Yesterday, by, through, and in unity with the power of modern technology, I listened to an eclectic mix of sermon podcasts. A preacher with a southern dialectical swagger spoke more of football than he did of Jesus. He summarized the Gospel as if it were some kind of post-game victory dance. A Jesus jitterbug. He said Jesus came to free us from the drudgery of life, the pain of failure.
He was not alone. Sermon after sermon, preacher after preacher, the messages continued. “Are you living in blessing?” they asked. Some were more covert–“are you walking in obedience to Christ; have you ever walked in His favor?” For the most part, the preachers failed to define either obedience or favor. Instead, they resorted to emotional, tautological double-speak.
As if Christ the transfigured can be summed up without proper effort.
Even with proper effort, I reckon the summing up of Christ will have to wait until I see the fire in his heart. Or maybe just the nail-scars in his hands.
I snuck from the office with a good friend. He’s a linear fella, a logical man who knows when to speak and when to hold his tongue. He’s had a spiritual awakening of sorts and it’s come at the perfect time. He’s on the uptick and dragging me with him.
We talked about modern preaching and the fundamental shifts in the expressions of the church. “Did you hear about the church meeting in the bar that straddles the Florida/Alabama state line?” he asked. I told him I hadn’t. “The bar tender says that some congregants order bloody Marys as soon as they walk into the sanctua… er… bar. Oddly, they serve grape juice for communion.”
“Of course they do,” I said. “I reckon we over-contextualize everything.”
We sat for a few minutes and he read to me from his journal. “I’m not a writer,” he said, “so don’t hold the style against me.” He then proceeded to read one of the most thoughtful and well-written pieces about prayer and suffering. “What if God’s best for me is not the ‘best’ as I see it,” he read, “will I still give God glory and see him as good?”
When he finished, I put words to the practicalities of that kind of theology. “The way I see it, there are two God-options. Either God is completely and all-together good–whether in loss or victory–or He is heedless and improvident.”
I thought about that statement on the drive home last night. I’ll choose to believe in God’s goodness, even when my life doesn’t seem victorious. I’d rather serve a God of purpose than one of occasional and perfunctory niceties.
The boys greeted me at the door with their usual “Daddy” war-cry. I fought my way through hugs and clamorous day-long narrations and found Amber on the far side of the kitchen. She hugged me. I patted her rear.
On my way to the closet, my phone alerted me of a waiting email. I changed clothes and checked the message. It was from Jordan and Keri Clark, friends of ours from college. Emails from them are holy experiences, moments that require a pause and a deep breath.
Jordan and Keri have lost two children to a rare genetic disease. We’ve followed news of their losses over the years, watched as they’ve patiently and faithfully served the God who could have healed, but didn’t. The substance of the email is personal, but I will tell you this–Jordan and Keri see God as abiding in love, kind, and merciful.
Some might lament their lot, say it’s tragic. I see their lot, the way they’ve used it to become more conformed into the recognizable image of Christ, and I say they are beautiful.
If only I had the courage to ask for that kind of conformity.
Modern preacher, don’t talk to me about victorious living. I’m done with that pipe-dream. Speak of contentment in plenty and want, pain and suffering. Preach Christ-esteem, conformity, sanctification. Show me mercy, grace in action. Bring me a cup of cold water. Share your journal with me. Send me an encouraging email.
Then, I’ll listen.