Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wanted: Preaching

Great preaching seems to be hard to come by these days, at least in the churches I’ve sampled lately.  I didn’t think I was asking for a whole lot.  And I acknowledge that it’s easier to critique a sermon than to write and deliver it effectively.  My main complaint: Fluff.

Fluff doesn’t offend anyone.  It gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, albeit a short-lived one.  Fluff doesn’t take too long, either to write or deliver.  A good dose of fluff can be dished out in 15 minutes or less, and even Uncle George won’t have time to fall asleep.  Fluff is probably good for the offering plate too, I suspect.

But you won’t grow on fluff.  We need some “meat”, served up directly from the Bible.  We need to see that the same concerns of that time are relevant to today; we need to see Biblical characters struggling with the same issues that we struggle with, and we need to see how God instructs us on those issues, and to see what happens when we heed that advice.  And what happens when we don’t.

Those types of sermons may offend some people – or they may convict those people to make changes.  I don’t know how many people read the Bible outside of church, but I suspect for many, church is the only place they are going to learn what God says, and they need to learn it all.  We can’t please God if we don’t know what pleases God, and finding out what we’re doing isn’t pleasing to God might hurt our feelings.  But even that is accompanied by the promise that God will give us what we need, and that the ending of the story is awesomely good.

I don’t recall God sending forth His prophets with the stern warning not to offend anyone, or ask anything of them, just leave them with a good happy feeling.  I want a church sermon that will leave me with something to ponder all week, and that will ultimately help me change my life in some small way that God would approve of.  I want some instruction; I want to learn, I want to grow.  But I don’t want any Fluff.

And so the search goes on…


Monday, March 15, 2010

Just Ask Joseph

One thing you can say about life is that it isn’t going to go smoothly.  Somehow, many get the (mistaken) idea that we’re going to get on the right track, and life will proceed in that manner until it’s over.  If we do things right, life goes relatively smoothly, right?  Just ask Joseph about that…

He started out well enough – coming from a wealthy family, and being the favorite of his father.  Can’t ask for a better start in life!  The next thing he knew, he was sitting in the bottom of a well, wondering what the heck would happen next; and shortly thereafter, his social status took a real beating. 

I once saw a cute little saying painted on a flower pot: “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”  Joseph must have seen that too.  Bloom, he did, in Potiphar’s house.  He took what he had, and did the best he could with it.  And just when things were looking good – along comes Mrs. Potiphar, and the next thing you know, Joseph’s in the bottom of yet another pit, this time prison.  And what did he do?  He bloomed again. 

You can’t say much for Joseph’s luck, if that’s what landed him in such dire straights.  A lot of people wouldn’t be very happy that they had worked so hard, only to find themselves getting kicked in the teeth yet again…

One thing I haven’t found in the scripture is the part where Joseph whines, and he did have cause to whine, if you ask me.  I can’t find the part where he says, “Oh, Why did You do this to me, God?  Haven’t I served you well?  What did I do to deserve this?”  But God had a bigger view; he was putting Joseph right where he wanted him – where he needed him.  If Joseph had stayed in his family’s comfortable home, neither they nor their countrymen might have survived the terrible famine.  It’s a good thing Joseph didn’t curl up in his pity pot and lay down to die when his world fell apart - either time.

Someone once said, “It’s not how many times you fall down that count, it’s how many times you get up.”  And when things went bad, Joseph did just that: he got up, and got about the business of honoring God in all he did.  And he was blessed.