading for today. In today’s portion, we read Joshua and Israelite armies had been victorious in battle. This is not Israel’s first victory, nor will it be their last battle. But it is a significant moment. 

The “kings” with whom Joshua had been fighting, those whom we are told he captured and put to death, were Jabin, king of Hazor, Jobab, king of Madon, the kings of Shimron and Akshaph in the western foothills of Mt. Tabor. We know that Israel also faced the Canaanites in the east and west, the Ammonites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites, who lived at the base of Mount Hermon. We read this in Joshua 11:1-5. We receive a few further details about the kings whom the Israelites conquered in Joshua 12. 

These kings were defeated. According to Joshua 11:19, only one city “made peace” with Israel, the Hivites, who were the inhabitants of Gibeon. The remainder were defeated on the battlefield.

Joshua 11:23 says, “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.”

We might think of this as “peace.”

“Peace” is something, certainly, I think all of us desire. While we may not be fighting a physical battle, as Joshua and the Israelites did, we certainly face inner, spiritual battles day by day. These inner battles may arise first as a wrestling within ourselves. But often we find these battles–what begins on the inside–can bring us into conflict with those around us–manifesting themselves on the outside.

Because of this, we continue to long for “rest” from war. We long for peace. And I’d wager a few of us are in a place of unrest today, if not outright war.

So this morning, in light of our reading, we’re going to consider peace: what it is not, what it is, and how we can have it.

Peace: What It Is Not

First, peace: what it isn’t.

Our English word “peace” has a particular connotation. We associate peace with the absence of battle, the cessation of fighting, a declared end to open conflict. And in a sense, this definition is helpful. Peace does include the absence of strife and hostility between warring factions, a declared end to struggle.

But I think together we can immediately recognize this definition has its limits. We have found ourselves in circumstances where a physical battle is absent, but a mental, emotional, spiritual, or social struggle rages on. In the same way that a lake can appear calm on the surface while underneath and at depth there is turbulence, we’ve seen how appearances can be deceiving. Even within ourselves, we know that while outwardly we can appear to be at peace, inwardly our mind, our emotions, and our spirit can be unsettled. Tumultuous. At war.

I once heard Paul W. Powell, former Dean of Truett Seminary and pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, tell a story of a fight he had with his wife, Cathy. They did not exchange blows. But Paul did say that things became frosty. Paul said Cathy was tough, stubborn. And as they drove down the road, they passed a field where there were a couple of mules, and Paul looked out the window, pointed, and said to Cathy, “Relatives of yours?”

And she said, “Yes. By marriage.”

Now that’s an old joke, one that Paul put to his own purposes. But it is an example of an absence of peace.

Peace is not merely the absence of outward, physical conflict. 

There is another biblical word that can broaden our understanding of peace and help us to better envision the kind of “rest,” the kind of “peace” that we are longing for.

And that leads us to turn to our second question. What is peace?

Peace: What It Is

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “peace” is “shalom.”

“Shalom” encompasses wholeness of the body, or physical health. It encompasses peace and wholeness between two parties, or “right relationship,” whether of groups of people or individuals, and even between people and God. “Shalom” refers to prosperity, success, or fulfillment, what we might otherwise call “human flourishing.” And finally, “shalom” refers to the absence of conflict, or the cessation of war.

In Judges 6:24, we read that Gideon constructed an altar to God and called it “Yahweh Shalom,” or “The Lord is Peace.”

In Numbers 6:24-26, the Lord tells Moses to tell Aaron and his descendants to bless the people of Israel by saying: 

“The Lord bless you

    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”’

This blessing is so that Israel might be reminded that they are under a covenant of “shalom” with God.

Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar text for many of us, where we read:

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This passage promises a coming Messiah who would establish God’s rule, and is understood today by followers of Jesus as having been fulfilled in him.

In Romans 5:1-2, Paul writes, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Trusting Jesus, by faith, yields peace.

In Ephesians 2:14-18, we read, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

Here, Paul writes that Jesus is our peace, and in him, former divisions are overcome, and unity is found, in God.

Some of you are now saying, “So what, Ben, what does this all mean?”

Briefly, what it means is that peace is not merely a state of mind. Peace is a person. Jesus is our peace. The exhortation to be “at peace” that we find in Scripture is not merely an invitation for us to consider self-help techniques or strategies for resolving conflict or wisdom on how best to navigate the difficulties of life. Rather, the promise of peace is rooted in an invitation to relationship, to be reconciled to the one who grounds us in God’s reality, announced by Jesus as God’s kingdom. There, we find that we reside in an “unshakeable” kingdom, and we rest in a person who has won for us ultimate victory, a victory that is final and complete.

Peace: How We Can Have It

On the piece of paper you received on your way in today is a quote from Dwight L. Moody, which says, “Take your stand on the Rock of Ages. Let death, let judgement come: the victory is Christ’s and yours through him.” How, then, do we receive that victory? How do we live in that peace?

If peace is not merely the absence of outward conflict, but peace is also the presence of lasting, sustained wholeness in our relationships, encompassing our relationship with God, with other people and with ourselves, how do we get it?

In the Book of Joshua, we read of a people who experienced a momentary peace, an end to battle, a cessation of outward conflict. Through Joshua, God delivered Israel and established the Israelites in the Promised Land.

Jesus Christ is a conqueror greater than Joshua. In him, we receive eternal peace. We live in the confidence that the final victory over sin, evil, and death has already been won, that on a lonely hill in a time, relatively speaking, not too long ago on a wooden cross, where the skies darkened and where all hope appeared to be lost, Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world and opened the way to an eternal land of promise, and repaired a rift between us and God, making possible reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and everlasting peace.

When Jesus’ friends and disciples watched him die upon the cross, they did not know that three days later Jesus would emerge from the grave in resurrected form. But he did. Jesus was vindicated by the Father, and raised in power by the Spirit. He revealed himself to his disciples, first to the women, and then also to what remained of the Twelve. He was with them for forty days. He taught them concerning the kingdom of God. He commissioned them to go and share good news. It is that same good news we celebrate today. Jesus is alive.

In John 20:21-23, we’re told the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples and said to them “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Having been reconciled to God, we become ambassadors of his peace.

Furthermore, Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The Spirit of God is at work within us, transforming us, healing us, renewing us, and bringing forth evidence that we have been reconciled to God. And that others can be reconciled, too.

How do we receive the peace of God? By trusting in Christ, the one who won for us a  lasting peace, eternal life. The one who offered us the gift of friendship. The one who invites us all to trust him, to follow him.

Do you trust him? Do you want to trust him?

Even if you want to, but don’t yet, that’s a sign he’s calling. Keep seeking. Maybe, today is the day.

Do you want peace? That’s what Christ offers.

May God help us to be “strong and courageous.” It takes strength, and courage, to trust that Jesus Christ is for us our peace, the one in whom we have victory. 

Today, trust that in Jesus we have received peace, and that as a people who have been extended the gift of peace with God, we might bear witness to that peace, inviting all we encounter to likewise trust in God, the one who has given us eternal rest, and who has welcomed us into his eternal kingdom, and who has promised us that we are “more than conquerors” in Christ Jesus.

Let us pray. 

Sermon: “Come to Me”

This sermon was delivered to the people of the First Baptist Church, Valley Mills, Texas, on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Introductory Remarks

Good morning.

If you would, please open your Bibles to Matthew 11:16-30. We’ll be reading out text in just a moment, and as we do so, I think it would be wise if as we hear these words we would also read these words together, so that we may think carefully about them as God’s people.

As you turn, let me say that it’s good to be with you, and it is an honor that your pastor, John Wheatley, invited me to join you today in worship. John is my friend by way of our shared work at Truett Seminary. John has also always spoken highly of you, this congregation. It is good to be with you this morning.

You may have heard or seen that my job at Truett has a long title: I serve as the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. One of my friends asked, “Does that fit on your business card?” What does that mean? It means that I educate, inspire, and assist others in growing to become more like Jesus Christ in their inmost being, so that they might best serve his kingdom and purposes.

John said I could speak this morning about anything that I wanted to. Usually, when someone tells me that, I talk about professional wrestling. But instead, today I thought I’d talk about the work of spiritual formation. At Truett, when we engage with seminarians in our work to “become more like Jesus,” we can only hope that that work is already well underway, having begun in the context of the local church. The local church is the most vital, the most critical, and the most important setting within which people come to see Jesus, know Jesus, trust Jesus, follow Jesus, serve Jesus, and grow to become like Jesus until the day in which we are called home to be with Jesus in eternity.

Never forget that this shared work, as part of this people, in this local congregation, as part of this community, is interwoven and indispensable to the outworking of God’s redemptive purposes in history. God is working right here, among this people within whom Christ dwells. We are part of the body of Christ.

In order to function as the body of Christ we must listen to and heed the Word of God. Let’s hear these words from the Gospel of Matthew 11:16-30.

Reading: Matthew 11:16-30

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,

    and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge,

    and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This is God’s Word.


What does our Scripture reading have to teach us today? What is God saying to us, today, in this text?

How does this passage help us to grow in becoming more like Jesus? And how does it call us to change, to respond, to think differently, to feel differently, to speak differently, to act differently, in light of God’s character, God’s person, and God’s grace?

Let’s consider four broad movements found in this passage which we will examine together today:

  1. The Way is Not Plain to Everyone (9)
  2. The Way is Not Taken by All (8)
  3. The Way is a Path That’s Revealed (9)
  4. The Way is a Person, Who Calls (8)

The Way is Not Plain to Everyone

Imagine if you will for a moment you are the owner of a gas station along a main highway which runs through the center of a fairly well developed town. You’ve lived in the community for years, and you know every curve, bump, and byway like the back of your hand. You’ve been along the main roads and the backroads, the side streets and the alleyways. You’ve seen people come and go, houses built up and torn down, businesses launch and close down. You’ve seen it, and you know the place.

One day a stranger comes into your store and they ask you how to get to the Johnson place. The Johnsons live on the outskirts of town, five turns from your station. You quickly tell the stranger, “Head north, turn right on Maple, drive three quarters of a mile and take a left hand turn on a small, unmarked drive just past a metal sculpture built from old mufflers outside of the pizza place there, then catch FM 1695 eastbound until you pass a barn with a faded Texas flag painted on the rooftop, after which you’ll see CR 529. Turn right there, and another two miles down the way, you’ll come to the Johnson place. The Johnson’s have a green mailbox with a small John Deere tractor on the top, which hides slightly behind an old hackberry tree, so keep your eyes open.”

The stranger may say, “Come again?”

Now, it’s not that they couldn’t get there. It’s not that you didn’t do a good job describing the way. But it is nevertheless true that the more familiar you become with something–with a place, with a way of life, with a manner of speaking, with a set of beliefs or a way of seeing the world–the more you forget what it was like for you to discover these things yourself. It took time, experience. And when a new person comes along, an outsider who doesn’t share the same knowledge and experience, sometimes we assume they should just “get it.”

In our passage today, Jesus doesn’t address people who are trying to get to the Johnson place. Rather, Jesus is addressing people who are trying to determine if he is the Messiah, God’s anointed one, the one who was anticipated and hoped for, the one who would usher in God’s kingdom and bring salvation and deliverance and peace.

If we look at the broader context, we see that Jesus is addressing “the crowd” when we begin our reading, and he is speaking to them specifically about John the Baptist. Jesus identifies John as a prophet, and more than a prophet: the Elijah who was to come, the one who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah. 

Nevertheless, there are those in the crowd who have refused to see John as the Messiah’s forerunner and to heed John’s direction, his “pointing the way,” if you will. When Jesus compares this generation to children saying, “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn,” he is saying, this is a generation that cannot be satisfied, a generation that will always find a reason to say, “Nope, not that one.”

Jesus makes this plain for us when he says that John was rejected because he was too rigid, too strict, “neither eating nor drinking.” But when Jesus comes feasting, he is counted as being too loose. Tainted. Wild.

As readers today, and as those who are very familiar with the story of Jesus and where it goes, we think we wouldn’t have made the same mistake. We think, “Yes, we recognize Jesus. But outsiders, those in the crowd, they don’t. Why don’t they get it?”

But the irony here is that Matthew 11 begins with John the Baptist sending a word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replies, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

You see insiders and outsiders can get it wrong. They can miss Jesus because they expect the wrong things of Jesus. We can expect the wrong things of Jesus. Rather than seeing Jesus as the Way, they miss it. We miss it. The church, dare I say, has at times missed Jesus when he has been standing here and in our midst. We’ve said, “Nope, not that one.”

Followers of Jesus, myself included, should always be marked by a tremendous humility. We should demonstrate deep knowledge that the Way of Jesus, the Person of Jesus, the invitation of Jesus, is not plain to everyone, and it once wasn’t plain to us. And if it is plain to us–that’s a sign of God’s grace. And we should constantly humble ourselves, seeking after God, saying, “Lord, light my way.”

The Way is Not Taken By All

In addition to the way not being plain to everyone, our text today shows us that the way is not taken by all.

Jesus speaks harsh words, hard words for us to hear today, for we like to think of God as a God of mercy and love rather than as a God of justice and judgment. The truth is God is both. That is the testimony of the Scriptures. 

When Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe, Bethsaida! Woe, Capernaum!” we are given a warning. We would not want Jesus to say, “Woe to you, Austin! Woe, Waco! Woe, Woodway (where I live)! Woe, Valley Mills!” No, we do not want that.

Jesus speaks of the miracles performed in these places, the signs and wonders that had been performed in those places testifying to God’s power, to the inbreaking kingdom, and to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Yet, not all accepted him.

And while we may say, “If I were there, I would have believed,” we cannot be so sure. They saw miracles. 

But, we have been given testimony to an even greater miracle. We have heard the witness of those who saw something greater than anything which took place in Chorazin or Bethsaida or Capernaum. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul writes:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

On the third day, the tomb was empty. Christ is risen. Do we believe in this testimony, and thereby, believe in Christ? If we have not accepted Jesus as the Risen One, we have not accepted his way.

The Way is a Path That’s Revealed

If we have not accepted Jesus, if we have not chosen to walk after him and to follow his way, perhaps it is because we have not yet seen. Earlier I spoke of the humility that should be characteristic of a Christian person. Why should a Christian person be humble? Because salvation is no accomplishment or work of our own. It is an act of God’s grace.

Notice that after Jesus finishes pronouncing woes, he transitions to offering praise. Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

Jesus then announces that “all things” have been entrusted to him by the Father, and that for those who trust Jesus, they too will know the Father. The Son reveals the Father. The Son, according to Hebrews 1:3, “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” In John 14:9, Jesus tells Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Christians worship and proclaim God as Trinity–three persons; one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each as unique divine persons, yet as One God. In Jesus Christ, we have been united to this God through the gift of faith. When Jesus says, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” he is telling us that he is the way to God.

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John 14:7, Jesus adds, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

The way to God is a path that is revealed. It is revealed by a person: the Son.

The Way is a Person, the Son

If we’ve learned anything today from our constellation of texts, as we have brought other passages of Scripture to bear on our primary reading, we will have seen that Jesus not only reveals the way and leads the way, but he himself is the Way.

Jesus’ great invitation in our passage this morning is this: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Those words have provided comfort to many for generations. They have provided comfort to me. Jesus looks upon the crowds, those who surround him, knowing that there are both those who reject him and those who desire to trust him, and he says these words, “Come to me.”

He speaks to the weary and the burdened. He offers rest. He uses an agrarian image, that of the yoke, bringing to our mind an image of the mature, well trained ox being paired together with a young, inexperienced steer. Jesus does not place himself behind the plow, urging us along, or ahead of the plow, showing the way. Rather, he places himself under the yoke, walking with, bearing up, experiencing alongside, and teaching, teaching, always teaching.

Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He says that he is gentle and humble in heart. Philosopher, theologian, and ordained Baptist preacher Dallas Willard once stated that discipleship to Jesus is “the way of the easy yoke,” not because following Jesus does not involve hardship or sacrifice, but because Jesus’ way truly is best. There is no other person, no other figure in human history, who can put us in touch with reality in such a way that we grow to be fully human, which is what God intended for us prior to the human race’s captivity to sin. 

Christ is the only one who can restore us, who can lead us into true rest. In fact, he has done it. Jesus bore our deepest burden and the greatest source of our weariness, the burden of sin, upon the cross, and there he put it to death. He is risen and now reigns, and his invitation still stands: “Come to me.” We are invited into his rest. It is freely given: a grace. We are invited to freely receive it.

The great salvation of Jesus is that not only does he redeem you from sin, not only does he reconcile you to God, but he remakes you, renews you, and reforms you so that you may faithfully serve as a representative of  Jesus Christ and his kingdom. He teaches you his way. He is the Way.

In John 17:3, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me.” That’s the great invitation. Not, “be a better person.” But, “Come to me.” Trust in him. He will give you rest.

Will you do it? Will you come to Jesus?

Let us pray.

Wesley’s Doctrine of Entire Sanctification

Image by Just killing time from Pixabay

Kevin Watson is a scholar I appreciate and respect. This sermon is worth reading, even if you do not agree with Wesley’s argument for “Christian perfection.”

Here’s an excerpt:

We live in a world that is broken and hurting. People come to church looking for hope and healing. Increasingly, they are unwilling to give us much time to convince them that we actually have answers. If it appears that all we have to offer are some self-help strategies to tweak our lives and make them slightly better through the sheer force of our will, they will not stick around because they are smart enough to know that they don’t have to come to church to get that.

Here is what I am staking my life on: I believe that Jesus is real. I believe that he really lived, died on the cross, was raised from the dead on the third day, and has ascended to the right hand of God the Father. I believe that the Holy Spirit is with us now. I am staking my life on the truth of the gospel as it has been received by the church over centuries.

Entire sanctification is not about legalism and it is not about working harder and straining more. It is about receiving the gift of God’s perfect love into every single part of your life and allowing the love of God to change you, to heal you, to bring forgiveness, hope, and even healing in every place where it is needed. Entire sanctification is about the radical optimism that the grace of God is sufficient for every need. Entire sanctification makes us bold to look the world full in the face with eyes wide open to suffering and needs we know we cannot meet in our strength and have the faith to say “Jesus!” in complete trust and confidence that he is the answer.

I’m sharing this for three reasons.

I like Watson. That’s the first.

Second, I’m bookmarking this sermon for myself.

And third, a body to whom this message was delivered is that of the saints of Pollard United Methodist Church, who gather in my hometown of Tyler, Texas. Pollard is within eyesight of Andy Woods Elementary, where I attended first and second grade (Mrs. Giles and Mrs. Smith), and across the street from Pollard Park, where I took part in more than one practice for more than one sport. I have vague memories there from under a large oak tree, and playing on the playground with friends and classmates.

Is Preaching the “Big Idea” a Bad Idea?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Conventional wisdom says no.

But in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Vol. 61, No. 4, Dec 2018), Abraham Kuruvilla says yes, the “Big Idea” is a bad idea, and preaching the Word of God for the people of God is the right idea. Scripture is not something to be distilled to a key idea to remember, but is a text to be preached, and the task of the preacher is to present the Word of God in a manner that allows the congregation to do the work of theology together. Kuruvilla argues further that Scripture not only says something in its proclamation, but does something, and therefore exhortation is not primarily argumentative, but demonstrative.

“Big Idea” preaching offers principles and practical wisdom, often in the form a of memorable or arresting statement that conveys an important concept drawn from a Scriptural text. When this preaching method is taught, it is recommended that the key concept of the sermon be written as a clear, concise, and compelling sentence. It is the main “take away” or point. Kuruvilla calls this the distillate–the thing leftover when the text has been boiled away. Everything else in the sermon is illustrative of the distillate.

But that is the problem. Kuruvilla writes:

Such an operation assumes that the text is a conglomeration of unordered (disordered?) data. And the distillate is the product of an interpreter’s reworking of this raw textual data and its massaging into something supposedly more intelligible and easier to grasp (and preach)–the Big Idea. One would then have to wonder at God’s wisdom in giving the bulk of his Scripture in non-propositional form. Perhaps deity would have served himself and his people better had he just stuck to a bulleted list of timeless Big Ideas rather than messy stories and arcane prophecies and sentimental poetry, all of which turns out to be merely illustrations or applications of “underlying . . . principle[s] behind the text.” This Big Idea approach of traditional evangelical homiletics may even suggest that once one has gotten the distillate of the text, one can abandon the text itself.

I’ve seen it happen. Kuruvilla says that the alternative is for the interpreter to “pay close attention to the text, privileging it, not just to discover some kernel hidden in it, but to experience the thrust and force of the text qua text, in toto and as a whole–the text irreducible into any other form.”

That’s easier said that done. But it can be done. It can be done by trusting God and the people of God. God works through the preaching of the Word, and the Spirit works in the lives of the people. The Word should be explained carefully, and applied faithfully. But by preaching the Scripture in toto, allowances are made for God to take a minor note of the text and sound it more fully in the life of a particular hearer. More possibilities are opened beyond one assertion or Big Idea.

Kuruvilla says that it is time for preaching methodology to change, to recenter on the Word and to rethink our approach. Perhaps the shift can be sped along if it comes from two direction: preachers who chose to more fully and carefully exposit the Scriptures within the sermon, and congregants who gently urge their ministers to exhort them directly with the Word of God.

God Prepares, Sends, Call, and Provides

This message was delivered to the people of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 11, 2018. The occasion was the ordination of my friend, Jennea Pilcher.

Opening Remarks and Word of Testimony

Good evening. It is good to be here tonight and to look upon some familiar faces. I’d like to thank Pastor Jerimiah and Jennea, as well as the people of University Baptist Church, for extending an invitation to me to be part of this wonderful occasion. It is truly an honor to be here, to witness the work of God in this place, and to worship and give thanks together for what it is that God has done.

Many of you are aware that I served this congregation from June of 2013 to June of 2016 as Minister to Students. In youth ministry, you might be aware that a common element of a typical gathering is games. But you see, that isn’t exactly my forte. From the day I began service, I knew I’d need help in that regard. So all during my first summer, I prayed.

And God answered. On the first Sunday of the fall semester Jennea Pilcher attended the College Bible Study class in Room 200, led by Cheryl and Tim Wilson. Jennea was pleased to see a familiar face–Kathy Raines had met Jennea at TCU’s church fair, and though their meeting had maybe taken place the previous year, Kathy remembered Jennea, and welcomed her. Not long afterward Jennea and I had a conversation. She was interested in youth ministry. And she would be more than happy to plan, prepare, and lead the games portion of our Wednesday night gatherings.

Jennea became a key leader in our youth ministry. She served this church as an intern, and later as interim youth pastor, and she and I became not only colleagues, but friends. Jennea shared with me her passion for missions, and her discernment regarding her calling in life. Her experiences in South Africa had led her to believe that God may have been calling her to serve as a missionary. I, of course, asked, “What about youth ministry?”

Jennea answered firmly: “No.”

I eventually came to ask her about pastoring, about serving the local church. Throughout the Bible there are examples of women exercising leadership and having authority, who set for us a tremendous example of faith. In the Old Testament we find Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who feared God and defied Pharoah, Ruth the Moabite, Esther the Queen, Huldah the Prophetess, Deborah the Judge, among others. In the New Testament we read about Mary the mother of Jesus, her cousin Elizabeth, Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha, Dorcas, Lydia, Junia, and the daughters of Philip the Evangelist, who had the gift of prophecy, as well as others.

Now, I know there are some passages in the Bible that are hermeneutically challenging, that are difficult to interpret, and some of those even have to do with women in leadership. But I trust this congregation has done that work, and has proceeded here tonight convicted by the Holy Spirit that this is God’s will, that you as a body have witnessed God’s gifts and graces resting upon Jennea, and have chosen to set her apart and to ordain her for the work of the gospel ministry.

That is a decision I am glad to affirm and applaud.

Scripture Reading

Our Scripture reading for tonight comes Jeremiah 1:1-9. We read:

1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. 2 The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, 3 and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

before you were born I set you apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.

This is God’s Word.


Jeremiah was a prophet of Israel. He was appointed by God as a messenger during a difficult and challenging time. Jeremiah’s time was not unlike our own. You could say God wasn’t exactly “in,” but God wanted a relationship with his people, so he sent them a messenger. Jeremiah was not always well loved by those in power. No, he was a bit of a troublemaker. But he was faithful to God. That, in the end, is what counts.

This text contains vital truth for the minister, for the pastor, for the person who serves God while serving the church. But it also contains truth for every Christian, for each one of us, for it reveals to us what God has done, and what God is doing. We see how God set apart Jeremiah. But we also find that God has likewise set apart each one of us, called us and incorporated us into God’s plan and purpose, bringing about the kingdom of God in our midst through the people he has gathered, the church.

This reading tells us, first that God prepares. Second, it tells us that God calls. Third, it tell us that God sends. And lastly, it tells us that God provides.

God Prepares

First, God prepares. God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” God had seen that there would be a need, and God appointed a prophet, one whom God foreknew even before he was born.

We find a similar thought in Psalm 139:13-16. David writes:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

In Luke 1:14-17, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, that John “will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Jennea, it is vital for you to remember, and for all of us to remember, that even before we were born, God was preparing us for this moment, for this time, in which to live and serve. Paul said it well in Acts 17:25-27, in that God “himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

God uses our life experiences, both the good and the difficult, to prepare us and refine us, to shape us so that we might best serve under God’s reign. God prepares the way, and prepares us. This may lead us to some uncomfortable places. This may lead us to places where the soil is rocky. Conversely, it may also lead us to places where the waters are still and the grass is lush. Be encouraged. God is with us. God is the source of all joy, but God is no stranger to sorrow. If you do not believe that, look at Jesus Christ.

God, indeed, prepares.

God Calls

Secondly, God calls.

In Jeremiah 1:4 we read, “The word of the Lord came” to Jeremiah. He was given a summons, a call, an invitation. As Christians, we worship the God who speaks, the God who brought our reality, the Creation, into being with a word. God spoke to Abraham and said, “Go to the land I will show you.” He spoke to Moses and said, “remove your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

God continues speaking, continues calling. In the New Testament, that call is revealed most fully and completely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 4:18-20, we read that “18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.”

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that Jesus Christ, “walked the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man; he walked that way in order to seek sinners!” When he came and walked among us, he called human beings unto himself as disciples. He was the companion of ordinary men and women, of the very old and the very young, and to all he said, “Come to me.”

God’s word came to Jeremiah. And Jesus’ word comes to us: “Come to me.” God calls us, as disciples and as followers, as the redeemed, as those to whom God has extended his salvation. This calling is true for every person in this room, no matter how saintly you are, or how far from God you may believe yourself to be–if you’re here, you are not as far from God as you think.

The prophet Jonah said, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” We are called to trust the saving work of Jesus, even as we are called to follow. Each of us has a calling. It is not hidden behind a veil of mystery. It is the calling to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

But some, like Jennea, sense a calling to serve God in a particular way as a shepherd, as a voice, as a minister, as a pastor. And, as is true for all of us, it is important to remember that that word, that summons, has come from God. The surety, the depth of conviction regarding that calling, sustains us.

God calls.

God Sends

Thirdly, God sends.

God said to Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” God is a sending God.

And this message proved to be important to Jeremiah. He would be sent to Israel, not only to proclaim God’s word before ordinary people, but also before the most powerful people in the land, people who had the means and authority to arrest him, detain him, and even execute him.

God remains a sending God. But when we are sent by God, we have nothing to fear.

In John 20:19-23, following Jesus’ resurrection, we are told

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus did not want his disciples to remain behind locked doors, hiding from those in authority, but instead to go out, to enter into the world, to proclaim the kingdom of God, to offer forgiveness, to preach the gospel of repentance, and to invite all people into fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 28:18-20, the risen Jesus said to his disciples, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jeremiah was given a mission. We have been given a mission.

That is our mission.

It is the best mission. The word gospel means, “good news.” We have been given the best possible news. Christ is risen! And because Jesus has conquered death and defeated the grave and atoned for our sin and opened the way to fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, we can have peace with God. We can also be about God’s work, feeding the hungry and offering drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and visiting those who are sick or in prison. We can proclaim good news to the poor, and declare the year of Jubilee. Christ has come, and now he sends.

This is a word for you, Jennea. Christ now sends you into the world as a minister of his good news. Not your good news. His good news. But this is also a word for all of us. Christ sends us into the world as heralds, as servants, as witnesses. We are sent.

God sends.

God Provides

Lastly, God provides.

When Jeremiah is told by God that he has been appointed as a prophet to the nations, he has a reasonable response.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.

You see, God prepared Jeremiah, called him, and sent him, but he also promises to provide for him, to be with him and to give him the things that he will need.

God promises his presence, “I am with you.” God promises his protection, “I will rescue you.” And God promises his provision: “I have put my words in your mouth.”

You may be afraid. There is wisdom in knowing you are afraid, but there is also wisdom in knowing that we serve a God who has power over all things that cause us to be afraid, and he has given us the promise of his presence and protection. You may be anxious because you are young, and that you may not have the wisdom or the words you will need, but you can find assurance in the knowledge that we serve a God who is from old and who is all-wise. Anything you need, God can provide. And God dwells within you. It is Christ in you. It is the Holy Spirit that is in you. Learn to walk by faith, and you will never lack. God’s abundance is inexhaustible; his riches are beyond measure.

God will provide.

God provides.


We are gathered here today for worship, and to set apart a friend and fellow servant for the work of the gospel ministry. Some of us may be tempted to say, “This is what Jennea Pilcher is doing.” Or, “This is what we, University Baptist Church, are doing.”

But the good news for us today is that this is what God is doing. God is the one who is at work in our midst. God has prepared, called, sent, and now provides for us what we, as the people of God, need in order to continue to follow Jesus faithfully. That includes pastors, ministers. God has appointed a servant, our friend Jennea. God has invited us as companions, to God and to one another. God has made this possible through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Are we not thankful? Is God not good? Is God not worthy of our ceaseless wonder and praise, our glad and joyful obedience?

I’m thankful. God is good. God is worthy. Praise be to God. Amen.