Monday, November 21, 2016

Acting the Part

I had a meeting with a leader of a church which I attended in the past. Unknown to me, it was an interview. He didn't tell me that in advance, so I was startled. His wrap-up statement was "We've talked thirty minutes and you haven't said anything holy." I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that this was anymore than two friends talking. His expectation was that I impress him with my talk of things holy.

I hate to admit it, but it's true. Like most people my day is made up of ordinary things with ordinary conversations. Hours go by without me even thinking about Jesus. Even with that, what I say about Jesus, I say to my secular colleagues. I don't save up holy talk to impress my Christian friends. In fact I have disdain for those who talk holy to impress others!

My point is that I try to be a genuine with my talk of Jesus. Most of my theological conversations are in private and only God is privy to them. Sometimes I tell people how gracious God has been to me and that Jesus is the only way to salvation. When God is mocked by pagans, I defend God. I must because I honor God! That is authenticity. I endeavor to magnify God, but for him, not me. I try to do it as praise, not for show.  Much of the time I am confessing my weaknesses and failures, not what I've done. Why? Christianity is not focused on me; Jesus is to be the focus.

Matthew 6:1 ( ESV) “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."
Now I change my focus from me and redirect it toward the preachers: preachers have techniques in preaching. Jesus had only one technique: he was genuine. What I mean by that is that he never put on a show. Sure he was center stage and spoke to many, but he never performed. He was always himself. Meekness was his demeanor even though he was King! He spoke softly and carried a humble stick. His was never a bully pulpit and love was the arena in which he spoke.

Surely, without an audio system he spoke at a level that others could hear, but there a few occasions when he spoke in the heat of the moment. His manner was temperate and unexcitable (except at the temple with the money-changers). Christianity is an attitude, not an emotion. Examine the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11). This is how Jesus normally preached! It was not his emotions which showed his love, but his love that he spoke with humility. He expects the same from us.
Colossians 3:12  "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience..."
Compare at how Jesus preached to preachers today. Of course they go all the way from those formal who merely read the word by ritual, to those who shout it out and wipe beads of sweat from their brow as they blast the scripture forth.

Old fashioned preachers were noted for exhorting; that is strongly urging the congregation to be righteous. There is nothing wrong with urging, but urging was often done with shouting out the words as spittle,  spreading doctrine with emotion, not spirit. Imagine Jesus using those methods. The Pharisees said that Jesus was demon possessed. Think of what they would have thought with foam at the corners of his mouth, a red angry face and screams belching forth, let alone gasps for breath as he interrupted sentences repetitively with sucking sounds between screaming the words.

My point is not to denigrate serious preachers, but for people to recognize that Christianity is not theatrics. That's what the Pharisees were accused of doing. They were mere actors in a profound play. Rather than show genuineness and humility, it was pride they displayed.

My favorite preacher was Pastor James Mellish of Warren Michigan First Church of the Nazarene. He never put on a show and his words were spoken with love. Imagine Jesus' presentation right now. That was the presentation of brother Mellish. Sure, he spoke audibly, but not screaming. He accented his thought by raising the volume but only to inflect meaning.

Preaching is not to be about the preacher. It is to be all about Jesus. These attempts to exaggerate by overwhelming exhortation are distractions. I would encourage all preachers to reflect on their own methods. Sincere preachers are many and these may be their methods. I would encourage them to examine their methods in light of scripture, and consider first that we are our own "other gods" before God.

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