Monday, April 16, 2012

Sermon illustration

Yesterday our pastor spoke on Hebrews 5:11-6:2.

(aside: that means next week will be really interesting.)

Our pastor spoke about being dull of hearing, and what makes us that way. The Hebrews, you see, were dull of hearing so that they were unable to receive the teaching they needed to receive. The author is trying to teach them truths about the priesthood of Melchizadek, but they are not ready for these truths, they are dull of hearing. They are not where they should be in their Christian lives.

At the end of chapter 6, the author will come back to Melchizadek. This is after he has reprimanded his readers for not maturing as they ought, for being dull of hearing.

Our pastor said that there are two reasons why we become dull of hearing.

The first is because we spend extended time under instruction without growing. I think what he meant is that we fail to self-feed. We go to church week after week, and listen to a sermon and sing some songs that make us feel good. But then we just, you know, go home and watch football and make chocolate chip cookies. We don't apply what we learn. We don't put it into action. We don't spend time reading the Bible, praying, seeking God, loving our neighbors and sharing the good news. We just coast until the next Sunday services. In the meantime, we may not steal anything, or commit adultery or murder. We watch the news and see the horrible things people do, and we pat ourselves on the back for not being like that. (Remember the pharisee of Luke 18:9-14? We do kind of like he did.)

This is pretty insidious. But the second reason is even more so. The second reason why we become dull of hearing is that we become "epic passage people." (I think that's what my pastor called it.)

I've sort of written on this before, maybe a couple of times. It's where we just pick the nice passages that we like: the Lord's prayer, Psalm 23, John 3:16. We just read those, because they are easy to understand, and God is nice in them, and they make us feel good. We want to control which parts of the Bible we expose ourselves to, and thus design our own image of God, one that is cozy and comfortable and complimentary. And once we have formed our own paradigm for who God is, we become inoculated against the truth. This, above all else, makes us dull of hearing.

My pastor used what I thought was an ingenious analogy to explain the process. He compared Christian growth to learning to be a good musician. This spoke to me, not because I am a good musician (I am NOT!), but because we have undertaken a tremendous amount of music instruction for our children in this house.

When you are an epic passage person, you are like the music student who enjoys playing the pieces he plays well... in fact, you are like the music student who enjoys playing the parts of the pieces where he most excels in his playing. When he gets to the more tricky parts, he either glosses over them, making the same mistakes time and time again, or he skips them altogether.

I have four children, and of them, the one who most excels at music has a distinctly different practicing style. He drills the hard parts. He does not waste time playing the easy parts. In fact, he has been heard reprimanding his siblings, "Why do you keep playing that? You already know that! You are never going to get better unless you spend your time on the hard parts!"

(aside: it is a shame that tact and truth are so easily separated; were this not the case, much more good would arise in the world.)

Yes, DJ plays the hard parts and basically ignores the easy parts. Once when he was younger, I went to his piano recital and he played a piece, "Cat and Mouse," which I swear I never heard him play at home. He had certainly drilled the difficult passages, but he had never played through the whole song in our living room. It was a delightful piece. You could hear the mouse dancing around out of reach of the cat, and the cat coming after it. But I had never heard it until DJ sat down in the recital auditorium to play it. I was blown away.

For his spring jury this past year, we had a similar experience. DJ played a very difficult saxophone piece. He drilled the most impossible passages over and over and over until I thought I would put my fist through the wall. But after he played for his jury (which we did not have the good fortune to hear), staff from the college came to us, raving about how wonderfully he played.

It is when we wrestle with difficult parts of scripture and figure out how they fit into God's story of salvation, that is when we grow and mature. We grow when we take all the truths about God and work out how things that seem to conflict really fit together.

I get a little impatient when people say, "I don't want to study just scripture. I need application."

Bosh. All scripture is applicable, if you will just take the time to work with it and learn it.

A few years ago, I taught a study on Job. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I did not particularly enjoy my background study at home during the week. I may have been borderline depressed.

But we studied it. We took it and we wrestled with it, and God met us and spoke to us and taught us through the power of His Spirit.

I think it is all right that I should share this next thing.

I was in the grocery store about a week ago, and sweet lady who attended the Job study was sitting on a bench, taking her break (she works there). "Hi Ruth!" she called out to me, "You probably don't remember me..." But I did. I remembered her face, her eyes. You remember the ones who make eye contact while you teach.

She told me that she felt that she had been through a Job experience. She said, "I think sometimes God teaches you something, and then afterwards, He gives you a chance to practice it in your life."

Some people may have thought that we were not being practical or applicable when we studied Job... but here, in front of me, was solid evidence that God's word does not go out and return void. This woman studied Job. Then she suffered. And in her suffering, she was able to remember that suffering doesn't mean God has abandoned you. It doesn't mean that God doesn't love you. It doesn't necessarily mean that you are being punished for a terrible sin.

Suffering can just be a way that God is working in your life, pulling you close to Himself, making you learn to depend on Him, strengthening your faith and purifying it. She had learned this, from God's word. When her life then threw challenges at her, she was strengthened for the circumstances. She did not say, "Why me? This isn't fair!" Her faith persevered. She did not abandon hope.

This is the opposite of being dull of hearing. This is where the hard work pays off. This is playing the music for an audience and owning it.

Can I admit? I don't really like being strengthened for the hard things. The whole time I was teaching Job, I had a dread of what was to come, what these lessons were preparing us for, what would happen to me next. I am the biggest wimp in the world. I am not a thrill seeker.

God is good. He is not always nice, in ways that we perceive niceness, but He is good.

I don't so much mind the basic training, but I am a coward about the upcoming combat. I need a more vivid vision of God's victorious plan for the world and the blessing He bestows on me by allowing me to be a part of it.

That's one reason why I write the things I write on my blogs. If they start persecuting Christians, I want there to be plenty of evidence to convict me. I don't want to leave things open to my weaseling out and denying my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Shawn said...

Well said.

"Bosh"?? Is that a Dickinsian exclamation?

Mop Boss said...


Thank you, thank you for the illustration about Christian growth and being a musician. I just wrote my oldest son a letter to help him during a difficult trial he is facing. I grew weary of the depth of the letter and turned to your blog for a break. Little did I know I would find a beautiful illustration! My son is an accomplished musician-he plays guitar and sings. I will weave in this information (hopefully adeptly) into my letter to him. Please pray for deliverance from this trial.

Fondly, Diane

ruth said...


Thanks for writing. I just prayed for your son. I've found in my own life that sometimes when I want deliverance from a trial, God sustains me through the trial instead.

This is not my favorite, but I have to trust that God knows what He is doing. I also have to admit that I would not probably be moved to grow if not for the trials He brings.

I am slowly learning that when my natural inclination is to ask, "Why me, God?" I need to try to remember to change my question to, "What are You up to, Lord?" (...and to be content with His presence when He chooses not to explain Himself.)

I pray that the Lord will deal gently and mercifully with your son as he goes through this difficult time.


Mop Boss said...

Thank you for praying for my son. Thank you also for your prayers for me.

I have been able to thank God for these trials so that they bring completeness and maturity in Christ for myself, my son, and for my whole family.