Thursday, July 26, 2018
Early this morning reading excerpts from the book of Romans through just then opening eyes. My mind got stuck on the depth of meaning there is to be found in 3:10-12. Not reading any further, I just stopped and started typing. Although by no means exhaustive or an attempted exposition of the text my thoughts were these:
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” — Rom. 3:10–12 ESV
Wow! Such a potent statement, I thought. A real eye-opener.
Not only can none be found righteous, or good. Not only is there no one who understands, there is not a single soul who truly looks to find God. Why? We don’t want to. Why don’t we want to? Because we can’t.
Until we are awakened by the Holy Spirit to our need for God (an act of regeneration) we can see no need for him – our desire is to satisfy self only. We are spiritually dead creatures without an understanding of things spiritual or the capacity to understand them.
Slaves to what appeals to the senses, the cravings of our fleshly nature; we cannot break free from our earthly shackles and reach up to God “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7 NASB). He must first reach down to us. Thus, we find John to say, “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 KJV).
Backing up to verse 10 John explains,
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” —1 John 4:10 ESV
Man’s ability to love and have fellowship with God is God’s gracious gift to man made possible by the atoning sacrifice of his son on the cross. In Jesus’ offering of himself as the substitute for our sin, he absorbed fully the prescribed penalty for sin thereby satisfying God’s justice and “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. . .” (Colossians 2:14 ESV). In so doing God imputed (ascribed in a real and literal sense) our sin to Jesus and his righteousness to us. In other words, He took my death and gave me his life.
I cannot help but sing. I must sing:
“How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”
Have A Blessed Day Everyone,
The other day I gave my answer to a question asked in our church Community Group Discussion Guide which read: “How does knowing you are adopted by God change your view of yourself and of God? How does this give a new answer to your identity?”
My honest response was:
“Knowing God has chosen and adopted me as his son brings me to my knees in highest praise. Unfortunately, the overwhelming sense of guilt and shame past sin often reminds me of competes for my ability to see myself as the forgiven, regenerate, and redeemed child of God he tells me I am, and walk confidently of my ability to each day be everything he says I am.”
Dear Christian friend, I wonder, might our lives sometimes run along a parallel path? Knowing what God says to be true but haunted by yesteryear’s sin, perhaps yesterdays? Instead of seeing the person God declares you are in Christ today, the image you see in the mirror is definitely not the Imago Dei (image of God) and the story being told by that person staring back at you is very different. One of a shameful, sinfully dark past that any fair and reasonable self-examination will find a despairing case of hopelessness. A story that from your vantage point trumps the new story God wants to write into your life; the story he has in fact already written.
The bible I read in Numbers 23:19 tells me “God is not man, that he should lie,” and in Hebrews 6:18 I found it to say that “it is impossible for God to lie.” That being true, and it is, the questions I then should ask become who I will believe him or me? Whose word is most reliable, his or mine? That’s a no-brainer, right? It should be, yes. But in spite of my best effort to go all-in with God’s divine assessment of who I am in Christ, there are still times I find myself wrestling with that vile man sneering at me in the mirror each morning. His rap sheet is just too long to be considered for a heavenly pardon, I sometimes think. How then can it be? I lack understanding. It’s too deep.
Then this morning while reading Calvin’s Institutes I ran across these waking words of encouragement*:
“We have come into the way of faith,” says Augustine: “let us constantly adhere to it. It leads to the chambers of the king, in which are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For our Lord Jesus Christ did not speak invidiously to his great and most select disciples when he said, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,’ (John 16:12). We must walk, advance, increase, that our hearts may be able to comprehend those things which they cannot now comprehend. But if the last day shall find us making progress, we shall there learn what here we could not,” (August. Hom. in Joann).”
I like that. I’m good with that.
*Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion – Enhanced Version (p. 130). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.
I spend a lot of time just thinkin’ about stuff, all kinds of stuff: political stuff, religious stuff, financial stuff, techno stuff, health stuff and world affairs for example. Today I dwelt for a while on Christians involved in peaceful protests, and I asked myself this question: How many of those participating in such demonstrations understand they may change a person’s mind about the action for which they stand that day. But until there is a change of heart, the issue is only moved ahead to another day.
Bear with me, please. There is nothing wrong with standing up for what one believes in a peaceful demonstration. But snipping a weed at the surface will not prevent its return or its spreading through your lawn. Only when it is removed at the root will the problem be remedied long-term. So it is with sin, the unseen root residing in the heart of many who are the objects of those issues we often stand against. If the church would spend as much time equipping her people, training, raising up, and rallying the saints to advance the cause of Christ with the good news of the gospel as they do in other pursuits, there would be fewer issues to demonstrate against.
~ Just Thinkin’
From the Genesis account of mankind’s fall (Genesis 3) to the moment your eyes scan across these words. The reliability of God’s word has been and continues to be the focal point of the enemy’s attacks against the Christian faith. If God’s word can be disproved or discredited at any point, the whole of scripture implodes, the cross symbolizes nothing more than a historical period of barbaric savagery, and we must bow in submission to the dark side of the philosophical argument; Nietzsche is right, “God is dead” and we are but cosmic accidents, grown-up germs having no purpose or objective meaning.
“Dear friends, I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting-begging! – that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license-which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master” (Jude 3-4 – The Message).
No picture can be drawn to more vividly depict the age in which we live, nor could there be voiced a greater sense of urgency to contend for the faith than these: “I’ve dropped everything to write you about this.” Jude’s “compelling sense of obligation to the people of God prompted him to change his focus for their spiritual good,” one commentator writes. The text suggests His original intent was to write a letter of encouragement to the church concerning their common salvation but was overcome by an imminent danger infiltrating their ranks.
Believer’s, the Christian community is under siege. Much in the same way as when Jude penned the above words, a serious effort to undermine and destroy the undergirding truth claims of scripture is in full swing and picking up speed. Humanism, secularism, relativism, pluralism, and a countless host of other such isms are being served the gullible society we have become from every conceivable platform and media outlet including the pulpits of many mainstream churches and their respective denominational hierarchies. We must come down from the bleachers, get off the sidelines and get out on the field with more than a pea shooter.
Attending church on Sundays, returning thanks over meals, and saying bedtime prayers is good and encouraged but insufficient in and of themselves to defend the faith from those who would misrepresent and malign it. As the serpent reasoned with Eve in the garden challenging the truth of what God had said, and Satan with Jesus in the Judean wilderness; the war being waged is one of words, of ideas, of opposing worldviews and systems of belief.
Paul instructed Timothy to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ; should we be anything less? In 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 he wrote:
“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way-never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity” (The Message).
This is a Code Red call for followers of Christ to take a stand, “. . . all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” – Romans 13:11 NLT.
Second Base: Run, Forest, Run
Good, you’ve tagged first base and you’re now at second. You’re half way home, yes, but don’t get cocky, remember Sceva’s clan. No matter how far you have advanced, no matter how fast you can run or how good at the game you think yourself to be, there is still as much distance ahead as there is behind and don’t think the guy in the outfield can’t throw the ball hard and fast. If in doubt, just ask the Oakland A’s Danny Valencia who felt the stinging results of New York Yankee’s, Aaron Hick’s 105.5 mph throw from beyond the base line getting him tagged out at home plate.
Spiritual warfare is an ongoing, continuous, and relentless war with breaks in the action far and few in between. What you do at second base is simple, tag and go, “run, Forest, run”. Yours may not be an up and over the wall slammer, it may be an Inside the Park homer (IPH). Although these home runs are somewhat rare (about 1 in every 158), it still puts a run on the scoreboard.
A caution concerning IPH’s I would want you to know about when on the spiritual battlefield, however, is this; most come on the heels of an error in the outfield. Why is it important to know that? The devil doesn’t commit many errors.
Understanding that, authors such as Christian apologist, and University of Houston Professor, William Lane Craig, speaks to the subject of spiritual warfare in two of his later books, “Reasonable Faith” and “On Guard”. In both offerings, Craig places usable tools in the believer’s hands to prepare and equip his readers to force the devil into committing those errors and get you around the bases. Using the tools he writes about in his books, he has successfully debated such renown atheists as Sam Harris and was turned down by Richard Dawkins who received four British invitations to engage Craig, conveniently declining each one. Following a 2009 debate with Harris and Dawkins fellow “Horseman of the New Atheism”, Christopher Hitchens (now deceased), the website, Common Sense Atheism commented: “Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.” Check out Dr. Craig’s website at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/.
As followers of Jesus, we are all aware of the Great Commission to take the gospel to the far reaches of the earth making disciple as we go (Matthew 28:19-20). But we are not nearly as tuned into the instruction made equally clear to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), “always be[ing] prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. . .” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
A problem we discover a little late is how underequipped and inappropriately prepared we are to counteract the enemy’s advances, much less to engage him. As I see it, the blame lies squarely in the hands of church leaders who fail to integrate apologetics in their discipleship programs training converts on how to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). As I have said repeatedly, we are in a war. I use the game of baseball and Babe Ruth in allegorical fashion to make things a bit more readable, but in no way am I attempting to make light of such a serious matter – too many souls are at risk.
In his classic work, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” (a book I highly recommend having a place on every Christian’s bookshelf), the author, Eugene Peterson, identifies the dilemma our modern church culture is being crippled by writing:
“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
Peterson’s point is clear and timely. Living in an on demand – microwave world, people want a quick fix to every issue. No one stands in line at the ticket booth anymore and why should we? It is easier, faster and much more convenient to purchase an admission voucher online, walk right into the theater, sit down and enjoy the show. Unfortunately, this approach has invaded the church. Come Sunday morning, you get an hour of my time then I better hear the choir singing, Just As I Am. Tragic but true, we just want God to see us in the pews (chairs) once a week, watch us drop our tip in the offering bucket then go home, roast a Ball Park frank and turn on the game.
If that shoe fits on your foot you can forget making it beyond second, honestly, you were out before you ever swung the bat. If you are willing to go the distance, however, as Paul told Timothy, to “do your best (“Study” in the KJV) to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15); to keep such Shakespearean words (so thought today) as perseverance, persistence, tenacity and determination in your spiritual vocabulary then hey there friend, you are half way home and on your way to third – Run, Forest, Run”.
Page Five Coming Soon
Practical Principals in Winning the Game
Baseball legend, Babe Ruth, hit 714 home runs in his 22 seasons as a major league player and was the home run king of his time, but that wasn’t what got him crowned the Sultan of Swat and the Great Bambino. Having returned to the dugout 1330 times without a hit gave Babe the equally distinctive title of strikeout king. Given the fact that Babe’s misses almost doubled his strolls around the bases, and that his home run record was topped by Hank Aaron in 1974 and again in 2007 by current record holder, Barry Bonds. What is it about this iconic figure that so many fans still identify him as the greatest to ever play the game? And what in the world might it have to do with spiritual warfare?
Make no mistake about it, Spiritual Warfare is not a game, far from it; but if you’re going to play – play to win. This is the idea Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 where he writes,
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” ~ NLT.
Having established the church at Corinth near the end of his second missionary journey somewhere in the vicinity of AD 51-52, it was still pretty much in its infancy when he wrote this letter a few years later. In so many ways the patterns of behavior that had developed amongst the people were quite childish. Senseless disputes and divisions had created factions within the ranks that undermined the work of the cross begun there and threatened its growth and continuance. Satan had declared war on this fledgling church and this, the first of two recorded epistles to Corinth is Paul’s response to the enemy’s advances – Boot Camp for believers if you will.
Babe Ruth had a lot to say about baseball over the years. His career found many notable quotes left in the wake of having played the game quite successfully. There are many thoughts and expressions from the Great Bambino we can learn from and apply on a spiritual field where fastballs, curveballs, knuckleballs, slurves, and sliders, breaking balls, screwballs, changeups and splitters daily come at us unpredictably and at blinding rates of speed. I’ll call them Babe’s Rules.
Babe’s Rule #1
“Baseball is the greatest game in the world and deserves the best you can give it.”
Believer, being a spiritual warrior must have at its core total commitment. If you are not going to give the life of faith all you got, your absolute best, stay clear of the battlefield. Should the devil see you coming with anything less, he will be licking his chops and firing up the barbecue grill. Believe me, there is nothing much more scrumptious to him than a casual Christian. We would do well to remember that like a roaring lion, the devil is looking to devour his prey (1 Peter 5:8), and you might find it interesting to know this: The king of the jungle won’t usually make a sound when hunting – he doesn’t want to scare off his next meal; But when he comes across a herd of water buffalo, antelope or zebra casually going about their day grazing the fields. He will crouch down and creep slowly through the tall grass undetected. Once in striking range, he will let out a paralyzing roar scattering the unsuspecting herd to isolate a younger, weaker member – dinner served. Get the picture?
When we are introduced to the enemy in Genesis 3:1, the first word used to describe him is “ârûwm”, a Hebrew word meaning, “crafty” and is translated “subtle, shrewd, and cunning in other Bible versions. He is a sly old fox who has spent thousands of years in the war room studying human nature and he knows how to launch an effective assault hitting the target. He is an expert navigator knowing well the human terrain always flying beneath the radar. Thus, as Peter advises, we must be “vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8), keeping careful watch for crouching tigers, always on guard for the stalker of our souls never wanting to wind up on the floor saying, “I didn’t see it coming”
My friend, don’t get things wrong here, fighting the good fight doesn’t require greatness, you don’t have to be a Peter, Paul, James or John; but to give and do your absolute best is not optional. A well-developed one-on-one prayer life is essential, and a daily balanced diet of God’s word is critical. You may not know it, but every branch of the United States armed forces has a professional reading list. Given the magnitude of the war we fight as enlistees in the Lord’s army, God has given us 66 books, not merely for our reading pleasure, but to be studied, meditated on and committed to memory as much as you can.
Hosea 4:6 reads, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”. It wasn’t that the people Hosea spoke too did not know God altogether, they had some knowledge but a little knowledge can be dangerous, a real recipe for disaster. When you find yourself thinking you know enough (as they must have), that’s arrogance, arrogance is pride, and “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” ~ Proverbs 16:18.
Page Three Soon
NOTE: I want to give a shout out to my old friend, Johnny Long, who got me thinkin’ about the Babe as I wrote.
Writing on this subject, my friend, Trinity Family Church Pastor, Marty Reid, got the marbles in my head moving around a bit prompting me to throw in my two cents (maybe fifty cents or a dollar by the time I finish) on the matter.
Spiritual warfare is a topic grossly misunderstood, taught wrong and tragically misapplied to the detriment of so very many followers of Jesus. Years ago a southern gospel music quartet, The Florida Boys, recorded a song titled, “I Came Here to Stay”. A line in the chorus reads, “It’s a battlefield brother, not a recreation room, it’s a fight and not a game”. This is true, Believers are indeed involved in a conflict with a very real enemy who is as determined to keep people out of heaven as God is to get them through the gate. He has light years of experience and has taken down some of the greatest warriors ever to set foot on the planet. So then, before you head off to engage him, you may want to do some homework, some serious study actually. It’s like this; I wouldn’t advise an unlearned, untrained fighter to step in the ring and go a few rounds with Mike Tyson, nor will I suggest a Christian spin the wheel and take your chances with the devil. An unprepared soldier is as good as dead.
One problem is we read such passages of scripture as 2 Corinthian 10:4-6 telling us, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh (“carnal” in the KJV) but have divine power to destroy strongholds…”, without taking note of the fact the apostle is not telling the Corinthian church what weapons they have in their arsenal, but the weapons Paul and his entourage have in theirs. Goodness gracious, he doesn’t even say what those weapons are yet we somehow get blindsided into thinking they are in our quiver and we’re good to go – big mistake.
Here’s another problem I see tripping people up. Why is it we tend to think because Paul did it, I can too? That’s like saying because Michael Phelps won 22 Olympic medals in the swimming pool, I can jump in the water and take home the gold myself. Sound ridiculous – it should because it is. But no sillier than thinking we can do whatever someone else in the bible done simply because they did it as if it were an entitlement. Such reasoning is preposterous and not at all biblical. Have you seen or heard of anyone parting the sea with a staff lately, turning water into wine, or making an ax head float on water? I don’t think so and with good reason; I’m not Moses, I’m not Jesus and I’m not Elisha.
The ability to do the supernatural things we read of others doing in scripture is not a divine strand of DNA written into a Christian’s genetic code the moment we come to faith in Christ giving us supernatural powers; we won’t be pulling spiritual rabbits out of the hat nor should we be so foolish as to step into the ring with the devil expecting a KO in the first round. More than likely, you’ll be the one down for the count.
Granted, God is no respecter of persons, he is completely impartial loving every man equally. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is the gift offered to all without prejudice. However, if we are going to step up to the plate to engage the enemy, I highly recommend a whole lot of time in the batting cage first – you’re not Barry Bonds.
Page Two coming soon.
I recently read an article suggesting God sends people to hell – I strongly disagree. Whereas separation from God is indeed taught in scripture as the finale of matters for the unregenerate (those who reject Jesus), and that being in a fiery place that is both inescapable and eternal. It is the natural conclusion of individual choice, the logical consequence of a behavior as when a child acts in rebellion against the parent to suffer an emotional or physical injury. The parent doesn’t inflict the pain; the child brings it upon himself.
As is true of God towards you and I in the spiritual sense, the parent who is loving and kind towards his children wants for his child to grow up healthy, to navigate life successfully avoiding the pitfalls and bad habits that will result in harm. Thus parameters and boundaries are set early on to establish a safe zone; guidelines are put into place to promote a healthy lifestyle: “Eat your veggies; Don’t smoke; Don’t talk to strangers; Never get into a car with someone you don’t know; Don’t play with matches”, and so on. None-the-less, as the little ones grow up, they are free to choose.
For example, in rebellious disregard of the guidelines, I chose to be a smoker at an early age. Eventually, I gave up cigarettes, but not before having a heart attack two months and three days after my 54th birthday. Today, I have both coronary artery disease and COPD. Are the health problems I experience my parent’s fault? Did they inflict my body with these diseases? Of course not. The issues I cope with are self-inflicted, the logical consequence of the choices I made; the natural conclusion to not act responsibly and stay within the boundaries mom and dad had set for me years earlier as a child.
For that matter, even if a person is raised in a home where right and wrong is neither practiced or taught; still, we are by nature aware of a moral code of conduct to which all are responsible – no one has to tell you it is wrong to kick the dog. The great apologist, C.S. Lewis, begins his classic work “Mere Christianity” by making this case in like fashion and it is the intent of the apostle Paul who when writing to the church in Rome states,
“Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” ~ Romans 2:14-15 NLT.
That a moral code has been written in the heart of all is self-evident, and to it, all are intuitively responsible. It then follows naturally that if indeed an organic moral code exists to which our conscience demands we be held accountable; a logical consequence must flow out of it.
Deuteronomy 30:19 reads, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life so that you and your descendants might live!” ~ NLT.
Not only does God here speak to Israel as having a choice, he makes us aware of and establishes the logical consequence to be expected in the choice made. To this verse, David Guzik writes, “Man today, even outside the Old Covenant, is confronted with the choice. But the choice focuses first not on “Will I obey God or not?” but on “Will I trust in Jesus for my standing before God?” Jesus said, He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters Luke 11:23). Jesus is still asking the question, who do you say that I am (Matthew 16:15), and our choice in answering that question determines our eternal destiny.”
Scripture makes plain God’s desire is that none perish, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” ~ Ezekiel 33:11 ESV (see also 1 Timothy 2:3-4, and 2 Peter 3:9). Equally clear in scripture is the reality of hell, and eternal punishment for the wicked, but it won’t be God who one day grabs you by the nape of the neck and tosses you into the pit, you will do that yourself – the natural conclusion and logical consequence of a choice to reject the free gift of salvation available to all through faith in Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned alread, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” ~ John 3:16-18 ESV.
Merrily-merrily going along, another morning seated at the same dining table, in the same chair with my favorite coffee cup lovingly placed alongside a carafe filled with Folgers by my wife who had shot off to work an hour or so before I drug myself from the bed; I flipped open the Mac and pressed the power button. Not to mess up my weekday morning’s routine, after having entered the password into the laptop, I poured myself a glass of iced tea, unsweet (though you couldn’t tell by looking at me), then sat back at the table, filled the cup with coffee and watched the wisps of steam rise up reminding me to sip, not gulp.
The computer fully booted, I checked the company communications system for any “need to know now” messages alerting me to any predawn changes with my patients, looked over my emails, then sailed on over to Facebook collecting my bonuses from the games I am admittedly addicted to and went a few rounds with a couple of them. All done with that I scrolled down the wall scanning through posts by my FB friends with an eye out for what I call the “faith builders”. Those inspiring picture quotes and encouraging expressions others share that get me out the door and off to work with the right mindset to avoid those aggravating driving moments when road rage tempts me to act in a non-chaplain like manner. Know what I mean?
Before exiting and shutting down the computer, though, a few new notifications popped up so I opened and read. Grabbing my attention was a post from an apologetics page I follow – oh yeah, I thought; more bullets to place in the clip of my “defend the faith” Glock awaits a mouse click. It was a great post, well written, on target, insightful, informative and helpful – to me. What about others, though, I asked myself? It read as it were an excerpt from a Ph.D. dissertation and perhaps it was, big words easily understood by the scholarly, but not the average person you would run into at Walmart. Granted, or perhaps better said, guilty. I too have many times wrote (preached too) in the same manner, but why? If the intent is to help people along in their faith journey, writing or speaking words they probably won’t understand is kind of self-defeating, isn’t it?
Mulling the thought over, I googled this: “Education and Religion Statistics”. After having combed through several articles written on the subject I clicked open surveys conducted by pollsters Gallup and the Pew Research Center, both being reputable research organizations. What I found noteworthy yet alarming was the bottom line they found true.
1) The higher people climb the ladder of education, the less involved they become in a religious practice and the more likely they are to reject God altogether, and
2) With as much as those with a High School education are more likely to express a belief in God and attend a church or synagogue on a regular basis, it is that same group polls indicate to be falling away from the church in greater number. Research presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in 2011, found “those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s”.
In his book, “Christ Centered Preaching”, Bryan Chapell points out, “Preachers tend to use complex, archaic language which the average person does not understand; sermons often contain too many complex ideas; too much theological jargon.” The unfortunate result is “the message given is not always the message received”, writes Joey Rozek in an article appropriately titled, “Pastor, Are You Really Speaking the Language of Your Community?”
I can remember a time when I wondered what denomination the church I was attending that day really was. I know what the sign out front claimed it to be, but I was almost certain the preacher was speaking in an unknown tongue – not a practice of the local FBC. I wanted to find a Deacon and suggest the church consider hiring an interpreter for their pastor.
In many churches today, a barrier exists between the pulpit and the pew, a language barrier that may be a contributing factor in why the less educated are opting out of the church. In the book of 1 Corinthians Paul (in a review of his first visit to that church) wrote, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, [I] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:1-2 ESV).
Corinth was an influential city, home to well-educated philosophers and skilled orators known for their eloquence of speech. Although quite capable of going head to head with the best of them in a contest of verbal skills (as may have been the case when he addressed the philosophers on Mars Hill), Paul chose to keep it simple knowing as he would later write, “the wisdom of this world is folly with God (1 Corinthians 3:19). Perhaps we should take this under advisement as we write and speak.
Looking back over my years behind the pulpit; I pulled out an old binder from the closet marked “Sermons” blew off the dust and began to read (re-read actually) through some of the messages I had delivered in days gone by. Honestly, I was amazed one of my deacons hadn’t suggested placing dictionaries alongside the pew bibles back then. So many five-dollar words I offered up to a congregation with only nickels and dimes in their pocket – who was I trying to impress?
I thought of my grandchildren, all fourteen. I wouldn’t consider any one of them a child prodigy, just normal kids, and I wondered; How many times might they grow restless and fidgety, or need to go to the bathroom during the pastor’s sermon unnecessarily, and why? Could it be they are bored out of their minds being clueless as to what the guy on the platform is saying. Give ‘em a break parents, they get lost in the dark too.
“Any preacher can lose himself and his congregation in a theological fog,” writes Thomas Lindberg, and so very many parishioners today are finding that fog extremely thick. Interestingly, an on the opposite side of that fence, it is said of Billy Graham that during one of his most successful crusades held the Summer of 1969 in Madison Square Gardens, “76 percent of Graham’s words were one syllable”. Every preacher can learn a lesson.
Personally, I sometimes think many ministers would better serve the church as a professor in a seminary rather than a preacher in the pulpit. Might we need to take a second look at how we communicate the gospel? Might big words in the pulpit make for a big mistake in the pews? Is it time to consider a vocabulary overhaul? – Just Thinkin’