A couple of years ago I heard a sermon, but before the sermon the visiting preacher spent a good 10 or 15 minutes "selling" his book that was related to the topic of his sermon. As I listened to the preacher, I began to ask myself questions about the purpose of preaching and the church itself. I wrote the following notes in response to this moment of musing, and I thought I'd share them here. To be clear, I have not organized these. I simply wrote down some thoughts in a "stream of consciousness" style. I hope they are helpful.
Is our purpose the pronouncement of our accomplishments, or is it living for God's glory and fame? How does a Christian leader today straddle the fences of profound prophetic preaching and personal promotion? Should such a straddling exist? Whose kingdom really matters to us?
I've been told that if you want to know what is important to a leader, listen to his conversation. He talks most about what matters most to him. Take a look at the book of Acts. What did the leaders of the early church talk about most? What seemed to be in the center of their attention?
Here is some context on Acts: The leaders of the church experienced some persecution for preaching Jesus. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council) wanted to kill them (not for publishing or promoting a new book) for talking about and living for Jesus! The persecution that the church faced led to some phenomenal growth (both in numbers and in spirit).
Do we want revival? Then we need to quit asking for more of God and start giving more of ourselves to him. Revival requires the quickening of the dead. In other words, something that is dead becomes alive. So, what is dead in us? Why don't we bring that to God, sacrifice it, give it to Jesus to resurrect. He alone can do it! What do we have that needs to be fanned back to life? Why not let the "Resurrection and the Life" do his work?
The great need of the day is hearts fully devoted to God and his stuff. In Philippians 3, Paul lists a very impressive resume. Nonetheless he notes that it is less than "nothing" compared to Christ. He calls is a pile of manure, a bunch of crap. His publications, his promotions, his titles, his accomplishments, his highest points in life are counted as stuff to be flushed away! Think of it--our highest moments of achievement are just manure when compared to Jesus.
What makes Jesus the Messiah so great? Go back to Philippians 2. Even though he was God, he humbled himself. He lowered himself, he became small to reach all, he emptied himself to fill others up, he became a servant even though he was really a king!
Do we want revival? What has to be emptied? Where do we need to learn humility? Where do we need to learn to serve instead of striving to be "large and in charge"? If we want revival, we must first learn to humble ourselves and to serve others. Revival will not come via books, sermons, small groups, or tithes. Revival starts with humility.
The story of Acts is the story of the church continuing the work of Jesus the Messiah to "destroy" the works of the devil. Jesus is out to bring an end to the work of our adversary the devil. Satan does not "counter-punch" as much as he flails blindly like a wounded beast who know his time is limited. He is undone, the cross has effectively destroyed his work. His flailing may in some sense have a strategy to it, but they are still the actions of a desperate and losing entity. He knows he can't win, so he tries to lie his way into stopping the work of God.
Who do we want to be more like? That is the question. We can strut and bluff and pretend to be great, but then we are like the Great Pretender Satan. Or we can learn to walk humbly, to serve others, to lay down our lives in obedience to God, and in that way we can find ourselves more like Jesus. Do we want revival? Self-promotion won't get us there. Jesus understood that, the leaders of the early church understood it . . . will we?
Thanks for reading!
Labels: Acts, humble service, humility, philippians 2, Philippians 3, pretense, Purpose of the church
I recently posted a draft of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in 2014. The paper is entitled "Paul's View of the Church: Embodied or Electronic?" You can find a copy on Academia.edu. Here is the link: https://www.academia.edu/31379686/3_Pauls_View_of_the_Church_ETS_2014.pdf
. The paper is about 30 pages long, so I won't try to reproduce it in its entirety here. If you have any trouble downloading a copy, let me know. Here is the abstract:
With the rise of the internet and electronic communications, the world has witnessed a rise in so-called “on-line communities.” These on-line communities represent a loosely connected family of sorts where people interact with each other via electronic resources. As a result of these things, many Christian communities have attempted to build a “church community” in an on-line environment. Paul describes the church as a community in most of his letters, and in some letters he even describes the church as a body and a bride. The language Paul uses is very relational and almost physical. How would Paul respond to the move today to create on-line Christian communities? Paul would respond that the church that represents Christ is comprised of people who gather physically and by their worship and actions embody the Lord whom they serve. For Paul, the body and bride of Christ is more a physical reality than simply an on-line collection of disembodied electrons. Taking cues from Paul’s letters (specifically but not limited to Romans and 1 Corinthians), a contrast will be built between on-line Christian communities and Paul’s vision of the church as Christ embodied in life and action. The importance of physical contact, regular interaction, and actual (not virtual) community will describe the church as seen through Paul's eyes..
Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading.
Labels: church, electronic church, embodied church, Evangelical Theological Society, Paul, Paul's view of church