Friday, December 13, 2013

One of the worst sermons I ever heard

Yesterday my daughter Laura walked away from a car wreck with her life intact.

I'd been thinking about her that morning and even lifting her in my prayers, but not her safety.  I was praying about her upcoming wedding.  The phone rang, and it was her, and I expected her to be calling about something wedding related, or maybe to check up on me and see how I was doing after my surgery.  As I listened to her slightly shaky voice on the other end of the line, it took me a minute to comprehend that she was telling me she had just escaped death.

She is alive, and I am so, so very thankful.  She was riding in a car, and the driver lost control on a slushy patch of road.  They were in fairly heavy traffic, but the hand of God miraculously guided them across the road without making contact with any other cars.  The back of the car on the driver's side smashed into a tree and ricocheted into a house, bruising some siding.  There was no blood, and there were no broken bones.  The mother of one of their friends from college drove past and stopped to help, praying with them, offering them her car to rest in while they waited for the police, eventually delivering them back to school.

The thing I keep coming back to is this:  I had no idea what was happening, and yet, God preserved her.  God preserved my daughter's life.

Which reminds me of one of the worst sermons I've ever heard.

It was at a church we used to attend, at a conference that had been rather widely publicized.  The preacher was a guest speaker, a flashy character with lots of accolades and a long biography of achievements.  I will not name names because it is not my purpose to slander anyone, but it is my purpose to point out that a person's fame and the number of websites on which his name appears do not guarantee that he will teach you the truth.  So watch out.

I sat in the crowd next to my husband, the room abuzz with excitement in the anticipation of hearing from such a renowned preacher.  He stepped up onto the podium and began to growl with stylistic oratorial panache into the microphone.  He said, "God does NOTHING  except in RESPONSE to PRAYER."

"That's not right!" I whispered to my husband.  He said, "Shhhh."

The preacher repeated, louder, "God does NOTHING!!!  Except in response to prayer."

I started to squirm in my seat.  My husband held me down.  I writhed and protested, and my husband hushed me.  The preacher went on, and on, and on.  His sermon was about how it is up to us to pray and make things happen, and if people are not coming to the Lord, then it is our fault for not doing enough, and particularly for not praying enough because, as he interjected every 3-4 minutes (think, "I have a dream..."):  "God does NOTHING!!!!! Except in RESPONSE to PRAYER."  He grew hoarse, and foamy saliva flew from the corners of his mouth as he shouted, and the people sat, apparently drinking it up, while my husband held me down.

Seriously.  Seriously.  It pains me to type such blasphemy, even when I am quoting it and attributing it to this man.

I wanted to say, "Whose prayers do you think God was responding to when He created the heavens and the earth?"

This is what the Lord says--your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb;
I am the Lord.
who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself.
Isaiah 44:24 (NIV)

I wanted to say, "Have you ever read the end of Job, where God spoke out of the whirlwind?"

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Job 38:2-4 (NIV)

Whose prayers was God responding to when He raised Jesus from the dead?  As far as I can tell, all Jesus' followers had given up in despair.  Some had even returned to their former vocations.  All of them were tremendously surprised at the resurrection, and it took some of them awhile to come around to believing that it had actually happened.  They were not on their knees asking the Lord to bring Jesus back from the dead.  God just did it.

If God did not create the universe in response to prayer, and if He did not raise Jesus from the dead in response to prayer, why on earth would we doubt that He could do anything else except in response to prayer?  This statement is utterly unscriptural.  Good oratory, maybe.  Flashy and guilt-inducing.  But certainly not Biblical.

God said things like this:

I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient time what is still to come.
I say: my purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
Isaiah 46:10 (NIV)

I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the creatures in the fields are mine. 
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Psalm 50:9-12 (NIV)  

That certainly does not sound to me like a God who is limited in what He can do because of what I pray for or fail to pray for. 

Now, if you want to preach a sermon on the fact that God answers prayer, then by all means do so.  God clearly answers prayer, and there is much scriptural proof to back it up.

But just because you can build a solid case for the fact that God answers prayer, it does not logically follow that God would limit Himself to ONLY answering prayers and would refuse to take action if someone failed to pray about something.  THIS IS NOT LOGICAL!  And it is not right.

In fact, I would call it defamation of the character of God.

Suppose my daughter had died in that accident yesterday, and one day I got to heaven and asked God about it.  Do you think He would say, "It's really too bad.  I would have liked to save your daughter that day, but unfortunately, you didn't pray and ask me to, so my hands were tied."

BAH!  I am so glad I do not serve a mamby-pamby god like that.

So that was one of the worst sermons I ever heard in my life.  It is similar to another bad sermon topic that I have heard, even more often.  It goes along the lines of this:

 "You need to tell your friends and family about Jesus.  Because if you don't, they will go to hell and it will be your fault.  How are you going to feel on that last day, when God judges the world, and you see all those unsaved friends and acquaintances of yours filing off to hell?  The Lord will be standing there to welcome you into heaven, and you and He will look over together at those miserable hell-bound souls, and then He will look at you with tears in His eyes and you will realize how much more you should have done."

That's nothing more than unbiblical manipulation.

When I read my Bible, it says that when I get to heaven, God's going to be happy, and I'm going to be thrilled, and there will be great rejoicing and singing and worshiping.  In fact, if there are any tears on my face, He's going to wipe them off (Revelation 21:4).  He's not going to throw me onto one last, eternal guilt trip.  There is no guilt in heaven!

I am not saying this to absolve myself of responsibility to be obedient to the Lord.  Certainly we must live holy and obedient lives, as the Bible tells us to.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us that He created us to do good works which He prepared in advance for us to do, and I'm sure that many of those good works have much to do with bringing people who were previously lost into the Kingdom of God.  We are not free to cloister ourselves away from the lost and sit at home watching Billy Graham on TV.  Our lives must be a fragrant, holy offering that helps people see the beauty of the Lord... not a harsh, condemning force that drives them away from Him.

At the same time, it is God who chooses and calls and draws His people to Himself.
Ephesians 1:4-5 -- He chooses
Romans 8:29-30 -- He calls
John 6:44 -- He draws

God does it all.  All of it.  It is all because of Him.  I would venture to say that we may not even be able to pray unless He, by His Holy Spirit, moves us to pray in the first place.  GOD DOES EVERYTHING.

How in the world could that preacher man have dared to say, "God does NOTHING!!! Except in response to prayer."  How could he have dared?

Well.  Finally got that off my chest, about seven years later.


Hope T. said...

What a terrifying moment that must have been for your daughter. I'm rejoicing with you that she and her friend both walked away unscathed. I hope she is recovers quickly emotionally. I remember the "replays" that can occur after an accident like that. (My car was hit head on when I was about her age.) Thinking of you both tonight.

ruth said...

Thank you. i can't get over saying thank you to the Lord about this.