The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Category: Preaching

Organic, No Hormones, No Antibiotics, Grass-Fed, All-Natural Preaching

organic-logoMy wife is a hippie (in everything but dress).

She’s crunchy. She’s granola. She’s green. She’s…and on and on the labels go for people who are “all-in” with all things organic.

I’m not complaining. I love the fact that my bride is deeply concerned about the health of our family, caring for creation, and living simply.

Just recently, I found myself in a conversation with her talking about the hormones injected into animals to make them grow faster so that their meat can be harvested as quickly as possible. She was sharing with me all the ways this can actually harm our family through consuming this “quick and easy” meat.

Even though my wife was talking about food, I couldn’t help but begin to think about preaching.

So much that passes for preaching today has been injected with the enhancing hormone of application in order to move as quickly as possible from this ancient text to the “relevant” message for today.

2011-069--safe-hormone-free-beef-Hormones are meant to move a chicken from the farm to the plate in no time flat, and application attempts to do the same in preaching…from the Bible to my life. If this metaphor still isn’t making any sense allow to me to say it more simply…

There is an assumption today that the content of preaching should be immediately applicable to my life. I should walk away with a few things that are ready made for day-today-implementation. You know…inspirational thoughts, cute quips, quick tips, and practical tricks to improve my life. It is almost like the goal of preaching is to dole out a set of theological life-hacks.

Like hormone injected animals being quickly raised for consumption, we want application injected preaching that’s quickly ready to help us function.

The problem, I fear, is that such preaching is even more unhealthy for our souls than hormone-laden food is for our bodies. Sure, it seems helpful in the short-term, but all too-often it is focused on behavior modification and not heart transformation. Without a transformed heart, our souls are ultimately not being fed, but starved and our supposedly modified behavior is simply not sustainable. We need healthy preaching, feeding our souls the upon the pure meat of God’s Word.

IMG_5568We need good ol’ organic, no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed, all-natural preaching.

Just this past Sunday, I told my congregation that my primary aim in preaching is not immediate application…it is eternal transformation. Like a farmer whose aim is health, I am willing to suspend doing things quickly for the sake of a more enduring goal.

Application in preaching is important! Extremely important, but it needs to be done in the right way and for the right reason. So…I want to expand for a moment on what I meant Sunday when I said, “my aim in preaching is not primarily immediate application, but eternal transformation.” I want to make clear the difference between these two goals in hopes that you will be more equipped to know what you’re receiving each Sunday…and I hope to wet your appetite for the good organic stuff…not the quick and cheap junk food that looks good but doesn’t actually help your health.

So, here are 10 thoughts (5 today and 5 tomorrow so this blog does not turn into a book) that help me to personally think through what it looks like to experience organic, no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed, all-natural application in preaching…

1) You cannot having preaching without application.
applyFrom everything I have said above, you might think that I am anti-application altogether. Absolutely not! If you don’t have application, then you don’t have preaching. You may have a good lecture or Bible study, but preaching is preaching precisely because it takes our lives and presses them up against the truth of God’s Word. Preaching pierces our lives with truth and produces fruit. Application is taking the truth we see in the text and making an appeal to the congregation on the basis of that truth.

2) We often think about application in a backwards manner.
The normal way to talk about application is to say that we want to know how the Bible applies to our lives. That is backwards. We should want to know how our lives apply to the Bible. The difference lies in what we see as ultimately relevant. Let me explain…

If I want to know how the Bible applies to my life, then my life is being the ultimate standard of relevance. I will look for Scripture that addresses things I”m dealing with and simply ignore or discard parts that seem unimportant to my life. So, I guess we can go ahead and throw out Leviticus. I mean, how are animal sacrifices to a tent-dwelling God remotely relevant to me?

However, if my goal is to apply my life to the Bible, then all of Scripture is seen to be relevant truth and my life needs to conform to what I see within its pages. Leviticus is now extremely relevant for it shows me the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the need for a sacrifice…and my life needs to be applied to these truths. I need to acknowledge my sinfulness, embrace my substitute sacrifice (Jesus), and pursue awe-filled worship of holy God !

3) Applying our lives to the Bible, means we must understand the Bible.
bible460If I’m going to apply my life to the truth revealed in Scripture, then I must know what that truth is! I cannot just rip out a verse and make it mean whatever I want it to mean. I need to know what it actually means!

For example, Jeremiah 29:11 is a very popular and misapplied verse: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If my life is the ultimate determining factor of relevance, then the context of this verse means nothing and I’ll just define all the terms in relation to myself. So, this verse means God has awesome plans for my future…I shouldn’t worry about my current difficult situation…things will get better and be awesome (according to my definition of awesome). Right?

Wrong.

ContextWe need to actually see the truth being communicated in this text so that we can apply our lives to it. That means we must know what the verse actually means in context. Basically, this verse is part of a letter written to the Jewish people living in exile. They had believed a lie that they would be coming back from captivity to Israel within two years. However, God sends his people a letter (via Jeremiah) and tells them it will actually be 70 years! As a result, they are to live as his people right where they are and trust him with the future…for the future belongs to him!

Now that we see the truth communicated by the passage we can apply our lives to it. Amidst difficulty, we are to still trust God and be his people right where we find ourselves… even if things never get better. We may live and die amidst difficulty, but we trust him. The future belongs to him. He will give us a hope, namely, that we will be his people no matter what and he will never forsake us! Which is awesome! (according to a God-centered definition of awesome)

Do you see how different the application is when we don’t run quickly from text to our lives, but take the time to understand the text and press our lives up against its truth? It turns out the truth is much deeper and difficult, but also much richer as a well-spring of strength for our lives. It turns out this verse is not a meant as a quick fix, but as a bed-rock truth designed to carry one through a lifetime of difficulty.

In other words, this ain’t no hormone injected chicken! This is the real-deal organic good stuff.

4) Beware of simplistic, quick application.
to do listAn easy way to spot overly simplistic, quick application is that it often begins with action instead of ending with action. What I mean is that this type of application gives you a bunch of do’s and don’ts. It comes in lists and tips… constantly leaving you with a new set of things to incorporate into your life. Typically, no reason is given as “why” you should follow these tips other than “they will better your life.” That is fairly self-centered thinking, which is opposite of what we want to be as believers! We want to be Christ-centered, not self-centered!

Further, this kind of quick-action-application can become extremely burdensome, building an indefinite list of things you must do to be a good Christian. It seems helpful at first, but can quickly become defeating and lead us to despair.

5) Look for transformational application.
Transformational application does not begin with action…it begins with your heart. My primary preaching goal every week is to lift high Christ through the Word, praying that the Holy Spirit will work through it and draw people to Jesus.

JesusOnCross_01As hearts are captivated with Christ, they are transformed to love Christ, to love what Christ loves, and to love like Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” When we behold the glory of Jesus, we are transformed to become more like him.

I am not saying that there is no place for commands or for calls to action. Jesus commissioned us to teach/disciple people to observe all his commands. I am very interested in the commands of Christ and God-glorifying actions. But, such actions are only God glorifying if they come out of a heart that loves God… not out of heart pursuing rules simply because “I want to make my life better.” No… Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” In other words, when our hearts are in love with Jesus, his commands are not burdensome duties, they become our delight! We delight to express our love for Jesus through obeying him!

Transformational application aims to first point you to Jesus. This transforms your heart. You love him instead of yourself. You love him instead of your sin. You love him instead of ______. As your heart transforms… the way you think begins to transform. Then…what you do begins to change as well.

Transformational application is primarily aimed at helping you know Christ in all his glory. Then, on the basis of Christ’s love for you and your love for him… it calls for changed action. There are no shortcuts here. This is organic, grass-feed, all-natural application that helps you change by God’s power, not yours, one degree of glory at a time.

To be continued tomorrow…

 

Take Care How You Hear

I was  on the phone with my wife and the conversation went like this…

Holly: “Jonathan…are you hearing me?”

Me: “Oh…wait…what did you say? I heard it, but I didn’t hear it!”

Holly: “Hmmmmph! I’ll say it again…try to hear me this time!”

I would venture to say that I am not the only husband to have experienced this conversation, nor am I only human being to have experienced the phenomenon of physically hearing words with my ears while completely not comprehending the meaning/message of what is being said.

We do this all the time. We hear, but we don’thear.

Funny…Jesus often issued a warning that went like this, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words, we might have the physical capability of hearing words, but that doesn’t mean the message is being absorbed into our heart and life.

Jesus issues this warning in Luke 8 right after telling a parable about four different kinds of soil: a hardened path, rocky ground, thorns riddled earth, and good soil. Seed is sown in each, but for various reasons, in only takes root and grows in the good ground.

Luke 8:8b, “…and as he said these things, he called out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

What does Jesus mean?

Jesus actually goes on to explain the parable to his disciples in verses 9-15. He tells them that the seed, which is sown, is the Word of God and the four soils are representative of four groups of people who hear this Word, but only one group really hears. It is possible to listen to the Word of God without actually hearing it, and Jesus warns us that the consequences are eternally serious.

He closes with this admonishment in verse 18a, “Take care then how you hear…”

Whenever we have an opportunity to hear the Word of God, Jesus tells us to take care how we hear. Just because we have ears that function, and we use them to sit under the teaching/preaching of the Word, does not automatically guarantee that we are actively hearing. It is extremely important that we heed Jesus’ warning and instruction and pay special attention to how we are listening anytime we get to hear his Word.

So here are five brief thoughts on how we might take care in our hearing of the Word and listen with more than just our ears…

1. We must hear with our knees.
We should spend time on our knees in prayer before we hear the Word taught/preached. This prepares our hearts to truly hear from God and adjusts our attitude toward receptivity.

2. We must hear with our mind.
The Word of God renews our minds, calling us to conform our thinking to be inline with God’s instead of the world’s (Ro 8:5-8, 12:2). When we hear the Word of God taught, we should not “lean back” and passively listen for entertainments sake, but we should “lean into” the message and actively engage our minds.

3. We must hear with our heart.
God’s Word is not meant to feed the mind alone. A sermon should never be a mere intellectual exercise in theology, but it should challenge us on a heart level. Yes, the Word of God should engage our minds, but always for the purpose of transforming our heart, calling us to deeper affection for God and others.

4. We must hear with our hands.
In Matthew 7 Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man…And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man…” Truly hearing Word renews our minds, transforms our hearts, and comes out through our hands. Whether or not we are actually hearing God’s Word is most easily seen through our actions.

5. We must hear with our feet.
The Word of God is the best news we will ever hear, and we are supposed to take that good news to others. Romans 10:15 declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” This changes how we listen to the Word preached, because we are no longer listening for us! This changes how we take notes or whether we actually take notes…because now we are listening in order to be able to re-preach the Word to the next person that needs to hear: perhaps our siblings, children, spouse, parents, friends, co-workers, or people we’ve yet to meet. All I know is that if I was being given a message of life and death that could save someone who was actively dying I would consume that message and relay it with haste!

We must take care how we listen! Jesus’ words are the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68) and he has called us to take those words to the very ends of the earth (Mt 28:19-20).

So I don’t want to be guilty of hearing God’s Word in the same way I have occasionally been guilty of hearing, but not hearing my wife.

I don’t want to hear without actually hearing.

As a matter of fact, I want to express my love through using the ears I have been given to actually, actively hear. So next time we sit under the preaching/teaching of the Word, let’s join together as believers and take care how we hear.

In the mean time, think I’m going to go call my wife and apologize.

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