“Learn not the way of the nations,nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity."
(thoughts to prepare you for "Cold" - a Jaunuary sermon series)
All of us fall into the trap of following trends without thinking -- not all of them are offensive to God (take for instance the Mullet, or Pokemon Go) but many of them are - - especially when it warps the way you worship or fail to worship the true God.
Scripture calls this idolatry.
The ultimate problem with idolatry is this very basic fact as described in Psalm 115:8, “Those who make idols become like them; so do all who trust in them.” Or to put it in laymen terms, “You become like the thing that you worship.” And if you worship an idol that you have first made, you only are reinforcing the importance of self. Jeremiah, in verse 10:3, calls this vanity. Meaning it is: Empty, stupid, foolish, and downright embarrassing.
Two modern day examples of our worship of self is our obsession with the “Celebrity culture” and the growing atheist movement.
Celebrities are people who play parts and act out roles that aren’t real, and we obsess over them. We are caught up in the fame game. Self wants to be known and seen as important by others. We want praise and adulation. So when we see someone who gets the praise and adulation we want for ourselves, we assume they must have some intrinsic greatness - - they are special, people to be exalted and praised.
Take for instance George Michael who just died: He was a man with a God-given ability to sing and write pop-songs. But he also was a seriously broken person: he struggled with a heroin addiction, a sex addiction and was severely depressed most of his life. But, because he was famous, the “cultural custom” is to place him on a higher pedestal than the regular rabble. Because his songs sold millions we are led to believe that he will somehow triumph in death.
In fact, God himself must also bow to George Michael's super-star status - - and his human proclivities for debauchery and songs that promoted sex, God must ignore, because Michael was “famous.” And if you are a Star Wars fan, you can be certain Carrie Fisher made it to heavenly glory, she was Princess Leia after all. Even her brother tweeted, “My sister has graduated to heaven, she left us all with so much of her.” Wait, wasn’t she a jewish atheist? Who cares, she was famous.
But what if you aren’t famous? What hope is there for the average person who is not that pretty or talented?
Ironically, the celebrity is like the idol of wood, they need you and your applause to prop them up and make them famous. What happens to the celebrity that no longer shines? They implode, unable to stand up under their own weak humanity - - another illusion of their own making.
The second popular idol of our day is Atheism; the belief that there is no God. It too is a made up system where the raw material of the idol is not wood and stone, but ideas and philosophies. Sadly this idol is growing - - especially in suburban America. There are many reasons given for it’s spread - - from rejection of politics tainting religion, the globalization of tolerance through internet use, and the hatred of God's moral authoritarianism (people don't like it when any powerful authority tells them what to do - - especially telling an 8 year old girl who thinks she is a boy to "grow up" is now considered the height of cruelty). But one of the biggest factors of why people adopt atheism is called, Existential Security Thesis (EST). EST teaches that the wealthier a community is the less need there is for God.
It is very simple: the more secure I feel through my own abilities, resources and social networks, the less I need God. Atheism thrives the most in homes where anxiety over food, clothes and shelter are minimal or even non-existent. That is why most atheists come from wealthy, upper-class homes. In other words, why do you need God when you feel as strong as God? Why pray when you can go to the bank and take out enough money to get what you need?
Money becomes the raw material to erect an idol of the self-sufficient man. But the self-sufficient man has no time for other people with needs. The self-sufficient man is too busy surviving and gloating over his accomplishments, living on his cold island alone, proud of his privacy, secure behind his fortress. Cold and dead to the world. Since idols are made by people, they have no ability to give back life to the person who made them. Your soul turns inward, it can't grow or expand, it only fights for self.
Remember, what you worship you become. I wonder, is your heart growing cold because you think so highly of yourself?
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me.”
There is a new and persuasive argument on ministry philosophy these days and it goes like this:
“Growing up, how many sermons do you really remember? Probably very few. But how many people and their relationships that influenced you do you remember? Probably a lot. So what do you think is more important, preaching or relationships?”
This is what you would call not just a lead question, but a bad case of logic. First of all this question is setting you up to agree that relationships are the most important thing. Who is going to argue with that? But secondly it is pitting relationships against preaching, as if you have to choose one or the other. With Christ everything is important!
But the biggest problem with this question, is it fails to address just how important preaching, public speaking and the tool that speech is to your ministry. . . a pastor is a herald, a representative of Christ, so it really is everything. Just look at a couple of verses and tell me how important preaching is:
Jeremiah 1:9-10 - _________________________
Malachi 2:7-9 - __________________________
Acts 2:37- _______________________________
Col 1:28-29 -_____________________________
What is the incarnation? (see John 1:1 & 17) ___________________________________________
“IN the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Preaching is the ‘word of God” coming through the preacher’s flesh: his life, his attitudes, his actions. How does this happen.
FIRST STEP: Know the Word so it speaks and not you!
Do you know the difference between “eisigesis” and “exegesis?” It is crucial to preaching: Eisigesis is when your opinion is above scripture, and exegisis is when scripture is above your opinion. The Power in Preaching comes through the truth that God wants communicated (exegesis); not through the opinions you want to espouse (eisigesis). Truth in this case is “THAT WHICH CORRESPONDS TO THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE.” Only the word of God is true truth.
Opinions are often slanted, ignorant, blind, selfish and impure. God’s truth is just the opposite: James 3:13-18_______ So before a man preaches, the text must rule over his mind rather than him ruling over the text. “But Chris, how do you do this purely?”
- INTEGRITY: hermeneutical research must be done, and done well.
- SINCERITY: only preach what you personally
believe to be true; not what you are supposed to say.
- HUMILITY: if you are trying to impress or you are
not sold on your conclusions, don’t preach it.
STEP TWO: Know your Heart so it makes the word real!
You are living in a real world, you have real fears, questions and concerns - allow the text to address them. Make sure each sermon answers many of these questions:
1. What bothers me about the text, be honest and tell the congregation?
2. What excites me about the text?
3. What cultural myth is this destroying?
4. What cultural sin is it confronting?
5. How does this change my perspective of God?
People need to hear how you view these things, if they don’t the text will hang limp, and they will not experience incarnational truth.
THIRD STEP: Plead with God to anoint your words!
D. L. Moody said there were times in his ministry when the Spirit of God took over his words. That is what I am talking about. There will be times when you know you are watching God work. How does it happen?
* Pray his Promises: God responds to his promises. Here are some of the promises that God gives.
* Boldness: Ephesians 6:19
* Clarity: Colossians 4:2-4
* Conviction: Acts 2:37
* Understanding: Philippians 1:9-11
* Love for God: Ephesians 3:16-21
Charles Spurgeon has said, “The only thing that gives me courage to preach week after week is that I say to myself before I preach, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit.'"
Dr. Erwin Lutzer would bring his preaching class to a graveyard and he would tell them to stand over the grave and start preaching. He said, “This is what you are doing every Sunday. Eloquence won't raise the dead, brilliance won't raise the dead, argument won't raise the dead. Only the life giving word, excited by the Spirit of God and communicated through a pure vessel will see blind eyes opened and deaf ear loosed. So never forget. . .
YOU ARE PREACHING TO THE DEAD & HIS WORD IS THE ONLY THING THAT HAS THE POWER TO RAISE THEM UP!
"He brought out (I suppose from the big bag at his back, but nobody quite saw him do it) a large tray containing five cups and saucers, a bowl of lump sugar, a jug of cream, and a great big teapot all sizzling and piping hot. Then he cried out “A Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” and cracked his whip and he and the reindeer and the sledge and all were out of sight before anyone realised that they had started.
(Father Christmas, 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.')
I am a Christian Pastor and you may find it surprising that the teaching of Santa Claus doesn't bother me in the least.
Do I believe in him? Absolutely not. Did I teach my kids to believe in him? No. But if my neighbor wants to, or the local school wants to sing songs about him, or a congregant in my church throws rocks on his roof at midnight to fool his kids that there are reindeers arriving (Rick Dolphin), I have no problem with it.
I realize that taking this position could get me into trouble with other pastors in my denominational branch. Many believe "The Man of God" must boldly stand up for truth and contest falsehood everywhere you find it. There is often widespread concern that pagan traditions have fooled us into following thier reprehensable idolatry; and Santa is nothing more than Satan wearing a red suit. (Notice how even thier names are identical when you switch the letter "n" and put it to the back?) Lies are our enemy, this demands for all true Christians to be ever vigilant, we cannot give an inch, and we must "Fight!"
This past month a headline read, "'Kids, there is no Santa’: Pastor unloads on families waiting to take Christmas photos at a mall." The article goes on to say that an evangelical pastor walked into a shopping center and started pointing at kids waiting to see a Mall Santa by saying, “Kids, I want to tell you today that there is no such thing as Santa Claus. Santa Claus does not exist. The Christmas season is about Jesus. The man you’re going to see today is just a man in a suit dressed up like Santa."
He stood strong, he fought the good fight, and boy did he tick people off! One father began to physically escort the irritating preacher out, another tweeted, "A disturbed Christian, yelled at kids saying 'Santa isn't real, cause Jesus is!' Someone tell him that Jesus isn't real." Even though his antics were eventually shut-down, the pastor still claims the victory. After he posted his public "testifying to the truth" on-line via video, he boasts, "The video has been seen more than 2 million times."
But I ask you, pray tell, what did this video actually accomplish? A greater hunger for Jesus? People willing to abandon their silly theories of Santa because this preacher's powerful arguments were so persuasive?
I personally think this kind of Christian witnessing does more harm than good. And it has for many years now - - I wish it would stop. Instead of fostering conversation and genuine report with others; finger-pointing crusades create nothing but walls of division and foster perceptions that Christians are "Kill-Joys" and angry, unhappy human beings. Maybe instead of fighting Santa, it might be a good thing for some of us to embrace him...or at least smile and enjoy the holiday festivities for once?
I offer three reasons why it might do some of us some good to stop getting mad when your neighbor adorns a red hat and sings songs about reigndeer, chimneys and Jolly Ole' St. Nicholas:
(1) Our world is "Awash" in lies, let's fight the ones that really matter - - picking on a fat man in elf suit is a sign you have zero discernment. About ten years ago, a father who allowed his kids to come to our youth group was furious with his oldest son and wanted to kick him out of the house. So before he made such a drastic decision, he dragged his son into my office so I could knock some sense into him.
As I sat with the father and son, I asked the question, "So what's the problem?" The dad looked at me with anger and said, "Isn't it obvious?" Apparently his son wanted to show school spirit for Homecoming week and he dyed his hair bright red. The father said, "I have told him I do not want a cross-dressing son in my house, and look what he did; like a woman he went and dyed his hair red! I cannot have a son of mine dressing up like a woman. And not only that, according to Deuteronomy 22, God abhors transvestites." I asked the son, "Is that what you are doing? Trying to dress up like a woman?" He said, "No, of course not, I just wanted to show school spirit."
I asked the son to leave so I could talk to the dad some more in my office. I asked the dad, "How important is it for you to have a relationship with your son?" The dad barked back, "What is important to me is for my kids to do what I say in the home." As we talked it was clear the boy was not by nature disobedient, he just wanted to have fun. The dad wanted unquestioned obedience. Needless to say, the son was forced to wash the red dye out against my advice. Over time, when the son graduated he left the house and rarely spoke to his dad ever again. I am pretty sure he won't step foot in a church either. The father won the battle but lost the love of his son because he wouldn't budge on such a silly issue.
Here is the point: We can continue fighting obvious but harmless lies like Santa Claus, but what's the use? We may be the victors, but in truth we lost our voice when it comes to bigger matters. Listen to 2 Timothy 2:23-26 - "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." Kindness, gentleness and respect go a long way in eventually winning hearts.
Don't you think the the father who teaches his son that Santa is real knows it is a lie? Sure he does. So why does he do it? It's fun! But isn't teaching blatant lies sin against God? C'mon, if you are asking that you have never had to confront the real lies that are making our homes killing fields: like the lie it is O.K. to be abuse your children and wife through violence and emotional manipulation, or the lie that divorce doesn't destroy, or even the lie that you can only be happy if you buy and buy and buy. I would take the father who brings his kid to see Santa at a mall any day over the dad who forces his kids to listen to the Bible while his anger pervades the atmosphere in the home. This brings us naturally to number two. . .
(2) The art of persuasion must incorporate delight & joy for the person you are trying to persuade ever to accept your argument. Why do we think sheer logic and cold hard factual reasoning is convincing? It's not. Case in Point - - your wife can argue with you until her face turns blue that eating cake, candy and salty snacks will ruin your health this Christmas. Shoving a plate of vegetables and Kale salad in your face will never change your eating habits. A person has to want the truth before he will consider adopting the truth. Want is dependent on desire, desire is contingent on joy. As Christians, our job is to sell joy.
Here is the point: I find that the reason people reject Jesus is not because of Jesus, but because of the attitude and lifestyle of the presenter arguing for Jesus. Who wants to recieve good news from someone who is always grumpy and angry? A person who hates Santa is a person I don't ever want to be around, do you? Who cares if they are right - - they are still kill joys and curmudgeons.
(3) There is an important if not necessary place for myth in our lives. In the series "The Chronicles of Narnia" C. S. Lewis included the person of Santa Claus as a metaphor for hope, he called him Father Christmas. Some Christians wondered why Lewis would ever do that, so a Lewis apologist tried to make sense out of it by writing. . .
"Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is drawn from the well-known popular legends of Santa Claus, the magical person who travels every Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer to bring presents to children everywhere. These legends in turn are based on the real life of St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop who was very generous to the poor. Some Christian groups object to the concept of Father Christmas because they claim he takes the focus off Christ during the Christmas season. But Lewis' inclusion of a Father Christmas figure who is subservient to Aslan, the Christ-figure in the series, is a classic example of Lewis' belief that all myths ultimately glorify the Creator."
How do myths glorify the Creator? Simple, they provide common feelings and expressions that touch our heart and point to a deeper truth. The idea of a man who showers gifts upon humanity pictures the fuller story of a God who sends grace to us all through his Son. In the story of Santa we find a mystery that makes sense to us, it is a thrill to think about someone who exists that can do things no one else can. I will be honest with you, as a kid I believed in Santa. No, I wasn't basing it on reason or experience, but I just knew there was more to life than the mundane everyday of routine and work.
As a kid I knew just trying to survive and exist isn't our purpose. We are made for more, we are created to be thrilled by something greater than us. This is why men love sports, women love romance, and movies are so captivating - - we are made for more.
Here is the point: The myth of Santa only begins to excite a taste for wonder in children; but as we become adults we learn to take this taste higher and let it point us to a greater wonder. It is true heaven exists, and it is greater than anything you can imagine - - like a kid hoping for presents from Santa, it is not wrong to hope for a heaven that will meet all of my dreams. This taste for wonder has been hard-wired in us! The problem with myth is that it cannot stand up for long to reality - - but it can condition our heart to embrace the reality that can.
You may not agree, in fact, you may believe that if we start lying early to our kids, they will never trust us later. That may be true, but as a reasoning adult I never hated my dad for wanting me to enjoy the wonder of the myth. I actually saw his contagious joy for life as a reason why I embraced his God as I grew older.
My final opinion is this: When you are so zealous to strip away lies to the point you ruin wonder, you may be undercutting the gospel - - because the gospel is the most wonderous fairy tale ever told, a fairy tale that is actually true.
“Here is a trustworthy saying, ’If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”
1 Tim 3:1
For the people of Jesus’ day, shepherding sheep was a normal yet mundane occupation; and I gaurantee you it wasn't looked on as a particularay praiseworthy job. In fact, being a shepherd was lonely and hazardous. A shepherd must stay vigilant out in the open fields night and day - - be ready for a sheep to wander away at any moment, and keeping an eye out for predators licking their chops wanting to devour one of the juicy little lambs.
Sheep were always prone to danger - - not surprising. Why not? Because the animal has a pea for a brain!
Listen to this actual news story, “Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 16 feet to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. Shepherds from a nearby village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.” As one writer commented, “One sheep wandered off a cliff and 1,499 others just followed along. Can you picture it? 1,500 sheep, each walking off a cliff, one after the other. Soon they were piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed to death and the ones on top were lying on a big downy-soft pillow. It is completely absurd and tells us one important fact about sheep and the first reason sheep absolutely need a shepherd: they are not the smartest animals in the world. In fact, they may well be just about the dumbest animals in the world.”
Isaiah 53:6 uses this same picture of a sheep to describe all us in our sinful condition, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - everyone - to his own way…” If you are called to be a pastor/shepherd of a church, you will be asked to work with wandering sheep everyday. Sounds like a great career move, doesn't it? Chasing sheep, this is what God calls the pastor to do. Does this sound like a noble task to you? Well God says it is in I Timothy 3:1. How would you define a noble task, and how should I view a noble task?”_____________________________
Do you believe pastoring (taking care of sheep) is a noble task? ______________
If no, why then are you even reading this? ______________
If yes, than you need to always remember that not just anybody is allowed to do this job. Not just anybody off the street who decides they want to be a pastor can be a pastor; it is granted to the few who are gifted and called! I find it is rare to find a person who likes to watch sheep. Seldom is the person who will give up thier life, their freedom, their desire for cool independence to spend their life caring for simple sheep. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "Why do you choose to meet with people that don't really give much back to you, or appreciate the sacrifice?" All I can say is that "God has put the desire in me to do it."
In some sense, watching sheep doesn't require you to be a brilliant mathmetician, a creative writer, or even a high caliber leader. But it does ask you to be made of rock solid stuff, the kind of stuff that demands for you to be the type of person who. . .
* WON’T COMPLAIN
* WORKS HARD
* HANGS IN THERE - - EVEN WHEN EVERYONE ELSE BAILS
Out of these three, which do you think is the hardest?________________________________________
A noble job is noble for the sheer fact it will prove to be both dangerous and strategic. Listen to what Eugene Peterson says about it:
“Why do pastors have such a hard time being pastors?
Because we are awash in idolatry. Where two or three
are gathered together and God comes up, a
committee is formed for making an idol. We want
gods that are not gods so we can be “as gods”.
The idolatry to which pastors are conspicuously liable
is not personal but vocational, the idolatry of religious
career that we can take charge and manage.”
I especially think the reason pastoring is so hard these days is because there is overwhelming contempt in our culture for any kind of authority. People don't like to be told what to do, especially by a pastor. Look at a new church’s beliefs about church that was on their website:
“Jesus is the head of the church, not the ‘pastor.’ Unfortunately, pastors have become the functional head (“boss”) of the church for most people. That is unhealthy and dangerous. . . Church isn’t somewhere you go, it’s something you are. It’s something you do. So, yes, we believe many churches have made a practice of wasting way too much money on elaborate buildings and large staff salaries. More of our money should be used to “church” ourselves in the world, where we work to repair, restore, renew, re-create, and reconcile.
The clergy/laity/(pastor/congregation) divide is debilitating to the Body. From the beginning, God’s design was that mankind (men & women) would collectively represent Him. Even the ancient prophets dreamed of the day that everyone would be as a priest. Power and authority in the Church is not positional, but revolving and shared. We are to submit to one another, side by side, not over and under. The authority given to us by Christ is to serve. Therefore, our elders must be the greatest servants among us!”
(1) What do you agree with about this statement? ____________________________
(2) What do you disagree with about this statement? __________________________
How can the following verses help crystalize the concept of pastor in your mind:
- Hebrews 13:7, 17 ________________________
- 1 Peter 5:1-4 __________________________
- Ephesians 4:11-13 _____________________
Why do you think there is such contempt for authority in our society? ______________________________
What happens when there is a sharp dispute in the church where two groups of people see an issue two different ways and they cannot agree - who wins? _________________________________________
How did the church handle it in Acts 6:1-7? ________________________________________
I want to end this section by looking at an email that I sent to a ministry friend who was really struggling in his ministry and wanted to quit because he didn’t think what he was doing was that important. He was frustrated that people really didn't seem to either listen or change under his leadership. They seemed to wander and quit following just like sheep. He started questioning both himself and even the role of a pastor, is it even needed? So instead of teaching him, and telling him it is important, I took the Socratic method of asking him questions. Here they are. . .
- If you could somehow see the invisible reality behind your ministry, what would it look like?___________
- Do you really think there are demons and angels vying for the souls in your congregation? _____________
- Who are you competing against? The world, the flesh and the Devil or other pastors and their programs to see who is the best in God's eyes?_____________________
For me, I answer my call to pastoring and perserverence daily by believing that each word I utter in "sincerity" has behind it the power of life and death. If I utter words to make people happy it ends most the time in catering to pride and pride leads to death. If I utter convictions and exhortations and encouragement based on scriptural fact, I believe life through the Spirit will be produced. With that being said, march on., stay vigilant, protect the sheep . .just like Jeremiah in Jeremiah 15:19.
Memorize it, it will save your ministry!
I have a sister in my family that shares my strange sense of humor, her name is Stephanie.
I can remember a certain Christmas where we went shopping together for her husband Jeff. And while we were at the mall we happened to walk by a Goodwill thrift shop and my sister decided to go in and browse. She went down the shoe aisle and called me over and said, “Chris, look at these hideous shoes!” They were a pair of old brown leather orthopedic shoes where one of the soles was two inches taller than the other, they only cost 50 cents. They were so ugly!
She looked at me and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we bought these shoes and wrapped them up for Gina,” who is our next oldest sister, “and put them under the tree?” For some reason I agreed with her - - I thought that would be hilarious. So we did just that. When we got home she found a big box and wrapped it in super nice wrapping paper. She signed it, “To Gina from Steph and Chris with love.”
On Christmas morning when all of us were sitting around the tree, Steph slipped the gift toward the front and Gina immediately saw it, picked it up, weighing it, and smiling. Steph and I kept quiet trying not to smirk or snicker. I must admit, she did a great job of wrapping it. When it was time for her to open the gift, Gina was genuinely excited, she probably was thinking, “Wow, they went out of their way this year. The wrapping is so beautiful, and it really was nice of them to get me a gift, I love my family.” Slowly...she unwrapped it... letting the anticipation build.
And then it happened, “What are these?” Gina cried. Steph asked with a straight face, “Do you like them?” Gina didn’t know what to say. All I could do is laugh. Gina never did.
What is the use of all the beauty, the glitzy wrapping, the sentimental thoughts that bring a warm tear if the gift is useless? What use are angels singing? What use are shepherds attending? Why does any of this Christmas spectacle, children’s choir, outrageous spending, dressing up and acting holy while singing “Silent Night” holding dripping candles, matter? And most of all, what use is a baby born in a manger?
Simple: This baby came to meet our need. Something I am afraid we often miss behind all the wrapping.
Description of Need
I want to take you to a story way back in the lesser known pages of the Bible. It is the story of a man named Eli, who had two sons with funny names: Hophni and Phineas. We find their story in the book of 1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25..
These were bad sons, they were priests who stole the best pieces of meat and slept with women who came to the temple, and Eli knew their behavior deeply offended God. So he tried to warn them and wake them up to their serious dilemma. There is nothing harder than trying to get rebellious young adults who think they are impervious to the judgment of God to listen? Eli tries appealing to their reason and so he asks them in verse 25,
“If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they didn’t answer, nor did they want to, because as it says, “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.”
This question isn’t intended for only them to answer, it is meant for all of us. We are the ones the Spirit is trying to appeal to through reason so we will listen to God. And the meaning is clear, as one commentator writes,
“For man’s offences against his fellow-man, there is a third superior party to arbitrate and rectify the wrongs, namely God, or God’s representative, the duly appointed judge: but for man’s offences against Jehovah, there is no third superior party to intercede as a mediator.”
Why does it matter: why do I need an intercessor?
Is it that important for me to get an intercessor - - or can I just hope for the best, cross my fingers while believing that “time will heal all wounds, even the offences that I have caused toward God?”
I really believe this question needs to always be kept in the forefront of our minds. Human Beings, an animal species to which most of us belong, have an incredible capacity to lie to ourselves in two main areas:
(1) We are self-deceived about ourselves: We tend to believe we are not that bad, and haven’t done that much wrong. As Cornelius Plantinga in his book “A Breviary on Sin” writes, “We have the ability to pull the wool over some part of our own psyche. We put a move on ourselves. We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions. We become our own dupes, playing the role of both perpetrator and victim. We know the truth - and yet do not know it, because we persuade ourselves the opposite.”
(2) The Character of God: We tend to downplay God’s awesomeness; even that word has been downgraded in our vocabulary. There was a time when “awesome” was used to describe an event that aroused mystery and awe, now is a way to describe a flavor of Ice cream, “That mint chocolate chip was awesome!”. Our view of God has been downgraded as well. In Psalm 10:4 & 11, the sentiments of a the evil man are described:
· In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
· He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
Because of these two truths, most of us have waxed fat in our understanding of God (See: Deuteronomy 32:14-15). In other words, sin brings each of us through the process of adopting a callous insensitivity to the grandeur of God. This callousness has even allowed many of us to presumptiously take the role of judge and jury over God.
He “now” needs to give us reasons for the presence of pain, suffering and injustice. Where is he? Why doesn’t he answer for his failures? Who does God think he is by allowing bad things to enter into my life? (Ironically, I am posting this because the pipes just broke in our church - - "How could he allow this?" tongue in cheek of course!)
Oh, he knows who exactly who he is...and according to scripture, he never changes. We are the ones who change like the waves of the sea. But God is, as Malachi 1:14 says, “a great King, and his name will be feared among the nations.” That is why we need an intercessor - - because our dispute is with the King, we have sinned against him. And a King is not someone to trifle with, nor is he someone that we can mock and criticize like we freely do with our Presidents. A king is, well, a king!
Turn to Job 9. I want you to consider a little more what it means to argue, or contend with God the King on your own. Proverbs 20:2 warns us, “The terror of the King is like the growling of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life.” Arguing with a King is a deadly proposition -- your life is on the line. Job is going to explain why. . .
So Job’s conclusion can be found in verse 14: "How then can I answer him...I can not answer him. I must appeal for mercy." Job’s despair continues through the rest of this chapter in ends in verse 32 “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us.”
So here, in black and white, is our primary need. We desperately need someone to come between, an intercessor, because as it is. . .our standing before God is hopeless. So, Let’s go home. Merry Christmas; no, should I say, have a Miserable Christmas?
When you learn the Biblical story accurately and without the sentimental trappings, no wrapping paper or decoration, throw out the false piety of prattling priests; our problem of sin and the reality of the perfection of God, brings all of us to a dead end - - there is no solution.
Paul agrees with this assessment in his great book of Romans where he says in chapter 3 “No one is righteous, no not one, no one understands, no one seeks for God, All have turned aside; together they have become worthless, there is no fear of God before their eyes.” In other words, like Hophni and Phineas, humanity has become an Hopeless, Helpless, damned Brood. Collectively and individually, all of us are at an Impasse.
Did you know, the glory of God is not primarily found in his Awesome Might and Terrifying Majesty, but it is best revealed in his Merciful Meekness? He is the God who bends down to help people who are mired in their misery. Like a parent who patiently approaches his stubborn child who has locked himself in his room, knocks and says, “Can I come in and talk?” God also initiates with us. Turn to Isaiah 1:18 and listen closely,
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”
Just like Eli approaching his son’s with kind reasonableness when they deserved unrestrained fury, God approaches us, you and me, with the soft- gentle approach of a kind hearted Father - “Come. let us reason together.” He didn’t have to negotiate with us; he could have said, good riddance. Get lost. Be gone.
But he has the heart of a Father.
Our Father, who lives in Heaven.
Jesus once asked, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” You would never do that, because most fathers love their kids. They are good dads -- but God is even better!
Let me ask all fathers in here: What if your son offended a King or a President to such a degree that he deserved the electric chair, guillotine, or life in prison? Jonathan Edwards sees the violation of sin equal to the man who slept with the King’s wife. It is fatal, worse than bad.
But what if this King just happened to be your father? The one we offended is the one who is the most desperate to reason with you to make things right. Even though he sees the treachery that lies in us, our callous insensitivity to his grandeur, and out of merciful meekness he pleads, “Come, though your sins be as scarlet - - blood-stained, with gaping wounds -- they will be clean. In fact they will be cleaner than freshly fallen snow?" The heart of the Good Father doesn’t want to judge, he wants to bring his children back to himself.
But let's face it, I see no way for Him to accomplish this? The distance between us is too far. Job said it right, “He is not a man as I am. He is God.” Have you forgot, what is impossible with man is possible for God? He can cross the distance to us. Even in Isaiah he starts revealing a plan he had in the works since the dawn of time. “Come, take a look, let's reason this out….”
This is his solution. This is the answer to our need. But what does it mean? Well, let's put the pieces together: a virgin, a child, a son who is given, a great name, from David’s ancestors, and somehow the anger of God will be turned away, there will be peace and joy? What does this all mean?
The Gift we Need
It means God has figured out a way for man to face his God -- he found an intercessor, someone to negotiate on behalf of a sinful world before the mighty God. But how? Who?
And I wonder, how will God’s answer come? Probably with fanfare and high sentiment? No, scripture offers us something utterly unexpected … a baby. Why a baby? Or as the Grinch so eloquently put it as he stood puzzling and puzzling till his puzzler was sore...
"How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!" Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”
According to Matthew 1:21, this baby came to save us from our sin. He is both God and man. A perfect middle man! Here is what I am trying to communicate today -- you need this baby in order to survive. You need him to intervene between you and God. You need to be saved. Have you ever believed in the Son to save you from your sins, and of course, the wrath of the King?
There really is one gift that is of use - - all the others are just finely wrapped usesless pieces of trash, like a pair of orthopedic shoes, if you don't have Jesus. Do you? Or is having a callous insensitivity to the grandeur of God ok for you this Christmas?
If you think it is Ok to face the King without Christ the King, you are lying to yourself again!
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Psalm 27:4
Here it is, the subject that can cause you to mercilessly wallow in self-pity: PRAYER, DEVOTIONS, BIBLE READING, TIME WITH GOD. How do I go about talking about this without hypocrisy and false piety?
CONFESSION: This is the biggest struggle of my life because I have never lived up to my expectations in this area. The reasoning goes like this:
* If God is the greatest being and the most powerful being
than prayer is the greatest thing I could ever do.
* But if I were honest, which is tough to do, I don’t see him, I
cant touch him, I am not sure he really is answering and
I am not that stimulated when I pray.
* So, I often feel like I must do work that looks like I am
working. Because hard work accomplishes tasks and
praying is just sending words to the air. . .
OR IS IT?
Ask yourself honestly, how is your prayer life?
Do you feel like you spend adequate time with God?
Are you and God intimate?
MINDSETS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR WALK:
To destroy guilt and drive a proper motivation for meeting with God, I believe there are a couple essential attitudes we must adopt as we approach the prayer closet:
(1) FREEDOM: we are not condemned because we fail to meet with God! Do you believe that? Romans 8:1 - Romans 8:34 - I John 1:7-9
(2) BLESSING: we choose how much grace we want to receive. Do you want the blessing of God on your life? If yes - - Pray. Do you want to know him more? If yes - - Read his Word. Do you want to find a joy that is not contrived or dependent on circumstances? If yes - - Fight for Intimacy with God!
(3) ACQUIRED DELIGHT: do you like coffee? Did you always like coffee? How does a person learn to like coffee? You must keep drinking it, and alot of it! Growing in Grace is acquired the same way, through habit. But the goal is delight not perfection, acquisition or position - it is delight. Many people come to God to get things or to be better disciples than others. But we must learn to come to God for him and him alone:
- Psalm 42:1 - __________________________
- Psalm 63:1-2 - _________________________
- Psalm 73:25-26 - _______________________
* Are these Psalms true of your life?
* Which of these statements seem foreign to you?
HOW? HOW DO YOU APPROACH THESE HABITS?
“Relationship” is not a formula, it just is. Simply put, you must learn to nurture your delight in God in your own way. Sure there are helps and ideas and guidelines, but my walk with God is unique; because our relationship is unique. Look to your own family, does everyone relate the same with your dad? Everyone’s relationship is different.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
· Journaling: I have found that writing down prayers and wrestling through scripture on paper focuses me in ways that mere talking never does. It forces me to focus my thoughts and sharpen my language. I find much of modern prayer is loaded with cliche's - - rarely do you write out cliche's when you are forced to put down thoughts.
· Walking: When I go to the woods and walk with Jesus I can open up. Often times I yell my frustrations, I sing songs of praise, I read the Psalms out loud in a British accent, I argue and even ponder single thoughts or verses. I think the disciples during Jesus day loved to talk with him while they walked.
· Memorization: I find that a verse of power, when memorized changes me and my outlook. When you chew on truth, it gets into you. that is what meditation does. (ie. Galatians 2:20 has changed my life).
· Fasting: This is serious business with God. If I need to pray about an issue of serious concern I fast. I forfiet food and drink for a day (You still need water), and when I have hunger pangs, I turn to God in prayer. Just as I need food to physically survive, fasting shows how I need God to spiritually survive.
· Reading: Good writers are like good friends - they challenge you in ways that you cant arrive at on your own. I also heard that reading great authors is like getting wisdom from some of the smartest men and women who ever lived. You can have a discussion with them in your very own living room. Read, read, read!
To me, devotional life must be a delight, not a chore, not a work, not an accomplishment. It is finding an avenue that helps you fall in love with the God who is there.
Look back on your walk with God, what are the tools that have helped you feel closest to him? Why not get back to them starting in 2017?
(1) Devotional Studies: These are designed studies by Christian authors who force you to grapple with a text. To begin, a great devotional that is still sold today at most Christian bookstores is “Experiencing God.” Also try reading "With" by Skye Jethani - - this is an amazing devotional book.
(2) Prayer Partner: Is there someone, or a group of someones that will meet with you regularly to pray? Our church just started a monthly prayer meeting on Saturday nights called "The Gathering." It is so refreshing, I still can't understand why people don't come? Makes me sad.
(3) Memory Program: The Navigators have a wonderful scripture memory program that regularly forces you to digest scripture. Try it out!
(4) Retreats: Go to a place for a few days to just get away and meet with God. Try being silent for a whole day. It might just change your life?
THE MOUNTAIN & the LODGE
Many of you who have been faithfully reading this are probably faithful church attenders as well. You have been going to church for years . . Sunday church attendance has been a very important part of your life. Because of that fact, many of you have been involved in a number of ministries, classes, outreaches and church programs throughout the years. You have seen great things happen in your life and the lives of others.
You see, whether you know it or not you most likely are in the lodge stage of your Christian life. I am not talking about your age, I am talking about your position in life. . .let me explain.
Imagine you are going hiking in the majestic Rocky Mountains around Denver, CO. On your trip you bring a back-pack, climbing/camping gear, hiking stick and trail mix that will last you for months. After the first couple of weeks you have traversed the foothills, made some daring climbs up steep mountain faces, fought off angry black bear, viewed some wonderful morning vistas, and even crossed some huge chasms in the rock by steel cable. Wow, what an adventure. . .at points you didn’t think you could make it, but through skill and perseverance you steadily make it up and down the magnificent range.
Then one day, after climbing a very severe cliff of rock you reach the top of a mountain bluff. Straight ahead is a quaint log cabin. The sign says, “Welcome, all weary travelers. Make yourself at home.” As you take off the heavy gear and turn on the lights you are amazed by the general warmth of the place: Soft couches, stocked cupboard and frig, soft downy bed, and a roaring fireplace. You notice on the mantel there are trophies and plaques commemorating your hard work at the climb. As you sit there you notice that there is a door that is barely open with a cold draft of icy air pouring through, you go to close it and as you look out the back the giant mountain is waiting for you!!
Most of us don't want to get up off the couch and head back out into the cold. We like to look at our trophies, consider ourselves to have arrived, pat ourselves on the back and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." But wait - - isn't that God's property? Don't steal it from him.
The truth is: Christianity is never meant to be a place we arrive, it is a journey to continue. Having a strong devotional life makes walking with Jesus as exciting as climbing a mountain: New views, wonderful trails, and exhiliration at each new turn. Don't forfiet joy by sitting on a couch.
Don't ever be satisfied!
“Now the overseer must. . .manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”
1 Tim 3:4
I was sitting on the couch randomly flipping through the television channels when I stopped at the Christian station. The man speaking happened to be a pastor in the Bahamas and he said something that struck me as profound:
“Too many times pastors view the church as their wife, and so they end up spending all their time with the church. But this isn’t true, the church is the bride of Christ, and in truth, these pastors are committing adultery with Christ’s bride! Go home and spend time with your wife.”
Wow, what a statement, the church isn’t the pastor’s bride, it is Jesus’ bride.
This is such an important truth to let sink in because I believe a pastor's natural tendency is to feel total responsibility for the progress of the church, but it often is at the expense of their family. The church is Jesus’ family, and he knows how to care for it without you as the pastor losing your family in the process.
Easier said than done!
Enormous pressure is being put on ministers these days, and if not watched closely, these pressures can kill a family. Some of the pressures are obvious, and some are not:
- OBVIOUS ONES
* Achievement Expectations: preach well, counsel well, keep people coming to the church while always making budget.
* Apostolic Expectations: be godly, be wise, be confrontative, be right, and be blameless.
- NOT SO OBVIOUS ONES
* Appearance Expectations: be happy, be funny, be good looking, and be caring and kind.
* Availability Expectations: be there when I call, be there each weekend to preach, be my friend.
Which expectations are more demanding for the Pastor?
Which expectations are more demanding for the Pastor’s wife?
And, can a couple in ministry fulfill all these expectations?
The truth is, if you try to constantly meet these expectations, the amount of stress that you will be living under will be too much to bare. It will eventually destroy you and your family.
What must be understood above all is that...you cant do it! You must realize you will never be all things to all people. So you must understand and decide what your family can reasonably do, and be ready to take flack for the expectations you can’t meet without growing bitter. I think bitterness and burn-out occur when you try but cannot meet the expectations of the people in your congregation- - face-it NOW, this simply is “Impossible!”
WHY IMPOSSIBLE? (I thought with Jesus nothing is impossible?)
June 12, 2006 — "Mary Winkler, half of what has been described as 'a perfect couple,' was indicted by a grand jury today on first-degree murder charges in the March 22 shooting of her husband, the minister Matthew Winkler.
He was the passionate young minister and she his quiet, substitute-teacher wife, beloved and respected in the town of Selmer, Tenn. The alleged murder has left his congregants desperate to find a motive to explain why, seemingly out of nowhere, Mary Carol Winkler allegedly shot her husband dead and ran away with their three daughters."
The question of the above case is why? I dare say because of the expectations that are placed on the wife, husband and kids to be perfect "can emotionally kill"; and if you give in to them you are placing impossible burdens on your family. You cannot do that as a pastor. So the bigger issue is, “How do you avoid that?”
1. Consider what you can LOSE>>
2. LISTEN to your family's perspective>>
3. LEAD them through the garbage with grace>>
L O S E
Ask yourself this: What would it be like if you lost your wife and kids because of your ambition? Is thier destruction worth being famous and successful?
One of the most spiritual books I ever read was, “The Shofar Blew.” It is a book that puts into perspective what is really important. Fame, big numbers, sermons that ‘wow’, and happy congregants mean nothing as compared to having the love of a wife and the respect of your kids. If you can drill that into your mind you will avoid the snare of the rat race. Here are two questions to help with proper assessment:
· When you die, what do you want your wife to say about you?
· When you die, what do you want your kids to say about you?
Your answers to those two questions could be the most important directives for your whole life. I believe the problem with most marriages is that success is placed before relationship. But success to me is how those closest to me view me; and if my sons love their dad, I won! Who cares if I preach like Spurgeon and perform like Graham - my family is my priority. Jesus will use me if I am faithful.
L I S T E N
If you agree with the above conclusion than naturally you must monitor the perspectives of your family and listen. Listen to your wife, she is your helpmeat so let her help. Look at this verse:
1 Peter 3:7 - What does considerate mean? What if you don’t listen according to that verse?
How about your kids, do they see you, do they hear from you, and do you let them in? 3 ideas to include kids:
- Let them always be able to interrupt you about
- Let them be your teachers in their field of expertise:
music, video games, school, their world of ideas.
- Don’t pressure them to live up to the external codes of
the people in your congregation.
We are here to be real people who live real lives; not Saviors of the world. Be there for your family, that is what matters.
L E A D
One warning must be issued: Your family is not always right. There will be times when your family will have opinions on the lives of people in your church or issues of polity where they are not fully informed or wise, and it behooves you as the leader of the flock not to let their subjectivity affect your objectivity.
1. Don’t share confidential information to your wife or kids that they shouldn’t be allowed to hear. People will tell you things that must be for your ears alone. You will be tempted to go home and share each nugget with your wife, but wisdom says “Be Careful.” I have personal guidelines of sharing with my wife:
- Don’t share if it will affect her opinion negatively about a church member.
- Don’t share if a person said something to hurt you and it will cause her to angrily defend you.
- Don’t share details of board meetings that don’t involve her, but would rile her up if she heard them. And don’t allow her frustration to cause you to influence a board and their decision.
- Don’t bad mouth your wife in front of leadership.
2. As a father, one of your main goals is to shield your children from the ill-will that exists in the normal life of church relationships. I believe PK bitterness occurs because Pastors unwisely inform their kids about the problems of people at church when they do not have the discerning capacity to handle it. So protect them by speaking highly of people in the home, or not revealing names of people that they know who may have disagreed or argued with you.
Another off the cuff thought: NEVER treat your kids as better than other kids because they are the pastor’s kids. Learn to treat them equally, and have similar expectations as you would other kids in the church. Your child is a child, so let them grow up in innocence and not under the weight of ministerial expectations.
The best way to end this section on family is simply by striving to make your home one that is a joy. Let your kids be your hobby. Let your wife be your friend. Keep home life happy. And when you do, you will find a welcome refuge from the onslaughts of ministry.
Some closing thoughts on family:
- I believe Jesus laughs, a lot. Your kids need to see that.
- I believe your wife has enough just raising kids, therefore only
expect out of her what you would a regular follower of Jesus
Christ in the church.
- I believe Satan wants to attack you and he does it by going after
that which is precious to you. Protect your kids in prayer.
- If your life doesn’t match your sermon, your kids are the first to
- Discipleship is best seen in father and child relationships; if your
child doesn’t want Jesus, who then in your congregation would?
- Have fun, no one else does!