September 30, 2018

Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say - Part 3

19th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Isaiah 41:21-24

Second Lesson:  2 Timothy 4:1-5a

Gospel Lesson:  John 14:1-6

Sermon Text:  2 Timothy 4:1-5a

If you have been with us the past few weeks, you know the different things we talked about that you never want your pastor to say. Two weeks ago, it was simply, “No!” We may want something that isn’t right OK’ed and sanctioned by a pastor, but our pastor, for our good, must stand on God’s Word and call a spade a spade. Last week it was more personal – “You go talk to them.” Whether it is someone who has faded away from church or is caught in a sin, it is the job of all Christians – pastors and members alike – to reach out in love. I have heard from a few people the past few weeks, and probably the word that was most often used was “uncomfortable.” One person said, “I knew for weeks I should reach out to that guy. Your sermon made me uncomfortable, but in a good way. It got me off my rear end and I gave the person a call.”
Well, if the last two weeks were about being uncomfortable, I don’t know what to say about today. Let’s paint a picture. A few months ago, new neighbors moved in - a young couple with 2 little ones. You got to know them, and one day, while grilling out, you made the leap and invited them to church. You talked to them about how being in church is comforting, encouraging, uplifting, and all that good stuff. You mentioned your pastor might be one of the nicest people you know (I hope). And you told them you think they’d enjoy it too. Two weeks later, they say they are coming. This is a big deal. You found out neither of them attended church in the past. And, when the discussion turned to spiritual matters, you noticed they sucked up a lot of what the world teaches about religion – everyone worships the same God, it doesn’t matter your beliefs if you’re sincere, etc. That night you go to bed and pray the service/message will be exactly what they need to hear.
Then comes Sunday. You all walk in. People are friendly and make them feel welcome. OK so far. We sing hymns that are beautiful and powerful. You even notice the wife tapping her foot. Then comes the sermon. What is the first line out of the pastor’s mouth? What is the one thing you were praying he would not say? “Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is with a heavy heart that I say this, but… so many churches, even churches that call themselves Christian, are just, plain wrong.”
Would you feel uncomfortable? Maybe. But if you brought guests and that’s my 1st line, I think more likely you’d be mortified. Why? Because saying that others have it wrong makes us sound like we are better than everyone else. It sounds like we are getting into petty little fights about this matter of doctrine or that teaching. And it is the complete opposite of what the world (and your newfound friends) believe. Everything is relative, we are told. Believe what you want to believe, we are told. Your truth may not be his truth which may not be her truth, we are told. To bluntly say that is not the case, that there is truth, and that we hold to it – especially if you brought friends, that is something you don’t want your preacher to say.
Now change the scenario a bit. It’s just you or just you and your family. No visitors in your row. Isn’t a part of you still squeamish about that saying, that others have it wrong? Doesn’t a part of you think, “Who are we to be judging everyone else?” Does a part of you feel arrogant thinking that? And is there a small part of you that has in a small way bought into what the world has said, that every church and every religion has some element of truth, but no one can claim to have the whole truth? Down in your heart, isn’t that something you don’t want me to say - we have it right and others have it wrong?
Maybe. But I’ll say it, like it or not. We have the truth. I could back that up lots of ways, and we’ll talk about that more in a second, but let me ask a question. If you struggle with that statement, that we have it right, the question is: Why are you here then? If you’re not firmly convinced what we preach/teach is only the truth of God’s Word, why wouldn’t you go elsewhere? After all, no one likes to be lied to or mislead. If you balk at the statement that we only preach truth, that must mean you think I’m lying to you or that we’re just misguided. Either way, why would you stick around? Why come here?
Now, that is a rational argument. Of course, we can do better than that. And the better is the foundation of our truth – God’s Word. Paul is writing to Timothy, who was a young pastor. He didn’t have a ton of experience and false teachers were all over the place leading people astray. What does Paul say? “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge.” Notice the tone here, the seriousness. Paul is calling Timothy to take an oath and reminding him he will have to answer to God for his ministry.
Having set that tone, he continues. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” The preach the word part of that is obvious. What Timothy teaches and preaches MUST be based on all of God’s Word. And how is he to use that Word? One way is to encourage. That makes sense. When people come to me with a specific struggle, we spend time finding encouragement in the Word. But notice the other two uses – rebuking and correcting. Who do you rebuke and correct? Someone who is wrong/in error, who has bought into something untrue. Get what Paul is saying? “Preach the truth and only the truth, and use that truth to, in a gentle, loving way, set them straight.” Paul is clearly making the point that there is truth and falsehood, right and wrong.
And he makes that point in an even stronger way by looking at the flip side of the coin. He says, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” “The time will come…” Paul says. Isn’t that time here? I am guessing you guys don’t pay as much attention as I do to what is coming out of pulpits around the country. That is sort of my job. There are some consistent, general themes. One is a prosperity gospel – if you give to God with a right heart he will return way more than you gave. There a lot of churches involved in the liberation movement – the idea that Jesus freed us to make life a paradise on earth and social justice and government is how to bring about that paradise. The other big one is an “anything goes” theology. Believe what you want to believe since there are no standards. Just be a nice person and do good things. Those are the big three right now.
Why are they successful? Because they speak to the cravings of the sinful heart. Who doesn’t want to hear that the more you give to God (and usually money is the only thing mentioned), the more you will get back? Who doesn’t want to hear that heaven can be found on this earth? Who doesn’t want to hear that anything they want to do or believe is absolutely fine and dandy? There is a reason these three are popular. It is what people, or as Paul says, “itching ears” want to hear.
Here’s the rub. Does God anywhere in the Bible promises 135% return on our financial offerings? Does he tell us to work so earth can be like Eden again? Does he allow us to believe what we want, as if there is no standard or norm? Nope. Not at all. Not one bit. What is being preached is a confusing myth at best and a lie at worst. How do I know that? Same reason you do. Because it did not originate in God or in his Word. It originated in the heart of a sinfully imperfect person.
And here is the worst part – does any of that help those who hear it in the long run? If I preach you can get rich by trying to out give God, and even if you do get rich, does that secure your eternal future? If I preach we need to work hard to achieve this paradise, even if we get to that point, does that do anything about a conscience loaded down with the guilt of past sins and current ones? If I preach it is a moral free-for-all, is that going to give you confidence as your face your own mortality, peace as you face huge issues, and a sense of godly purpose as you live out your life? No. All this will only leave you feeling empty. Empty, because stuff and money fades and has its limitations in the joy it can bring. Empty, because plenty of people have tried the Utopia idea and all thus far have failed. And empty, because being your own god – dictating right and wrong – is not what you need. You know you need a God to save you from yourself, just as I do.
See now why we must base all we believe/teach on the Word? See now why we have to be able to honestly say that anyone who preaches something other than the Word has it wrong? It’s because everything is wrong. It’s man-focused. It’s man-obsessed. It’s man-created. And if there is one thing man is good at, it’s screwing things up.
But there is something else we need to focus on here. If we stop now, it comes across arrogantly. “We have the truth. You don’t. We’re better.” And the point is maybe best addressed by some questions. What are we going to do with that truth? What are we going to do with the truth of God’s Word, a truth he led us to believe and accept as truth? Are we going to hide it? Are we going to keep a low profile because to say that you have found absolute truth in religion will cause you to be mocked or look arrogant? Are we going to waffle and give in?
Once more to our text. After talking about how the world will make its own truth or follow someone else’s invented truth, Paul says this to Timothy: “But you, keep your head in all situations.” Keep your head. What does that mean? It means stand firm. It means don’t listen to all that other garbage. It means staying rooted in God’s Word. And it means being a witness to that truth. We do that when we are not afraid to engage people on what God’s Word really does say. We do that when we buck back against what is accepted as fact by the world, be it about creation, abortion, or what truth really is. We do that when we teach our kids and grandkids what we’ve been taught, preparing the next generation as the previous generation prepared us. If you want more guidance in any of those areas, find me after the service or shoot me an email.
And above all, why do we stand firm? That the forgiving love of Christ might be known by more and more people. That the sad truth of sin is realized and the glorious truth of a Savior from that sin is understood. That people stop focusing solely on this life and lift their eyes to the home in heaven a crucified and risen Jesus won for them. That people are able to rest each night and wake each day as we do: confident of our place in God’s family, certain about his blessings throughout the day, and joyous that he will work all things for our good, now and in eternity.
I know the phrase does sound kind of bad – “Everybody else is wrong.” But if everybody else is teaching what is contrary to the Word, that does get the point across. But maybe we can focus on the positive. We can say this to people. “I know the truth. It is not my truth. I didn’t come up with it or even discover it. It is God’s truth. He brought me to it and led me to believe it. And that truth comforts, encourages, reassures, and blesses me every day in ways I never imagined. And it will comfort, encourage, reassure, and bless me in the greatest way possible when my time here is up and my Lord calls me to the home Jesus won for me. That’s the truth. Want to hear more about it?” Amen.