Category Archives: Preaching

Deciphering Our Delusion—What Happened to the Church (Part 4 of 4)

Relevant does not mean watered or dumbed down to fit the culture. Sadly, that’s what many of the fire and brimstone self-appointed guardians of the faith have claimed and aimed their prohibitive preaching at over the last half-century. They’ve done such a good job that a majority of the church is at least 25 years behind the times in technology and methodology. No other section of society can afford to be so out of step and survive. Once an organism loses its ability to change or adapt or remain cutting edge—it ceases to exist. Sections of the church are dead and don’t even know it. They have become non-relevant or not applicable to the world we live in.

Before you get the wrong idea, I believe the message of the Gospel never changes. I am, as Jude so aptly put it, a contender for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints (v. 3). The Scriptures are God-breathed. Therefore, I believe they are 100% inspired, infallible, and inerrant. I just happen to believe God’s Word is also relevant at all times to all cultures in every generation. My task is to find ways to communicate its eternal truths so that anyone can respond.

The biggest culprit is preaching one thing and living another. That makes whatever we have to say unimportant. It’s like telling your children to do what you say, but not what you do. That never works and only creates rebels. If we can’t live what we preach then perhaps we need to be quiet until we get our own house in order. By the way, there is a biblical word for this particular behavior. It’s called hypocrisy and it is killing us.

A relevant church living out and preaching a relevant gospel means Christ’s message is pertinent for this moment in history and applicable to the person no matter the situation. That is the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached. He communicated the timeless message of God through germane stories and appropriate illustrations. He knew how to weave a tale that could cut the fluff out of the defenses of both the ultra and non-religious. He was a student of His culture, understanding the nuances of society, the details of current events, and the distinctions of religious practice. He knew His audience and spoke to their particular situations in a clear authoritative voice. He did not preach down to them but lifted them up with the tenor of His teaching. Oh, there were moments when His words cut like a scalpel or smashed like a hammer, but the richness of their depth brought healing and deliverance if heeded. He never destroyed a hungry heart that was willing to listen.

Our problem is we no longer listen to our culture, but expect them to listen to us. We cannot get what we are unwilling to give. Listening does not convey agreement, but it certainly communicates respect. When we listen to people’s needs, fears, dreams, and desires we are in a far better position to speak into their lives. But we must use methods and means that they will understand so the message of Christ can effect a life-altering change.

Jesus is relevant. His message is always cutting edge. It’s the church that has painted herself into the corner of irrelevancy. It’s not our message—it’s our obsolete methods that have to go. The problem is for many groups the methods have become the gospel rather than a vehicle to transport the message of the gospel. We must learn the language of our culture if we hope to reach it.  Otherwise, the message we have been given once and for all will be lost in the translation.

Broken Pots and Hidden Treasure

Second Corinthians 4:7-10 greets me each morning as I fumble for the key that unlocks my office. It is the superscription below a picture that hangs on the wall opposite my door. The picture and the verse arrest my attention and focus my perspective of why I am here—today—on this planet—at this very moment.

The scene is a sporting event. The stadium is filled with people—not an empty seat to be found. The sky is darkening and the lights are slowly coming on. The crowd roars in anticipation as the home team enters the field. There is no doubt as to what will be the outcome. If you or I were sitting in the bleachers this would be our perspective of the event about to be played out before our eyes. The problem with perspective is that what you see is not always reality.

The scene I witness each day is not the perspective of the crowd but the reality of the visiting team. For them this is not a sporting event. Rather, it is life and death. A doomed little group of men, women, boys, and girls are huddled near the wall on the floor of the Coliseum in first century Rome. Their names are not stitched on their jerseys, but everyone in attendance knows exactly who they are.

The gods of the city sit perched on the Palatine Hills and the Forum above the great stadium like modern day team owners in their sky boxes. The blood lust roar of the crowd erupts and the place is electrified as the great cats slowly enter the dirt floor, signaling the beginning of the main event.

As the evening shadows fall, a man dressed in red, lights the tar-soaked bodies of men who have been crucified all around the perimeter of the stadium floor. Their brutalized bodies will provide the light needed to illuminate the horrific events about to unfold just inches below their nailed-pierced feet.

In this terrifying scene painted by Jean Leon Gerome (The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer), a gentle peace seems to hover over the tiny group kneeling near the wall. They are praying…they are Christ-followers—real Christians. This is the church. These are the shoulders on which we stand, the fathers and the mothers who at the cost of their very lives passed on what we claim to preach, teach, and believe. These were the martyrs who chose to experience a violent death rather than live a lie and renounce their Lord or recant their faith. These were the ones whose blood became the seed of the Church (Tertullian). Their treasure—their hope—was not in their children or their possessions or even their own lives. Roman crosses could not kill it. The fires could not consume it. The lions could not devour it. Their hope was not a religion—their hope was the Christ who had overcome the cross and would deliver them through the fire and out of the mouths of the wild beasts. They were not just dying for their faith; they were living out their faith in a magnificent display even to the very end.

So…what is your treasure—your hope? What are you carrying around in the clay pot that is you? Is it worth dying for? If so, don’t just talk about it—live it! Let your treasure be a reality to the crowd and not just a perception in your head. You never know who might be watching.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

2 Cor. 4:7-10

Wake Up Sleeping Beauty (part 9)

The Bride of Christ has something stuck in her throat. Her face is slowly turning blue as she silently chokes to death on what appears to be a big ole wad of rebellion. That tantalizing taste of the dragon’s fruit has lodged like a chicken bone and turned into a deadly partnership with the devil. With a mouth full of mutiny, her message is muted.

The gospel of the kingdom has the power to change the American landscape if it is accurately and actively proclaimed. The Church was commissioned to preach the whole counsel of the Lord—all of it—not just what feels good, calms the special interest groups, or has been approved by denominational demigods. Jesus was very clear in his last words to his followers. Many of us know this as the Great Commission, but sadly it has become our Great Omission. Listen carefully to what the Lord says in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” The problem here is Jesus commanded us to teach all, not just the sections we like, understand, or believe. All means all and that’s all it means. All includes everything whether or not I agree with it or even want to do it. To do less is outright rebellion. It is anarchy against our King.

The prophet Jonah found himself choking on rebellion when he refused to preach the message God had given to him for the people of Nineveh. He caught a cruise ship going in the opposite direction (note: we may have booked passage on the same vessel) and promptly nodded off in the darkness below deck. Like Sleeping Beauty, he fell sound asleep and became deaf to the cries of those who were perishing all around him. The truth is, if you really listen to the hopelessness in the cries of those who are doomed in their current condition, it will probably turn your present little house of theology upside down and should spur you to share what Christ has done for you. This is biblical theology and will build a far better home than rebellion.

Jonah’s theology, an aberrant one about him and all those who were like him, was a very selfish one, so he slept peacefully—deaf to their cries. He was content with his version of who God should be rather than with the reality of who God was. And it bothered him little (actually it did not bother him at all) that thousands of men, women, and children were headed for destruction with their final destination being hell. Jonah simply did not care.

Rebellion will do that. It will harden our hearts and silence our voices, but in our refusal to proclaim the Bridegroom’s glorious message we slowly strangle not on the rebellion, but on the words of life we refuse to speak.