Category Archives: Commentary

SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms


On this Memorial Day weekend, I want you to imagine two scenes. First, picture a peaceful tropical beach resort, yourself lying in a hammock with a cold drink and good book. Seagulls are squawking and the sounds of the surf provide a relaxing soundtrack. Feel the sun warming your neck, and the gentle breeze keeping you cool. Peace and serenity abound.

Second, now picture a boat being tossed violently in the stormy waters of the open sea. Waves 30 feet high are crashing over the bow, and flooding the deck. You’re stumbling around on deck, bailing water, and doing everything possible to keep the ship from going down. Which scene best describes your life these days?

Or, consider two different kinds of umbrellas. The first person is relaxing at the cabin under a giant umbrella on the beach, the kind that provides a little shade from the hot summer sun. The second person is hiding under a rain umbrella, as the skies pour down cold rain on the fun you hoped to have this holiday weekend. Which umbrella are you holding in your hand in this particular season of your life?

The story we’re looking at today in Acts 27 is about Paul being shipwrecked on his voyage to Rome where he’ll stand trial before Caesar. The narrative is filled with action, drama, power, emotional angst and stress, as well as heroic faith, bold leadership and God’s rescuing presence. Let’s dig in!

—Read Acts 27—

The phrases in the text give a colorful description of the struggles we all experience at times: “The winds were against us” (v. 4) and “We were having great difficulty” (v. 7). We all have those moments when it feels like we’ll never get a break, we’re swimming up stream, going against the currents of life.

“We were making slow headway” (v. 6) and “Much time had been lost” (v. 9)Ever feel like its too late for you? Like time is slipping away and you’ll never find “the one” and get to start a family? Or, you’re pushing 40 years old and you still haven’t found your calling in life?

“We were caught in the storm…we gave way to it…we were being driven along” (v. 15). Ever feel like you’ve lost all control, and you’re just being driven along? Do you know what it feels like to finally just give up fighting and just give yourself completely over to your monster, your addiction, your weakness or temptation?

In verse 17 it describes how the crew were desperately trying to put ropes and cables around the ship, to prevent the whole thing from breaking apart. Do you ever feel like your family or career or emotional health is coming undone and the entire thing could break apart into a million pieces never to be restored?

“We took a violent battering” as the “the storm continued raging.” Will this awful nightmare ever end? How long must I stay in this miserable place? Will the sun ever shine again in my life, will the waves ever be calmed?

When hope vanishes completely behind the dark clouds of the storm, we are in danger of giving up. “We finally gave up all hope of being rescued.” Have you ever been there?

So, I want to ask the question today: How do you get through the storms of your life? We’ll all face them.  In this story, in verse 29 it says,

“Fearing that we were about to be dashed against the rocks, we dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight.”

Today I want to offer up four or five anchors to throw out to keep you from dashing against the rocks in your storms.  Continue reading SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms

My Name Is Lucky: The Tale of Eutychus

Here’s an imaginative first person narrative sermon I prepared and performed back in April of 2013 about the strange story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. Enjoy!

I remember it was early spring and unseasonably warm. It was just after Passover. I can still smell the warm, salted breeze coming off the Aegean sea, and hear the squalk of seagulls circling above. We stood on the hill overlooking the harbor and waited for the ship to appear on the horizon.  The ship was carrying the Great Apostle we had heard so much about.

The stories were unbelievable. In every city he visited remarkable things took place.  A cripple was healed in one city. A slave girl was freed from an evil spirit in another. He was worshiped as a god one moment and nearly stoned to death the next. Nothing matched the stories told about his time in Ephesus.  There his preaching upset the entire economy and started a riot in the theater one day. Another day his preaching led local occultists to burn their expensive books of magic spells in a large bonfire. The most remarkable rumor of all was the claim that peope were being healed of various diseases just by touching Paul’s hankerchiefs!

Well, who in their right mind can believe such fanstic fairytales like these?  I certainly couldn’t….that is, until the incident.

My name in Greek means “Lucky.” I’ll let you decide if the name fits after you hear my story.  I was a teenager at the time. I prided myself in being an intelligent, rational person who was not going to believe everything I heard — especially regarding these traveling preachers and so-called wonderworkers. I had seen enough charltans and frauds in my short life to keep me suspicious of such people and their claims. Continue reading My Name Is Lucky: The Tale of Eutychus

Hope for Moody Pastors (Mark 3:3-6)

One reason I resisted being a “pastor” for so long was all the stereotypes I had in my head for what pastors are supposed to be like. My image always looked something like Mr. Rogers in a sweater and khakis. Warm, personable, emotionally steady, gentle and never, EVER moody.

I don’t know where I picked up that image of the pastor, but it certainly wasn’t in the Bible where God’s leaders are all over the map with their varying personalities and wild mood swings.

Moses’ temper tantrum (striking the rock) cost him the Promised Land. Jeremiah was depressed. Elijah withdrew and almost quit ministry. Peter was impulsive and often put his foot in his mouth. James and John had a violent streak earning them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” John the Baptist was loud and abrasive, maybe wore a camel hair sweater but definitely not Mr. Rogers’ khakis. Paul was prickly and at times butted heads with others.

Ok, even admitting this diversity of characters, I at least thought I could count on Jesus to be the perfect picture of the unflappable, zen-like pastor who was always calm and collected. Or, could I?

Today I noticed and appreciated the little episode in Mark 3:3-6 where Jesus going about his ministry….and we see him breaking my Mr. Rogers-like pastoral mold. For fellow church leaders, its refreshing to see that even Jesus faced some very irritating ministry moments and difficult people. (I have a perfect church, but I’ve heard other pastors have difficult people.)

Let’s take a quick look and I’ll offer some off-the-cuff leadership insights at first glance. Continue reading Hope for Moody Pastors (Mark 3:3-6)

Nic @ Night 6: A Summary

Reposted from 2012.

We have spent only a few weeks in our sermon series on Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. We could spend months exploring all of the rich treasures and profound theological realities found therein. But we must move on . . . move out onto the open road with Jesus in John 4 as we learn how to make and become disciples of the Kingdom!

In summary, here are some of the main points we have explored in this series (with verses in parentheses):

1. Like Nicodemus, we all must come and have our own personal encounter with Jesus (2).

2. Like Nicodemus, one can recognize Jesus as a great teacher come from God and still not be born again (2).

3. Like Nicodemus, one can be a religious leader and Bible expert and still not know Christ (1).

4. Some of us come to church/Jesus for the “big show,” wanting to be entertained (2).

5. Some of us are ashamed to go public with our faith, and so we come at night in secret (2).

6. Some of us are so desperate that we’d seek Jesus out at any hour — even late at night (2).

7. Jesus will receive us even when we come to him in “spiritual darkness” with doubts, confusion, prejudice, and blind spots (7,10,12).

8. Religion is often the greatest barrier preventing us from embracing Jesus (1). We must “beware of the yeast of the scribes and Pharisees.”

9. Jesus replaced/fulfilled religion with himself. Jesus is the new way to connect with God (e.g., new temple, incarnate Word).

10. Sin has placed a veil of darkness over everyone’s eyes that only God can remove (3). Continue reading Nic @ Night 6: A Summary

Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Reposted from 2012.

I brought in the car for a $25 oil change this week, and came home with a laundry list of significant repairs estimating over $3,550. The car has 200,000 miles on it — so we knew this day was coming. Nicodemus probably came to Jesus hoping for a simple religious tune-up — a new teaching to consider or an old teaching with a new spin. Like me at the car shop, Nicodemus found out he had a bigger problem to address.

Recently I had a serious steering alignment problem. My alignment was so bad that if I let my hand off the wheel for a split second my car would veer sharply to the right into the ditch. Instead of getting it fixed, I decided to just fight it for months by gripping the wheel tighter. Eventually my wrists began to ache from holding the steering wheel straight.

The Bible describes a world completely out of alignment with God’s will and purposes. Human sin and rebellion have jerked everything out of whack. If we simply leave things, people, nature, government, etc. to do what comes naturally, we’re all veering into ditches, colliding head on and driving off cliffs.

Religion steps in at this point and provides some guard rails to help keep us on the road and out of the ditch. God gave us his Law to show us the righteous path, the holy road, that if followed will keep us from self-desctructive twists and turns, reckless off-roading adventures.  But unlike my car’s steering, the misalignment of the human will caused by sin has no quick and easy fix. Continue reading Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Nic @ Night 4: Talking about “New Birth”

This Sunday I have the honor of preaching a message on one of the most significant truths and experiences in all the universe: God’s supernatural work of New Birth in the human heart. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again/from above” (John 3:3).

How do you talk about something that is necessary to experience firsthand?  It’s like describing a Mozart piece instead of listening to it.  It’s like talking about a Rembrandt painting rather than looking at it. It’s like trying to describe love to someone who’s never been in love.

These sermons drive a preacher to his knees, and bring him to the end of himself. I can only invite people to follow Nicodemus into that face-t0-face, personal encounter with Jesus, and pray that the Holy Spirit will come among us and open people’s eyes and transform hearts.  Come Holy Spirit!

Here’s a good quote from Gary Burge’s commentary on The Gospel of John:

“Religion is not necessarily a matter of personal knowledge or ethical behavior. Nor is it fidelity to religious traditions, no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us. Jesus is claiming that true spirituality is not discovering some latent capacity within the human soul and fanning it to flame. It is not uncovering a moral consciousness that is hidden by sedimentary layers of civilization’s corruptions. It is not a “horizontal” experience that takes up the materials available around us in the world.

Rather, Jesus claims, true religion is “vertical.” It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s Spirit. It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order. True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject. Our role in this transformation is belief(3:16,18), and yet is is a belief that is aided by God’s work within us since we live in the darkness and have our spiritual capacities handicapped with sin” (Gary Burge, Gospel of John: New Application Commentary, 126).

Come Holy Spirit!  Invade our presence, and sabotage our hearts! Blow mightily among us at MainStreet this Sunday and every day!

Nic @ Night 3: Religion vs. Gospel

Nicodemus was very religious. And this was a major obstacle preventing him from receiving the teaching and understanding the message of Jesus.

Here’s a wonderful contrast between RELIGION and THE GOSPEL by Tim Keller:

RELIGION: I obey, therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted, therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God, to delight and resemble him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance, but on God’s love for me in Christ.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of my environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles: If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure, inadequate, and not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time, neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to “the other.”

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for his enemies and who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. It is only by grace that I am what I am. I have no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, regardless of what I say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life: family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things is an ultimate end for me. None of them is something I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency such things can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Nic @ Night 2: Religion Isn’t Enough

Reposted from 2012.

To kick off the new year, we’re exploring one of my favorite “Christ Encounters” in the Gospels — Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Here’s how the clandestine story begins:

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.  After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

One of the most shocking aspects of this exchange is that Nicodemus is a very religious, devout man. He is called “a Pharisee”, a member of the ruling council (Sanhedrin), and “a teacher of Israel.”  The Pharisees were the most remarkable, scrupulously religious adherents to the Jewish Scriptures. Pharisees were, in the words of Barclay, “those who had separated themselves from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the scribes” (123).  His entire life’s purpose revolved around honoring God, understanding the Scriptures, and observing the appropriate religious customs and rituals.

He was very religious.

But he will soon find out in his exchange with Jesus that religion isn’t enough. Nicodemus was still somehow in the dark. This is the main significance behind the author’s telling us that Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night.” The darkness of night symbolizes the darkness in Nicodemus’s unregenerate mind and soul.

It’s often been said that religion is man’s attempt to reach up to God by good deeds and religious observances; and Christianity is the story of God mercifully reaching down to us in Christ.  Nicodemus is busy with many religious tasks and obligations. Had he lived today, he would have perfect church attendance, possibly be the chair of the church counsel, living a morally upright life as a responsible citizen with a good standing among his neighbors and friends.

But he is still spiritually dead — blind to the things of God (cf. 2 Cor. 4). “As Barclay puts it: “Nicodemus was a puzzled man, a man with many honors and yet still lacking in his life. He came to Jesus for a talk so that somehow in the darkness of night he might find light” (124).  All of us, religious or not, must make this same passage from spiritual darkness into the light of a New Life in Christ.

Have you come into the light?  Have your eyes been opened to the truth of the Gospel? Have you been born again from above?

Oh, LORD, breath your Holy Spirit upon all the religious people in our churches who have yet to be born again from above.  Rescue us from our tendencies to try to be religious enough to please you, and help us to receive your gift of New Birth as we surrender our lives to you. Amen.