Monday, October 26, 2015

The Sovereignty of God in a Self-Help World

The sovereignty of God is not nearly as sexy a topic as how to lose weight, manage my money, reduce stress, or make friends and influence people. Everywhere I turn I find another blog or book or podcast telling me how to make my life more efficient, effective, and controlled.

David Allen tells me how to Get Things Done. James Clear shows me how to Transform My Habits. John Acuff inspires me to Start being awesome. Kary Oberbrunner emails me to get clarity on who I am and where I'm going to Ignite my Soul. And Oprah is ubiquitous.

I'm no enemy to growth and maturity, but all these resources resound with the message: me, Me, ME!

Maximize MY Potential. Discover MY Purpose. Do It MYself.

Our culture is not unique in its enthronement of the Self. This drive for transcendence is traceable back to the book of Genesis. The original lie from the Garden of Eden still echoes. "We can be like God."

Sadly, when we believe this lie, we not only set ourselves up for failure, disappointment, and judgment (e.g., Adam, Gideon, Saul, David, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod), but we neglect our primary calling: to give praise to God (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). Our rightful place is not the throne -- that is God's -- but the altar (Romans 12:1-2).

Champions for humility, contentment, sacrifice, and denial will not get much air time in a Self-Help World. G.K. Chesterton noted this form of thinking even back in his day.

A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert--himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 23)

Social Darwinism, Scientific Naturalism, and Self-Helpism are Sirens. They lure the Self only to shipwreck it. But in the call of the Sovereign God there is fullness, joy, purpose, and hope. God's sovereignty is rich, spanning the course of time, assuring His promises, withstanding our pain, including our prayers/deeds, and working for His glorious good (cf., Gen. 50:20; Ps. 115:3; Is. 46:9-10; Acts 2:23-24; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11).

These truths may not be sexy, but they are orthodox. And, according to Chesterton, orthodoxy is more appealing. "There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy."

Now if I could only lose those last three pounds...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Heaven Rules (Daniel 7)

Life has a way of grounding us. Delusions of grandeur come crashing down. King Nebuchadnezzar faces this reality after another nightmare. When he relays the imagery of a glorious tree chopped to pieces, only upstanding Daniel can interpret. He tells the king who the True Sovereign is - God Most High, Ruler of Heaven. And if Nebuchadnezzar does not humble himself, the dream will become reality. It does: God grounds him. The Most High God has a way of humbling people so they respect His sovereignty.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, October 12, 2015

Preaching, Darrell Bock, and Evangelical Worship - Part 2 of 2

After the Let's Know the Bible Conference, our church hosted Dr. Darrell Bock for Sunday morning worship. To be honest, I had some reservations after the three-hour event on Saturday. Fifteen people from Leesburg Grace attended the conference; most of them looked like drowning rats (but beautiful drowning rats) by the end, awash in theological terminology and apologetic arguments.

One of my elders said it was difficult to follow but he likes being stretched.

A lady from my congregation said it mostly went over her head.

I loved it, but I am biased and biblically trained.

So when Sunday morning rolled around, my level of pastoral concern went to threat level orange. Our worship service comprised Dr. Bock's third audience in three days and the only non-academic setting. I could imagine he was tired, and the given topic ("What's in a Name: Jesus' Use of 'Son of Man'") was not suitable for minors.

One of last things I want people to experience following a Sunday morning sermon is confusion. I hope to push people to seek God through His Word. If the sermon comes riding on the clouds, God's people will dismiss it. Believers do not object to critical thinking, but they come to Sunday morning worship to be inspired, not just intellectually stretched.

We explained to Darrell our church's demographics, culture, and the flow of service. We always start late, slog through announcements, sing four or five songs, and open up the microphone for sharing and testimonies before the sermon. "You'll start preaching about eleven," Herb said.

"They have forty-five minutes of introductory stuff?" Darrell asked. It was clear by his question he viewed preaching as the highlight of the morning. Everything else was prescript.

Of course, not all people agree on the purpose of the Sunday morning gathering. Ask twenty pastors and twenty different answers will follow. Ask a hundred church members, and as many variations will arise. People come for social aspects, for encouragement, for food for thought (or just food), for volunteer opportunities, for uplifting music, for prayer, and for guidance.

Preachers are mistaken if they assume people primarily come to listen to them. They act as if the sermon is the apotheosis of Sunday morning. All other elements of the service either revolve around or reinforce the sermon. I can understand this thinking based upon my diligence in sermon-crafting every given week.

But evangelical worship transcends the sermon. It's somewhat errant (and arrogant?) to construct all of Sunday morning around the message. For if the sermon does not serve the purposes of connecting God's people to their Heavenly Father, it may be nothing more than a resounding gong or bloated idea. The same goes for worship music, corporate prayer, tithing, greeting, and, yes, even announcements.

All elements of the worship service must aim at building communion between God and His people.

Darrell's sermon grew my appreciation for Jesus' use of Son of Man. It reminded me that God -- not death, sin, or Satan -- speaks the final word about Jesus: He is vindicated.

And He will return, riding on the clouds, which is exactly where the evangelical mind wanders when preaching is over our heads.