“When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.”
(1 Kings 6:7)
When the first temple was constructed in Jerusalem, King Solomon gave orders that the stones to be used should be prepared at the quarry and not at the building site (1 Kings 5:17-18). There would be no loud banging of tools echoing through the temple as it went up. There is something striking about that. The quietness of it makes me think of words like reverence and respect. The noise made by mere creatures would not fill the air in the building of the house dedicated to the Creator’s name.
The 21st-Century American church seems far removed from the quietness of such respect. When we gather in our local versions of the Lord’s house, we often fill the air with the sounds of our self-promoting voices. We promote our superior worship services and children’s ministries and all the other things we offer. Of course, it is helpful for members and attenders to know what is going on–what ministries are available for them. But there is a line we sometimes cross where we move from being informative to making a sales pitch. “Check out all the things we have to offer, and you are sure to want to stay with us rather than some other church.” We become fine with the idea of other churches losing people that we might gain them. How much of the noise in the sanctuary is devoted to such self-promotion?
I never heard any of this in the church when I was growing up. What I did hear in the sanctuary on the occasions where I arrived early was music playing quietly as people sat and prepared their hearts for worship. I don’t think I appreciated that beautiful quietness back then. But there is something about quieting ourselves in reverent respect for God that can turn our thoughts away from ourselves and onto a contemplation of His glory and of how that glory is why we are here.
Every life–even the great lives–eventually becomes a testimony to the effects of sin upon this world. A case in point is King David. His was a life of great success and strong victories. God chose him as a boy to one day become King of Israel. Prior to becoming King, he would become a great warrior for God’s people, gaining numerous victories on the battlefield, including his most famous victory over the huge, battle-hardened Philistine warrior named Goliath. David would eventually succeed Saul as King and, while not perfect, would be a great King who generally reflected the heart of God. He is one of history’s examples of a great and successful man.
As great as David was, though, his life, too, would reach the point of being a testimony to the effects of sin upon this world. In the opening four verses of 1 Kings, we see David as an old man. This once great warrior and leader is now so frail that those close to him commission a young woman to lie at his bosom to keep him warm. While our modern minds might immediately think of this commission in terms of something sexual, the text makes it clear that it was not that. David simply needed a warm body to lie with him that he might be able to get warm. The once vigorous King was nearing death.
Death exists because of sin (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:19; Rom. 6:23). Whether we die young and unexpectedly or waste away to death at a good, old age, we all die. Hence, we all become testimonies to the ultimate effect of sin on this world–death.
But praise Jesus! He has overcome sin and death by taking our sin upon Himself, dying in our place on a cross, and rising from the dead victorious over sin and the grave. He gives that victory to everyone who believes on Him for it. Have you believed on Him as your Savior?
Our bodies may be declining, and we may all be heading toward our eventual death, but if our hope is in what Jesus has won for us, death will not have the last word. “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28).
I am sometimes surprised by how quickly the joys to be experienced in this world can fade. For instance, I think back to a day when, after more than forty years of playing golf, I finally holed out a full-swing shot from the fairway. I instinctively extended both arms straight up and let out a big “Woohoo!” I was excited to tell my wife about it a few minutes later, but the thrill of it had already begun to fade. It didn’t take long for that “woohoo” moment to become just another story to tell.
I remember years ago driving my wife and kids in a Ryder truck packed with all our belongings into Western Massachusetts to begin my first pastorate. The area is very beautiful, and I remarked to Nancy at the time that we were moving to a vacation paradise. But it didn’t take long for all that beauty to seem common – to become a barely-noticed background to our lives.
Have you ever had a meal in a restaurant that you were certain was the best meal you had ever eaten, and the next time you went to that restaurant you ordered the same meal and found it to be good, but not magically good like it had been before?
We humans seem to be constantly on a quest for the thrill, the joy, the satisfaction that lasts, only to discover time and again that the things this world has to offer–even the best of things–do not bring constant joy. And so we go looking for more, searching for something that satisfies and never fades, like Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstopper. But Willy Wonka is not real, and unfading joy does not exist in the things of this world.
There is something, though, that is new every morning:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Great is Your faithfulness!
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul.
“Therefore, I will hope in Him.”
(Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV)
The key is in making the LORD your portion–the Place where you seek satisfaction–the One who fills you up. The world’s offerings are like bags of chips; you keep shoveling them into your mouth but are never satisfied. The LORD is like three hearty, nutritious meals, and when you get up in the morning, the table is set for a new day. When you know Him through faith in Jesus, spend time with Him through prayer, learn from Him through the Bible, and walk with Him in obedience and ongoing confession of sin, the world may still knock you down, but the LORD will pick you up–He will lift you up–He will fill you up–day after day after day.
The biblical calling for the pastor is not to be a vision-caster, not to create a bunch of stuff for people to do and then badger them into doing it, and not to grow the church numerically. Those are all methods of business, developed to make money and often by men who do not know the Lord. Why has the church in so many places carved into stone these unbiblical ideas of the pastorate? A pastor is to feed people the Word of God, to point them to Jesus in all things, and to equip them for ministry into which the Lord Himself will call them. It is Jesus who builds His church at His discretion.
(Matthew 16:18; John 21:15-19; Ephesians 4:11-16)
” . . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the Body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
For a church to become mature, it is essential that it be a place where the truth is spoken in love. Without this, a church will never become what God would have it to be.
Sadly, what so often happens in the Church is that we want to be affirmed. We may recoil at the suggestion that there is some sin in our lives that needs to be addressed and become offended if someone should tell us what we need to hear. But limiting our speech–from the pulpit or otherwise–to words of affirmation alone does not lead to growth and maturity. Doing so allows sin to take root in our lives and do its destructive, deadening work. This is the danger in expecting love without truth.
The Church has also been known to err to the opposite extreme. For instance, preaching has a sometimes-well-earned reputation for thundering out truth judgmentally and with no hint of love. Those who stick around for such preaching may either become self-deprecating punching bags, certain of their wormlike worth, or find themselves morphing into Pharisees with pointing fingers and hawk-like eyes for seeing the faults in others. When that happens, it is not only from the pulpit that loveless truth will flow. Rather, it will become the culture of such a church.
If the Church is to be what Christ wants His Church to be (and it is His Church), we must avoid these extremes and speak the truth in love. In doing so, we lovingly help one another along on this journey of faith, saying what needs to be said only for the sake of building one another up toward maturity in Christ. This enables each of us to be enlightened to our blind spots and to come to terms with our flaws and our sin and allow the Lord to transform us as we humbly submit to His spiritual surgery. Only then will each part of the Body of Christ work properly, which is essential to seeing “the Body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
What a privilege it is to walk into a new year with Jesus. The year is sure to bring the usual difficulties, disappointments, and crises, but Jesus will be right there with me through all of them, as He will with you, if you know Him. And if we should not make it to 2019, it will mean that we have gone to our true home with Him.
One of the themes that is often at the forefront of my mind and turns up frequently in my sermons is that, when we are with Him in eternity, all of the things that beset us in life–things that cause some to walk away from Him–will prove to have been worth enduring with Him and for Him. May we who know Jesus not wander from the path this year. May we not step off of the firm Foundation. May we not let any deep darkness that may seem to enshroud us along the way keep us from seeing the light beyond the darkness–the light that is Jesus Himself.
And to any who read this who do not yet know Him, may you sense His tug at your heart and come to embrace Him as your Savior. For He died to pay the penalty for your sins against God, and He rose from the grave to conquer sin and death. He holds out a gift to you: the gift of eternal life, and He beckons you to receive it by faith.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
[DISCLAIMER: I realize “Hollywood” is not an individual, but I use the term as such in the way many people do: to speak of an approach to film making that seems to be acceptable to the powers that be in the Hollywood movie-making industry.]
I recently watched an excellent movie called “The Finest Hours” about the most daring successful small boat rescue mission in US Coast Guard history. Four men went out on a small boat in 60-to-70-foot waves during a nor’easter to save some men who were stranded on an oil tanker that had split in half. It happened in 1952.
As these four heroes navigated the seas that could easily have killed them, they sang a song to calm their nerves. In the movie, they sang a seafaring song. In real life, they sang the hymn “Rock of Ages.”
According to an article at time.com (http://time.com/4197131/the-finest-hours-true-story), “[w]ith some exceptions for the sake of dramatic tension and concise storytelling, the script largely sticks to its source material, Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s 2010 book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.” The linked article’s comparisons of key moments from the actual rescue mission to their portrayals in the film reveals this movie to have done a better job of telling the true story than most films seem to do. But why change the song the men sang? That does nothing to help the storytelling process.
This is what Hollywood so often does. They create a world in which true, dependent faith in God does not exist in normal people, and especially not in heroes. In this view of the world, only those on the fringe have any real relationship with Jesus; those with a faith that actually affects things like morality, decision making, and life goals are typically viewed as extremists. The changing of the song in this particular film is but one example of that. Why change the song when so much of the script remained true to the events as they actually happened? Nothing is done in the making of a film without there being a reason for doing it, so what was the reason for this?
I suspect that most movie goers would have no problem with a genuine Christian being portrayed as such–they would have no issue with four men singing a hymn to God as a means of steeling their courage–as long as those movie goers don’t feel like they’re being fed propaganda. However, they actually are being fed propaganda., and years of such feedings seem to have resulted in a culture wherein the younger people who were raised with this propagandist view of “reality” have come to believe it actually is reality.
As a person whose life is built upon faith in Jesus and knows what He can do when a life is surrendered to Him, I am saddened by what Hollywood’s typical portrayal of faith unknowingly has in store for culture and for the destinies (both temporal and eternal) of individuals. A culture that removes God from its consciousness is a culture that will end up groping in dark enslavement. But Jesus is the Light, and embracing His truth will set you free. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only way to God (John 14:6). He changes lives for the better, and He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him. Sadly, many have been conditioned to get the “heebie jeebies” around anyone who would speak of such things, things that have long been prominent in Western culture.
Hollywood has been a big part of my life. Going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do. But, with few exceptions, its portrayals of God and those who know Him through faith in Jesus are largely inaccurate. Maybe Hollywood filmmakers are just not any better at telling that true story than they are of telling most other true stories.