Monday, November 24, 2014

The Word of God is Sharper than any Two-Step Self-Help Program

I watched a service last night from a large mid-western church. I was appalled enough to actually feel like punching somebody in the face. I rarely feel like punching someone in the face, but Nehemiah did (Nehemiah 13:25), and I did, so let me explain why.

As soon as I saw the sermon series was on how to be happy as a Christian, my hackles were up. The "text" for the sermon was a single verse read very quickly and undoubtedly found in an online word search for "happy." The text was promptly dropped. The other passages referred to in the sermon were either mentioned and not read, or utterly abused. The amount of eisegesis was astounding. A couple of theological concepts were raised, but used in an overtly self-serving and flatly heretical way. Jesus did not shed his blood on the cross so that you could live a stress-free life. God's judgment does not precede his mercy (or we would all be gone, including this "pastor"). The points in the sermon were all lifted from local daytime talk shows in the segments when Dr. HelpMeGetSkinny arrives and tells you how to handle your caloric intake during the holidays. I am not joking - the sermon  gave the earth-shaking advice that you ought to drink more water, exercise, and control your portions. Then the bulk of the sermon time was devoted to C-grade stand-up comedy.

I have two pieces of advice.

First, if you attended that church or one like it over the past weekend, you need to run away as quickly as you can. If you hear sermons like this from week to week you are actually being led away from Christ and his grace, not brought closer to him. You are being taught how to be more like the world, not like Christ. And if you think that what I described is a Christian sermon and is the kind of thing the Bible actually teaches the people of God, then I suggest you save your tithe, stay home, and just watch TV. You will get the same ideas with better production value and you don't need to send in your money.

Second, if you preached this sermon over the past weekend, shame on you. You need a run-in with a Jeremiah or a Nehemiah. You need someone to pronounce "false prophet" over your YouTube and Vimeo accounts. You abused Holy Writ and shamed the Sacred Desk. You took what precious little time you have with the people who attend your church and flushed it down the toilet. Your shallow Bible-mangling sermons are part of the reason the evangelical church is not taken seriously in our culture. How could it be, when you are incapable or unwilling to plumb the depths of God's Word and the sacred task of preaching, and connect the Word of God to the lives of people?

You, pastor, have at your disposal the truths and power that once turned the world upside down and you have settled for lukewarm get-alongism. The Word of God, if you can learn how to wield it, is a sword sharper than any two-step diet program.

The vocation of pastor is serious stuff. The task of preaching should never be taken lightly. Pastor, you need to either relearn or learn for the first time how to handle Scripture well. Then you need to learn again how to communicate to people the depths and the riches of something that actually has the power to transform lives.

I pray the American church learns how to leave behind this crass and meaningless consumerism. I am not holding my breath.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Social Activism vs. the Local Church

“For many today it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up from the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church. I hate to put it this way, but I must: it is easier to do the former because it feels good,…Not only that, it is good and right and noble and loving and compassionate and just. It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard….But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.”