Our daughter and son-in-law live just west of Myrtle Beach, SC. The governor of that state has just ordered an evacuation of that area. Kate says they will probably stay unless the storm changes trajectory, which is now over 50 miles north of their location. They’re going to ride it out as they’ve done before.
That got me thinking about how life in our degenerating culture is a lot like a hurricane. It’s unpredictable. I don’t know about you, but I am constantly surprised at the crazy things I read, hear and see in the world around me. It’s as if everyone has gone bouncing off the walls insane. I can’t even keep track of all that comes down the track anymore. (Not that I want to)
Like a hurricane our cultural shifts are often accompanied by a lot of wind. People spend huge amounts of time talking about what to wear this week, what to listen to this week, who is the next big thing in the world. And then, of course, there are those like me who spend a lot of time bemoaning all of this. Lot’s of wind and words blowing around.
And then there’s the rain. Way too much rain for the ground to hold, so it runs off and the streams flood and homes and fields are damaged. I’ve been through several of these things and they’re never fun.
The culture of this country is indeed like a hurricane–unpredictable and over all destructive. But just as my daughter and son-in-law intend to ride out hurricane Florence, so we, the followers of Jesus, must ride out the cultural thrill ride that is America in the 21st century. We can’t control the culture, but we can live as examples of what a God focused culture would look like. We can be the light in the darkness and the port in the storm for those God is calling out of worldliness and into godliness. We can, indeed we must, be the people of God who are different. If we try to imitate the culture in any serious way, it will take us over. Only when we stand beside, and yet apart, can we serve God, to whom be all the glory, now and forever. Amen and amen.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a 19th century preacher in the Scottish Church. I recently read part of one of his sermons in which he reminded his congregation that our time on this earth is short and that very soon other people would sit in the pews they were occupying and another man would preach from the pulpit he used. For M’Cheyne that turned out to be very true. He died from typhoid fever at the age of 29.
I think that, among all the problems besetting the Church in the 21st century, one of the most glaring is the lack of preaching emphasis on our short life spans in this world. Too many preachers are bowing to the wishes of too many parishioners for upbeat messages about how God wants them to have a great life here on earth, how He wants to be our pal and help us out. Too many people want to hear that they are just fine the way they are and go home after singing a bunch of so-called praise songs, patting themselves on the back for being good people who just gave God an hour of their life.
How many people, I wonder, sit through church services without being told they are sinners who deserve eternal damnation but, through God’s mercy, their lives will be spared because of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for the sins of the elect. Or maybe the words are use but the emphasis isn’t there. Friends the exit door from this world is right in front of everyone of us and sooner rather than later we will all pass through that portal. There is not time for us to fool around. There is not time–no there is not time. We stand on the very edge of eternity. There is no more time to waste.
The early Church Father Irenaeus wrote a book with the same title as this blog post. The heresies which most concerned him were various forms of Gnosticism which were plaguing the 2nd century Church. Gnostic teachers tried to use Christianity as a way of spreading their rather outlandish teachings. They tried to appropriate Jesus and insert Him into their fanciful visions of divine history. Every now and then we read of some academic with a burning need to publish something trying to say that those heretics were really a legitimate version of Christianity.
What fascinates me is the way in which all sorts of old heresies keep raising their ugly heads in the Church. The old Arian heresy that led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed by the Church is still floating around in the form of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who might ring your doorbell this evening. Another modern version of an old heresy was raised up a couple of years ago by some well known evangelical theologians who began to argue that Jesus was eternally subordinate to the Father. In other words, Jesus might be God but He isn’t as fully God as is the Father. And who knows where their speculations would take them with regard to the status of the Holy Spirit? And then there is all sort of heresy being sown in Pentecostal circles, including the idea that the Holy Spirit is not equal to the Father and the Son. (A good reference on this is John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire) And let us also note here the Unitarianism that is really the undercurrent among many liberal theological speculations.
Yes, there are always heresies troubling the Church of Jesus Christ. And we need to be quite candid about why that is so–Satan tempts sinners within the Church. He holds before them the illusion that they have more insight into God’s ways than those who went before them. It is a conceit rife in our society, that we moderns are more knowledgeable and even more intelligent than our ancestors. What the modern heretics ignore, however, is the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring the Church to come to a knowledge of the Truth. A knowledge which has been shared down through the centuries. We find the Truth in the Word of God and in the Ecumenical creeds which summarize the one true faith.
If you doubt the Word of God recorded in the 66 books of the Bible or if you cannot speak the Creeds without any dishonesty, friend–you are a heretic. And that is not a good things to be.
However, since heresies are the creations of the minds of men, we can indeed return to the true faith by spending our time immersed in the Word of God and allowing Him to guide us past the rocks and shoals our sinful minds erect to keep us from the submission we owe to the Creator, Redeemer and Comforter who is the true object of our worship.
There was a country song out many years ago called “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden”–in other words, I never told you life would be always easy. Right now my wife and I are experiencing a “not-rose garden”. We live in a condo and early Sunday morning the water heater in the apartment above us broke and water came down through our walls into our bathroom and kitchen. Now the drywall has to be replaced and the bathroom redone. We will have to leave our home for about 10 days to 2 weeks while the work is done. The damage isn’t too awful and the repairs won’t cost us anything, but our lives are still being disrupted and made less than pleasant.
That’s the way life is in this sin saturated world we live in. Nothing is perfect, everything is distorted by sin and all manner of bad can happen to anyone–even saved saints of God. Now some people try to tell us that if we just have true faith nothing bad will ever happen to us, we’ll all be healthy, wealthy and wise, to quote Benjamin Franklin. There is a whole segment of the Christian Church that teaches what is sometimes called a prosperity gospel, which is indeed no Gospel at all but a bunch of malarkey thought up by people who are generally the only ones who seem to become wealthy.
Christians are not immune to the ills of this world. What we are is forgiven and rescued from our sinfulness by the blood of Jesus, and that is worth far, far more than anything this world can give us. Our future is assured because Christ did for us what neither we nor anything in this world could do. That is what we hold to in times of difficulty.
But still–I can’t wait to get my place back in order. 🙂
I had an experience this week which really bothers me. One of our members went home to the Lord. This was not unexpected given her advanced age and health issues, but it was still painful for those of us who loved that person.
I was contacted by one of the person’s children and asked to refrain from speaking about sin or the fact that their parent had been a sinner during the service. They wanted to keep everything “upbeat” and happy. I said that the Gospel is only good news if you know what the alternative is–eternity in hell. Sinners who know Christ as Lord and Savior are not bound for punishment but for an eternity in the presence of the Lord. That’s what makes the news good for believers. That, however, wasn’t good enough. There could be no discussion of such things because they were a “downer”, I guess. I also pointed out that funerals always have people in attendance who have not heard the Gospel and it is an important part of a funeral service to witness to those folks, especially when the deceased had a saving faith.
Well, none of this was good enough and so we’re not having a funeral. The family is sponsoring its own celebration of life at a civic building. That’s okay, I know where the deceased is and I rejoice in their salvation.
Despite being disturbed by this one incident, I have to say that I have been put off for some time about these so-called celebrations of life that have become popular. I’m especially put off when they take place in churches. Oh, I know that the family and friends want to hear good things about the one they mourn, and I have no objection to that at all. There is a place in our service for a Life Sketch where that is done. But there is also the proclamation of the Gospel in readings, prayers, hymns and a sermon. What is taking place here is not about the person’s life in this world, however long that may be. It is about the person’s life on the other side of the door–the really long part of life, not the short one.
St. Paul writes that we are not to grieve as do those who have no hope. Grieving is normal, but it becomes abnormal when it is either stuffed down in our gut, kept and massaged in our minds, or when people try to assuage their grief with a big party. Only faith in Jesus and in the eternal blessings bestowed on His elect people can truly give us hope filled grief, a bearable grief which has with it a true sense of victory over sin, death and the devil.
As a pastor I have responsibility for the care of the souls whom I serve. I won’t allow that to be diluted by worldly views. If that makes me a bad guy, I guess I’m a bad guy. But I will always care much more about the long future of my parishioners than about their short past.
My wife and I returned yesterday from a two week vacation. I’ve found as I’ve aged that it pretty much takes two weeks for me to really feel rested, one just won’t do the trick.
While we were gone we worshiped twice at a church in South Carolina. We’ve been there before and we have always heard the Gospel proclaimed in that place. It’s good, especially for pastors, to spend time under someone else’s teaching. For those of us who preach regularly it gives us an opportunity to hear maybe another perspective on a text or another take on a topic. For those who spend Sunday morning in the pews it’s also gives them a view of something a little different from their regular Sunday morning fare. (Let’s face it, pastors, we all have our hobby horses and our styles and, since none of us are Jesus, none of us are perfect preachers).
I confess I don’t understand those who think that a family vacation also means a vacation away from Sunday worship. Every time we enter a sacred place, we enter into an immediate interaction with the God of the universe. And every place where the Gospel is proclaimed in its purity is indeed a sacred place–whether in a store front or pole barn or a 200 year old church like the one I serve. As Christians we should long for that weekly fellowship before the living God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet so many of us use excuses for why we aren’t in church on Sundays–vacation being one of those excuses.
Sometimes picking a church to attend on vacation can be a little dicey. We generally don’t know the congregations or the pastors in the places we visit. We’re not always sure what is being taught there. So I have some suggestions. First, pay attention to the denomination. That won’t be a sure fire answer to the question about what we can expect, but it will help. Of course there are orthodox congregations and pastors in even the most unorthodox denominations as there are unorthodox congregations and pastors in the most orthodox denominations. Still, the denomination is a generally good guide. Second, don’t pick a church solely on the time of service, whether early or late. Going to the local “community church” because it’s time fits your schedule best is a roll of the dice at best. Third, be open and friendly to the people who are members there. I know the people are supposed to be friendly to visitors, and I hope they are everywhere, but visitors shouldn’t just be passive receivers of greetings–after all, these are people of our family in Christ. Finally, make a joyful noise unto the Lord and learn something about Jesus.
Happy vacation worship.
I am a big advocate of expository preaching. This style of preaching involves going through the Biblical text verse by verse (or something close to that). I most often preach straight through a book of the Bible. Right now I’m preaching through Deuteronomy and I must admit it is occasionally taxing my ingenuity because it is not always easy to make sermon material out of some of the laws. I started this method some years ago because I believe many people miss too much of God’s Word when we stick solely to the assigned texts for the church year.
I read an article recently which reminded me of the danger of expository preaching–I could miss the proclamation of the Gospel. For example, if I proclaim God’s Word from Deuteronomy this Sunday but fail to connect what is taught there to Jesus Christ who was crucified and risen for me, then I have debased the pulpit,, for Jesus and Jesus alone is our Savior. The Old Testament speaks in progressive revelation of the One who would rid us of the stain of our sin, and it is our duty to bring that out in its fullness. What the Law meant to people in 1800 BC is irrelevant in the light of Christ and I must make sure the people in the pews before me understand what the text means now that the fullness of the revelation of God has been made known to us.
Preaching is a great privilege but it also carries with it great responsibility. As James points out, those who teach in the Church will be judged by a higher standard. We who have been given this privilege must remember we have been called to speak of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Our opinions on most things don’t matter. Historical information may be interesting, but it is of little purpose if it does not contribute to the proclamation of Christ for us.
Like many other things, preaching styles are subject to fads. Recently there was this experiment with telling stories rather than preaching sermons. From reports on sermons I’ve received, it seems to be pretty much a failure because it strays from the Word too easily. But even the best preaching style can fail miserably if the preacher forgets why we’re really here and Who we really serve.