The Psychology of Preaching

Chico, California is a quaint city.  Nestled about 120 miles north of Sacramento, it is surrounded by miles of orchards, rice fields, plowed fields, and neatly manicured cattle ranches.  In the distance, one can see the mountains reaching heavenward between Chico and the Pacific Ocean.  Gorgeous.  Not at all like Southern CA.

My wife lived in Northern CA for the first few years of her childhood.  She had always told me how beautiful it was, and that it was not like the hot deserts of Southern CA in which I trained while in the US Marine Corps.  After 37 years on this planet, I finally found myself on a flight from Atlanta to Sacramento, on my way to a wedding in Chico.  And, Northern CA did not disappoint, unique in its landscape, a testimony to our Creator God’s greatness, beauty, and glory. 

Except one little detail, which did disappoint me greatly.  On the second morning of my stay, I nestled in behind the local newspaper with a hot cup of what had to be the best hotel coffe I have ever imbibed.  The coffee notwithstanding, what I saw in the “Religion” section of the paper ruined my day.  While it was not shocking to me or even surprising, it was disheartening.

There, on the page where local churches and pastors list the worship service times and the upcoming sermon titles, I saw churches offering “Pet Blessing Services.”  Come have Pastor so-and-so pronounce a blessing on your furry friends.  One has to wonder how such a blessing goes:

Almighty God, please bless and keep Fluffy.  Please cause Your face to shine upon Fluffy, and be gracious to him.  Please lift up Your countenance upon Fluffy and give him peace.  Amen.

Or,

Now unto Him who is able to keep Lassie from running into parked cars, and to make Lassie street-wise and blameless before His glorious presence . . . be all glory, majesty, dominion, and authority forever.  Amen.

As if that advertisement were not enough to raise my gospel hackles, I read on and found the sermon title from the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship:  “The Psychology of Uncivil Behavior: Exploring how uncivil behavior affects personal, civic, political and spiritual lives.”

God help us!  If this is what the “church” is offering to Americans, no wonder they are staying home in droves.  And, if this is what they’d hear if they did attend a “worship” service, then by all means they might as well stay home and watch the TV preacher.  At least maybe he would say a little something about unholy sinners living in outright rebellion to a holy God, and therefore living under His just wrath and condemnation.  Maybe, just maybe, the TV or internet preacher would mention the provision this holy God has made to forgive unholy sinners, to spare them His certain wrath, through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  Maybe the televangelist would at least quip about Jesus absorbing the Divine punishment rightly due us guilty sinners.  Maybe he would exhort sinful people to flee from the wrath to come, turn from sin, and trust wholeheartedly in the saving work of Jesus.  Maybe he would remind listeners that they are completely helpless to earn heaven or God’s gracious forgiveness.  Maybe he’d say sinners can never be good enough to meet a standard of absolute perfection.  Maybe he’d again urge people to cry out for mercy from God, and lean wholly on Jesus’ perfection.  Maybe he’d preach like Jesus, saying “The kingdom of God is here.  Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).       

Oh, how far American religion has fallen from the days of Roger Williams and Jonathan Edwards.  Pet blessings and Psychology lessons are a far cry from “Preach the Word; be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2).

Preachers, if you’re listening, preach the Word.  Teachers, teach the Word.  Parents, talk with your children about the Word.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17).  The stakes are too high, and time too short to worry over Fluffy’s spiritual status.  Incivility is not the root problem.  Sin is and it is heart-deep.  Preach the Word. 

     

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Pro-Life or Abortion Rights Opponents?

In the regular email updates I receive from Life Institutes, one writer referenced an intraoffice memo sent by a higher up at NPR.  The memo urged NPR employees / broadcasters to stop using the term “pro-life” and instead substitute what was labeled more “neutral” language like “abortion rights opponents.” 

Oh, surely they do not take the average American for a fool?  These PC language games have been going on for decades, and thoughtful Christians ought to see right through them.  Am I to believe “abortion rights opponent” is a neutral label?  So, now the biblical position that stakes its claim to every person being made in God’s image and therefore being worthy of dignified treatment is in opposition to a “right.”  Sounds un-American, to oppose someone’s rights, doesn’t it?  Funny we pro-lifers are now being portrayed as un-American when the US Constitution clearly states every person is entitled to the “right to life.”  And, our Founders rested this premise on the Creator’s endowment!  Silly, ignorant, antiquated Puritans that they were.  It is the abortion rights proponents who oppose the Constitution, and no, I do not believe for a second the Supreme Court has a “right” to overrule the Constitution, as they so clearly did in Roe v Wade.   

But, as a blood-bought follower of the One True Supreme Judge, Jesus, my chief concern is honoring Him, not a legal document, a government, or any other man-made ideal or institution.  Has it ever occured to you that if ever there was a prime “candidate” to abort her baby, Mary was it?!  So young.  Probably 13 or 14 at most.  Very lower middle class or perhaps upper lower class, as evidenced by her offering doves at the temple rather than a bull or lamb (Luke 2:24).  Pregnant out-of-wedlock, for which she could be rightly stoned under the laws of her land.

Friends, the infanticide industry led by Planned Parenthood and funded by our tax dollars and piles of crooked blood money has placed us squarely under God’s wrath.  I am not one to advocate for Christians to spend inordinate amounts of time stumping for certain politicians or political platforms.  It pains me to see some believers spending countless hours working for a political party while their children remain untaught in the Bible, family worship is not present in their homes, and the local church and its mission to reach the world with the Savior’s gospel go mostly ignored.  But this one issue – the killing of millions of unborn babies, all of them Divine image-bearers – is truly a watershed issue.  We must not grow weary in this fight!

As a pastor, it occurs to me that some of my part-time pastor friends may soon be forced into a major dilemma.  If I understand the new health care package, if they do not currently have insurance, they will have to buy it from Uncle Sam, or face large tax penalties.  If they buy the socialized insurance, their money goes directly to support the dismantling of babies in the womb.  But wait, if they refuse and pay the large tax fine, some of that money also goes to fund the slaughter, both at home and abroad.  Sounds like a lose-lose, especially for babies.

Oh, America, America, oh church, church, “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9).

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Easter is . . . All About Me?

Last night my wife was perusing a Wal-Mart advertorial.  If that’s not the proper term, then suffice it to say she had the Wal-Mart advertisement newspaper in hand!  For reasons that shall surely escape me well into the millenial reign of Christ, I asked that she hand it over.  That was a mistake.

What I saw there both disgusted and saddened me.  The advertorial was promoting their annual Easter Sale.  There were colored eggs galore; little girls chasing bunny rabbits through manicured lawns; chocolate bunnies of every shape and size; brightly colored dresses tailored just right for every girl; young boys in handsome struts; and baskets chocked full of useless  sugary stuff. 

Before you log-out thinking, “Oh great, another Christian blogger bemoaning the commercialization of Easter” let me perhaps put just a little different spin on my charades. 

First, I am not against Christian parents buying some chocolate for their children at Easter, so long as they avoid the gaudy extravagance that typically comes with the Easter Basket territory. 

Second, I do not expect the unregenerate culture to reflect the glory of the Risen King, or even have much appreciation for Resurrection Sunday.  Lest we forget, the overwhelming majority of Americans will sleep in this Sunday.  Some will be hung-over from a late night Easter frolic.  Perhaps some will drop by one of Jacksonville’s local porn distributors with more than chocolate on the brain, and a deep sickness in their hearts.  I did, after all, notice the sign outside our local Adam & Eve store said they were giving out free Easter “gifts” with a purchase of $50 or more. 

I do, however, expect Christian parents and families in this country to manifest more spiritual discernment than many do.  Allow me to illustrate.  When my wife and I share with other Christian couples that we stopped buying “Easter outfits” for our daughters several years ago, they stare at us in disbelief.  It is as if we had told them we frequently break our daughters’ arms as a disciplinary measure.  Yet, we do not feel as though we are doing anything all that radical.  We certainly would not file it under “suffering for Jesus.”

You see, Michele and I stopped purchasing those bright, brand-spanking new outfits for our girls because as we read the Scriptures, the Spirit impressed upon us that nothing is more serious in God’s economy than worship.  God desires His own glory above all.  God determined from eternity past for His Dear Son to have preeminence by His death on behalf of sinners and His resurrection from the dead (Col 1:18). 

“Worship” comes from an Old English word, “Worthship.”  It refers to giving glory, honor and prestige to One who is worthy.  Worship is not about us!  Contrary to everything our culture is teaching us and our children, this life is not about us, our way, our will, our want.  We are created for God’s glory, along with everything else (Rev 4:11).  Worship is about the One True Holy God who has made a way for unholy sinners to be made right with Him through the bloody cross of His Son.  This same Son, Jesus, who died, also rose again, literally and physically, thereby crushing the final enemy of sinful humanity (1 Cor 15). 

Does it not strike anyone as odd that on what we Christians consider the most Holy Day on our Calendar, the Day that literally defines us as a people of God and sets us apart from every other religion known to man, that we put our little ones into the best, brightest, fanciest clothes we can find, proudly parade them before all the church folk, take albums full of pictures and youtube videos, let them hunt for eggs bearing earthly treasures, and then try to convince them that Easter is really about Jesus?

I think we are shooting ourselves in both feet, Christian parents and grandparents.  How serious are we about ensuring our children understand that worship is absolutely never about us?  Especially not on Easter.

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Diversity in State Schools

Wake County, NC finds itself embroiled in quite a bruhaha.  The County School Board recently voted to stop busing children long distance to achieve “diversity” in schools.  You can read more on the controversial decision here:

http://www.witn.com/wakecountytriangle/headlines/88972557.html

This all comes as a sad amusement to me.  The state schools have been undergirded for 50+ years now by a Darwinian / naturalist / humanist worldview.  The much acclaimed “Father of Modern Education,” John Dewey, was himself a bold socialist and a proud signer of the Humanist Manifesto I.  Dewey even traveld to Russia in the early 1900’s to assist them in implementing the educational system of Karl Marx.  Dewey was instrumental in bringing German scholars from the “Frankfurt School” here to America, and he gave them “power positions” in schools and universities. 

The Frankfurt School embraced the worldview of Nietzsche and Foucalt, which came to be called “postmodernism.”  Its central tenet is there is no absolute truth (of course we must quickly ask the postmodernists if it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth).  Nietzsche wrote “God is dead . . . we have killed him.”  Further, his worldview led him to declare “that all life is simply will to power” (Beyond Good and Evil).  In other words, MIGHT makes RIGHT.  This is Darwinian thinking applied to social ethics.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask Hitler.

Why then, should the state-run school give a flip about whether or not each school has socio-economic and ethnic diversity?  (I purposely avoid the term “racial” because the Bible teaches we are all one race – Adam’s.)  Why not just let the powerful keep going to the better schools with greater opportunities?  Why should a Darwinian care if the poorer or less privileged classes suffer?  Survival of the fittest, right?  We’re all just advanced animals, so the natural laws governing the animal kingdom clearly are at work in the Wake County School System.  Let them run their course.  In the end, it will be best for our continued evolution as a human species. 

I am not hiding my sarcasm so well, am I?  The school boards and teachers and parents and children simply cannot live out the worldview that the education system as a whole embraces!  The irony is thick.  No matter how hard Darwinian educators try to get us to suppress this pesky thing called a conscience, and to jettison the absurd notion of actual absolute moral obligations to treat all people with dignity and respect, these things just will not go away. 

Deep inside, tucked away under layers of sinful corruption, mankind still possesses the very image of his Creator (Genesis 1:27; 9:6).  From time to time, even the Christ-less, depraved American culture and society demonstrates that the way of Jesus Christ is still best:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind . . . and love your neighbor as youself.” 

The laws of this nation were clearly founded upon that ethic, and were implemented, by and large, by men who were experiencing the restoration of God’s image in them through faith in Jesus Christ.  Friends, the state-run schools may be forever lost in the moral swamp and confusion that is the inevitable result of Darwinistic humanism, but some of the constituents of those schools clearly are not.  You don’t have to be either.

Whether or not it is economically prudent to bus children long distances in the name of diversity is not really the primary issue.  It is not my intent to endorse either economic imprudence or racism.  Both dishonor my God and Savior.  It is my intent, however, to manifest the moral bankruptcy of Darwinism, humanism, and/ or postmodernism.  The real issue for Wake County, and all Americans, is what kind of people we will be.  Good Samaritans?  Or Good Darwinians? 

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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Sanctified Marriage

“And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Thus, the promise of God was made.  One day the Lord would send His Spirit to dwell within His redeemed people, enabling them FINALLY to live a life of obedience and faithfulness to His character and law. 

The New Testament then chronicles how God has fulfilled this promise through the sending of Jesus, the Son of God and the first true “Man of the Spirit.”  As the work of atoning for the sins of His people was coming to its fruition, Jesus restated the promise to God’s people:

But when the Helper [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, He will bear witness about Me (John 15:26).

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send Him to you (John 16:7).

Then Pentecost came (Acts 2) and the Age of the Spirit dawned!  The church was never the same.  The band of competitive, naive and oft ill-tempered disciples were powerfully unified into an evangelisitc force that rocked the world, and is still rocking it!  Those who would renounce sin [repent] and cry out for mercy from Jesus the Christ would now experience the permanent presence of God dwelling with them by the Holy Spirit.  To be a Christian is to be a person of the Spirit (Rom 8:9; 1 John 4:13-16).  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that God now expects His people to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16). 

The very command from God implies that His people actually can obey.  Indeed, for followers of Christ indwelt by the Spirit of Christ [Holy Spirit], where God commands He enables obedience.  Obviously, Christians will not achieve perfect submission to the Spirit in this life due to remnants of our sin nature (Gal 5:16-17).  Nevertheless, God can and does enable His people to pursue Him in obedience.  This He does by His Spirit applying His truth [word] to our hearts and lives (John 17:17).  This He does as we continually repent, trust Christ and submit ourselves to the Spirit and the Word. 

What has all this to do with Christian marriage?  Everything!  The church desperately needs to recover what I call “You can” theology.  In the church, we are quite good at telling people what not to do, and this is an essential aspect of walking with God.  But, what we do not do enough is to tell people what they can do in the power of the Spirit and the freedom of Christ.  Christ, by His Spirit and truth has set us free!  We can obey Him now because He can and will empower us!  “You can because He can.”  You can because He is, and He is with you!

For sin will not have dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace (Rom 6:14).

Christian brother, you can do marriage God’s way.  You can lead and love your wife like Christ leads and loves His church.  You can enjoy life-long, God-like love with your wife.  You can love your wife and children sacrificially.  You can fight lust, the world and the devil.  Your home can reflect the glory of the Risen Savior.  You can because He can!

Christian sister, you can do marriage God’s way.  You can submit to your husband as unto the Lord.  You can respect him and love him as a determined act of your will, even if he is not exercising perfect headship.  You can pour your life into your children and your home.  You can fight worldly ideals of two-income American dream chasing.  You can clothe yourself with strength and honor (Prov 31).  You can have a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in God’s eyes (1 Peter 3).  You can because your God can!

While we will not fully and finally shake off this sin nature this side of glory, we must never forget that we have been set free, unshakled as it were, to doggedly pursue God’s purposes and pleasure in our homes.  And pursue them we must!  We must because we can!  We can because King Jesus is, and He is with us!

God help all of us, married or yet-to-be married, to live by this creed: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

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