Recently, Abigail had a couple of days where she was home from school due to sickness. Even though she was running a temperature and not feeling well, she was in a good mood. One time, when she was lying in bed with her mom as I was leaving, I asked her, “Why are you so happy?” She replied, “I have my mom, my iPod, and a water bottle. I have everything I need.”
I have thought a lot about her answer. Mom, her electronic toy, and her water bottle made her happy. She had everything she needed. What do you need to be happy? What do you need in order to get by? Seems like the older we get our list just grows. We think we need more to be content. Our list grows and grows and we find ourselves happy less and less. So imagine I ask you, “What does it take to make you happy?” What would be on your list? To answer along Abigail’s lines would it be; my God, a warm bed, and food? Or would your list go on and on?
With the wintry weather falling on weekends, we have canceled a couple of Sunday worship services. We do not have to meet in a church building to praise God. Thankfully, we can worship God with those in our house. I have enjoyed the family times of worship we have had on those Sundays. It has also helped me look forward to a typical Sunday when we gather together as a church. Yes, there is an added benefit of being together with other Christians, but it’s good to know we can worship even on those days when it is not safe to get out.
Well, I have gotten sidetracked. What does it take for you to be happy? God has given us so much. Surely we can be happy with that. A lot of the stuff we get so unhappy about wants. You have your God, a warm bed for sleeping, and plenty of food. So be happy!
It’s been years since my family has “looked” for a church to call home. It’s been a great experience. I say great because I’ve learned so much by not looking at things from an insiders perspective. Here are a few thoughts from the past couple of months:
1. Please don’t ever tell someone they are sitting in “your” seat. It really doesn’t send a very welcoming message. And if you hear someone else say this, please smack them in the back of the head and remind them of how horrible it sounds. And yes, this actually happened.
2. People can tell whether or not the friendliness is authentic or just a ruse because you hope a family will “place membership.”
3. Whether you have a traditional, progressive or some other type of worship that we haven’t named yet, always strive for excellence in worship. Plan it out, be intentional and have a cohesive theme that seeks to lead the worshipers closer to God.
4. A good preacher is nice – but it’s not that important. I’ve sat through sermons that left something to be desired but walked away from worship feel drawn closer to God through the experience of being with other Jesus followers. Likewise, I’ve heard a couple of dynamic sermons from very talented preachers but left worship discouraged because no one cared enough to talk to us.
5. The lyrics of the songs we sing matter, a lot. There are a few songs from “our” hymnals that need to be retired. Actually, a bunch of them probably shouldn’t have made the cut in the first place.
6. Here’s the last one. Please don’t make communion a routine, five-minute ordeal that you speed through in order to get to the sermon. No matter “how” you do communion, plan it out and be intentional about honoring the essence of the purpose and theology behind it. If we do nothing else well, nail this one.
During my devotional time this morning I was reading and praying through Colossians 3. I have so much of that text highlighted and underlined. It’s been a catalyst to my spirit many times over.
This text has led me to meditate and pray over the opportunities that I will have to be a witness for Jesus Christ in my new community. It seems like the Spirit guided me toward verses 12-17.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This has convicted me. I am God’s chosen – holy and dearly loved. That’s how God feels about me and you! I’m holy, which among other things, means that he’s setting me apart and remaking me for a greater purpose. Want to make a difference? Do you long to be used by God?
I do. We can make a great difference by choosing compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and most of all, LOVE.
I pray that from his glorious and unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust him. I pray that your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all of God’s people should, just how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is for you. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory be to God the father, who is able through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.
I have always been a question asked. I probably drove my parents crazy with my favorite word – why? As I’ve gotten a little older my curiosity hasn’t waned, but it has gotten a little more complicated. Instead of the standard “why is the sky blue,” I am more into questions like, is the Church being and doing what God intended?
That question is more puzzling and more troubling. Mostly because I’m scared of the answer. Here’s what I mean, let’s say that I have never heard of, or seen any type of Church, church building, Christian or had any religious exposure at all and someone just walked up and handed me a Bible, and then walked away and let me figure it out on my own. Just simply from reading the Bible, would I come up with the same thing that we have today? Would my faith look the same? Would the Church look the same way and do the same things? There’s no way! If I just followed the Bible without any background information, or any subjective opinions or preferences my faith would look differently. My focus would be on other things.
Here’s an example. I have been taught through my childhood and into my adult life to have an almost ascetic approach to my faith, particularly to worship. Why? That’s not what the Bible teaches. If I just read the Bible without any background interference I would be the most excited, joyous person – ever. I would be so excited to worship God and wouldn’t be nearly as concerned with what people thought of me, or if I was going to be judged or looked down on. Yet the opposite is often the reality. We come to worship, not filled with awe and excitement and humility for who God is and what He did for me. But instead we’ve taught each other to come to a well-planned, yet minimalist performance that’s designed to appease the people in the room rather than worship the Creator of life.
Somewhere along the way, we seemed to have gotten turned sideways. Actually, I’m probably closer to upside down. One last thought to chew on . . . for all the good that the restoration movement did and intended to do, we find ourselves back in the same place nearly 200 years later. Too many of us have become members of a denomination and enslaved to traditions instead of Christ, worshiping doctrines instead of the Sustainer.
I think it might be time for another restoration. It’s time to do it again when we stop following those principles like speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. Consider this one question as a bit of a litmus test. 1 Timothy 2:8 says, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” Be honest and ask yourself, how much trouble would it cause if your preacher offered a prayer before he began preaching, and lifted his hands high in the air while praying? How many people would care? How many people would be upset? Now answer the question: are we speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent?
Have you ever noticed patterns in the lessons coming from a preacher? In other words, does the preacher seem to constantly preach on a specific topic or theme? Does there seem to be an agenda underlying the lesson choices? This is an interesting topic for me—both on a practical level for myself and then as a student of church history.
There’s a danger in developing a pattern or habits when it comes to what is being preached. Really I suppose there are two significant dangers. First, if a preacher focuses on one or two themes then many others are getting left out and the congregation isn’t going to receive the meat they need. The second danger is a little more practical. It can create problems for the preacher within the congregation. It’s simply more likely to alienate people who don’t share in the same concerns, interests or motives that led to that particular focus.
This is a common problem for many preachers. Sometimes it stems from a lack of confidence. Other times it might be motivated by the current trends that are prevalent in the Church. And sometimes it’s simply a result of a specific agenda. I was recently reading through a book of sermon outlines by Gus Nichols. If you’re not familiar, he was one of the more well-known preachers of the early 20th century. His strongest influence was in Walker County, Alabama.
In this book, there are 122 sermon outlines. Here’s the breakdown on a few of the topical themes represented.
- Baptism: 9
- Church: 21
- Conversion and Salvation: 9
- Grace: 2
- Love: 1
- Jesus as the theme: 0
- Christ as the theme: 3
This only accounts for about a third of the sermons. So it’s definitely not a true representative sample. However, aside from funeral sermons (of which there were nine), there were no other themes that showed up more than four times (prayer). Even after looking at this for just a moment it’s easy to notice some significant discrepancies. How can a Gospel preacher who experienced so much tangible success and is held in such high regard only have preached on Jesus, love, and grace a total 6 times in a sample of 122? That doesn’t make sense! That is so far removed from the nature of Christ’s preaching, Paul’s preaching and the entire theme of the Bible (including a lack of OT sermons). Jesus himself said that love is the greatest command (Matt 22:36-40). Perhaps the greatest evangelist ever (aside from Jesus himself) was Paul; and when the topic came up he simply stated that he didn’t preach anything but Jesus Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). This is an example of what can go wrong when a preacher consistently chooses topical over expository preaching.
What’s the solution or answer to this potential problem? Well, there seem to be two answers. First, do what Paul did. He preached Jesus Christ crucified, at least to the Corinthian Christians. Second, limit the number of topical sermons and spend the majority of the time just preaching through texts. For example, pick a book then preach it passage by passage. This limits the opportunity to interject an agenda and proof-text your arguments. It’s tough to go wrong by taking a passage, figuring out what it says and then applying to the current culture.