I’m a fan of expository speaking. Lest someone misunderstand, I fully agree that there is a time and place for topical sermons. Generally, however, I think the church is far better served by a steady diet of consistent, systematic explanation of the biblical text. There are lots of advantages to the expository approach. For one thing, it helps counteract the tendency of preachers to ride their favorite hobby horses. It forces you to talk about the subjects actually in the text rather than the enthusiasm of the day. Similarly, systematic expository speaking forces you to deal with the difficult and hard subjects you’d rather avoid. For example, it may not be politically correct to talk about adultery and divorce. But, if you’re doing an expository series on the “Sermon on the Mount,” you can’t sweep under the rug what Jesus had to say on the subject – regardless of whether it happens to offend somebody.
It’s not often I have the urge to answer the idiocy I encounter on the Internet. There seems little point. Such “discussions” generally produce more heat than light. I’ve got better things to do than contribute to some flame war. I can understand if you feel differently about this than I do. After all, if nobody calls people on the idiotic things they say about the church and the Bible, then it is only those idiotic things which will remain in the public view. “Answer a fool according to his folly,” Solomon said, “or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5 NIV)
It is probably no exaggeration to say that most Christians believe that the original texts of the Bible (the autographs) were inspired by God and contained no errors. The textual variations which currently exist result from the process of transmission and they do not change the meaning, and certainly not any major doctrine, in any substantive way. This belief is certainly held by most evangelicals.
My wife sits at the dining room table typing on her laptop computer. Her cat lies sprawled across her legs. Every so often my wife reaches down and strokes his fur or gives the root of his ears a scratch. It’s a scene of domestic bliss and contentment. Two beings at peace with one another and enjoying each other’s fellowship.
But as I watch them, another thought occurs to me. What does the cat make of what my wife is doing? The short answer is, nothing. Yes, he sees the screen of her computer. On occasion he seems mesmerized by the movement of my wife’s fingers as she types. Yet there is no comprehension. The cat simply is not equipped to understand what he sees much less grasp its significance. He has no inkling of written communication let alone the abstractions embodied in the computer – ethereal bits and bytes representing concepts and ideas – marks on a screen conveying thoughts.
My wife and I left the program with decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, the young people from our congregation we had gone to support did a bang-up job. The acting and singing was superb. On that level we thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
On the other hand we were, to put it mildly, bemused by the mixed message we’d gotten. I, in particular, was having a hard time processing what we’d seen and heard because of my background. The musical would have been totally inappropriate in the culture and country in which I grew up. In fact, the believers I know in that land would have been highly offended. They would have considered the musical blasphemous.
Perhaps one of the most perplexing conundrums people face is the notion of free will, on the one hand, and the sovereignty of God on the other. Unless people have true freedom of choice, how can God possibly be just in punishing anyone for doing evil? How can God hold them responsible for something which God made them do and in which they had no choice?
On the third hand, both good Calvinists and Muslims maintain that if things can happen which are contrary to God’s will, it means that God is not totally sovereign – His power is diminished.
The answer is, of course, that though God is totally sovereign, He has deliberately limited His own power, for a time, to allow people genuine choice. Nothing can happen that God does not allow, but He allows things which are contrary to His will. Because God allows people to choose He can also, with perfect justice, hold them accountable for their choices.
How being in covenant should impact us as a church.
In a previous post, I wrote about what it means to be in the marriage covenant. In this post I want to explore being in covenant relationship with God and what that means to the church. When we realize what it means to be in covenant relationship to God, it changes our whole perspective. We learn to look at God differently. We look at Scripture differently. We look at the world differently.
It follows that when people who have learned to look at everything through the lens of covenant, come together as a church, that church will also see things differently than it did before. Imagine a church filled with people who are alive to what it means to be in covenant relationship.
Before talking about that, let’s explore the concept of covenant a little more.
A look at the practical application of covenant.
Several years ago a friend of mine opened my eyes to the importance of covenant. He pointed out that we Christians can’t really understand our relationship to Christ and God without understanding covenant. He’s right. That’s how the New Testament describes our relationship. When you get right down to it, the Bible is not so much a record of history as it is a record of covenant history. In fact, the word “Testament” which we use to label the two major sections of the Bible is simply another word for covenant.
But what is a covenant? It’s my observation that even though we are in a covenant relationship with Christ and though Christ called the Communion we celebrate – many of us each week – a new covenant in his blood (1 Corinthians 11:25, etc.), few Christians really know what a covenant is. They would be hard pressed to define it or explain covenant to someone else.
Is God cruel or loving?
People have trouble enough dealing with the dilemma of why an all-powerful and loving God allows evil. Yet the Old Testament stories make it clear that God, not only allowed but, was very much involved in the events recorded there.
One mistake people make when reading the biblical accounts is to assume that just because God permits something, He condones it. However, if God allows free will, it follows that people will sometimes choose to do things which are outside His will. Not everything which occurred during this period had God’s blessing. He often rebuked people for what they did.
Though that is true, to a certain extent it begs the question. The fact is that God often, not only condoned but commanded massacres and genocide. What kind of God would do that? What sort of God would sanction bloody civil war, the destruction and looting of defenseless villages and the forced marriages of captive women?
Everyone has a message he or she needs to share.
There’s a saying in church circles that everyone has at least one sermon in him. What I mean when I use the expression is that each person, no matter how long he or she has been a Christian, is passionate about at least one thing, one topic. Each person has a message which he or she feels other Christians, or the church as whole needs to hear.
The message might be a very positive one, for example, an aspect of God’s blessing or His grace which this person understands or has experienced more than others. It might be a message of encouragement and hope when others are in despair. It might be a message of comfort in the face of distress and grief. It might be a message to motivate. Or, it might be a message of rebuke to the complacent or those who are drifting away.