I was thinking about the sermon from yesterday. If you were in worship at Our Savior, then you know the hub of the effort was the fact that the Word of God is central to all that we are as Christians. We need it like the earth needs the sun. Without it, we die.
But there was more to the message than just this. I also spent a lot of the behind the scenes time posing the question which asks, “Do we really even believe this?”
I shared a story in the Adult Bible study yesterday that stemmed from the point. I told the folks that I had the opportunity a few years ago to be one of three listeners for a seminarian’s final sermon he was preparing to give for one of his homiletics classes. The student asked me to be an evaluator. I’m not sure why he asked me, but nevertheless, I agreed. To be honest, it was a hard thing for me to do. I say this because I wrestle with the premise that if the doctrine is sound and the sermon preaches both Law and Gospel, then no matter the preacher’s style, who am I to say that it was a bad sermon? And so it went with this particular sermon. By the time it was done, I’d heard everything I was supposed to hear.
But honestly, I thought the sermon was terrible.
I ended up telling the young preacher that the content was great, but that I didn’t think he actually believed a word of what he was saying. I told him that he preached what I call a “paycheck sermon.” A paycheck sermon is one that when I hear it, to me it sounds like it was written and delivered just to get the job done—just to make sure the preacher gets his pay. My point is that, yes, this seminarian preached a sermon—he completed the assignment—but he didn’t deliver the personal believability. He preached about Christ, but he didn’t preach Christ, and it was more than obvious by his delivery. He didn’t sound like he actually believed what he was saying, but rather was relaying some information.
In one sense, do you know what that means? It means if it appears that he doesn’t believe it, why should the listener care to believe it, either?
Not to worry. It’s been a few years since this story occurred. The student is a good friend and a great preacher. Learning how to do this stuff—and trying to get better at it—is all part of the daily grind in the ministry.
But again, this point on believability, for those of you present in worship yesterday, maybe you noticed that I steered right into it in the sermon. I said something like:
“What I am saying to you right now, I believe it. In fact, you need to know that I’ll stand before anyone, and by my own volition I’ll hand over my life before I’ll renounce the content and supremacy of God’s Word. I’m willing to stand by this to my own humiliation, which as I’m sure you can guess, has happened to me a few times in my life.”
I wonder if when it comes to Christian integrity, we fall into the same traps in our everyday lives. We tell others we are Christians, we say that our Lord’s Word is our all in all, but as we’re being observed, are we really all that believable?
The answer is that of course we all fall into these traps. When was the last time you chose the empty calories of a worldly activity, event, or whatever over what you’ve affirmed is your all in all, the Word? When was the last time you looked around your church and took into consideration the facility needs looming on the horizon—leaky roofs, heating/cooling units that are years past their twenty year lifespans, and the like—and by such observations, you prayerfully re-evaluated your level of giving knowing it was more than needed? When was the last time you kept silent on an issue in public that required a voice of faith?
First of all, you should know that I’m not saying we need to act like crazed zealots and shove the Christian faith down other people’s throats. That’s the worst way to communicate Christ to others, and Paul speaks against doing such things, anyway. He says that when it comes to active conversations, to simply season our speech. But then as that conversation unfolds, we’d better be ready to give an answer when the questions come (Colossians 4:6).
I’m also not saying that any of us aren’t concerned with the future of our churches. Our time is in the Lord’s hands. We know that. If He wants a particular church to go on, she’ll go on. If He doesn’t, she won’t. In the meantime, her desire is to be that of faithfulness.
But in the midst of this, knowing that He loves His Church and has established every faithful congregation to be a wellspring in a particular area for His Word to stream into the world around them is a very comforting thing. It certainly isn’t fortifying a posture of effortless indifference, but rather a stance of lively engagement. This Gospel emboldens us with a measure of certainty. And when needed, it may even stir us to ask ourselves, “When the world sees me, does it roll its eyes at my uselessness, or do its eyes widen with concern that the light of Christ is shining through me and it would prefer that it didn’t?”
Maybe what I’m saying is a stretch, and I don’t want to go so far in this that I burden any of you with unnecessary guilt. I guess I’m sort of working from the premise that just as the preacher of any sermon must show his listeners that he is in love with the Word of God and thereby illustrate the visible qualities of such a love, all Christians are bound to a similar duty.
The married couples reading this know that what I’m saying is true. The husband who gets into the most trouble tells his wife that he loves her, but he does so with droningly disinterested displays that lack believability.
Let’s strive to be believable. Let’s help others in our midst be believable, too. If you see someone willingly absenting themselves from worship, reach out to them and encourage them. Remind them who they are in Jesus. Remind them they belong to Him. If you hear of or see a need around your church, step up and help in order to preserve and strengthen the effort. If you can’t help with your time or talents, then be prepared to help with your tithe. Even as your level of giving is most likely a well-kept secret, I’d still encourage you to prayerfully consider if what you are giving is a first-fruits demonstration of a believable faith that knows that all you have comes from God, or is it merely the leftovers from a life lived as though everything you have was achieved by your own determination.
God grant you the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the musculature to act as those whom the world would never be in doubt when it comes to knowing you’re a believer who’d lay down his or her life for Christ. I stood in the pulpit yesterday and preached, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I intend to be such a person.
And because I’m pretty sure the devil and his jackals are almost always within listening distance of Christian preaching, I strongly encourage him to take stock of what was said. I meant every word of it, and he can rest assured that I’m not alone.