I will probably refrain from blogging for awhile. I even toyed with the idea of deleting this blog, but decided not to do so, at least for the time being. I increasingly think myself to be utterly unqualified to speak on weighty things. I also do not want to entertain any narcissism,and blogging, for me, can provide a temptingly fertile soil for such. You see, I am a not very good Christian. I am at times self-righteous and and prone to be an idolater. I am often foolish in speech and action and prone to be self-absorbed. I often beat myself up over my sin and shortcomings. But I am redeemed by my Saviour, Christ Jesus. In the end, that is all I got. That is absolutely all I got to cling to, and I have to preach that to myself daily. All I have is the fact that I can stand before my Maker because my Redeemer took upon Himself my sin. He lived a sinless and obedient life for me and took my sins upon Himself on the cross. He rose again, in time and space, in history, and defeated death. Simul Iustus et Peccator (simultaneously sinner and saint) , I am not living my best life now. That comes later. What I am learning, thought, is that I have a great High Priest who intercedes for me. I was dead in my trespasses, but my Redeemer breathed life into me, brought me to faith, to belief, to a trust that He is sufficient. When I am weak, He is magnified. If Christ uses the weak and foolish to confound the strong and wise of the world, then I hope I am His man.
Here are a few thoughts with which to give either the closing punctuation this blog or at least a pause:
- Are we more weighed down by the sins done to us than by the sins we have done to others, or for more importantly, against God? Do we truly ponder the gravity of of our rebellion, even as redeemed saints, in light of a holy, sovereign and righteous God? Without a heart broken and contrite over one’s sin, piety can be hollow and may be followed and fueled by a cold, self-righteous moralism. Each and every one of us is to varying degree a recovering Pharisee with a propensity towards self-pity, self-righteousness, and self-agrandization.
- No matter how bad we think our circumstances, in light of our innate fallen nature, we deserve no better. Why do we Christians complain about our supervisor at work, about our job, our financial worries, our relational issues, our health when each breath is a gift? To do so is to proclaim to God, “I deserve better than what you have given me!” And I am guilty. The lines do not always fall into pleasant places, and God is still sovereign, good, holy, righteous, and merciful. Our Redeemer knows we are made of but dust and our life is but a vapor. He knows, in His absolute sovereignty, how we feel and what we are going through. The Triune God uses trials mold us as a potter’s hand molds a lump of clay. And He gives us good gifts and joy, too.
- Sometimes we have truly been wronged by others and the consequences linger for longer that we think necessary or fair. And sometimes our thoughts linger over such longer than necessary. Grace does not abound in those places.
- When we long for righteousness, when we groan over sin, both ours and that of others, and I hope that is something no saint ever grows beyond experiencing, we know that He is near to a broken and contrite heart. The Messiah, the Word through Whom all things hold together, intercedes for us to the Father. He does not break the bent reed nor extinguish the smoldering wick.
- The one who is forgiven much, loves much.
- I do not think people often meet the Jesus they most profoundly need when all they are presented with is a Redeemer who’s overarching goal seems to be meeting all our felt needs and making sure we are happy and make good decisions.. Sadly, many are satisfied with that misrepresentation of Jesus who has a ‘wonderful plan for your life’. Sadly, I think this is the Jesus presented in many American churches.
- Expanding on that previous bullet point, I just recently listened to three sermons from rather influential pastors. Two of the sermons were on tapping into some inferred, innate leadership ability that resides in all of us. In a nutshell, the sermons go thusly: because we all know Jesus was a great leader, great insight into leadership principles can be gleaned from examining His methods. We need to discover and apply those leadership lessons to our lives as our lives intersect with others.
- (Warning: engaging rant mode) Without exception, in each of the sermons, the pastor spent most of his time elaborating on personal anecdotes and experience as well as referencing secular books on leadership principles. Without exception, and like most every thematic sermon on felt needs, each pastor started off with a pet project and with good intention and then twisted and distorted whatever Scripture was used out of its intended use and context. I am no genius, but I do know how to read. I see when context is ignored. What I see in each of these sermons is a grand adventure in missing the point of the text and jumping off onto pet projects of felt needs, of reducing the grand narrative of the Bible, the story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption through Christ, into a self-help manual.
- Here, too, is a portion of a sermon I listened to from on of the guys who gave the leadership seminar/sermon:
Your God is so great that when Moses asked Him in Exodus 3:14 what’s Your name and who shall I tell the Israelites who sent me, God could not confine Himself to a particular description so he announced His presence by saying “I AM who I AM.” I love that! You can’t box Me in. I AM who I AM. The old King James versions says, I AM that I AM. I think that a good interpretation of that statement into into a modern translation would be…”What ever you need, thats what I AM.” “I AM that. That’s what I am.”
This section of the sermon goes on a bit about how God is there to meet your financial, emotional, and relational needs and then concludes thusly:
“He is. He simply is so maybe we should just say today…God is…. fill in the blank. What do you need. Thats what He is.“
Now, the rest of the sermon was not completely without merit or without Gospel implications, but to say the that God’s ontological disclosure of I AM who I AM means ‘I AM whatever you need me to be’ tends to reduce God to a servant to our felt needs, a God who seems to exist to make us feel good, to make us happy. God is not as concerned about our happiness as much as we are. He is more concerned about our sanctification. I think broad swaths of the church makes much of God making much over us almost as much as they make much of God. Whew…..
I would really love to hear these guys try to exegete the book of Jeremiah. If they did, it would probably end up being a sermon on finances. leadership, sex, or marriage Yea, I know I am being a bit cynical, but the only time I heard hard things from these guys is when they preach their ubiquitous messages on tithing, and even then, the message usually ends up massaging a felt need, a desire for financial blessing. Also, what stood out in stark relief for me is how much these guys talk about themselves on stage. Perhaps more than half of each sermon consisted of humorous stories of their childhood or some personal anecdote that was somehow used in sometimes tenuous ways to segue into the theme of the speech. And if they are not talking about their life experience, they often talk about their church and its history. I remember listening to a pastor state that he was going to preach on a passage of Scripture from the Sermon on the Mount, but God told him to preach on the history of his church instead. That was not God, but ego, speaking to the pastor and instructing him that His word is to be trumped by a narrative on the pastors empire.
Without conscious intent, what happens in a purpose driven and market driven church is it ends up personality driven. They often reduce the objective truth of Gospel to a personal, subjective narrative of some nebulous ‘life change.’ And you know what, these pastors seem like truly nice guys. I believe treat their friends and family well. They are kind to animals and pay their taxes. They are well-intentioned. And sometimes God uses such men in spite of their error.
And I am finished listening to bad sermons. I do not know why I subject myself to such other than to practice discernment. I guess too, I am more deeply nourished by and thankful for sermons of substance after having imbibed sugary sermons that in the end do not satisfy.