Just Give A Good Sermon Please

Is God behind your sermon? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

During this past week, I caused a controversy on my Facebook page over this idea I am writing about. My friend Brian Chilton over at Bellator Christi disagreed with me on this. My stance is the idea of Christians hearing from God is not normative. He disagrees. We’re planning on having a written debate on this. While we do disagree, we disagree as fellow Christians and want to build up one another’s ministries still.

As a seminary student, I hear several sermons. As a Christian, I have heard them all my life. I am also often on the lookout for evangelical catchphrases as it were. These are things we say that can make us sound spiritual, but I think do more harm than good.

One such statement I hear from many pastors is in some way attributing their sermons to God. They will say that God laid this on their heart or that God revealed this to them in the Bible or any number of things. The idea strikes me as saying “This isn’t just me saying this. This is God. You’d better pay attention.”

I don’t think many would be so brazen, but if that’s not what the words mean, then what do they mean?

Now suppose one of you says “Well, there was one time someone gave me a specific word of knowledge that I am certain came from God as no one else could have known X about my life.”

I am not saying that cannot happen. God will do what He wants. I am saying it is not normative. I have a number of concerns with this kind of talking.

For one thing, I think we wind up treating God too casually. I have no reason to think God will fill in for pastors when they don’t do the work of preparing a good sermon. It often treats God as if He were on speed-dial or something.

Second, consider Pastor A is at a church that is heavily Calvinistic. He’s preaching today on the sovereignty of God and God gave Him a message about how He universally selected the elect to be saved and we need to get rid of this idea that our free-will is what saves us. It is all God from beginning to end.

Pastor B is at another church that is heavily Arminian. He’s preaching on the role of God in evangelism and saying God gave Him a message on how we need to appeal to the free-will of people we are evangelizing to. We need to let them know they have a choice.

At least one of these two people is wrong.

Third, if we have young Christians in the audience, they can think something is wrong with them if they’re not hearing from God when everyone around them seems to be doing so. What is wrong with me? Why am I not having this experience? Does God not really love me? Maybe I’m not really a Christian.

Fourth, we tend to become very egotistical with this kind of approach. It’s all about what God has for me. How about what we have for God? It can lead to so many people trying to interpret every event in their life as if it is a coded message from God. I remember my ex-wife would used to get so caught up in wondering what a dream she had meant.

I would tell her, “Honey. If you spent as much time trying to interpret Scripture, which you know is from God, as you do these dreams, which you don’t know are from God, you would be far better off.” I stand by that today. People often read personal events or sometimes global events trying to find a hidden message from God.

Remember the talk about the blood moons years ago? What happened? Nothing. There was also the fear over Rosh Hashanah that one year. What happened? Nothing.

If only Christians got as excited about reading their Bibles as they did this stuff.

This brings us to the fifth concern. For my readers who are Protestants, we often say we are Sola Scriptura. The Bible is the final authority. We don’t go with a Pope who claims to speak for God ex Cathedra.

Except many of us claim to do just that. We claim we have something that God has told us. The end result often is we neglect the study of the Scriptures to pay more attention to what God has for us today.

A sixth concern is people can make foolish and major decisions because they think God is telling them something. How many of us have heard stories about a couple getting married not knowing what they were doing because God told one of them they were to be married? It happens. Meanwhile, I still remember back in the days of chat rooms seeing a girl once who talked about all her life how she wanted to be a missionary. When asked why she didn’t go, she said “I wasn’t called.”

This was a woman then who had a heart for the lost and wanted to serve people and yet didn’t go out and try because she didn’t receive some “call.” Never mind that when Paul tells Timothy the criteria for deacons in the church, being called is not one of them. When he goes on his second missionary journey, there’s no indication that Silas was called to join Paul. There’s not even a word from God to go on the journey! Paul just suggests they do so!

So pastors out there, when you claim God has shown you something or told you something, I immediately get skeptical. (And 1 Kings 13 gives me good grounds for that!) You see, if your message is good and if it is true, does that change somehow if you say “God gave it to me?”

On the other hand, if your message has problems in it and you attribute it to God, then you have attributed error to God. You have said that God has revealed, shown, spoken, etc., when He has done none of those things. That is dangerous territory.

The solution is really simple. Just work on your sermon and give it. Be hesitant to claim to speak for God. If you are right, it doesn’t change the truth content. If you are wrong, then you can be making false attribution to God and/or leading people into error with divine authority.

It’s not worth the risk.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)


Are We Really People of the Book?

Do we who are Protestants really go by the book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was explaining to someone recently that my spiritual walk as an evangelical is very different from most of my fellow evangelicals. I don’t believe in ideas of feeling led or a call to preach as being normative. I don’t deny that God can do what He wants, but I always have to ask, “What does Scripture say?”

I see my fellow Protestants going on and on about how the Bible is central to our faith and practice. I agree with that. What confuses me is when it comes to this idea of how we live our day-to-day lives, it seems that our experiences rank above what Scripture says. If you want to know how someone knows that being called is a Biblical concept or how to know if a feeling is from God, they will point to experiences.

Now someone can ask “Well what about someone like Saul on the road to Damascus.” Sorry, but I don’t think many pastors who are in the pulpit have an experience of walking down a road, being knocked down and blinded by a light, and having the voice of God speak audibly. If anything, it’s quite arrogant to compare our experiences to Paul’s.

What do we have instead in Scripture? Let’s look at a passage like 1 Timothy 3. If anyone desires to be an overseer, he desires a good thing. In this case, it is talking about deacons in the church. The desire isn’t enough. Paul lists out the requirements. If you don’t meet them, you don’t get to be a deacon. In Titus, the same applies to elders. Paul lists the requirements for an elder and what an elder must be able to do.

Nowhere does he ask “Is the person called?”

What about something like giving to others? I remember being in a church where the pastor would regularly tell us to give as you feel led. Really? Go look at 2 Cor. 8-9. That is the longest passage we have in the New Testament about giving. Nothing is said in there about a feeling of being led. The only such similarity is that it is said that God loves a cheerful giver. Give and give joyfully. How much do you give? You use wisdom to determine that.

One of the great dangers of the normal way is that we can have any number of situations affecting our feelings at any one time. It could be that you’re hungry or that you overate. It could be that you’re sleepy. It could be you’re worried about something or you have a stomach bug or some other illness. It could be you just had a bad argument with your spouse or just spent the last hour stuck in a traffic jam.

So that system that can fluctuate on anything is also where we want to say God is telling us what to do? What on Earth happened to Scripture which is NOT like that? Are we truly people of the book?

And if we go this way, we will pay less attention to Scripture anyway. Not only that, we will give divine authorities to our inner impulses. I remember reading somewhere recently about someone talking about a program they did to service their community. It sounded like it went quite well, but what got me nervous was when they were talking about how God gave them such and such an idea.

Isn’t it presumptuous to say that God is the source of your idea? He might be, but do you want to just give divine authority to something like that? That one isn’t a Protestant thing. I’ve seen Catholics and Orthodox do the same thing.

I also think about how people talk about doing work and saying “I led so and so many people to Jesus” and then stopping and saying, “Well, no. God did it actually.” It sounds humble, but really, it isn’t. Consider 1 Cor. 9. Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means possible “I might save some.” No one thinks Paul is thinking he’s the savior of these people, well aside from ignorant Muslims and atheists who I have seen making that argument. We all know Paul is saying he is the instrument. Yes. God is at work whenever someone comes to Christ, but is it honoring to deny that God used you? Be humbled by it. Accept it and admit the reality that you are a good speaker to these people to lead them to Christ and be thankful. The false humility says that the person and their willingness ultimately doesn’t matter.

God can use you and He can use your preparation and training. If someone asks me a question today about Christianity, they might think the answer only takes a minute or two. It doesn’t. It took several years. Those are just years of having the experience of studying and knowing how to answer.

Also, another aspect of all of this is how we are in our walks with God should not be dependent on our feelings, which again fluctuate. You can be miserable and close with God and right with God. Job was. You can be happy and be far from God and not right with him. Do I need to point out how many people this can apply to today?

So what would be the standard I’d use? Beyond just asking if you hold to a biblical faith, which even the demons believe many of our core doctrines, I could add in something the demons definitely can’t do. Growing in walking like Christ and trusting in God every day. Is your day-to-day living better than it was in the past? Are you having more victory over sin? Are you loving your neighbor well?

If you base any relationship in your life on your emotions, it will be doomed to fail at some point. If you’re married, you should know this. If you’re a parent, you should definitely know this. (How many mothers wake up with joy at 3 A.M. when they have to get up the next day because their baby is crying and needs something and won’t go back to sleep until he gets it?) Emotions come and go. Enjoy and learn from them, but don’t take them as divine. They are not.

Go back to the book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Finding The Will Of God, A Pagan Notion?

What do I think of Bruce Waltke’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve long been questionable of the idea we have today of finding the will of God. I largely consider it part of the me-centered idea of Christianity. In seminary, I remember my roommate and I hearing some missionaries talk about going overseas and having people ask them questions after their lessons along the lines of “How can I hear the voice of God?” No one ever seems to question if this is a normative practice or not.

I was curious to see what Bruce Waltke would have to say about these ideas and especially any ways the pagans tried to do such things. While Waltke does have some good points in his book, it sometimes looked like the idea of a pagan notion was an add-on to get readers. There is a little book about the things pagans did to find the will of the gods, but most of the material is how Christians should make wise decisions.

There is nothing wrong with this, but I would like to have seen more. Still, Waltke does go to the right places. He takes us to Scripture and points out that we need to apply wisdom to our decisions. I find it amazing that so many people think God would give us a timeless book such as Proverbs to encourage us to make wise decisions, but then He would turn around and say, “But hey, forget all of that in the new covenant. I am going to make your decisions for you.”

Waltke is also right that too many Christians have a notion of God hiding something from them and they have to work to discover it. The very premise behind this is that God has an individual will for the life of each and every Christian. Then after that is that this will is something that we are supposed to find out. Then after that comes that if we use certain techniques we will find out what that will is. All of this is highly questionable.

I would have liked to have seen something more also on our emphasis on feelings today as determining the will of God. I recall several church services that had pastors telling me to give as a I felt led when the offering plate went around. Nothing from 2 Corinthians 8-9 is ever said about how God loves a cheerful giver. If anything, many times when the plate is passed around, many of us don’t feel like giving anything. Maybe that’s why so many people don’t and think that they can in the end justify their bad decision by doing what I call “Punting to the Holy Spirit.”

If you’ve never read something like this, Waltke’s book is good, but I think honestly a far greater treatment can be found in a work such asĀ Decision Making and the Will of God. I do still think that this is an area Christians need to really discuss. The modern paradigm seriously needs to be called into question.

In Christ,
Nick Peters