Thursday, May 25, 2017

Today's Hunger for God's Word Isn't Surprising

Thirty years ago, my guess is that if you asked the average churchgoer what one thing attracted them to or kept them attending a particular congregation, the answer would have been music. Music can be important in helping us to worship God, of course. As musician Toby Mac has said, music goes to places that words alone can't.

But, according to this poll from Gallup, sermons or talks that teach more about Scripture is the top reason that people go to worship.

I have seen this in my own ministry. Today, there is wide acceptance among churchgoers of varied worship and musical styles. The worship music wars are over in North American churches, in part I think, because we all are exposed to so many different musical styles that for us to hear such variety in worship isn't jarring.

Today, people care less about packaging--worship form--than they do about what's inside--the message proclaimed. People want to know what God says in His Word, what He calls us to believe and why.

In thirty-two years as a pastor, I've never seen a greater hunger for God's Word than I see today.

This dovetails with my own journey as a preacher. In days past, I looked for great stories to fill my sermons. A good story that helps people to understand the Bible text before them is fine. But too often, I think, I tried to be "cute."

When my former denomination began taking a path away from the authority of Scripture as God's Word and the norm for our life, faith, and practice, I decided that the time for cute was through. If so many people in my former denomination could be hoodwinked into walking away from the authority of God's Word, a central tenet of the Lutheran confessions, I had to quit assuming that everyone knew what the Bible said. I needed to unfold the Scripture again and again.

I know that in my own life, in the craziness of daily living, I can easily lose sight of God's Word, His revealed will for me as a human being, and the center of history, God enfleshed, Jesus, Who died with humanity and rose from death in order to open up eternal life with God to all who believe in HIm. If I as a pastor, won't help people to hear and see what God is saying to them, I let them down.

There are fewer stories in my sermons these days. And the stories are usually shorter. Always, I pray, they're tied to the Biblical text on which I'm preaching on that day.

Christian faith is life and death business. People who come to worship with us who have no faith need to hear God's Word...without me, my stories, or attempts to be entertaining, relevant, or cute getting in the way. People who come to worship and believe, yet need encouragement, help, counsel, strength, reproach, or liberation, aren't helped when sermons are autobiographical and cute.

People need Christ. And they need the Word about Christ, which is found in every word of the Old and New Testament. People don't seem to mind that I don't entertain them. Or wow them.

Hellenistic Jews once approached Philip, another Hellenistic Jew and a follower of Jesus. They told Philip: "Sir, we would like to see Jesus" (John 12:21).

Whether the people who go to Christian worship on Sunday mornings know it or not, they're seeking the same thing. When, in Christian preaching, as well as Christian fellowship, Christian worship, and Christian service, they do see Jesus, they'll be back for more.

The Word of God, when read, pondered, or proclaimed has power! In the New Testament, Paul says, " comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). And God assures us in the Old Testament that when His Word is spoken: the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
The Gallup findings are not surprising to me, then. When people hear God's Word faithfully read and explicated, they know they've heard from the One Who made them, redeemed them on the cross and rose from the dead to give them life, and still lives with them through His Holy Spirit. They've come into contact with the Life-Giver and the Life-Changer. And they want more!

And they begin to feel like the apostle Paul:
...I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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