The presence of our helplessness can be a gift to the helpless.

Sermon Overview

Each statement of Christ from the cross gives us a glimpse of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). That is, it has in it divine grace for us to receive. Each statement also gives us a pattern for life (1 Peter 2:21). That is, it has in it a divine example for us to follow. This is true of the third statement of Christ from the cross, “Woman, here is your son. John, here is your mother.”

God—who is a Trinity of relationship—has made human beings in his own image, designing us for relationship, too. From this passage we find Jesus on the cross offering words of affection to his mother, Mary, and his beloved disciple, John, even as Jesus accomplishes the salvation that establishes the ultimate relationship for us—a relationship with God himself.

Sermon Highlights

(Also posted on Twitter: @FleetwoodBible #TGIFseries):

It’s one thing to sing, “Jesus, keep me near the cross.” It’s another thing to actually stay there. Mary and John stayed there, and it changed their lives, and the course of history.

If we had been there on that first Good Friday, how near the cross would we have been?

In this narrative, John gives us a beautiful picture of what family really means. But what Jesus means by family may surprise us.

What we learn from MARY, the mother of Jesus

Allow Jesus to reorient you, and be who he really is rather than who you might want him to be.

Parents want the best for their children, yet there is nothing better than for them to obey God fully.

The sweetest love is sharing a good life together, and the hardest love is letting that life go.

Mary nursed Jesus, taught him his first words, potty-trained him, and encouraged his first steps. For a time she looked down at her Creator, not up.

From Mary, Jesus received his humanity. She gave him so much, and now she has to let go. (She’s had a lot of practice for this moment.)

Can you imagine me saying to a new mother at one of our baby dedications what Simeon said to Mary ?

Here at Calvary, the emotional sword of which Simeon spoke finally stabs Mary in the heart.

Historically, the church has seen Mary as the first disciple. She stood there at the dawn of redeeming grace—the Annunciation—and said “yes” to God.

Redemption flows out of Mary’s “yes” to God. At one moment in time, she was the nexus of heaven and earth—the meeting point for the human and the divine in Christ.

Mary’s last recorded words in the Gospels are for all believers: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Mary needed to lose Jesus as a Son in order to gain him back as a Savior.

Do not let your sorrow or disillusionment prevent you from continuing in God’s will.

Be content with the provisions you have received, regarding them as gifts from God.

If obedience to Christ leads you to suffering, obey him anyway.

Suffering always comes to an end. And when it does with your faith intact, it is one of the most powerful witnesses there is to the truth of the gospel.

What we learn from JOHN, the disciple whom Jesus loved

Allow Jesus to restore you, and assign you the responsibilities of his choosing rather than your own.

If you have failed at some point in following Jesus, turn around and start following him again.

John was not stuck in his failure, and you don’t need to be, either.

The presence of our helplessness can be a gift to the helpless.

Accept your commission from Christ as a sacred privilege and responsibility.

For a disciple to be accorded a role in his teacher’s family was a great honor.

Jesus is John’s substitute with respect to sin bearing. John is Jesus’ substitute with respect to family caring.

True spirituality does not allow us to ignore physical needs or the mundane chores of life.

Concern for others deepens our holiness and intimacy with Christ

It can be a sacred thing to get dirt under your fingernails.

The deepest relationships are often forged in the fires of suffering.

Service brings people together, and so does suffering.

It’s only when we’re “near the cross” that we can hear the Savior whisper his will to us.

If you want intimacy with Christ, you’ll find it in a bloody cross.

The cross doesn’t demand your pity but your gratitude and obedience.

Don’t cry for Jesus. Kneel at his feet and say yes.

What we learn from JESUS, the Savior of the world

Allow Jesus to redirect you, and show you how to love God completely, and your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus dies obeying the moral law of God.
Believers should live obeying the moral law of God.

Jesus dies preparing others for his departure.
Believers should live preparing others for their departure.

Jesus dies tending to family obligations as well as his personal calling.
Believers should live tending to family obligations as well as their personal calling.

Jesus dies seeing and responding to the needs of broken hearts.
Believers should live seeing and responding to the needs of broken hearts.

Jesus dies loving his heavenly Father above all.
Believers should live loving their heavenly Father above all.

Jesus dies bringing people into new relationships at the cross.
Believers should live bringing people into new relationships at the cross.

Sermon in a Sentence (the “Big Idea”):

The cross of Christ establishes new relationships—with God and each other.

Resources:  Sermon Outline  |  Sermon PowerPoint  |  Sermon Audio  |  Discussion Guide

Sermon discussion guide prepared by Jason M. Dickinson.


The only thing more surprising than the thief’s request was that Jesus granted it.

Sermon Overview

As we march toward Resurrection Sunday, we’re stopping by the cross to listen to Jesus’ seven last statements. They are some of the most powerful words ever spoken. They are words born of pain, delivered in suffering, and yet utterly transforming to those who would receive them.

As we noted in Part 1, these statements reveal to us the character of God, the heart of Jesus, and the essence of the Christian faith. Moreover, each statement has in it divine grace for us to receive (1 Corinthians15:1-4) and a divine example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21).

In Luke 23:35-43, we find Jesus between hanging between two thieves—one a scoffer and one a brand new believer. Jesus’ words offered to the repentant thief are words of grace and assurance, powerful both for this life and for all eternity: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Sermon Highlights

(Also posted on Twitter: @FleetwoodBible #TGIFseries):

SOVEREIGNTY—The scene at Calvary demonstrates the initiative of God in salvation.

God uses a prophet’s prediction to identify the mission of his Son.

Seven hundred years before Jesus came, Isaiah said that the sinless Messiah would be counted—and punished—as a sinner (Isaiah 53:12).

Jesus is numbered with the transgressors so that we could be numbered with the redeemed.

The religious leaders used to sneer at Jesus, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Here at the cross, we can say, “This man welcomes sinners and dies with them.”

God uses a prefect’s proclamation to identify the majesty of his Son.

Pilate writes the first “gospel tract” and hangs it over Jesus’ head. He means it as an accusation, but the joke is on him. Jesus is the true king!

DEPRAVITY—The scene at Calvary illustrates the central problem of the human race.

In many ways, these two thieves represent all humanity.

The two thieves are both culpable for their crimes.

The two thieves are both condemned by the law.

The two thieves are both contemptuous of Jesus’ plight (cf. Mark 15:29).

The two thieves are both conscious of Jesus’ attitude.

CHARITY—The scene at Calvary magnifies the grace of God in Christ.

Jesus is suffering with them, but he is not suffering like them.

Both thieves hear Jesus’ repeated prayer, “Father, forgive them.” In contrast to their own hostility, they see Jesus’ amazing grace.

We’re all like toothpaste tubes. Whatever’s inside comes out when it gets squeezed. When Jesus is squeezed, goodness comes out.

Jesus is suffering with them, but he is also suffering for them.

Isaiah’s prophecy indicates that Messiah would bear the sin of many.

A debate flares up between these two thieves concerning Jesus. But which one is right? The one who has a humble heart.

HUMILITY—The scene at Calvary has a transforming effect on the humble heart.

The humble heart acknowledges its own mortality and guilt.

With death approaching, the repentant thief begins to fear God and take responsibility for his own wrongdoing.

The humble heart acknowledges Jesus’ goodness and immortality.

The repentant thief comes to see that Jesus has a future beyond the cross. That future entails a kingdom.

The humble heart acknowledges publicly its need for the Savior.

The repentant thief has both courage and confidence. He publicly takes a bold stand for Jesus.

ETERNITY—The scene at Calvary is jolted by a solemn reminder of the afterlife.

On the other side of death, there is an immediate consciousness.

Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief challenges the doctrine of soul sleep, purgatory, sacramentalism, and moralism.

On the other side of death, there is an infinite continuation.

Assurance of salvation means our tough times can be endured, and our good times can be enjoyed.

On the other side of death, there is an indestructible Christ.

God will respond even to the faintest cry in the last moments of life (Romans 10:13).

RESPONSIBILITY—The scene at Calvary shows believers how to live as Jesus died.

Jesus dies in the company of unbelievers, attracting them to God.
Believers should live in the company of unbelievers, attracting them to God.

Jesus dies refusing to retaliate for the insults and injuries inflicted on him.
Believers should live refusing to retaliate for the insults and injuries inflicted on him.

Jesus dies submitting to God’s agenda rather than to the world’s agenda.
Believers should live submitting to God’s agenda rather than to the world’s agenda.

Jesus dies speaking words of hope and encouragement to the hurting.
Believers should live speaking words of hope and encouragement to the hurting.

Jesus dies helping someone in a similar predicament as himself.
Believers should live helping someone in a similar predicament as themselves.

Jesus dies serving someone who is totally unable to return the favor.
Believers should live serving someone who is totally unable to return the favor.

Jesus dies joining God where he is at work, sharing the good news.
Believers should live joining God where he is at work, sharing the good news.

GRAVITY—The scene at Calvary highlights the monumental choice before each person.

Receive Christ and step into eternity with your sins on Jesus’ head. 

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Though the agony continued there it was still too small a price
To be allowed to hear those words, and to die beside the Christ.
- Don Francisco

Reject Christ and step into eternity with your sins on your own head.

We cannot take our sins to heaven. They have to be separated from us, or we’ll be separated from heaven.

There’s a saint and a sinner at Calvary. What separates them is Jesus.

Sermon in a Sentence (the “Big Idea”):

Humble yourself to receive the gift of Jesus, and pattern your life after the death of Jesus.

Resources:  Sermon Outline  |  Sermon PowerPoint  |  Sermon Audio  |  Discussion Guide

Sermon discussion guide prepared by Jason M. Dickinson.


If the murder of the Son of God was forgivable, then your
sin—whatever it may be—is forgivable, too.

Series Overview

When Jesus hung on the cross on that first Good Friday, he made seven statements that the Gospel writers preserved for us. No single account has all seven, but all four Gospels together give us the complete record.

These statements reveal to us the character of God, the heart of Jesus, and the very essence of the Christian faith. They contain a goldmine of theological truth and spiritual inspiration. No matter how many times we return to them for reflection, they jolt us afresh. They also comfort us anew because the cross shows usmore than anything elsethat God is for us, not against us.

Our study will focus on two dimensions of each statement—the good news and the good life. That is, each of the seven statements has in it divine grace for us to receive (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and a divine example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). The order is important, as we cannot give away what we have not received ourselves. That is especially true of the first statement.

Jesus begins by saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV), or the more familiar, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (KJV). One can hardly think of a more unlikely thing for Jesus to say, given the circumstances in which he said it.

In Part 1 of this series, “The Word of Forgiveness,” we hold up and then turn the diamond of Jesus’ prayer, watching it radiate the brilliance of divine grace against the backdrop of human cruelty and injustice. Be prepared to be melted by love.

Sermon Highlights

(Also posted on Twitter: @FleetwoodBible #TGIFseries):

The ANGUISH of This Prayer—A Touch of Hell on Earth

Crucifixion was designed to be maximally painful; to be crucified was to “die a thousand deaths.”

Christ’s agony is not only physical; it is spiritual, too. His gracious prayer is spoken from inside the vortex of a living hell on earth.

God forgives his people not by ignoring their sin but by bearing their sin—in the person of his own Son.

The ATTITUDE of This Prayer—A Touch of Heaven on Earth

Jesus does not defend his innocence or curse his enemies; rather, he prays for those who are torturing him.

For Christ to pray such a prayer in the very act of being executed is an expression of amazing grace.

Jesus practices here what he has preached, which is noteworthy because he has the power to stop the whole ordeal.

The removal of our sin is more important to Jesus than the removal of his own sufferings on the cross.

Jesus prays for his enemies—not after his wounds have been healed, but while they’re still open.

The ADDRESS of This Prayer—To the Heavenly Father

The first, fourth, and seventh statements from the cross are prayers from the Son to the Father.

Though immersed in agony, Jesus dies believing in the goodness of God despite the wickedness of man.

How is it with us when we’re maligned or attacked? Are we able to pray, “Father,” or do we lash out at God or others when life is hard?

The APPEAL of This Prayer—Divine Forgiveness for Guilty Sinners

God didn’t sweep our sins under the rug; he swept them onto Christ. Jesus takes our place as he dies our death.

A great exchange is taking place here at Calvary (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21). “Bearing shame and scoffing rude / In my place condemned he stood.”

The searing holiness of God demanded an infinite penalty for sin; the inexhaustible grace of God paid it.

What Jesus is really praying here is, “Father, forgive them, and condemn me. Charge their wrongdoing to my account, and I will pay the last penny.”

If the murder of the Son of God is forgivable, then your sin—whatever it may be—is forgivable, too.

The thing that matters most in death is this—am I ready to meet God?

The ARGUMENT of This Prayer—They Just Don’t Get It

They don’t understand the identity of the one they are killing (Acts 13:27; 1 Corinthians 2:8).

It’s the kind of ignorance we see in Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. “Lord, when did we see you?”

They don’t understand the enormity of the crime they are committing. If you had been there, would you have understood?

Sin is a little bit of hell let loose. We don’t always realize how badly it’s going burn us, or others.

Our ignorance is like the soldier who turns over a corpse expecting to see the face of the enemy he just shot—only to discover that he shot one of his own men. What a costly, horrifying ignorance.

The ANTICIPATION of This Prayer—The Prophet Foretold It

The fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12 means that God is all-knowing and that the cross is no accident.

The fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12 means that Jesus is still in control and still in possession of his faculties.

The APPLICATION of This Prayer—Living the Way Jesus Died

The main application is forgiving others as we have been forgiven. And that’s hard!

A broken heart can hurt more than a broken bone. And if setting a broken bone is painful, setting a broken heart can be worse. Forgiveness is how it gets set.

Forgiveness always sounds like a great idea until we’re the ones who have to do it.

We tend to attribute other people’s faults to their character, and our own faults to our environment. Grace helps us challenge that perspective.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

When we don’t forgive others, we tear down the very bridge that we ourselves have to walk on to connect with God.

Do we need to forgive people who haven’t acknowledged that they’ve wronged us? In our hearts? Yes. With our mouths? Only when Luke 17:3 happens.

I cannot give away to others what I’ve never received myself. That includes forgiveness. Have you received the forgiveness of Christ by faith?

We are never more like Christ than when we accept God’s forgiveness and then forgive other people.

Forgiving those who’ve wronged us is actually the key to not being victimized or controlled by them any longer.

The ANSWER to This Prayer—Every Believer . . . Including You?

The answer to Jesus’ prayer was his own death, which brings about the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7).

Every time a person places his or her trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it’s an answer to this prayer.

The answer to this prayer has gone all the way from the foot of the cross to where we are now in the 21st century.

The answer to this prayer must go from where we are now to wherever the people are who have wronged us.

After looking at the first word of Christ from the cross, we begin to see why that awful, awe-filled Friday is called “Good.”

Sermon in a Sentence (the “Big Idea”):

Accept your acceptance from God, and then forgive others as Christ forgave you—gracefully and extravagantly.

Resources:  Sermon Outline  |  Sermon PowerPoint  |  Sermon Audio  |  Discussion Guide

Sermon discussion guide prepared by Jason M. Dickinson.

He Must Increase

Fleetwood Bible Church:

• Who are we?
• Where are we going?
• How will we get there?
• Why does it matter?

For the past two years, the Elders and Pastors of Fleetwood Bible Church have engaged in a leadership process that included conversations with Scripture, conversations with cultural analysts, and conversations with each other—all in an effort to answer these very questions. We’ve done this prayerfully, carefully, and patiently—letting God bring us all to unity on his vision for the future. We are now pleased to unveil:

A Discipleship Vision for Fleetwood Bible Church

There is a sense of joy and excitement about where God is taking us. There is also a sense of wonder and mystery about this vision—in a good sense. God is up to something beyond our expectations. While realignment can sometimes be challenging, we believe that our best days are ahead!

We invite the members and attendees of Fleetwood Bible Church to test and see if this vision is biblical, timely, culturally relevant, and God-sized. And then we challenge everyone to walk the discipleship path at FBC!

Click below to review “The Discipleship Path at Fleetwood Bible Church.”

The Discipleship Path at Fleetwood Bible Church (PowerPoint 2011)
The Discipleship Path at Fleetwood Bible Church (PDF)

Vision Graphic

2847 Moselem Springs Road (Route 662)
P.O. Box 205
Fleetwood, PA 19522-0205
(610) 944-9235 (Phone)
(610) 955-5350 (Fax)


On Tuesday, January 7, 2014, hundreds of people gathered at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, to bid farewell to our beloved Distinguished Old Testament Professor Emeritus David A. Dorsey, who died on January 2. I was deeply honored to serve as one of his pallbearers and one of the tribute speakers at the funeral service. Because of the open-mic sharing time, I shortened my remarks on the fly to allow more time for others to share their reflections. Below is the fuller text of my eulogy.

Philippians 2:3-7: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

When people talk about Dave Dorsey, superlatives roll off their tongues with ease. And rightly so. We need big words to describe Dave because Dave was a big man. Big in all the right ways. Like Jesus, Dave was big enough to be small.

• He was a towering figure among us, yet he never looked down on anyone.
• He was an intellectual giant, yet he communicated in simple and self-effacing ways.
• He was a genuine expert on the Old Testament, yet he never sought to be famous.
• He was a gracious and soft-spoken man, yet he was a witty cut-up who could leave you in stitches.
• He was a man who endured a long and painful affliction, yet he never complained to those around him.

Listen to people talk about Dave, and you’ll hear words like “wisest,” “kindest,” “humblest,” and “funniest.” You’ll hear phrases like “the most helpful,” “the most patient,” “the most compassionate,” “the most influential.” You’ll hear the biggest kinds of words because Dave was the biggest kind of man. He was big enough to be small.

That’s not the assessment of a broken-hearted friend and former student groping for consolation at a time of deep loss. I’d venture to say that that’s the assessment of nearly everyone who knew Dave well. So let’s just say it plainly and simply tonight: Dave Dorsey was a great man.

As Christians, we’re not comfortable saying things like that. We know the dangers of putting people on pedestals. We know the pitfalls of hero worship. But I think we can admire someone without worshiping him. We can appreciate a man without deifying him. We know that Dave was a son of Adam, and therefore the Last Adam had to save him to make him a son. So in that sense, we can say big things about Dave without sounding like he’s part of the Trinity.

Continue Reading…


O Holy Night, Part 1: And the Soul Felt Its Worth
(Luke 1:57-80)

Do you feel valuable? Significant? Important?

Not in the sense of an over inflated ego or an attitude of superiority toward others—but in the sense that you matter, that your presence here on Earth is significant, that when you make a footprint in the sand it means something.

I meet a lot of people who are down on themselves, down on hope, and down on life. And, really, all of us have some regrets, disappointments, failures, and wrong turns that we’ve made in our day. So, as life unfolds, we sometimes feel used, abused, abandoned, and confused. We feel cheapened. Sometimes we even feel worthless.

Life has a way of leaving its skid marks on our soul. It has a way of drawing its map on our face, and those lines cut deeply—not only into the skin, but into the heart.

• Sometimes it’s because other people have been cruel to us.
• Sometimes it’s because life has simply dealt us an unfair hand.
• Sometimes it’s because we ourselves have made poor choices.

We get involved in worthless pursuits, and over time we feel worthless ourselves. As it says in one line of “O Holy Night”:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”

Sometimes it gets so bad for us personally we don’t even feel valuable to God any more. We say things like…

• “God could never love me.”
• “God could never be pleased with me.”
• “After what I’ve done, God could never consider me valuable.”

Such thoughts are understandable, but they’re also wrong! So let’s ask the question: How can I know that I am truly valuable to God?

The value of something is determined by what somebody is willing to pay for it. I first learned that lesson on eBay about 10 years ago. I was trying to get a few things from my childhood Christmas—silly decorations, like ShinyBrite Christmas ornaments, little red pixie dolls, Santa pins with noses that light up when you pull the string.

And I kept getting outbid. So I wound up going to my maximum bid right away. I refused to be outbid by anybody! All of those things were old, dirty, and defective, and probably meaningless to most people—but I was willing to pay top dollar for them. Why? Because I wanted them. They were valuable to me.

If the value of something is determined by what somebody is willing to pay for it, then look at what God himself was willing to pay for you. When you begin to do that, you quickly realize that God could not have paid a higher price than he paid for you.

This message makes three main points:

• God the Father bankrupted heaven for you on that first Christmas.
• God the Son paid your spiritual debt on that first Good Friday.
• God the Holy Spirit is revealing your net worth right now.

You were not a “Black Friday special” to God. You were a “Good Friday special” to God! He refused to be outbid for you! And three times Jesus used the word “valuable” in reference to his people (Matt 6:26, 10:29-31, 12:11-12).

That’s why Christmas happened in the first place. God wanted so much for us to become part of his family that he became part of ours. I’m so glad the song doesn’t end with, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” It goes on to say, “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Take a listen to this message, and dare to believe that your soul can feel its worth, too!

Resources: Sermon Outline  |  Sermon PowerPoint  | Sermon Audio 

For the story behind the hymn, check out A Marvelous Mess Resulting in Beauty: The Strange and Fascinating Story Behind ‘O Holy Night’


Introduction—A Personal Note

Back in 2005 I preached an Advent series at Fleetwood Bible Church on the rich theology behind Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Those messages were well received, and quite a few people have since asked me to consider unpacking another Christmas carol during the Advent season. So this year I’ve decided to speak on the story behind—and the theology of—“O Holy Night,” which is another favorite that we sing on Christmas Eve.

When it comes to Incarnation theology, nothing compares to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It’s an intellectual tour de force, and I marvel at how Wesley was able to capture so much Christian truth in a single hymn. But when it comes to sheer emotion, few carols can compete with “O Holy Night.” The beloved “Silent Night” is certainly up there with it, but little else from the Christmas repertoire can capture the heart to such an extent. The soft piano and organ accompaniment, supplemented by a decorating guitar and flute in the first half of the verse, gives way to a crescendoing brass ensemble in the second half of the verse. That’s when “O Holy Night” can bring tears to the eyes, send chills down the spine, and put believers on their knees in praise and worship. It’s that effective an arrangement.

02.fbc.silent.nightAnd for me, personally, “O Holy Night” is doubly emotional because it happened to be my mother’s favorite hymn. When it came time for Cherie Valentino to pass from this life in 2005, her family was gathered around her hospital bed singing this very song. In fact, all her medical equipment “flat-lined” right as we were singing the words, “O hear the angel voices.” She died, and then she did—she did hear the angel voices that very moment, as she left our presence with an abiding faith in Christ. It was a deep and precious sorrow for all of us who were there. So every time we sing “O Holy Night,” we think of mom as well as Jesus.


So it’s all I can do to “keep it together” on Christmas Eve when we sing this carol together as a church family. Throughout the month of December, I usually play through it on the piano at least a dozen times just to get acclimated to the memories again. It deeply touches my heart.

And yet, for all that, “O Holy Night,” as we have it today, was the result of a joint effort among individuals who would not, by any standard, be considered orthodox Christians. And if you asked me to describe the story behind the hymn in a single phrase, I’d have to call it “a marvelous mess resulting in beauty.” Why? Let’s take a look at the circumstances behind the hymn.

Continue Reading…

Excellence in Exile

Excellence in Exile, Part 2: Cooperation without Compromise
(Daniel 1:3-21)

Believers are resident “aliens” in this world. Three times in 1 Peter, the followers of Christ are called “strangers” or “aliens.” The Apostle Paul concurs when he reminds the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” In other words, the believer’s primary residence is not here. We’re from another place. And we’re going home someday to a world of perfection. This world is not our home.

But as great as that truth is, it creates a serious challenge for the people of God. How do we interact with the world while we’re here? What is our relationship to unbelievers supposed to be until we finally go home? That has always been a struggle for the covenant community.

When Daniel and his three friends were aliens in Babylon, they faced a similar challenge. And they discovered quickly that the art of being a believer in this world is to love God and love your neighbor—in that order. King Nebuchadnezzar tried to shape their thinking, their identity, and their convictions. But the four freshmen from Israel resisted a secular brainwashing at Babylon University.

They wouldn’t allow themselves to be intoxicated by the glamour that comes from eating the king’s food while they were trying to guard their own hearts against personal compromise. They survived in a culture that was hostile to their faith by drawing some lines in the sand and refusing to cross them.

But there’s a way to draw those lines, and a way not to draw them. Daniel didn’t lead a march, a sit-in, or a protest rally. He didn’t engage in hate speech. He didn’t walk around Babylon with a placard saying, “Thou shalt not eat non-kosher food,” or “Prepare to meet thy God.” Instead, he practiced cooperation without compromise. Daniel was sympathetic to the king’s official and didn’t want him to lose his head because of his faith. So Daniel wound up cutting a deal—and it was a deal that God honored.

One can’t help noticing that Daniel had a genuine kindness and respect for the pagans around him. He wasn’t a religious bigot with a fanatical, holier-than-thou chip on his shoulder. There was an ease with which he moved in secular circles. He wasn’t edgy around people who didn’t share his faith. He wasn’t uncomfortable around people who worshiped idols. He didn’t treat them like they had spiritual cooties.

Rather, he was kind and deferential to them. And he accommodated them—but only in so far as his own faith allowed him to do so. The principle is this: If we regard God as ultimate, we’ll try to bargain with the world so that we can stay loyal to God. But if we regard the world as ultimate, we’ll try to bargain with God so that we can look good in the eyes of the world. And that’s exactly backward. God must always be the believer’s first loyalty.

Jesus, of course, was the ultimate resident alien. He didn’t arise from within the human race; he came into it from the outside. He came as a stranger. That’s what Christmas is all about. And in his life and ministry, Jesus was totally loyal to his heavenly Father. He never compromised, and he never sinned. Yet he moved so freely and easily among the people who were far from God, leading them to see more clearly his truth and love for everyone.

And in his death, Jesus, the alien, became alien-ated by bearing in his own body the sins of the world on the cross. He did that so sinners could become undefiled, and believers could someday go back home with him.

Resources: Sermon Outline  |  Sermon PowerPoint  | Sermon Audio


Giving is the Best Communication

This Thai commercial is probably better than anything you saw last night on television.

HT: Zach Nielsen