Sermons by Joshua Hartwigsen
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?” Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” voiced that now-popular phrase in the 1971 movie by the same name. The movie follows Eastwood’s character, a police officer in San Francisco, as he tracks down a psychopathic serial killer named “Scorpio”. Even though Eastwood’s character behaves in ways like the movie’s villain, the film casts his willingness to bend and break the rules and to use violence to stop Scorpio as misunderstood, but necessary, heroic behavior. Dirty Harry represents a common motif in American cinema – heroes do whatever it takes to stop the bad guy. That motif, however, stands in stark contrast to the gentleness Paul said ought to characterize Christians. This lesson continues our survey of the fruit of the Spirit Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 by considering gentleness and its place in our lives.
Amy bought me a t-shirt that has the phrase “do good” printed on the front. I love that shirt (I love it so much I bought a second one in a different color). The ‘slogan’ is a positive version of the often mocked “Don’t be evil” motto that Google adopted in the early 2000s. Both phrases – ‘do good, “don’t be evil” – acknowledge the importance of moral behavior. Problems, however, arise when one tries to define “goodness” because it has a flexible meaning determined by the ever-evolving tastes of our society. The Bible similarly emphasizes the importance of goodness. Paul, for example, wrote that Christians should “learn to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:14). Unlike our culture, the Bible offers a fixed understanding of goodness based on the identity and behavior of God. We will consider the goodness in this lesson as part of our ongoing exploration of the “fruit of the Spirit” Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23.
Most people praise kindness and desire that quality in other people. At the same time, we live in a culture that promotes an it’s-just-business mentality that permits unkind actions against others to further one’s interests. We praise kindness but believe you must ‘look out for number one’. The Bible similarly praises kindness but, unlike our society, it holds kindness as a non-negotiable character for all people, all times, and all situations. Given our culture and the Bible’s different attitudes towards kindness, how are we to understand the kindness Paul wrote the Holy Spirit seeks to produce in us (Galatians 5:22)? This lesson continues to explore the “fruit of the Spirit” Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 and will consider the fifth fruit – kindness – and its place in our lives.
God calls Christians to change their character. He calls angry people to be peaceful. He calls lazy people to be productive. He calls unloving people to be loving. He calls impatient people to be patient. God calls people to remodel their character so that it reflects His own character. That call for character transformation lies at the heart of the fruit of the Spirit Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23, a list outlining features of the character that should define God’s…
The Bible mentions “joy” and “rejoicing” nearly four hundred times. While some of the instances of “joy”/“rejoicing” record people’s responses to their experiences, the volume of references indicates that the emotions represent something more than merely the incidental recording of human feelings. Surveying the Bible’s teachings about joy reveals an emotion inseparably connected to God’s presence and a defining character of the life He intended humans to live. This lesson continues our exploration of the “fruit of the Spirit” Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 and will consider the joy the Holy Spirit seeks to create within the lives of those who dedicate themselves to following Jesus.
This year we have been considering the theme of “bonding”, of developing our relationships with one another and with God. Our focus builds on the relational nature of God’s expectations (cf. Matthew 22:34-40) and seeks to cultivate within us a character that supports those relationships. This lesson furthers that goal by introducing a series examining “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. The Spirit-produced fruit Paul mentioned describes the relationship-oriented character of those who commit to following Jesus. Therefore, we will take the next nine weeks to consider the fruit of the Spirit and its place within our lives. We will examine the first of those fruits in the lesson – love. Each Sunday morning, over the next nine weeks, we will examine one of the characteristics Paul includes in his fruit of the Spirit list. Then, on Sunday evenings, we will use the morning’s lesson as a starting point for a discussion exploring the place of that characteristic in our lives.
This year we have been considering the theme of “bonding”, of developing our relationships with one another and with God. Our theme builds on the relational nature of God’s expectations (cf. Matthew 22:34-40) and seeks to cultivate within us a character that supports those relationships. This lesson furthers that goal by introducing a series examining “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. The Spirit-produced fruit Paul mentioned describe the relationship-oriented character of those who commit to following Jesus and into whose life God consequently sends the Spirit. We will therefore take the next ten weeks to consider the fruit of the Spirit and their place within our lives beginning with, in this lesson, a survey of Paul’s message in the book of Galatians and how it prepares us to understand the fruit of the Spirit.
The Bible introduces the Jewish monarchy through a story of rebellion, giving the impression the Israelite kings were a begrudging concession to a sinful request. Even though a story of mutiny introduces the kings, they occupy an important and prominent role in the Bible’s narrative – they serve as a kind of bridge between humanity’s fall from its role as rulers of God’s creation to Jesus, the messianic king through whom God will restore humanity to its position. This lesson continues our slow movement through the major blocks of the Bible’s story of humankind by considering the Israelite kings, the role God intended them to fill, and the reality of their legacy.
I sat down at my desk for my first day as a minister twenty-one years ago this May. After busying myself arranging my little stack of books (I only had a Bible and four other books) and a few works items I realized something – I had no idea what to do. I have, fortunately, learned a few things about ministry over the years. In particular, I have developed some convictions that shape my practice of ministry, beliefs drawn from the Bible’s portrait of the church’s identity and of life in the church. This lesson will consequently consider three of those insights and how they can help us think about church.
We cherish the freedoms enjoyed in our nation and consider them central to our country’s identity. We also cherish the freedom Jesus extends to us and consider it central to our Christian identity. The freedom offered by our nation and the freedom offered by Jesus, however, differ from one another – our country guarantees freedoms to pursue our own interests while Jesus frees us to serve others’ interests. This lesson concludes a short series examining our dual identity as citizens of both our nation and of Jesus’ kingdom by considering the freedoms of both kingdoms and the place they should have within our lives.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Those familiar words were included in the Declaration of Independence that the second continental congress adopted on July 4, 1776. Those same words have become the foundation of the hopes and understandings many people in our nation have about our country. The words adopted by the second continental congress stand in contrast to the words embraced by the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes. At the end of the book, the preacher wrote that things like the ‘self-evident truths’ of the Declaration of Independence belong to the “vanity of vanities” he saw filling the world (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8). Given our nation’s celebration of our nation’s independence, including the freedoms and rights attached to that independence, we will consider the perspective of Ecclesiastes and what insights it offers us on our relationship with our nation.
The 4th of July marks an annual highpoint in our nation – we celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms central to our understanding of its identity. We are right to celebrate such things; freedom is a blessing and, as James wrote, all blessings come from God (James 1:17). Our celebration should, however, also be paired with a recognition that the Bible offers a complicated picture of the relationship God’s people ought to have with the world’s nations. This lesson therefore begins a short series considering our identity as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom and its meaning for our lives in the kingdoms of this world.
Near the end of his first letter, Peter encouraged the elders in his audience to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:1-3). He followed his encouragement with a promise – if the elders faithfully fulfilled their duty, Jesus, “the chief Shepherd”, would give them an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4; cf. Hebrews 13:20; John 10:7-18). The connection Peter makes between elders who “shepherd the flock of God” and Jesus “the chief Shepherd” offers an insight into being an elder – elders follow the example of Jesus. Our elders have announced the beginning of a process to appoint additional elders for our church family. This lesson, which concludes a series about elders, reminds us of elders’ responsibility to follow the example of Jesus, “the good shepherd” (John 10:7-18), whose teachings and behavior outline the expectations God has for those to whom He entrusts the care of His church.
Luke, in Acts 20, narrates Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. Despite “hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16), Paul took time to stop in Miletus and meet with the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17). Luke uses three different terms to refer to those elders in his record of Paul’s conversation – “elders” (Acts 20:17), “overseers” (Acts 20:28), and shepherds (Acts 20:28). Luke’s descriptions of elders map the role of the leaders to whom God entrusts the care of local congregations (cf. Acts 20:28) and offers insights into their place within our church family. We will therefore consider the terms “elders”, “overseers”, and “shepherds” in this lesson as we prepare to begin the process to appoint additional elders for our church family.
This lesson begins a series of three lessons on elders in preparation for the beginning of the process to appoint additional elders for our church family. This lesson will focus on the historical background of elders in the Bible and how that background emphasizes that elders are older men recognized by their community as individuals of proven character and wisdom to whom they entrust their care.
Judges 2: 11-19 The books of Joshua and Judges cover a long and dark period in Israel’s history. The story begins in a promising way, narrating the faithfulness of Joshua and the leaders who worked with him, before quickly moving into a summary of Israel’s cancer-like unfaithfulness that spread throughout the nation and nearly destroyed it. The dark realities of the nation during that time resulted in truly disturbing stories in the books. Our discomfort with those stories can, however, cause us to miss the insights they offer into humanity through its depiction of the relationships the Israelites had with themselves, with the people around them, and with God. This lesson considers the books of Joshua and Judges and explores what lessons they offer us.
Movies occasionally produce characters whose identity becomes reduced to a memorable line. Consider, for example, the line, “I’ll be back” from the movie Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger voiced the line in his role as a robot from the future sent back in time to perform a mission and the now-iconic phrase captured his unfeeling commitment to accomplishing that task. God similarly reduces Israel’s identity in the story of their exodus from Egypt. Rather than using a phrase, however, God focuses on the nation’s responses to His activity in its life – they constantly grumbled against Him. This lesson considers Israel’s complaints recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers, what insights it offers us into their relationship with God, and how their story offers us perspective on our own lives.
President Biden’s recent inauguration elicited numerous comments. The absence of the crowds that usually attend a presidential inauguration and the debates swirling about the legitimacy of the election combined to make his inauguration the most unusual one in recent memory. People connected to Biden’s administration consequently tried to give context to the abnormal event, working to give the ceremony legitimacy and a sense of normalcy. We expect important events to follow specific, prescribed patterns and we feel the need to offer explanations when they fail to meet those expectations. Jesus, however, commonly turned those anticipations upside down and often challenged expectations rather than explaining his actions. Consider, for example, his inauguration – the gospels record Jesus’ inauguration taking place through his betrayal and death and the challenges his path to ‘power’ created for his followers. Even though people Jesus’ time struggled to understand and accept the means of his rise to power, Christendom today celebrates that event through its observance of Easter Sunday. We will take advantage of that focus in this lesson by giving attention to how Jesus’ death and resurrection became the unexpected means of his exaltation and what it means for our lives.
Genesis 18:16-19 –The Bible’s story opens with a compacted, yet masterfully narrated, account of God’s grand plan for humanity and of humanity’s rebellion against Him and His plan. God responded to humanity’s rebellion in a surprising way – He promised to bless the whole world through a man named Abraham. The introduction of Abraham results in the dramatic slowing of the Bible’s story as it traces the development of the promise through Abraham and his family. This lesson will consider Abraham’s family in the book of Genesis and their relationship to God and His promise as part of our ongoing series exploring the story of humanity in the Bible.