I listened to a sermon online (video streamed live) this morning that had me wondering if the folks in the congregation were really paying attention. Did they see any problems? I sure did.
Before the sermon, the pastor’s wife came up to the front to say a bit about the Bible. (When she was walking up to the platform, her husband said she was a “foxy angel” which made me wonder what he was thinking about, and what he wanted the other men to be thinking about. It was a distracting comment at the very least.) She said reading the Bible every day is very important, and told the congregation she wanted the whole church to read a particular one together this year, and told them where they could get one and what it would cost. The reading schedule will be online for those who may go off on a trip and forget to bring it with them. OK. So, she established that it’s important that everyone read their Bibles, and some of them will be reading together.
Then came the sermon. The pastor preached from notes on an electronic gadget that he carried around as he paced the floor in front of his plexiglass pulpit. The idea is to be more friendly-not him up there and the people down here. That’s what happens when we forget that it’s not the preacher who is being elevated and shown respect by the higher platform and the pulpit. Those things are to call attention to the importance of the Word of God, which is to be taught from during a sermon. But, if the pastor isn’t going to even read scripture, why not have a plexiglass pulpit, and don’t stand behind it but walk and talk instead?
This guy was getting his instructions for the church-he called it marching orders-from Israel about to enter the Promised Land. I guess if you’ve been there, you see where this is headed. If the church does what they ought to be doing, they will have the Victorious Life, the Promised Land, right here and now and in its fullness. The Kingdom will have arrived in its totality by their correct actions. I think since it’s a new year, this is a new opportunity to overcome whatever is holding everyone back. That seems to be what he was saying.
It’s hard to look at this and not be scrambled with it because it was scrambled to begin with, so please cut me a bit of slack here. I’m going to try to take a few points he made and tell you what I think.
He said the cross is the main message. He also said they are to be a church that is all about the presence of God because that is what changes people. I don’t recall the Apostle Paul traveling around spreading the gospel of the presence of God. He talked about Christ crucified, buried and resurrected. So…if the cross is the main message…?
He told them if the devil tries to make them look back at their sin, this is what to do. He told them to all get out their cell phones. He picked his up (told them he has an iPhone, and if they don’t, he’s sorry) and he said go to today’s date on the calendar. He told them to put “Starting Now” on today’s date. That way when the devil tries to harass them about previous sin, or they are bothered by memories of sin, they can go look at their cell phone and see what they wrote on January 3. If the cross is the main message, then why not handle this situation in light of that? If the devil points his bony finger at me, I can point to what the Word Who became flesh did on the cross. Not at some words I wrote on my cell phone calendar. The devil can’t argue with history made by Jesus, whereas he can go round and round with us. I can do the same-look at the cross-no more beating up myself.
One time he said a scripture was in a certain book, chapter and verse, didn’t have time to read it, look it up yourself later. It was two verses. I thought, “Didn’t his wife just say the Bible is important, but what he has to say is more important than two verses of what God has to say?” Then later, he referenced 5 verses in another book, which he also didn’t read. Later, he actually read ONE verse in Hebrews. Then, he said this verse is talking about salvation, but he’s going to apply it in a practical way. Where is the reverence for what GOD has to say in His word? He took it and made it into something else about new ways of living. It’s all by a person’s own efforts. And who said salvation isn’t practical?
He talked about cutting off sin, as was symbolically done by circumcision. He named sins and said we need to cut off this and we need to cut off that. Where is the work of the Holy Spirit? He’s the one who sanctifies us and gives us the grace to be changed.
At one point, I didn’t know what on earth he was talking about. He said there is a difference in failing forward and failing backward. We ought to fail forward, he says. To fail backward is not to try any more. He asked if they had ever done something and had it blow up in their faces, and then back off and say they aren’t going to do that again. He said that was to fail backward. He said it ought to be a learning experience, but still sounded like whatever blew up should be attempted again. And I never knew what sort of thing he was referring to.
OH-and another thing. He said they are to be prophetic. How do you do that? You listen to the Holy Spirit and never do anything that the Spirit doesn’t plainly tell you to do. When you do that you go from success to success. I forgot the word he used, but I think that’s what he meant. He explained that being prophetic means going into the restaurant and seeing someone and knowing their need and meeting that need. I think he means-because I’ve been there-that if someone needs to be healed of something, the Holy Spirit will tell the Christian, who is then supposed to go up to the person, tell them they have such-and-such ailment, and tell them to be healed in Jesus’ name or pray for them to be healed. This turns the church into a bunch of apostles. The Bible doesn’t teach this, and I don’t know of a single time in history that the church has ‘risen to such heights’, which I know is how that is viewed. Rising higher, always higher. Not realizing that Jesus was the One who was lifted up on the cross. No one gets any higher than that and no message is more practical than the cross.
Well, there was more, but I’m going to stop right here. I’ll just say this: I had years of this type of thing. I also had years of Jesus as Life Coach and Jesus as Therapist. Weeks and months and years of ‘How To’ sermons. How to have a happy marriage, raise kids, manage money, win at life, etc. This is all law and no gospel. Over time, I became more and more dissatisfied. I began to wonder when I would ever hear a sermon on the cross. The cross is law and grace together. I hope fellow Christians-or even the pastor-at this church will become dissatisfied and want the Word of God and the presence of God to be truly handled with reverence and care. I hope they will begin to wonder when they will hear a sermon on the cross.