Monday Morning Preacher: Judges 2.7-11

Never satisfied.  I wonder if I will always feel that way about my sermons.  I remember reading that Charles Spurgeon, Imageregularly wept after sermons out of fear of having dishonored the Lord unintentionally.  If the “Prince of Preachers” struggled with sermon contentment, then I can expect this “pauper of preachers” to live in the same tension.  Preaching is hard and pastors are their worst critics.  Unlike many occupations, results are not always immediate–fruit takes time to grow.  More often than not, I feel like preaching is akin to tilling hardened soil with a broken tool. Perhaps this is God’s way of making preachers desperate for His Spirit and assuring He gets the glory whether they are or not.  

The last sermon I preached was Judges 2.7-11, title, Generational Unfaithfulness. This weekly blog is where I reflect on the sermon, here are the points that I would want to repeat, reject, or reform:

From Godly to Godless:  In one a generation, a faithful community can become unfaithful.  The statistics don’t lie.  The fact is inevitable and the reason is quite clear.  Communities become godless when families become godless.  Families become godless when parents (esp. Fathers) become godless.  And Fathers become godless when they reject the Word of God…just like our first parents did. 

From Known to Unknown:  What does it mean to “know” God?  In Israel, one generation “knew” him and other did not.  Without doubt, they knew a lot about God, but they did not know him in any relational sense. The children watched their parents fight God’s enemies, watched their parents stand firm against intermarriage, watched their parents worship rightly…but they never learned the WHY.  At some points, their parents never explained that their obedience was rooted in a fear and and a love for the Lord.  Their fight in the land was not to gain God’s approval, but a response to already having received it–evidenced by their redemption. In other words, they taught their children to know God’s law without knowing God first.  This can only lead to moralism, legalism, or other bad -isms, all of which lead away from God because they become gods themselves (very unsatisfying ones). 

From Fight to Forget: Perhaps the greatest failure of faithful parents is viewing their families rightly. They pour all of their energies into being on mission “out there” that they never view their own homes as the first and most important mission field. The sad and scary truth is that Christians can become powerful “spiritual fighters” for the wrong things, in the wrong places, at the wrong time.  All that we do to love and care for the innocent or to fight and punish evil is meaningless if we don’t FIRST protect, serve, and feed our own families.  Without concern for the next generation, our fight will be for not, and our faith will be forgotten.  The Great Commandment and the Great Commission will not continues through us, it will cease at us. 

From Pedagogical to Personal: In the end, we are left with a simple question.  What must we do to ensure the next generation knows God and fears him?  The truth is that there are no guarantees, but that does not dismiss us from our responsibility to teach the next generation. But in order to really teach the next generation, we must do less teaching that describes a “good Christian” and more teaching of our own redemption from sin.  In essence, it means we must share less about what we believe and more about why we believe it.  It means we must speak less about what we must do, and more about what Christ has done. It means we’ll have to be honest about the fact that we are sinners saved by grace.  It means we’ll have to preach the gospel and trust that a changed heart really will change behavior.  

Perhaps Keller says it best.

The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace ad acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

This also creates a radical new dynamic for discipline and obedience. First, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Second, it makes the law of God a thing of beauty instead of a burden. We can use it to delight and imitate the one who has saved us rather than to get his attention or procure his favor. We now run the race ‘for the joy that is set before us’ rather than ‘for the fear that comes behind us.’ 


Church Planting Lesson #30: Every Jesus has his Judas, every Paul his Demas

I have been reading a book titled Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor:  The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. ImageThe book is written by his son, and well-known scholar, D.A. Carson.  Essentially, the book is a biography describing the ministry of a faithful “small town” pastor. He never speaks at a conference, never writes a book, never has thousands of “fans”, never leads a mega church, and really never realizes his full vision. It is the story of an “ordinary pastor.”  It is a fascinating read, containing various journal entries and excerpts from letters Tom Carson wrote, as well as commentary by his son.  It is also a sobering read, especially for pastors, as it presents an honest and realistic picture of the various discouragements that come with being a pastor.

In one journal entry, during a particularly dark season of  ministry where Tom experienced deep discouragement from relationships in the church, he wrote something to the effect of: “I guess every Jesus has his Judas; every Paul has his Demas.”  Both Jesus and Paul were betrayed by good friends and fellow workers.  Judas’ betrayal is infamous. He spent three years in the circle of 12. And though he was a thief the entire time, he also was a friend. This makes his decision to sell out Jesus with a kiss, and for a few coins, that much more troubling. I have always wondered what kind (if any) of sadness Jesus experienced.

Paul’s “betrayal” was a bit different. By betrayal, I don’t necessarily mean Judas-style.  By betrayal, I mean to include a breaking of trust; an unexpected shift from faithful to unfaithful.  We don’t know exactly what happened to change Demas–there was no material benefit involved like there was with Judas. What we do know is that Demas was considered a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, a fellow missionary and close friend.  He is included in the closing remarks of two letters (Colossians 4.14 , Philemon 24). Buy sadly, in the last letter Paul writes, Demas is described as, “in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2Tim 4.10).  He has abandoned Paul, the mission, and perhaps even faith itself.

There are some hard, but real, lessons to be learned here.  Unfortunately, most pastors or planters learn from first-hand experience. It hurts the pastor when a friend leaves a church.  It hurts the church when a fellow worker leaves the church.  It hurts everyone when a friend, who was a fellow worker, betrays the pastor and the church.  Though it shouldn’t be this way, people come and go from churches constantly. That question is not THAT someone leaves, the concern is always WHY and HOW.  There are good and bad reasons to leave a church just as there are good and bad reasons to leave one. BUT, there is a right way and a wrong way to leave a church.  One way is beautiful, one way is painful.  One is loving; one is mean-spirited.    One is righteous, one is unrighteous. One makes much of God, one makes much of men.  One ends in friendship, one ends a friendship.

So here is a word to pastors who encounter a Judas or a Demas.  Don’t give into the temptation to respond with your flesh. God wants to use the experience, even the very relationship, to build your faith–to make you look more like Jesus (more loving, more gracious, more merciful, etc.)  At the same time, Satan wants to use this experience to sabotage your faith, your family, and your ministry–to make you look and feel more like him.

Monday Morning Preacher: Judges 1.1-2.6

The second sermon in our series on Judges, titled {UN}faithfulness, centers on the progressive, but deliberate, disobedience of God’s people.  The video can be found here.  The passage contains a lot of verses, 41 to be exact.  It is not often we read that many verses in a service, but whenever I do, there is deep level of satisfaction as the my finite words are drowned out by the eternal words of Scripture.  It reminds me of Paul’s charge to a young pastor named Timothy was to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1Tim 4.13). We would do well to do this more.

Not only was the text long, it was complicated. As a purely historical narrative, Judges would make a lot more sense if it started in chapter 2. The first chapter is strange, containing three seemingly unrelated vignettes including an assassination, a romance, and an operation of Israel’s “Seal Team 6”.  In on sense, the author did record actual history so his Jewish readers knew what happened THAT DAY without a king, in order to understand what is happening THIS DAY with a monarchy in conflict.  At the same time, God intended Judges as a record of redemptive history to point Christians to King David’s heir, Jesus, as well as show us a picture of our own salvation by grace, and our own continuing fight in that grace today.

As I reflect on the sermon, here are the points that I would want to repeat, reject, or reform:

There is the reality of small compromises: For most, the choice to pursue sin is not an overnight decision. What I mean is, the major manifestations of sinful choices, and their devastating effects, usually comes after a series of minor compromises.  It is rare for someone to wake up one day and decide to become a meth addict, thief, or murderer.  We see with God’s people, what begins as mostly” faithful, becomes partially faithful, until it is completely rebellious.  Similarly, what begins for us as a little toleration of sin, soon turns to a little accommodation of sin, until it devolves into a lot of oppression to sin. If not dealt with, the smallest of sins will lead to death; but it usually begins with minimizing its power to kill you.

There is the lie of partial obedience/disobedience: The lie of partial obedience is the same as the lie of partial disobedience.  Both are rooted in the ONE BIG LIE that your own work actually counts for something with God.  The lie of partial obedience wrongly proclaims that, through your own efforts, you can actually be “good enough” for a perfect and holy God to accept you.  The lie of partial disobedience wrongly claims that you aren’t “bad enough” to deserve death.  The Bible is pretty clear about this, reminding us that are best works are filthy rages and that there is no one who is good…not even a little.  ( Isaiah 64.6Romans 3.11-18)

There is the truth of partial obedience/disobedience:  Partial obedience or partial disobedience both deserve death.  In fact, everything that falls short of God’s perfection does.  We are more sinful than we will ever admit or know.  For our rejection of a holy and loving God, we deserve death.  I have heard it said that I preach too much on sin, law, the “old man”, etc. Whether this is true or not, I’m not sure. I do know that every pastor has their own unique style which probably attracts some and repels others.  But in terms of the truth that is spoken, I find it difficult for any pastor to preach about grace without sin, gospel without law, Genesis 2 without Genesis 3, or the resurrection without the crucifixion for that matter.  It is an incomplete story. Whether or not there is a proper order to things, I don’t know, that is probably dependent on the particular text.   All that to say, you need both.  Ultimately, a proper teaching on sin and the truth of partial obedience/disobedience should lead you to the cross of Christ.  The moment we start to believe that we are good enough, or that we are not that bad, is the moment that Christ’s perfection becomes unnecessary and his death/resurrection meaningless.  The truth is, we are more sinful than we will ever admit or know…AND, through faith in Christ, we are more forgiven and loved than we could ever imagine.

There is the difference between inheriting and possessing: This is the most intriguing point for me, something that I won’t spend too much time on.  As I have said, there is something to be learned about the Christian life in Christ from the Israelite in the Promised Land.  In Israel, we have a picture of a people saved by grace who are called to fight IN that grace.  They have inherited the land AND yet they are called to fight for what is already theirs. There work is not done.  Not only are they given an incentive (full life) to fight for more, God promises them the ability to fully realize that life.  Similarly, we are also called to fight.  Because of Christ, our motivation has changed–we don’t fight to get God. We already have Him irrevocably.  In some way, however, we do fight to experience (not completely) what we have eternally in this life now.  Not fighting is a recipe for idolatry–the heart of faithlessness. A pastor friend of mine stated it this way: If there is no fight for your inheritance, perhaps you have no inheritance to fight for. ouch.

Next Blog — What does Judges have to do with David and Saul?