Todd Weber's Random Thoughts

March 26, 2010

Hyping the Gospel

Filed under: Biblical/spiritual — tkweber @ 7:46 am

“I have come that they might have hype, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Of course, this is not an accurate quotation of John 10:10, but it seems that many believers today are reading it that way – particularly many pastors and ministry leaders who nurture this view, albeit inadvertently.

As a pastor, I am well aware of the constant pressure and perceived obligation to motivate and inspire people to actively live their faith and participate in the body of Christ. I am continually confronted by believers who can’t seem to keep it together on their own and who feel it is my supreme duty to keep them pumped-up for Jesus. In addition to prayer, study and crafting engaging and effective sermons, we are set upon by the apparent necessity of orchestrating experiences that will fulfill the spiritual and emotional needs of our audience and keep them coming back for more.

The result is that pastors and ministry leaders sometimes sound more like carnival hawkers and concert promoters than ministers of the gospel as we try to grab people with persuasive hype about the next great sermon or series that they don’t want to miss because it will blow their mind, change their life and rock their world. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the use of creativity, multi-media, and various other means of communication. My concern is that, in our pursuit of capturing the attention of our audience in order to facilitate genuine life-change via the gospel, we may end up empowering the very monsters we set out to slay in the first place. While apathy, complacency and idle spectatorship may seem to be abated by a hip, wiz-bang presentation, it is but a brief respite for most – especially those who have been in the church for a while – followed by the expectation and urgency of ever-more-engaging and exciting experiences to keep them interested. It is in this context that Karl Marx’s famous statement about religion being the “opiate of the masses” has the ring of truth.

However, in fairness to ministry leaders, this cycle usually doesn’t begin with them. The majority of such men and women are deeply sincere individuals whose desire is to serve God in their calling to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. Yet, they are faced with the challenge of attracting and holding the attention of people who, for various reasons, often suffer from a combination of shallow, immature faith and an insatiable thirst for entertainment and external stimulation. Furthermore, the thirst for entertainment and stimulation is not limited to the Hollywood variety. There are countless “revival junkies” in churches across the land who are not satisfied until and unless someone whips them into a pseudo-spiritual frenzy of motion and emotion.

It is not clever, creative and captivating methods of communication with which I take issue. Jesus was a master communicator who used meaningful stories and object lessons to hold his listeners’ attention and relate powerful and important truths. He did not lecture or pontificate from behind a pulpit, as has become Christian tradition. His words, spoken with amazing simplicity, had profound impact on those who heard him. And, in fact, not everyone who heard him believed and responded favorably. Many turned and walked away, even from Jesus, so we should not feel bad when they do it to us, too.

Neither do we see any hype in or around the ministry of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers and ordinary believers whose words and ministries are recorded in the New Testament. What drew and connected people to Jesus and his Church was the pure and simple life-changing power of the gospel – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reconciling sinful people with God. Paul put it succinctly when he wrote, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, NLT)

I respect and admire the creativity and passion of many of my peers in ministry and do not wish to dampen or diminish the exercise of such gifts for the glory of God. I only want to raise a warning that the gospel does not need hype to be effective, and that when the gospel or our presentation of it is hyped, it may do more harm than good in the long run by feeding our lust for entertainment (which will never be satisfied) rather than focusing on the reality of Christ, faith and truth. It may also further diminish the Church in the eyes of the world by enhancing negative stereotypes.

Besides, if we are honest, this disciple-of-Christ gig is not really as fun, exciting and cool as we sometimes advertise. We know that spiritual life is challenging, often difficult and always involves the denial and sacrifice of self. No matter how you slice it, it is hard to put a positive spin on that. But then again, it is not our job to put a positive spin on the gospel. Our job is to merely speak the truth in love and help those who receive it embrace it and grow therein. Their desire to do so is not our responsibility. In other words, we can lead a horse to water, but no amount of hype will make it thirsty. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44, NIV).

Somehow, we and those in our care must learn to be satisfied with the simplicity of the gospel and life in Christ. We should also realize that we will never make Jesus, the gospel, or the church as appealing to people as many other things in life and the world which vie for their attention. And that is not our fault.

T. K. Weber, 02/26/10

Federal Healthcare Bill: Enema of the State

Filed under: Uncategorized — tkweber @ 7:31 am

Just bend over and take it, America.

March 25, 2010

Following Jesus…Responsibly

Filed under: Biblical/spiritual — tkweber @ 10:51 am

John Ortberg wrote, “Life begins when a person whispers, ‘Jesus, today you lead, and I’ll follow. Whatever I have to do in my relationships, my body, my health, and my finances are in your hands. I won’t try to figure out the rest of my life. I won’t try to solve every day. Just today. You lead. I’ll follow.’”

I agree with the spirit of this statement, but I think it over-simplifies the issue for many Christians. I know that many believers read or hear a statement like this and immediately experience a rush of anxiety or a sense of guilt or frustration as they realize that their attempt to live this way (as they have tried in the past) will surely result in more anxiety rather than peace and contentment. This, in my opinion, is not due to an error in the statement or principle, but in the perception or understanding of those who are frustrated by it. I know this because I used to be one of those, and as a pastor I have spoken with numerous sincere believers who struggle with the same anxiety and frustration as they try to live faithfully for God.

Where we go wrong is in thinking that saying, “Jesus, you lead and I will follow. You are in control.” means that we let him make our decisions for us, and all we have to do is pray, ask for guidance, and wait for the answer to come. When the answers do not come, frustration and anxiety ensue.

We need to understand that giving God control and accepting his leadership in our lives is mostly about the big picture rather than the minute details. While it is certainly true that “A man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21, NIV), God’s oversight of our lives is, in some ways, more like that of a corporate CEO than a shift supervisor. He sets the course and direction – the vision and values – and leaves the daily details to us (for the most part). There is no indication in the scriptures that God wants to micro-manage our lives making our decisions for us. Yes, there are Biblical examples of divine intervention in certain otherwise mundane decisions, but those are exceptional events, not necessarily for general application.

Growing in grace and knowledge of the truth does not mean abdicating responsibility for the conduct of our own lives. Too many good, sincere and capable believers do too little with their lives in this world because they spend their days waiting for God to tell them what to do.

  • Should I go to college or not?
  • Should I take this job or that?
  • Should I marry this person or the other?
  • Should I buy this house or another?

 

Following God and walking in the Spirit means that we endeavor to learn all we can about the nature and plan of God and live in agreement and cooperation with him. It means conforming our lives to the example of Jesus Christ, spiritually and morally, yet realizing that we are not him.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…,” he did not mean that we should only pray and wait for God to send food from heaven. He meant that we should ask and trust our heavenly Father to bless the work of our hands as we labor diligently to provide for ourselves (Exodus 23:12; Psalm 128:12; Proverbs 13:11, 14:23, 21:25, 24:27; Ecclesiastes 9:10).

If we will be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and live in agreement and cooperation with the Spirit (Romans 8:4-14), and so abide in Christ (John 15:4-7), then we can rest assured that he will lead us in his will on a daily basis. That is, he will guide us in fulfilling that part of his plan that involves us. Whether you are a butcher, a baker, or candlestick maker, God wants to live in you and shine his light into the world through you as you go about your daily life following Christ. Live out the redemptive power of the gospel in faith, righteousness and love while following the passions of your heart and exercising the gifts and abilities you possess as a unique child of God.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 9:19, NIV)

So, as you are praying from a sincere heart of faith, “Thy kingdom come, thy will by done, on earth as it is in heaven,” pursue the career that best suites your interests, personality and talents; buy the car that makes the most sense for your needs and budget; and live the life that God has given you with joy and confidence in the promise of his continuous presence and gracious care. Accept and surrender to God’s sovereign will and let his nature and words be the master-plan while you work out the daily details as one who is made in his image, utilizing all the powers of reason and creativity and free-will that he has given you.

Do not fail to pray and ask for divine guidance, especially with regard to major decisions; but do not wait for nor expect God to make your decisions for you. He gave you a brain and he expects you to use it. Do not waste the precious life that God has given you waiting for him to live it for you. It is yours and you are his. Live your life for the glory of God, which involves being the best you that you can be by, through and in his grace.

T. K. Weber, 3/25/2010

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