Frostbitten Hearts

“And because of lawlessness the love of many will grow cold”
(Matthew 24:12)

Brace yourselves!  The forecast for this coming weekend in the Sioux Falls area is for bitterly cold temperatures, lows around -20, with highs only at 0.  That’s just cold!  Plus, the wind will no doubt be blowing, expected winds of 22mph, so the wind chill will around -50.  At that temp, its not just the nose hairs you have to worry about.  Prolonged exposure to those temperatures can quickly lead to frostbite and breathing the air at 50 below can do serious damage to your lungs.  I don’t know what the word will be on whether or not we’ll have church Sunday morning, but if you don’t have to go out in that cold, don’t.

I read on the mayo clinic that Frostbite can occur rapidly in these conditions.  The risk of frostbite “increases as air temperature falls below 5 F, even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.”  With the expected wind chill around -50, frostbite can develop after only 5 minutes of exposure.

The danger of frostbite is that you first lose the sensation of feeling before the damage is done.  You don’t know you have it until it is too late.  If not addressed, frostbite can lead to deep tissue damage, changes in the cartilage between the joints (frostbite arthritis), infection, gangrene, which is the decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the affected area.  Frostbite can also lead to hypothermia, where the body’s temperature drops to dangerous levels, cause a malfunction of the heart, nervous system and other organs; eventually leading to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.  So for goodness sake, stay inside and stay warm.

But as you are warming yourselves by the fire, bundled under the blankets, stop to consider the warmness of your heart.  We know the dangers of prolonged exposure to the cold and biting wind, but the hazards of a cold and bitter heart are just as deadly.  A cold heart that does not love has many of the same characteristics as frostbitten skin:

  • It is hardened: A cold heart does not move or feel for the needs of others,
  • It is infectious: A cold and unloving heart spreads easily, tearing others down and encouraging the same attitude in others,
  • It is gangrenous: A cold heart destroys relationships, crushes spirits, blocks any healthy growth,
  • It is deadly: When Christians harbor coldness in their hearts, when Churches are cold and unloving, it leads to a complete failure of all the vital ministries. Cold hearts kill churches.

Jesus talked about this when He warned His disciples of the coming persecution, saying that “many will fall away and betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).  In Revelation, this is the charge against the church in Ephesus, “but this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

A church, a Christian, that does not love does not know love, does not know God (1 John 4:8).  A church, a Christian, whose heart has grown cold and unloving harbors a bitterness and unforgiving attitude that will lead to death.

So what can you do to warm the cold, cold heart?

First, keep close to the source of heat.   Stay in the Word of God.  Look there to read of and know of His great love for you in Jesus Christ.  God’s word is the revelation of His love, and by His Holy Spirit His word brings life, and love, to our hearts.

In the story of the Emmaus Road, the two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus, their hearts heavy and broken because of the death of their savior.  Jesus met them on the road, but they did not recognize Him.  As they walked, He taught them from the scriptures all that was said about the Christ.  After they had broken bread together, and the eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw Jesus, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us… while he opened to us the Scriptures?  If you want your heart to burn for the Lord once again, turn to His word.

Second, walk in the light of Christ’s presence.  Even when it is bitterly cold outside, the warmth of the sun light pouring into your windows is a source of heat and comfort.  John says,  “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Closeness with Christ comes through resting in His completed work for us, in daily fellowship with Him, and in submission to His word.

Finally, kindle the love in your heart by turning to your brother and sister in loving service.  The best cure for a cold heart is love – actual, tangible, expressions of love.  1 Peter 1:22 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.”  That word earnestly means “fervently, sincerely, genuinely,” some translations have even said “love each other with a warm heart.”

Expressions of love have a tendency to grow love, to break the cold and unfeeling heart.  What does this look like?  Send someone a card saying that you have been praying for them or thank them for something they’ve done.  If you’re able, shovel someone’s driveway, or take them a batch of warm brownies.  Invite your neighbor into your home for a cup of coffee and catch up on their life.  An expression of love doesn’t have to be a grand costly gift, but it will change your world, and theirs.

Stay warm this week, and warm your hearts with an earnest love for one another.

SDG

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