Bemoaning Inconsistency

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
(Colossians 3:2–3)

Sometimes it is really amazing – and desperately heartbreaking – how people will justify sin and ungodliness and see no contradiction with their Christian testimony.

I may have matured (or devolved, whichever your perspective) from being a “snarky Presbyterian pastor” to a full-fledged irascible and peevish grump – and that’s something that I guess I’ll have to deal with – but seriously folks there are just certain things that as Christians we should know better.

Here’s my list of grievances for the week:

  • Christians and 50 Shades – Folks, the book and the movie are straight-up porn, there’s no way around it. The book (and I’ll admit I haven’t read it, nor do I intend to) glamorizes an unhinged sexual lifestyle that includes bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. I hear women claim that it can spice up the romance with their husbands – but I wonder, is that what they want from them? If that’s the case, do they let their husbands subscribe to Hustler?

Just today I read an argument for the moral  equivalency between 50 Shades and the Song of Solomon in Scripture. Are we seriously to compare the literary values of the Song of Solomon – the love song between a husband and a wife of exclusive passion, pleasure, and purity in one another – with the aggressive erotic exploits of unmarried and uncommitted individuals? It would be one thing to hear this kind of equivocation from someone hostile to the Christian faith, but this was coming from a professed believer.  Sigh!

By the way – that noise you are hearing is me banging my head on the desk.

  • Take Me to Church – I will readily admit that my iTunes music library could use a going over. There are some songs which, carrying over from my teenage years, are fun to listen to, but I don’t think I’d want my kids to come up to me and recite the lyrics.

That being said, there is a video circulating of a Presbyterian pastor doing a cover of Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church.”  Just looking at the title, you might ask, Well, what’s so wrong with that?  Then you read the lyrics:

My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner

My Church offers no absolutes
She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom.’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you—

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

I heard this song on the radio once and knew it was not something I needed to hear again.  For a Pastor to express his enthusiasm, and even do a cover of a song that supplants the worship of God with the worship of sex is just mind-boggling.  What’s next?  Shall we reopen the office of Temple Prostitutes?  I can grant someone might hum along with the tune – it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.  But once you’ve read the words, wouldn’t you think, especially as a pastor, that at some point you might stop and say, Maybe this isn’t consistent with the gospel that I’m preaching…  Then again, maybe it is.

  • Facebook Assassinations – I don’t really know how else to describe it.  It is sad when Christians go to social media (Facebook, Twitter) and openly berate, slander, and ridicule others. We mock and deride our president, our congressmen, or teachers or school administrators, our brothers and sisters in Christ without any thought or regard to how our words kill and destroy. “Christians” have launched campaigns to impugn and destroy the reputation of others, never knowing or attempting to understand all the facts, or to work toward reconciliation and restoration. It is an assassination attempt, for Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment.”

To paraphrase Darth Vader, “I find your lack of consistency disturbing.”

VaderAs Christians, we have by definition died to sin, and are alive in Christ.  We are, therefore, called to set our minds on things above, to set our minds on Christ.  The movies we watch, the songs we listen to, the way we speak to and treat one another – these are to be influenced by the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ.  We live because he lives in us. That’s not to say that the only book we can read is the Bible, but we should ensure that what we read uplifts and encourages our walk with Christ.  We don’t have to listen only to hymns and spiritual songs, but we must discern whether the music that we’re listening to is glorifying to God and promoting holiness?  To live consistent with our faith does not mean that we cannot be critical of those in authority over us, but it does mean that we will be prayerful, respectful, and ultimately, that we will “seek to outdo one another showing honor.”

If you know that your life is hidden in Christ, then you will set your mind on the things of Christ, and not on the things of this world.  The truth of your life in Christ will radically transform everything else you do.

So I guess I’ll end with, of all things, a quote from the Presbyterian Book of Order, which states:

That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

How Long Was That Sermon?

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching..”
(2 Timothy 4:2)

This week I posted a question on two different Facebook discussion groups to which I belong, asking about the average length of their (or their pastor’s) sermons.  The resulting conversations were interesting, and I thought I would share with you some of my observations.

  • Never ask a Pastor’s Discussion Group a question unless you are prepared for a lot of answers. There is an old adage, “never give a pastor a microphone unless you’ve got 20 minutes to spare.”  That lesson came home this week.  I posted my question about the length of sermons on a Monday morning, and by early that afternoon, I had over 200 responses.  My phone, my tablet, and my computer all kept chirping away to let me know I had received a new message.  It sounded like a flock of birds had moved into my office.
  • Some People really need to Relax. The question I asked was innocent enough, “How long are your sermons?”  Most pastors, and many laypeople, responded just saying approximately how long the sermons lasted.  Others, however, took the opportunity to hijack the discussion forum into a diatribe about how long (or short) a sermon should be.  “If you can’t preach for more than 30 minutes, then perhaps preaching isn’t your gift.”  Yes, that was actually said.  “If you can’t say it in less than 15 minutes, then it doesn’t need to be said.”  That was said, too.  Heated arguments erupted over “catering” to the congregation’s attention span or caving to worldly pressures; snarky comments were posted comparing people’s willingness to sit through a 2 hour movie or game and their rejection of worship lasting more than 1 hour.  It was disturbing to note the lack of humility and graciousness demonstrated in the conversations.  IT’S A FACEBOOK DISCUSSION FOLKS – RELAX!

Now on to the actual question:

  • The responses on sermon lengths were vastly different based on the group responding. The first group I asked is a discussion group of rather conservative PCUSA pastors.  Sermon times reported there ranged from 15 to 30 minutes, with the average being about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how much is scheduled for the worship service that day (baptism, communion, etc.).
    The other group I asked is not specifically Presbyterian, but is a group of Reformed (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) believers from all over the US, pastors and layman alike.  The overwhelming response from this group reported 40 to 50 minute sermons.  Their worship services lasted over an hour, with the sermon being the central part of the service.
    Just to share where I come in – my sermons, on the average, are about 18 to 22 minutes long, including the Scripture reading and prayers.  I don’t intentionally time them, but each week I have to take the recording of the sermon, and edit it down for our 15 minute radio broadcast.
  • One of my favorite comments was this one:
    “When I was a kid, our pastor’s response to people who were chronic complainers, including opinions about sermon length, was this: “Sermonettes make Christianettes.” I guess those folks needed to hear hour long sermons. Anyways, he never caved.  I actually listened to him from about 5th grade on. His sermons were shorter than any class I had in school and about the same length as Gilligan’s Island. I was convicted at an early age that if I complained about sermon length, I would sound stupid.”

The overall lesson is this: Preaching should explain and apply the meaning of the Bible.  The sermon ought to deliver the truth of God, not give the preacher’s opinion on current events, or pass along the latest self-help ideas.  Every sermon should explain the Bible and then apply it to people’s lives.

My preaching may not conclude with an overtly practical application.  You will not often hear “because of this, we need to do this.”  Rather, my hope is that through the sermon I may show and celebrate in the glory of God revealed to us through His Word, that we might grow in the likeness of Christ together.  This may not be immediately practical, but I pray that it is eternally helpful.  Whether my preaching takes 15 minutes, or whether it lasts an hour, the Word of God must be read, taught, and applied to our hearts for our salvation and for God’s glory.

SDG