Those two words, comprising the shortest verse in the English Bible, carry a big impact for followers of Jesus.
Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, died. After tarrying two days, he arrives to the place where Lazarus was buried–a place where he lay for four days. After hearing from Mary and Martha and seeing the sadness of those around him, he was overcome with emotion, and wept.
Why did he weep? He wept because this was not how He created the world. When God created the world, it was according to His perfect design. Due to the curse of sin, our world became broken. Look around–every aspect of our world struggles–educational, governmental, societal, medical, etc. Jesus sees the world as it is now. He sees where we as individuals are now. He sees where the church is, with all her imperfections and shortcomings.
He also sees where the church and the world are heading in their final culmination. It’s here that Jesus reminded Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
This question (“Do you believe this?”) still resonates. Though addressed to Martha, the Spirit addresses this question to us even now. Jesus weeps over death, but He provides the solution to this devastating situation this world finds itself.
Since we should take Jesus at his Word, our only hope from our brokenness and this broken world in trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
God gave us a mind and He intended for us to use our minds to mine out the truths of Scripture. God intends for us to not only be and live as believers but to think Christianly. In all that we do, we do so with our hearts as well as our minds. We are called to love God with our heart, soul, minds, and strength.
Good morning on this Sunday, July 4th–a day we call Independence Day. Other words we use for “independence” are words like liberty and, yes, freedom. These tenets help lay the foundation for the philosophy and even the mission of our country.
That word “freedom” has a lot of connotations. Os Guinness in his book Last Call for Liberty, noted:
America means freedom, and Americans are sure of that, but what does freedom mean? Americans are not so sure about that, and many of their fights are over different ideas of freedom.
Let’s take a brief stroll through our history.
During colonial times (that is, the 1700s leading up to and after this country achieved her independence from Britain), freedom was from the tyranny of England and King George III. So this was both a political and religious freedom since in England, the reigning monarch was also the head of the national church.
Leading up to the Civil War, freedom referred to two primary avenues. One was from the abolitionist movement of Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison to secure freedom for the slaves who were located primarily in the South. The other were from the politicos and plantation owners in the South who wanted freedom in the form of states rights in order to govern their own states freely from government coercion–which, according to the Confederate States of America constitution, included the maintaining of slavery to help bolster their economy of King Cotton (Article 4, Section 3). Lincoln’s vision, as spoken of in the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 spoke of a “new birth of freedom.”
In the 20th century, the desire was to spread the mission across the world, making the world “safe for democracy” which would give people the ability to hold elections and have a voice–tough when in the South they were denying blacks the right to vote until 1965.
FDR spoke of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Freedom for today? Here, I rely on Os Guinness his book “Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Biggest Threat.” He differentiates a 1776 freedom over and against a 1789 freedom. A 1776 freedom is that codified in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” See how this freedom is connected to a quasi-religious Supreme Being? We can see some overlap in understanding that God created us as imagebearers with their own freedom to pursue what they wanted in life. The 1789 freedom coincides with the French Revolution (Bastille Day, July 14, 1789), being untied to the Pope and any religious tethering, with a freedom that is more humanistic and entirely secular.
Freedom has a lot of connotations when it comes to our history. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet there is a freedom that needs clarifying even more, and that’s the freedom that Christ provides.
Each Sunday morning, I take my prepared sermon to the pulpit, numerous pairs of eyes looking back at me. Some look with anticipation, Bibles open and pen in hand ready to capture truths from God’s Word. Others approach this time with a different “look,” more of a spectator: no Bible open, no pen in hand, and (from my vantage point) no interest in what is about to transpire. Still, others get a head start on a good, comfortable nap.
How does a preacher of the Word approach these times? That’s the mystery.
While some preachers take to the pulpit with a performance mentality, many preachers and pastors sense God’s call in a life-shaking and life-changing manner. I served as Worship and Youth Pastor at First Baptist Church of Clewiston, Florida when, in July 1999 on a missions trip to Mobile, Alabama with my student ministry, I sensed the overpowering call of God to preach. (It was so overwhelming, I could go back to the University of Mobile’s campus and take you to the spot. I was reading “The Servant Principle” by Rick Ferguson when God spoke in a way that was louder than words.)
Twenty-two years later, that call still resounds and has kept me through all the highs and lows ministry brings. That call was to preach the gospel as a pastor of a local church. When I prepare and preach, I preach as if I am serving the Most High and serving as an undershepherd. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2).
While the preaching event on Sunday mornings is not all that happens with one’s pastoral call, I believe it is the most critical. Granted, many dispute this conviction. A few years ago, I received a mailer that said, “If you believe preaching is the most important part of your ministry, you’re doing it wrong.” The point was that more happens in a church than that hour on Sunday morning and that ministries should focus on Monday through Saturday, not just Sunday.
While I believe no one disputes the necessity of helping Christians be, well, Christian Monday through Saturday as well, the preaching of the Word is a mysterious calling with a mysterious effect that doesn’t always fall into the formulas of success we contrive. The Word, accompanied by prayer and moved along by the Spirit, is the method God uses for change–and God works in those ways even if the “look” of our congregations indicates otherwise.
Seeing a congregant with Bible open and pen in hand on the surface looks as if they are the most engaged for the preacher. Those who have their eyes closed (hopefully they are praying) are the least ideal because they look as if they are the least engaged. The spectator (watching, no Bible, no pen) is the interesting one for me. Martyn Lloyd-Jones always struggled when he saw someone taking notes while he preached. He felt that the time they disengaged from the sermon to write down what he said made it more difficult for them to re-engage with the sermon. He wanted “impressions” that he prayed the Spirit would use.
In a conversation with someone a few years ago who preferred audible engagement with the sermon and grew frustrated with others who didn’t share her penchant for praise, I assured her that some outwardly praise while others inwardly process, but they still engage.
The mystery of preaching is not a mystery–”Preach the Word,” “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17), etc. The mystery for the preacher is, How can they tell if their word is heard? We can’t–not always. We plant and /or water–God grows, and that harvest might not come for decades, but we trust.
Boxes with microwaveable meals often say, “Cook on high for five minutes, let cool for one minute, then serve.” Sermons aren’t like that: “Cook on high for thirty minutes, let cool with a five-minute, six-verse invitation of Just As I Am, then save.”
We pray, prepare, preach, pray some more, then love, serve, lead–all from the Word, all in the name of Jesus, all the while knowing that He is with us always, even to the end of the age. Go and make those disciples, folks!