Category: Misc

Thanks, But No Thanks

Thom Rainer recently cited his top 10 posts from 2015, and one of them was on things not to say to the preacher right after the sermon. Among his list were these:

  1. “I am going to be late for lunch because you preached so long.”
  2. “You must not have had much time to prepare that sermon.”
  3. “My former pastor preached a much better sermon from that text.”
  4. “I wish {fill in the blank} would have heard that sermon.”
  5. “You act like you weren’t feeling well while you preached.”

After reading those, I thought of a few other comments I’d have rather not heard as I was standing by the exit after preaching:

  1. “Thanks for the great nap, preacher. I needed that!”
  2. “You should have heard Charles Stanley this morning. Now that was a sermon!”
  3. “Oh, preacher, every sermon you preach is better than the one after it!”

Hope you hear only nice comments in 2016!

Christmas Changes Everything

It’s that time of year again, when we put trees inside our houses, make strange egg-flavored drinks we’d never consume any other time of the year, and spend hours we don’t have buying gifts we can’t afford for people who will exchange them for something they really wanted. Welcome to Christmas!

Christmas has certainly become the major holiday event of the year. A 2013 Pew Research survey said that 96 percent of Americans still celebrate Christmas. What may be more surprising is that only about half of all Americans still consider Christmas to be primarily a religious holiday; about one out of every three considers it essentially a cultural celebration with no religious meaning. So when you hear about the war on Christmas, that’s only half right. The war isn’t on Christmas; it’s a war on identifying Christmas with Jesus.

But even among people of faith, there’s a lot of confusion about Christmas. We tend to fit Christmas into our own romantic pictures of the season, with chestnuts roasting on an open fire, home for the holidays, and a picturesque nativity scene. No wonder the culture tries to draw us into this consumer-driven celebration, because the real picture is far more dangerous, far more revolutionary. If we understand what God has told us in His Word, we’ll realize that Christmas changes everything.

We should have seen it coming. Remember the song Mary sang upon learning that she was to become the mother of the Messiah? She said:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).

In other words, God is about to turn things upside down – or, perhaps a better way to think of it is that God is going to take a world that has fallen upside down, and is about to make it right-side up. Those that the world considers weak are about to be made strong; those that consider themselves exalted are about to be brought low. Christmas changes everything.

Christmas changes the way we see the world.

We live in a world that celebrates wealth and celebrity. Donald Trump isn’t constantly on the news because he has the world’s best hairstyle, but because as a society we idolize money and power. Cameras follow around movie and TV stars because we apparently can’t get enough news about Justin Bieber and the Kardashians.

But what happened on that first Christmas day tells us that we’ve got it all wrong. The God of the universe sent His Son to be born, not in a palace but in a stable. The angels did not announce the news to a general or a high priest but to shepherds. Everything that our society glorifies is meaningless in the eyes of God.

Because of Christmas, we know that God does not view the world the way we do. The world sees through a faulty lens, thinking that human achievement is what matters. At Christmas, God turned things right side up, to help us see that ultimate value and significance can only be found in our relationship to Christ.

Christmas changes the way we see God.

The Christmas story is the story of the incarnation – Immanuel, God with us. To those who would argue that God is a distant divinity, uninvolved in the lives of men and women, the Christmas event is proof that they’ve got it all wrong.

At Christmas we see a God of love and grace who humbles Himself, taking on the weakness of human flesh, in order to become Himself the sacrifice for our sins. The God of justice must righteously judge sin and rebellion, but in Christ He becomes Himself the payment for that sin.

Christmas changes the way we see ourselves.

Even as believers, it is so easy to be sucked into seeing things the way the world does. We let ourselves get caught up in the kind of consumer-driven culture that we see displayed around us, particularly at this time of year. Of greater concern is the way we evaluate ourselves and our own worth — we judge ourselves and others by what we have done, the jobs we hold, the accomplishments on our resumes, the homes in which we live, the cars we drive, and on it goes.

But Christmas changes everything. Because of what God did in Bethlehem that day – and what He would do 33 years later on a hill outside Jerusalem – He has changed the scales on which we weigh our lives. We need no longer see ourselves based on the flimsy foundation of what we can do, because in Christ we now are judged based on His righteousness.

If you and I were to stand before God dressed in nothing but our own inherent value, we would be utterly lost. But because of God’s grace, He has taken the cloak of His own righteousness and wrapped it around us, so that God no longer judges us based on our achievements but based on the absolute righteousness of Christ.

That’s why the host of angels could proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

On that amazing night more than 2,000 years ago, the angels proclaimed that peace had entered the world in the person of a baby. He would bring God’s peace into their lives through the power of the cross.

More than 20 centuries later, that same promise of God’s peace is made possible for us. Peace will not come this season through the gifts we buy or the decorations we hang. Real peace comes through the gift God gave to us in Christ. Christmas changes everything.

The Dangerous Act of Graduation

Originally given by Michael Duduit as the Commencement Address at Union University on Friday, December 2013.

It is good to be back on the campus of Union University, where I spent some of the most meaningful years of my career, learned a great deal about Christian higher education, and where my wife Laura and I began our family.

There are great memories of those early days. I remember Dr. Dockery and I sitting in O’Charleys talking about the wonderful opportunity we were about to have leading this institution, and as we discussed a vision for the future of Union University I began writing on the back of a napkin as we together crafted what would become the four core values of this institution as being excellence-driven, Christ-centered, people-focused, and future directed. Who knew that, 18 years later, those four statements would still be guiding what has become one of the premier institutions of Christian higher education in the nation.

When Dr. Dockery and I first began serving on this campus in the summer of 1996, I used to joke that our goal was to become the Wheaton of the South, and that in 10 years Wheaton would be known as the Union of the North. As Union has continued to grow in size and stature and influence among the nation’s Christian colleges and universities, the reality is that Union no longer needs to compare itself to any other institution for validity or significance; this is now an institution to which other Christian institutions look as a model.

And you have been blessed to be here – some for four years, others a few more or less. As you complete your educational journey, claim your diploma and depart this campus for the first time as a Union University graduate, I have come to warn you that it is a dangerous thing you are doing. Not just because you must now find jobs, pay for graduate school, pay student loans, start doing your own laundry and numerous other acts following this rite of passage – no, it is dangerous for a far more significant reason.

Erwin McManus is Pastor of Mosaic Church in southern California, and he tells the story of his young son returning from church camp. He recalls: “One summer Aaron went to a youth camp. He was just a little guy, and I was kind of glad because it was a church camp. I figured he wasn’t going to hear all those ghost stories, because ghost stories can really cause a kid to have nightmares. But unfortunately, since it was a Christian camp and they didn’t tell ghost stories, because we don’t believe in ghosts, they told demon and Satan stories instead. And so when Aaron got home, he was terrified.

“Dad, don’t turn off the light!” he said before going to bed. “No, Daddy, could you stay here with me? Daddy, I’m afraid. They told all these stories about demons.”

Erwin wanted to be able to say demons were not real, but of course he couldn’t, because the Bible tells us there are some evil things like demons that are all too real.

Aaron said, “Daddy, would you pray for me that I would be safe?”

Erwin said, “I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.
(So) I said, “Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room.”

And he goes, “All right. But pray I would be really, really dangerous, Daddy.”

You see, as you and your fellow students graduate from this place, the greatest danger is not to you. Of course you’ll face challenges – that’s real life. No, the greatest danger is to the culture into which you enter. You see, there are folks out there who have been trying to shape and nurture a culture in which there is no place for God – at least not the God of the Bible. They don’t mind if you feel the need to insert some nebulous “higher power” that we can pray to before football games and civic events – a feel-good divinity that doesn’t actually affect anything – but for the secular culture-shapers of our age the ultimate goal is the recognition that there is no god beyond the boundaries of your own heart and mind.

And so for many years they have fought an unceasing battle to shape a culture in which the dominant worldview is that there is no God, there are no limits, there is no purpose to it all – life is random, unguided, and temporal. You are born, live, die and that is all there is. In the world that has been shaped for us by these cultural elites, you must look to them for counsel because the foolish myth about some great bearded old man in the sky is just so much childish folly.

And you are dangerous to them. You are dangerous because after four years at a Christ-centered university like Union, you know better. You know that the meaningless reality they portray is the real myth, because you have come to know the One who crafted it all, and you have come to understand that it is not random after all. As you have studied arts and letters, science and the professions – all through the lens of a Christian worldview – you have discovered that there is a grand narrative that underlies all of life and reality, a narrative that is moving toward an ultimate purpose. You understand that there is One who brought the universe into existence with a word, and that His creation has meaning; you know that in the face of human rebellion He responded with love and grace, even at the cost of a cross; you know that this Creator and Redeemer is guiding history toward an ultimate purpose, and that in Christ we have the opportunity to be a part of the grandest adventure ever imagined.

And you are dangerous because you have recognized that there is One who stands over and above it all, guiding history yet intimately aware of each individual life. That knowledge makes you dangerous, because as you move into new walks of life armed with that worldview, you are a threat to the secularizing forces of the age. While you were here you gained tools that will help you to be salt and light in a bewildered culture – to be able to follow the guidance of the apostle Paul, who said “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14b-15). Your time at Union has equipped you to be the kind of influencer who reshapes culture, who can “make a defense for the hope that is in you” in every walk of life. That makes you dangerous.

In the C.S. Lewis book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four children enter into the new world of Narnia, a reality they had previously known nothing about. And from the talking animals who lived there they learned about a lion named Aslan, one who watched over Narnia. Startled by this knowledge, they wondered if Aslan was safe. Lewis writes:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

As you leave this place, armed with a knowledge that makes you dangerous to a secular society and precious to a lost world, I pray that you will not be safe, but good. As you go into the world God created – and in which He created you to be a force for truth – I pray that you will be dangerous – really, really dangerous.

Thank you, and congratulations graduates.

Worshiping Idols

Good things can become idols that keep us from God’s best. Things that once served a good purpose can eventually become bad things that distort and disrupt what God intends for us.

You understand how good things can go bad, don’t you? We live with that reality every day. Just last week my 17-year-old son was digging in the refrigerator – that’s a habit that teenage boys develop early – and all at once he called out to me: “Dad, are strawberries supposed to have white stuff on them?” Now I love strawberries – they are one of God’s good things! But those two beautiful boxes of strawberries had been stuck away in the back of the refrigerator, and now a week later they were growing something that didn’t belong on strawberries! A good thing went bad.

Can you imagine having a beautiful package of steaks in the freezer, but while you are out of town the power goes out. A few days later when you return home and open the freezer door, you’re going to be met by a very unpleasant aroma. A good thing went bad.

Years ago my wife went with me to a church conference that was being held in Las Vegas – talk about a good thing that went bad! We rented a car to drive out and see the Hoover Dam – it was a wonderful trip until, all at once, we realized that Alamo had failed to refuel that rental car before they gave it to us, and we found ourselves out of gas in the desert. A good thing went bad.

The truth is, we live in an age filled with idols, because an idol is something that captivates us; something that becomes our priority. Michael Stark describes it this way: “Your idol is what you value most. It is what you would most hate to lose. Your idol is what your thoughts turn to most frequently when you are free to think as you will. And finally, your idol is what affords you the greatest pleasure.”

There are all kinds of destructive idols around. There are idols of sex and pleasure, and many men and women – including preachers and ministers – have run aground in that area. There are the idols of money and possessions, an idol that can wrap itself around our hearts and dominate our thoughts if we are not careful. There are the idols of ego and status, and those seductive idols sometimes drive us to think we are better, smarter, more deserving than others; sometimes they make us think that any success we receive is the result of our own talent and good looks and effort, rather than a gift of God’s grace. There is the idol of position, that makes me hunger for a more exalted title, a bigger church, sometimes hunger for what some other brother or sister has been given by God. Those kinds of idols will chip away at our souls and leave a hole in our hearts.

But what about those idols that started out as good things, like the bronze snake Moses made that had become an object of pagan worship?

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and scribes had taken parts of the Old Testament ceremonial law and turned it into an idol. There were religious observances that had been given to Israel to help the people recognize their uniqueness as the people of God, but by the first century those religious practices had been turned into weapons that the Pharisees used to control and subjugate the common people. No wonder that Jesus called them “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs” that looked clean from the outside but on the inside were filled with corruption and death. In their hands, a good thing went bad.

We’d like to think that we Bible-believing ministers and churches wouldn’t fall for such things, don’t we? But brothers, could it be that there are high places in our churches that need to be torn down? Could it be that there are bronze serpents that are draining the grace and energy from our mission? Could it be that we have some good things that have gone bad? Good things can become idols that keep us from God’s best.

Can you think of anything in your church about which you can say that long after its intended purpose has been accomplished, it was still around – and now it has turned into something different than the purpose for which it was originally intended?

Tradition can be a wonderful gift or it can be a power that enslaves us. That’s why it’s vital to constantly ask – and to teach out churches to ask – is this something we are doing because it’s the best way to serve God and accomplish what He’s called us to do? Or are we doing it this way because momma did it this way, and her momma did it this way, and her momma before her did it this way.

How often do we do things in church and in our Christian lives because that’s the way we have always done it?  God forgive us for staying in ruts because we get locked into tradition and habit. In the midst of a changing culture, the church that isn’t willing to constantly seek new ways to serve and minister is a church that has already voted to die – they just haven’t scheduled the funeral yet.

I remember when I was a youth pastor and I encountered the wrath of the senior adult ladies Sunday School class. We were having a youth event on Saturday night, and we needed some extra chairs. Young and foolish as I was, I didn’t realize the senior adult ladies Sunday School class was holy ground that could not be touched, so we borrowed a few chairs, and when we put them back we apparently didn’t get all the doilies and padded chair covers in the right places, so the next morning I heard about it. They were less concerned about reaching young people with the gospel than they were about having their padded chair covers where they left them. At one time I’m sure the way they decorated their classroom was a good thing meant to accomplish a good purpose, but it was a good thing that went bad.

What are the idols in your church that were once good things, but now they’ve gone bad, and they need to be rooted out and removed? It’s probably going to take some training and some teaching to help our folks understand, but if we want God’s best we need to worship the Lord, not the legacy of past generations.

Your Church Members Are Different Than You

In a recent blog post, Michael Lukaszewski pointed out that – despite what many pastors think – your members are not just like you. Some of the ways they differ:

  • They don’t know who John Piper or Steven Furtick are. They are confused when you quote them without context.
  • They aren’t familiar with their Bibles. When you say, “You know . . . like it says in First Timothy,” they absolutely don’t know.
  • They don’t work in a Christian environment. They aren’t surrounded by Christians who love worship music and some have bosses who are jerks.
  • They can’t leave their jobs to come up to the church. They have to work a set schedule, and their boss doesn’t consider coffee at Starbucks leadership development.
  • They don’t read many books. In fact, they don’t read much at all.
  • They are on Facebook, not Twitter. I don’t have stats for this, but pastors seem to move to Twitter but people seem to live on Facebook.
  • They don’t go to conferences. It’s a way of life for many church leaders, but most people don’t do it.
  • They don’t go to church every week. This might be the biggest of all. You’re there every week; they are not. (from http://michaellukaszewski.com/ via http://toddrhoades.com/)

As we prepare to apply biblical truth in our sermons, one of the most valuable things we can do is pause and consider the viewpoint of the listeners. Based on their own life experience, how will they hear and understand this truth – will it make any sense to them? Is there a way to express this truth that demonstrates we have an understanding of the world in which they live?

   

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