As I was preparing to preach one weekend, I was thinking about my fellow pastors who are doing the same all across the country and around the world. It caused me to want to send them a note, so here it is:
For my personal devotional time, I’ve been cycling through the book of Romans. Many of you in the theological “know” will recognize that portions of this book are a battleground for specific theological camps regarding issues of predestination, free will, determinism, the free agency of man, Calvinism, Arminianism, Reformed, etc. If there’s a label to make you pick a side, it can be applied somewhere here in Romans.
I’ve also thought about all the strained friendships I have over these issues. I tried to recount the endless hours lost in friendly (?) debates. And I remembered numerous side conversations where friends drew invisible lines around people and groups saying so-and-so belongs to “that” school of thought and so-and-so was “lost” to that way of thinking.
I was taking a walk around a pond, praying through that study and thinking about these things, when the Lord put in my mind an image from the not-too-distant past. It was a couple of school-age children at camp who didn’t realize I was overhearing (because “eavesdropping” sounds too creepy).
They were arguing with one another about God, one struggling to believe and the other confident in his faith. The childhood skeptic had weak arguments that you could tell were repetitious banter heard from some adult he admired. And the childhood believer offered unsubstantiated proofs that offered no philosophical underpinnings as to why he believed what he believed.
I wanted to jump in and correct them both, show them the error of their ways, but I controlled myself since they were children – and it was rec time at summer camp.
That was the image that popped into my mind. I didn’t have to wonder why very long.
The foolishness of their arguments and the silliness of their debate seemed so apparent to me. And, to an infinitely greater degree, so must our tiny theological squabbles appear before the enormity of God.
We argue, brood and fight over a six-inch gap on a theological spectrum that’s a football field long. In no way, shape or form can I ever think that the God of the universe is pleased with us when we act like that. In fact, we probably look like small children arguing about something they know relatively little about, sitting on a wall, looking at a pond and eating grape snow cones.
This weekend, pastors, as we think about what we’re going to share with those crowds who come filing in for the worship service, let me remind you of a tiny verse from Romans that should keep us all in check:
“So do not become proud, but fear.” (Rom. 11:20, ESV)
Paul was speaking of Gentiles grafted into the vine that is the kingdom of God. He warned that instead of thinking much of themselves, they should remember that broken off branches don’t do anything on their own.
Only the Gardener can save them from the brush pile. So, instead of arrogance, tremble.
I would offer us the same advice.
Don’t worry about astounding the crowds with theological prowess. Don’t determine that this is the weekend our doctrinal purity should be established. And, whatever we do, let us not think we must impress the crowds. Like every other weekend, we only have an audience of One.
Instead, drop the pride and come to the podium with some fear and trembling, working out your own salvation. Share the message of broken humanity rescued from itself by a loving and amazing God.
Reject the urge to “pull off” a service to make them think you have the best church since the apostle Paul retired, your worship band is the most gifted crew this side of heaven and you are the best preacher they’ve ever heard.
Instead, remind them that God is great, even if we must play the fool to make sure they see it.
May He increase; may we decrease.
This post originally appeared at The Rural Pastor.
Published July 19, 2022