Category Archives: preaching

Letter 49: “Do This In Memory of Bruce Barton”

 

The message this Sunday, as it often is, was about identity.  We ended by reciting a lengthy list of attributes that should describe us, each starting with the proclamation, “I am….”  Each “I am” had a Bible verse attached, and it was somehow linked, in some way, to something God had done, but it was all about me.

 

After the first few “I am’s” I fell silent.  I couldn’t join in.  God does not always want our ease, or our power.  Actually, much of the Christian tradition is about learning to suborn our will to His, to accept what He wants, and not infrequently, that involves suffering.  Milton went blind, William Cowper went mad, and the martyrs went home.  Being uniquely loved by God doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of this.

 

We seem much too obsessed with our identity, and too little with God’s.  It’s a fine distinction I know, but much of our preaching and teaching sounds like sanctified self-help, with a concordance attached.  We miss the point of Ephesians 2:5-11.  Christ was so sure of His identity that He didn’t think about it at all.  He was about His Father’s business, and so should we.

 

Such messages look Christian, feel Christian, but somehow fall short.  There is quite a history to such messages in this country.

 

In 1925, Bruce Barton, a son of the manse, wrote The Man Nobody Knows, the best-selling non-fiction book in America of that decade.  Barton was very clear about why he wrote the book.  He took issue with the image of Jesus presented to him in Sunday School and from the pulpit.  As Barton told it, Jesus was a man’s man.  He was a winner, and by following Him, we could become winners too.

 

This marked a subtle shift.  Yes, the Gospel was about serving God and helping others, but as a component of self-fulfillment.  The Gospel becomes just another miracle cure.  One that just happens to be 50% more effective, and without a nasty aftertaste.  Who wouldn’t want that?

 

All of this begs a question, what is the purpose of our lives?  The Bible is rich in words of comfort and assurance, because we need them.  It is also filled with admonitions to self-denial and sacrifice.  We are told to take up our Cross and follow Him who did see equality with God as something to be clutched like a miser, but was willing to die.

 

A gnawing disconnect gripped me, especially after we received Communion.  It didn’t feel quite right.  When confronted with the reality of Jesus, John the Baptist told his followers, “He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:30.

 

May it be so, O Lord, may it be so.

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Filed under Christianity, false gospel, preaching, Self Help

Letter 30: Preaching Angry

I am preaching tomorrow from John 11. I’m not supposed to say anything about it, les people decide to stay home because Pastor’s not preaching. But I’d be reticent to say much of anything even if it had no bearing on attendance. I’m preaching angry Sunday.

It’s not typical for me, and certainly anything but typical for our church. But the words need to be said, and it scares me. They’ve been pounding about in my head and my heart ever since I first read them two weeks ago. I’ve thought twice about delivering them, and then thought about them some more. But they will not go away.

I’m scared that the people will not understand, or worse, that they will go sailing past the congregation, who will smile nicely, nod their heads, tell me how powerful the Word was this Sunday, and continue as if I hadn’t said a word.

On only two other occasions have I felt something in me struggling to come out, that I had to get out, lie I had to speak before the force shook me off my feet. It was painful. Just getting the word out was terrifying. But I had to. I think this is what some of the Old Testament prophets must have experienced, only I’m not prophet. Far from it.

This time, though, I am confronting a congregation I wish to call to task. Many times over the past months, people have told me that they want to see signs and wonders, that we should be seeking these things. Something in me recoils at hearing this. We misplace our emphasis from the giver to the gifts.

But this is not easy to say, especially given some of things I am told we will be doing during the service. So I am nervous.

O Lord, speak through my words to Your People. Speak clearly, speak directly. May they hear what you have pressed so firmly upon me. May I not get in the way. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight o Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.HW1872P1024B130

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Filed under prayer, preaching, Prophecy