Church Life, Uncategorized

The Biggest Mistake I’ve Ever Made

You know you’ve made them. We’ve all made them.

Bad decisions.

Some decisions are bad by virtue of their nature (e.g. deciding to sin); others prove to be bad by virtue of their consequences. The biggest mistake I ever made falls into this second category.

There was a point in my life where as the spiritual head of the home I needed to decide which church our family would join. A number of options lay before us, and we visited most of them. There was one option I intentionally wrote off the list because it didn’t meet my music preferences and the people there were… well… stuck in the past. In the end we chose a church based on its friendly atmosphere, music style, and because I felt one of the leaders would be a good mentor. The preaching was not on the “pro” side of the list.

That was a huge mistake.

Now don’t get me wrong. We loved the people we got to know. I enjoyed the music. I had great ministry opportunities. The leader mentored and encouraged me and taught me valuable lessons.

But I didn’t realize that in the midst of it all we were not growing in healthy ways. Of course, we didn’t realize it at the time. We felt good about our spiritual maturity. At least I did.

And then it happened. We moved and joined another church that has a long history of good, solid, faithful expository preaching. Some might even say this church was stuck in the past in almost every way.

We felt the difference almost immediately. It’s hard to describe, but it felt like we were shriveled plants transplanted among thriving plants, and for the first time we realized how backwards our thinking really was.

As time passed I realized that I had sacrificed our spiritual health on the altar of my preferences. As the spiritual leader, I was responsible for that.

As Voddie Baucham would say, “if you can’t say ‘amen’, you oughta say ‘ouch’.”

I’m Not Alone

It’s been many years since then (can a 32-year old say that?), and I’ve realized this is one of the most common and yet serious mistakes Christians make. We frequently make significant decisions in life with no or very little regard for how it will affect us spiritually.

Moving for a great job opportunity or to move closer to family are just two situations in which Christians rarely ask, “Where will we go to church?” It’s an afterthought. You often hear them say months down the road, “Well, we still haven’t found a church we like yet.”

It doesn’t sound serious, but it is.

When God redeems a person, He immediately places them in the body of Christ. That is to say, He puts them in an organic relationship whereby they need other believers to sustain and grow their spiritual lives. More than that, the body needs them to be healthy (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). As children of God, we join a family where our relationship to our Father is dramatically and intimately affected by our relationship to our brothers and sisters. That may not be the case in our physical family, but it is in our spiritual family.

I have never come across a spiritually healthy and mature believer who was disconnected from the local church. Never.

You may think you’re an exception to the rule, but go back to my diseased plant illustration. When you’re on your own, you don’t know how sick you are because you don’ t know what true health looks like. Lone Christians have a self-created definition of spiritual health. It certainly doesn’t come from the Bible.

But let’s say you’re not a lone Christian. Let’s say you’re involved in a church, serving, giving, fellowshipping, and even learning. The tragedy is there are many sickly churches out there full of sickly Christians. Oh, they don’t look sickly. There’s a lot of activity, events, excitement, loud music, and relationship building. But they are sickly because they lack the only sustaining and nutrient-rich resource available–a consistent diet of God’s Word carefully exposited and laid to bear on the people.

There are two simple questions you can ask to determine if the preaching you’re exposed to is nutrient-rich:

  1. Does the sermon outline and major points rise out of the text, or does the sermon fall back on the text for supporting its point?
  2. Did the sermon take me back to the text’s biblical, historical, and redemptive context for understanding, and bring me forward for its significance? Or was the text quoted simply to support the point of the sermon?

Those two questions will help discern whether you’re being fed the living and active Word, or someone’s current topical interests.

Conclusion

What’s the point? Your spiritual health matters. Spiritual health is not determined by involvement, excitement, or relationships. It really comes down to the spiritual food you receive. A church can say whatever they want regarding their view of Scripture. No church ever says they have a low view of God’s Word. But you will be able to determine their view of Scripture by their teaching, their leadership structure, their philosophy of ministry, and more.

Don’t make the mistake of choosing a church based on superficial factors. Don’t make the mistake of going where there is excitement and activity and heart-warming sermons, but not in-depth teaching that raises you to higher levels of worship.

Choose carefully. Choose wisely. Don’t make the mistake I made.

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Church Life, Uncategorized

Listening Well – Introduction

Before I turn 30 I will likely have heard more sermons than my nearly 80-year old grandfather. In high school I often tuned to CSN Radio (Calvary Satellite Network), taking in three or four 30-minute sermons a day. While I attended Whatcom Community College I cared for a couple horses and heard “Grace to You” on the radio three times a week cleaning out the stalls. In college we had chapel three times a week, and during seminary we had chapel twice a week. When I obtained an MP3 player I downloaded dozens of sermons at a time and played them as I drove around. Later as a programmer, I often heard three to four sermons a day while I punched out code. And that’s all on top of the one to two sermons every Sunday since I was born.

The paragraph above is not something I’m proud of. If anything, I should be ashamed. I should be ashamed that I’ve heard that many sermons and yet know as little as I do andsin as much as I do. I heard all those sermons, but I didn’t listen to all of them. The sound of the preacher’s voice passed through my ears, but most of the time I wasn’t paying close attention. Thousands of sermons have had little lasting effect in my life. In the words of James, I’ve done a lot of hearing, and not much doing.

The issue isn’t how many sermons you’ve heard, but how well you’ve listened, understood, believed, and applied. The Bible is replete with commands to listen to God’s Word. Frequently in Matthew and Revelation the command is, “He who has ears, let him hear…” And the commands imply obedience. As James says, “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

But the problem is most of us don’t know how to do that. If you’re like me, no one has ever taught you how to listen to a sermon well. You just… sit and listen hoping something interesting comes along.

Is it really that hard? It’s harder than you think. I remember driving with a friend in college who majored in music. He was listening to a classical piece played by an orchestra. I appreciate classical music. I enjoy classical music. And I thought the piece was excellent. But my friend listened to that piece in a way I’ll never forget. With his knowledge of music, he was giddy over the intricate details and nuances of the composition. He would say, “Oh, listen to this next part… Wow that was incredible! Did you hear that minor note?” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about… to me it just sounded like a nice piece of music.

The average person on the street can enjoy good art, music, and literature. But to the trained consumer, those products of human creativity take on significance beyond what others can comprehend. In the same way, listening to sermons can reap many benefits for anyone indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But the effect is enhanced, deepened, and overflowing when heard by someone who knows how to listen well.

The purpose of the coming series of articles is to help you grow in your ability to listen and apply God’s Word well. The substance of the articles will largely be summaries of chapters from Ken Ramey’s Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010).

Whether you attend this church or another expository preaching church, my prayer is you will make the time and effort to consider and apply these helpful lessons.

One caveat is critical to understand. Don’t assume that every sermon will require a behavioral change. Sometimes—even often—the effect a sermon ought to have has more to do with changing the mind, affections, and will rather than behavior. There are countless sermons I’ve heard where my soul was stirred, my love for Christ grew, and my confidence in God and His Word strengthened. Application is not limited to outward behavior. Applying God’s Word means to allow it to have its necessary effect in your life.

I hope you’ll walk with me through this series and seek to develop a healthy appetite for God’s Word, learn to chew on it, and digest it for your good and God’s glory.

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