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|The Nashville Statement
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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| A Tale Of Two Pastors
|There were two pastors one Sunday morning, from different churches, who preached radically different sermons from the same King James text: Proverbs 15:17 - "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith." [KJV]).
The First Pastor
In preparing for his weekly sermon, the first pastor interpreted his own intuitions and interests of the week as indications from God that he should preach on perhaps one of three topics. After much (sincere) prayer and genuinely deep soul searching the pastor was able to narrow down, to the best of his pious insight, what God had intended for him to preach on: Believers whose faith and subsequent service began well, and grew up until some point, but at that point halted and remained thus.
That sort of thing was and is a real phenomenon, and clearly it was on the pastor's mind, as he wanted the flock for which he was responsible, to flourish in their faith and in the work that faith ought to be producing. He wanted a healthy, growing flock, and the message he believed God had appointed to him, lined up with that.
Having convinced himself to a large enough degree that God Himself wanted him to preach on this topic, he then combed the scriptures to find verses that made the point he wanted to hit. He settled on the King James version of Proverbs 15:17 - because, as he understood the passage, it spoke of an ox stalling on the road because there was hatred within it, where love on the other hand produced a ministry of serving others in offering up freely what little it had.
From the pulpit he gently scolded those whose faith had stalled and who were now worthless to the Lord because they embraced a love of self which amounted to hatred for others. He encouraged those who were so afflicted to embrace love, with which they would gladly serve in whatever capacity (beggarly or rich) they were able.
He prayed thereafter, that God would so provoke those who were stalled in their faith, to repent and resume pursuing the Lord while serving one another, as they ought to, in love. With all heads bowed he encouraged those who felt that God was speaking to them in the message to slip up a hand, that he might pray for them personally, and as always the same few hands came up that typically came up when he asked for people to silently raise their hands.
He noted that there seemed to be a few "spiritual" believers in the congregation - the newest, and therefore more sincere believers, and again the inner core of believers who did most of the volunteer ministry in his church. These humble souls typically made up the group of people willing to admit their need. How sad it made him that it was never the right people raising their hands.
Afterwards he stayed and prayed with those few people who were sufficiently moved by the sermon to seek aid in their own deliverance. He made a note to himself to pray fervently that week for all the flock under his care, and especially for those who had come and asked for prayer.
The Other Pastor
In preparing for his Sunday sermon, recalled a passage in scripture he had read during a his daily bible reading that week. He wasn't sure whether the ox had stalled in moving, or whether the ox was penned in a stall, so he consulted a biblical dictionary and found that the meaning was being penned in, probably for the sake of fattening up the animal.
He understood by this that the proverb was saying that it is better to eat a little where there is love that to have an abundance of food where there is hatred. The proverb described the sort of truism expressed in the notion it is better to be alive and poor, than to be dead and rich. He marveled at that. The author was using a comparison that any honest person could appreciate: more is better than less. By coupling poverty with love and prosperity with hate, the author shows that the difference in value between love and hate, to the believer, is far more significant than the difference between being wealthy or being poor.
The pastor's flock had a few mature believers in her ranks, but by and large many, if not most of the flock were immature - that is, they didn't know the scriptures, and those who did know something of the scriptures, did not understand how to apply them to their walk with Christ.
He saw in this passage an opportunity to give instruction that would, in his estimation, go some way to dispelling some of the works mentality that is so prevalent and crippling in both in new converts and again in those who, by reason of ignorance, remained immature in their faith long after such time as they ought to have grown.
So he prepared a sermon that explained not only the meaning of this text, but how to apply that meaning to one's faith - that it was the "work" of faith to  regard these things as true, and  to work these truths into our every day walk. As the theme in this proverb appears elsewhere in scripture, he demonstrated that this was not some small notion to be set aside - but that God if God, who could easily have made the bible a thousand times larger, had not only trimmed it down to this tidy size, that a person might read it many times in his or her life, and with prayer and study, even comprehend not only the meaning of it, but also the application of it - if God had trimmed the fat, as it were to hand down this finished volume - how ought to we treat a teaching that shows up time and again within its pages?
The battle, he explained from the pulpit that Sunday, is not to try and do more for God, or to make these things happen - it is to trust that the value God places on things is right, even when our own experiences would argue against that. It is the work of trust, not effort. Is God a cosmic Liar? If not, then had we not better accept His valuation over and against our own? If love is so profoundly superior to its lack - ought we not to pursue it?
And how can we pursue love? Is it a commodity? Is it a feeling? Is God saying in this text and those others like it that He wants us to grit our holy teeth down and force love to spring up within us? If we cannot by effort cause even our own hair to grow, how much less could we, by effort, create love in ourselves where no such love exists?
"Or do you imagine," he preached, "that the beggarly affections you have for others is the same as that which God has for us?" The pastor went on to reason and plead with the congregation to see it - if the love that God has is called love, is anything that falls short of that rightly called love? If live has some quality that a dead thing lacks, can you pretend that something that is dead is really a little alive? So is our love - if it is not like God's perfect love, it is not love at all, lest God's love be impugned!
He pleaded with his flock, not to accept this sermon as a goad to imitate love by human effort, but to see the truth of the matter - without this love all your efforts are useless, and this love is so exalted that you cannot produce it in a thousand years of trying - for your love, like all your other virtues, are as filthy rags to God. Whatever love you may in your piety muster, is tainted by your own sin - it serves you in whole or in part, and is not to be compared with the plumb line that is God's love. No love can be rightly called love apart from God's own - and so the call is not to generate your own, but to recognize that if Christ is in you, so also is this perfect love - it is a well from which you may drink, and give to others, but it is not yours, and you may only receive it and supply others when you yourself have learned that Christ has a right to command you, and that as His servant, it is your duty to serve Him and others, not in the might of your own feeble strength, but in the strength that you may only access when you are no longer serving yourself, but are utterly surrendered in your heart to God, in what you do.
He went on to show that you cannot be so surrendered by trying to obey, that this surrender is achieved only by repenting from your heart, of the right to direct your own life, and having accepted the yoke of Christ, to walk under it - trusting that your life is all that Christ intends it to be, only when and if you are under that yoke.
When he had finshed the sermon, he prayed to God in the hearing of his flock, that God would give him wisdom to live these words himself (for he found in the encouragement he himself had voiced, much room for his own growth) and again to lead others in the same path he himself was on - a path for which God's word was the only light.
As he lifted his head from prayer and repeated again, as he did each Sunday, a blessing taken from scripture, a blessing that is rightly applied to God's children, a blessing to remind them that God is the one working in them, that God is perfectly working through the agency of imperfect believers insofar as they are humbled before Him. He called upon the congregation to take this blessing personally to heart, and encouraged them in closing to walk worthy of all that God was doing on their behalf.
When he left the pulpit, he made himself available, as he always tried to do, to any questions others may have had. He was always anxious to learn whether or not what he had preached was understood by those who had heard. He knew that God is the one who opens the understanding, that even if he "botched" the teaching, the Lord was by no means limited in using even that to further the work He was doing through such means of grace. Yet this pastor wanted to know right away where he may have failed, what if anything was unclear, that he might use this time to the greatest advantage.
OKAY, storytime is over.
Thoughts On The First Pastor
In the above illustration we read about two very different approaches to sermon preparation and delivery, and also two different foundations upon which the ministry of teaching is being rested.
In the first scenario, the pastor believes (and therefore expects) that God communicates with us through personal experiences, impressions and even every day stray thoughts, and this because there is an underlying presumption that although God gave us the scriptures as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, the scriptures are by themselves not enough, we must also divine God's will. So in much the same way as a tea reader regards the residue left behind in a cup of tea as containing secrets to be interpreted by himself as a chosen medium, so this pastor regards the residue of life, in the form of experiences, stray thoughts, and impressions as containing the secret of God's will which he, as a willing servant, may interpret if he is very serious about doing so.
It is no coincidence that I liken this sort of mystical approach to deciphering the will of God to a tea reading, for I find them both of the same substance - which is to say, if anything spiritual is happening, and that is doubtful in most scenarios, it certainly isn't God working, except in judgment, for seeking "extra" revelation when scripture uniformly and clearly teaches that it is the scriptures that are our guide, and not subjective impressions.
Also in the first scenario the pastor isn't preaching the word of God, he is preaching about some impression he had that week, and using God's word to give that impression authority. He imagines he is teaching God's word, because he uses God's word to make his point, but make no mistake, he is not preaching the word of God, he is preaching his own heart. The devil will use this man's own sincerity and earnest desire to serve God as the very blindfold that keeps him ignorant of his own error on this point.
You may note that the first pastor mininterpreted the passage entirely. I put that in because I wanted to highlight how, when you already are convinced you know the tune God wants you to sing, the bible just becomes the instrument you use to sing it. is tea reading any more valid if one uses bible verses to back up the impression you get?
The first pastor's sermon was an appeal to improved spiritual condition through personal effort, relying essentially on guilt to provoke the individual to greater exertions. Dare I say, in such an environment, spiritual maturity is measured not by the consistency and depth of one's repentance, but by the whether or not that person is more involved in "church".
The appeal at the end of that first sermon, to slip up a hand if God had used his sermon to
personally make them feel inadequate as a believer show them that they were spirtually stalled and in need of repentence, was as wrong headed as it was wrong theologically. Believers never stall in their faith, they are either growing in it, or backsliding - and no backslider is ever going to raise a hand to draw attention to their backsliding. No, the very reason they are backsliding is because they are immature spiritually speaking. It isn't admonishment that is going to set them free - it is Christ, and this freedom is by faith, not by effort - and this faith comes, not by preaching "what God has impressed upon my heart" but by preaching the word of God, which is a light unto the path of every believer.
The Other Pastor
The other pastor wasn't looking for a message from God to preach - and this because God's message was by no means lost. He didn't have to find it, nor did he have to figure it out. God's message, in full, is called the bible. This pastor understood that his responsibility was not to spiritually guess at what God wanted him to say, it was to preach Christ, who is the Word of God. To preach the scriptures is to preach Christ, so he did not fret about what to preach - he normally preached through a book at a time, and when some passage struck him as containing some truth that seemed to him to be a good message for the moment, he would preach that message. He knew that Luke, the Author of Acts and the Gospel that bears his name, set himself to write, not because he felt some sort of spiritual pressure (er, whatever that is), but because it "seemed good to him" to write these things down. Nothing mystical.
He began with the passage, explained what it meant, explained how it applied, and then explained how Christ was in it, and how that is the unifying message of all the scriptures. He appealed to their understanding as much as to their hearts, he appealed to their conduct as well as their abilities - in other words, he appealed to them to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.
He explained that the poverty of their own effort, and the folly (if not the insult) of imagining their own efforts as being sufficient to what God demands, and so rathe than calling on them to try harder, he called on them to repent - which is the enduring message that Christ continues to preach to His church today - stop trying "figure out" Christianity - it isn't a riddle. If you aren't surrendered to Christ in your heart, you need to get there, and you don't get there by effort, you get there by faith - a faith that comes through hearing the word of God.
Rather than tell his congregation to try harder to do what the bible says is impossible, he gave them the very means of escape by preaching Christ to them, consistently. By holding Jesus out to them, as he did week after week, by preaching the word of God, and showing/explaining how they were to live according to this word - but putting what they needed (Christ) into their hearts through their ears, and by making himself available to the furtherence of that lofty goal.
Okay enough about the two pastors
We all have blind spots - I certainly have some. We all fail in so many ways, because we rely upon our selves by default, and the part of us that is truly "us" will not bow down to Christ ever. Yet every believer has the life of Christ in them by and through the Holy Spirit, and by Christ they will obey God if and when they surrender to His rule - s thing that cannot be had through effort, but must be appropriated by trusting God. We can and will and do obey Him in this life whenever our hearts, minds, souls and strength are utterly surrendered to His rule - in other words, whenever we are repentant in the moment.
Be on guard, believer, against anything that exalts mankind, or insults the perfection of God. Be thoughtful hearers of God's word. Test everything you hear and see against the word of God, which you ought to regard as a plumbline.
Finally, if you know the truth, don't use it as a club to beat the little ones with. No one has understanding apart from God granting them that understanding. If you have the truth, make it available to whoever asks for it.
posted by Daniel @
oh - and forgive any spelling mistakes, I didn't have time to spell check it, and published it anyway.