This is my first post in quite a while. The main reason that I haven’t written anything on TLW for so long is that I have had all of my discretionary time (whatever that is) consumed by prep for the sermon that I preached on Sunday. It seemed to me a bit like carrying a child for a couple of months, and I finally gave birth the other day.
Our church has, for the past few weeks, been going through a series on the life of Moses. The portion of text that I was asked to preach was Exodus 4:18-26 and 6:1-8.
I was given some suggested headings as follows:
• “God is absolutely sovereign” (4:18-23),
• “God is perfectly holy” (4:24-26), and
• “God is completely faithful” (6:1-8).
These were, it seemed to me, quite fitting as headings for the relevant sections. But for a while, I wrestled with the question of just how these passages, with these headings, fit into a series about Moses. Slowly, I began to realize that, to get to know Moses, we really have to get to know Moses’ God; we have to walk with Moses through the journey and adventure of getting to know this God. And so it was that the sermon was well named “Getting to Know God,” though I didn’t give it that title.
I was first given the preaching assignment in mid-December, and as the weeks went by, the burden became heavier and heavier. In January and February, as the date for the sermon grew closer, the heaviness of the task grew more and more intense for me. Somewhere in there, Jim, our staff elder put a new quote in the signature of his e-mails, a quote which captures the very idea which was haunting me: “We cannot transfer to others what we are not experiencing ourselves any more than we can come back from where we haven’t been.” Right! How was I, a man whose own experience of knowing God for the past few years has been far less than amazing, going to preach to others about getting to know God?
The last thing in the world that I want to do is dishonor God. And it seemed to me that that is what I would do, if I undertook to speak to His people about knowing Him, as if I knew all about it. Of course, it’s not that I do not know God at all. But to know Him at such a level as to be able to stand, with integrity, and speak about Him to a group of those who want and need to know Him…? No, I felt quite inadequate to the task.
I devoted myself to prayer in a way that I had not done before. I listened to bunches of online sermons on God and on this area of the Exodus text. In one of these audio files, a brother named Paul Washer said that standing before a group of people to talk about the nature and character of God was the most frightful thing he had ever done. I know just what he means.
And yet, as I began, more and more, to give myself to this sort of meditation, prayer and study, I began to feel a desire to speak about YHWH, the God of Moses, who was coming into sharper focus for me. Tremble as I might, I thought I just might be able to do it.
Then I began to think about my church. I love my church and the brothers and sisters who compose it. But to be honest, it’s been a long time since I could say with certainty that our fellowship is one which is really ready to hear about the kind of God I was seeing in Exodus. This God is not the one who we find in the comfy-cozy, therapeutic worship of contemporary evangelicalism. I began to realize that, if I failed to point this out, I would not honor Him.
I prayed in the last ten days or so before the sermon that, if I was going to say or do anything that would dishonor or displease God, He would take me out before it happened. I prayed that He would prevent me, by any means, including hospitalization or even death, from speaking. I think it was Thursday or Friday when I noticed a brief hint of pain in the area of my left kidney, and I immediately thought that maybe the Lord was getting me out of His way. But it stopped and hasn’t returned. And I went ahead with the sermon.
I began by reading the entirety of a “news” article from the satirical Wittenburg Door. It is very flippant and almost a little crass. Both my audience and I were very uncomfortable. I know they were because I could feel it, but also, when I finished reading it, I asked whether anyone had been uncomfortable, and there were plenty who said that they were. I explained that I seriously debated whether or not to use it, but that in the end, I went ahead with it for one reason. Though it seems at first to be mocking God, it isn’t; it actually mocks a silly, nice version of Him which I consider to be idolatrous. And it is utterly appropriate to mock idols.
They relaxed a little, but not a lot. From there, I showed the cover of my God Is Not… book and pointed out the titles of the various chapters. I made sure to point with just a little more emphasis to the one called “God Is Not an American.” 😉 Then with the Powerpoint behind me, I read a couple of excerpts from D. Stephen Long’s chapter, “God Is Not Nice.” Not quite as bad as the Wittenburg Door, but still a bit edgy.
From there, I mentioned an audio sermon that I had downloaded where a brother named Paul Washer was talking about the frightfulness of presuming to teach people about the nature and character of God.
There is a reason that I mention these details from the opening minutes of the message time. Later on Sunday afternoon, I received an e-mail from Scott the brother in our church who prepares the audio-files for the website. He wanted to assure me that he never edits for reasons of editorialism, but that he could not salvage the opening minutes of the audio. There was a lot of radio noise making a mess of it. So the part with the Wittenburg Door article and the stuff from Long’s “God Is Not Nice” chapter aren’t in the recording.
In thinking about this somewhat strange development (the radio noise problem has happened before with things like special music numbers), I really believe that it is the grace of God that that particular element didn’t survive. It probably is for the best that it not be preserved for the next year or two (about the length of time that our audio-files stay on the church website) on the SMBC page. But here on TLW, I think I may just that little bit more bold. So for anyone who might be interested, here is the Poweroint, which still has the slides of the opening material: Getting to Know the God of Moses
And here’s a link to the SMBC site, where you can find the audio-file of the sermon, if you are so inclined. 🙂 It picks up at the part where I start talking about Paul Washer.
The Long War between the flesh and the Spirit rages on. But I have enjoyed some real gains lately for the Davidic side… All because I was given a preaching assignment that pushed me dangerously close to the Consuming Fire. I am very thankful to YHWH God for His great mercy.