2016 Sermon Recap

 

As we near the end of 2016, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the past year, particularly when it comes to preaching. Every year I try to devote some time to processing how things went – what was effective, what was less than stellar, and how I can improve. Just like an artist, an actor/actress, or even a coach, there are some final products that I’m personally more pleased with than others. I think working back through what seemed to be most and least effective, along with figuring out why, is an important discipline if you are serious about your craft. This is a yearly attempt to stay disciplined as a preacher, teacher, and communicator.

In general, I would say that preaching this year has been both harder and easier than in years past. The part that has come easier is the delivery side of the message, as I am grow
ing more comfortable communicating on a stage. There were some tangible delivery goals I was able to accomplish over the past 12 months, some of which were aided by using a chair and pub table. This approach has allowed me to be more deliberate and even slow down (just a hair). The aspects that have been harder this yearhave been on the content creation side of the process. In October, I reached my six-year anniversary of being Lead Pastor at Harris Creek. The most candid way to put it is that I feel like I hit a bit of a wall this year. When you preach 40+ times a year for six straight years, it’s not always easy to keep your creative edge while also remaining rooted in Scripture. The delicate balance is to try to keep reading Scripture with a fresh perspective without getting too “cute” with it and end up butchering what the text is actually saying.

Harris Creek 8-21-16-135.jpg.jpg

The other unique challenge in 2016 was changing my approach to preparation due to the design of Elements. To begin with, the sermons in Elements are slightly different than the way I tend to teach. This was something I warmed up to because, as I said earlier, I probably needed to change something up after hitting a creative wall. The process of creating content for Elements is also much more collaborative, with five other people having a role in the development of the material. Each voice at the table is uniquely gifted and incredibly helpful. On the flip side, it feels a bit like multiple artists trying to paint a picture on the same canvas. Each person might have a slightly different style, and it’s my job to bring a singular voice to the final product (including the sermons).

All in all, I am proud of the ground we covered as a congregation in 2016 and the license our people gave me to try new things. We have an incredibly flexible, gracious, and supportive ethos amongst our congregation. There is great value in people coming together on a weekly basis, doing their best to listen to the Spirit speak through Scripture, and earnestly seeking to respond obediently to what God is saying to us. The approach I like to take in this recap is to follow this pattern: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable stats” from my 2016 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year. I hope this gives you some helpful insight into my world and what goes into the sermons each week.

 

2016 MEASURABLE STATS
2016 Sermon Stats.jpg

 

SERMON SERIES IN 2016
– Rebuilding from Rubble
– Rediscovering Freedom
– God in the Movies
– Thriving in Exile
– Two Pictures of Discipleship
– Elements: Unit 1
– The Glorious Return

 

LEAST FAVORITE SERMON: “Stone Tablets” from The Glorious Return
WHY: This one is still fresh for me, which means I’m still not over it. The week before this sermon we were coming off of a fairly intense stretch of discussions with our bank regarding the “Our Turn” initiative, and I updated everyone on the not-so-fun surprise appraisal. The following week, I was worn out. It took me twice as long to get something semi-coherent on paper for this message.

This was one of the few times I have ever had to work on a Saturday to land a message. Some pastors love to create “Saturday Night Specials.” Not me – they stress me out. All that to say, I was not as confident in the message as I wanted to be heading into the morning. I think one of the most challenging aspects of my job is having a “project” due every weekend for people to review, no matter how I feel or what’s going on. It’s part of it, and our congregation is always extremely gracious, as I stated earlier. But I personally hate when I haven’t landed things the way I wanted to in a message, and this one stands out to me as one of those times this happened in 2016.

 

FAVORITE SERMON: From the Ground Up” from Rediscovering Freedom
WHY: This sermon was my message for Easter in 2016, and I felt like it struck the best balance of all my Easter sermons to date. The typical rhythm is for Easter to conclude our sermon series during the Season of Lent. This means people who haven’t been with us previously are hearing the final message that we’ve been building up to for six weeks. Easter also presents some distinct challenges because the demographics on Easter Sunday tend to be different than the typical makeup of our congregation the rest of the year. Finally, the congregation seems to be a little “stiff” (from my perspective) every year on Easter Sunday. This is probably due to the fact that we have more guests, we have church members who have invited friends, and people are even a little more formal in how they dress compared to your average Sunday.

My first few years, I was not exactly prepared for these shifts and the different dynamic in the room on Easter. This year, I felt like I was able to anticipate what was coming and speak to the people in the room. That meant speaking to our congregation and wrapping up our series in a satisfying way. It also meant speaking to newcomers in such a way that they could join the conversation without feeling lost. Finally, it meant speaking to anyone who might be a skeptic in such a way that might make them more open them to the revolutionary power of the resurrection. With all that is on the line every Easter, it’s easy to get disappointed with yourself as a communicator and feel as though you didn’t do it justice. This year, I was pleased and content with how things landed.

 

LEAST FAVORITE SERIES: God in the Movies
WHY: This is typically an annual series that I really look forward to every spring. This year, I felt a little more constrained based on feeling conflicted over a particular movie I considered reviewing. The film had an “R” rating, but it was not for the reasons that seem to be more gratuitous which sometimes draw this rating. The violence and disturbing images that caused it to be restricted carried an important message in the film, and it was a message I believed was worthy of discussion. However, after getting some wise feedback from our leadership (elders and staff), I ultimately decided to go a different direction. It was also a conversation with another local pastor who I trust and respect that helped me make this decision. But the whole conversation had (and still has) me questioning if this series can accomplish its intended purpose of engaging the culture around us.

If there are films that seem to be shaping our culture and they aren’t overly perverse “just to be perverse,” I think those are movies we need to be aware of as Christians. Yet, I also recognize that there is a line here, and there are some conversations that can’t be had with the entire church family due to the broad range of both age and maturity levels within our congregation. The line on this whole discussion tends to be a bit of a moving target. I do know that if we simply talk about the parts of culture that we’re comfortable with or “family friendly,” then we need to probably call it for what it is – “God in the Disney Movies.” I’m still praying through which direction this needs to go in the future, but I’m thinking this series may have run its course.

 

FAVORITE SERIES: Thriving in Exile
WHY: For years, we’ve talked about “planning in pencil” around Harris Creek as part of what it means to be a leader on our team. This approach has two sides to it: (1) doing the hard work of actually charting the direction we are heading, and (2) being flexible enough to call an audible when the situation demands it. This series was one of the bigger “audibles” I’ve called when it comes to planning a sermon series. The original plan was to preach through the Book of Ecclesiastes last summer, but it just didn’t seem to fit where we were as a congregation. The next plan was to preach through the second half of the Book of Acts, the part that tends to get ignored. This, too, felt like it wasn’t exactly what was needed at the time.

Ultimately, we ended up studying the narrative portion of the Book of Daniel, and it was a series that seemed to be timely for where we are as a culture. “Upheaval” would be one word that I think accurately describes 2016 for many people. With an unconventional election on the national front and a lot of turmoil surrounding the highly visible Baylor football program at a local level, the past year was disorienting for many of our people. The story of Daniel was one that came to me as the summer was approaching, and it turned out to be a fascinating study. I personally learned a lot from Daniel’s story and the faithfulness of the Israelites in Exile. For something that wasn’t planned on my end of things, this series became a great encouragement to my own faith and hopefully the faith of many others.

 

Choosing a Name (Round 3)

Yesterday, I witnessed our third child, Warren Kyle Herbert, enter the world. It was every bit as exciting, nerve-racking, and wonderful as the other two times I’ve witnessed one of my children take their very first breath. Witnessing new life come into the world for the first time is one of God’s best gifts that He can give us. “Gift” is the word that comes to mind because there are so many aspects about the growth and development of a baby that are outside of our control. Yet, by the grace of God, a fully formed tiny human enters a world waiting for him to arrive. I wrote about the significance of both Camden and June’s names after they were born, so I wanted to keep up the tradition.
Continue reading “Choosing a Name (Round 3)”

2015 Sermon Recap

Every year I take time to reflect on my sermons from the last year as a way to think through what worked, what didn’t, and how I need to proceed moving forward. It might seem odd to have me talk about this process (for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s important for people to peek “behind the scenes” when it comes to how sermons are prepared. Often times, people think they are either (a) hand delivered on a golden tablet every Saturday evening by an angel, or (b) half-cocked ideas from someone who is just talking off the cuff. The truth is, preaching is a serious task that requires a lot of prayer, work, and effort.[1]

The other thing people rarely think about is the fact that I don’t love the way every sermon turns out. I strive hard to, first, be a listener of the Word before preaching it. That means preaching is born out of what has convicted me first, not on the annoying things everyone around me needs to get better at to be more spiritual. The other thing that I naturally do is critique my own work. In fact, I tend to be harsher than (or at least as harsh as) many of the skeptical or cynical types listening to my sermons.[2] In the same breath, I also know I am anything but unbiased. Sermons are a little like your kids: you can be frustrated with your own children, but you naturally get a little defensive if someone else gets upset with your child. I’m not sure if it’s possible to avoid this dynamic. It just kind of is what it is.

That being said, this blog is the one chance I get to publicly do what many people do on a regular basis, which is armchair quarterback the sermon. I realize critiquing the worship service is simply Sunday lunch ritual for a lot of people. I get it. It comes with the territory. Rather than telling you to change your ways, I’m going to weigh-in myself. The approach is going to be this: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable” stats from my 2015 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year.


SERMON SERIES IN 2015

  • Ethos
  • The Great “I Am”
  • God in the Movies
  • The Dreamer
  • #blessed
  • Life After Life
  • Our Turn
  • Joy to the World

 

SERMON STATS FROM 2015

2015 Sermon Stats
FAVORITE SERMON: “Interstellar” from God in the Movies
WHY: There were a few sermons that were really fun for me to preach on a personal level, so it was hard to pick my absolute favorite. It was a year in which I got to share the stage with my dad, which was a huge highlight for me. I also had a few moments of personal insight[3] that led to the message scratching the creative itch for me. These were messages like “The Colors God Uses” in the series on Joseph called The Dreamer and even a few of the recent messages in our Advent series called Joy to the World.

With that being said, “Interstellar” was the way I would preach on a regular basis if context weren’t something you have to take into account. It combined elements from recent culture, science, philosophy, and was a sermon that was a form of what I would call “micro-apologetics.”[4] There was a mountain of information to cover, so this was a rewarding process in whittling it down as much as possible to what was essential. It was also challenging to work in ways to keep people engaged, which was part of the idea behind using the chalkboard and throwing the ball into the congregation how I did in this message. All in all, it was the message I was most proud of in 2015.


LEAST FAVORITE SERMON:
“LOCAL/GLOBAL” from Ethos
WHY: There are certainly messages I personally liked less, and there were messages that were less effective than this one, as well. I will also say that the most stressful sermon was sharing the stage with my dad. He did a fantastic job answering some incredibly difficult questions. On the flip side, the dialogue or “interview with commentary” style as a form of communicating is drastically different than preaching.

But the reason “LOCAL/GLOBAL” was my least favorite message is because there were way too many people who walked away thinking I am against global missions (as if that’s even something that is optional for a church or an individual disciple of Jesus).[5] Part of this may have been due to the fact that this was the first message in the series. I think it took a while to understand that we’re not opposed to doctrine, nor do we believe the Church should ignore the needs of “insiders.” For whatever reason, though, this message was received a lot of different ways, which is, first and foremost, on me as the communicator.


FAVORITE SERIES:
The Dreamer
WHY: The best reason I can give you for this being my favorite series is I got really enthralled with the details of Joseph’s story. It stands out in Scripture for a reason and is an amazing story of faith. Joseph is someone that I felt like I could relate to in many ways, yet he is simultaneously one of those people in the Bible that is in rarified air when you look at all he endured. All I can say is that means the author recounted Joseph’s story in the most captivating way possible. To tell a story in such a way that you can relate to someone who is nearly “untouchable” is unique. I’ve already thought back on Joseph’s life and his example of faith countless times since this series.


LEAST FAVORITE SERIES:
#blessed
WHY: Starting a new semester in a “college town” is always a difficult task because of the mixture of listeners you are going to encounter the first few weeks of the semester. Inevitably, we are going to have young people trying us out for the first time and making snap judgments on what we’re all about as a church. You also have families looking to get connected to a new church during this time of year, which is a completely different “audience” than college students. On top of all of this, you have the core of our church who also needs to grow and be challenged in their faith, and hearing some of the most fundamental aspects of our church get repeated too often can cause the vision to become stale for this group over time. And just for fun, you get to do all of the legwork of starting a new series with this complicated concoction of listeners. I’ll just say it’s not my favorite time of year to preach.

On top of all of the normal fun during that time of year, I was not pleased with how I executed as a communicator within this series. I felt as though I was extremely faithful to the text in the messages, but I didn’t do a great job of connecting the text (usually one or two verses) to the chapter it is in, the primary themes in Luke’s gospel, the message of the New Testament, and the major theological strands throughout the entire Bible.[6] All in all, the stakes were high and I felt as though it was important to set the stage for what was around the corner for our congregation. In doing so, I missed some key opportunities to be as clear as I needed to be with certain aspects of the Gospel message for those who were dropping in for the first time. I have to trust that the Spirit connected the dots for people despite my ineffectiveness.


CLOSING THOUGHTS
Overall, 2015 is a year that I am really proud of when I look back on all that we covered. I love being able to teach Scripture on a regular basis and realize that it’s a privilege, not a right. I believe preaching changes things and carries an inherent eternal value and weight. That’s probably one reason why it’s not always easy or “fun.” However, it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing and is something I want to keep getting better at over time.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what stood out to you over the last 12 months. What was something you learned over the last year? In what new ways did God shape you as a disciple? What books of the Bible or topics would you personally like to see covered in 2016? Go ahead and share those lunch conversations you’ve already had in the comment section below.


[1] For those “purists” that think the Holy Spirit can only work in the moment, I think that is a fundamentally flawed idea. Spontaneity is not a pre-requisite for the Spirit to work. If that’s the case, then the Incarnation wasn’t a true work of the Spirit of God because it was prophesied thousands of years before the birth of Christ. What I find to be more inspiring and humbling is when the Spirit works in my sermon planning months in advance to reach someone in a unique way down the road.
[2] What is really fun is preaching a message that I know is falling flat a second time in our multiple service/multiple campus model!
[3] Call it “revelation,” if you will.
[4] This is when I begin by asking how this Scripture can be true because it sounds crazy on an initial, surface reading of it, and then we work to unveil the truth that your average person, no matter their worldview, agrees upon behind the text.
[5] The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is not optional or “a piece of good advice” for followers of Jesus.
[6] This method of biblical interpretation is a skill I plan on teaching in the spring of 2016.

Leadership Practices

In January, I did a series called “Ethos” in which we talked through our Ministry Principles at Harris Creek. These five principles were created to outline how we make decisions at Harris Creek and clearly articulate what makes us unique as a church. We want people who are considering becoming covenant members to know what they are signing up for before they make a commitment to this body.

While we were developing these Ministry Principles, we also adopted a set of Leadership Practices for our paid staff. These Leadership Practices are meant not only to articulate what we expect from our paid staff members, but also to create a work environment that is highly effective, efficient, and enjoyable. By the way, if you are interested in getting work experience and learning more about our staff culture, a great way to do this would be through our Intern Program.

I thought it would be good to share these practices for those who are in leadership roles in other organizations. While this list is not exhaustive (in fact, we may continue to add to it as time goes on), it does give you insight into the staff culture we are trying to create. Here are the five Leadership Practices our team has adopted:


SPEAK WITH CANDOR
A leader is someone who is capable of speaking with candor in all situations. To speak with candor means you are able to:

  • Say the last 10% that needs to be said
  • Address any “elephants” in the room head-on
  • Season your language with both grace and truth
  • Speak your mind, even at the risk of disagreement, without being a jerk

SHOW YOUR WORK
A leader is someone who can deliver tangible and measurable results in a timely manner. To show your work means you are able to:

  • photo-1421757295538-9c80958e75b0Point to quantifiable results in your ministry area
  • Place a completed project in someone’s hand from the last 30 days at any given point
  • Demonstrate attention to detail, a focus on quality, and a healthy work ethic
  • Document when, where, and how you have spent your time

ACT LIKE AN OWNER
A leader is someone who thinks and acts on behalf of the entire organization, not just their own ministry area. To act like an owner means you are able to:

  • Think about the health of the whole, even before your specific ministry area
  • Take personal responsibility for creating a healthy and productive culture
  • Act decisively to get a problem fixed if you see something that is broken
  • Do the little things without complaining because you take pride in what you own
  • Work to understand what you don’t know to be a better manager of the resources entrusted to you

CREATE EXCELLENT ENVIRONMENTS
A leader is someone who pays attention to detail and works to create intentional and excellent environments. To create an excellent environment means you are able to:

  • Prepare the space you are responsible for before people arrive
  • Take hospitality and hosting our guests to a new level
  • Focus on even the smallest details because they communicate your level of preparation to lead
  • Engage as many of the five senses as possible in a positive way with the environments you create

DISPLAY SELF-AWARENESS
A leader is someone who is aware of both their strengths and weaknesses. To display self-awareness means you are able to:

  • Be vocally self-critical when necessary and appropriate
  • Acknowledge your mistakes before others are forced to bring them up
  • Actively work to identify and correct any mistakes you’ve made
  • Put systems and structures in place to offset any weaknesses
  • Respond in the moment by saying “thank you” when presented with criticism

2014 Sermon Recap

For the last few years, I’ve used the blog to analyze my sermons from the last year and share my own thoughts on what we have covered as a church. A normal part of many people’s church experience is to get to the car or lunch (or Life Group) and ask, “What did you think about the sermon?” The more I’ve been around other pastors in recent years, the more I’ve realized that most preachers have something in common: we critically analyze our own work, sometimes to a fault. My closest friends know this and are comfortable asking me what people tend to ask each other after church: “What did you think about the sermon?”

This year, I am going to share my favorite and least favorite sermons and sermons series like I have done in the past. But what I also will do is explain why I liked or disliked a 10649715_10152801818556119_3312219470013533211_n-2message or series so much. I’ve often told people that if I lived and preached in a different context than Waco, my preaching style would be dramatically different. I think this should be the case, or else context would be irrelevant. However, I do have personal preferences and a style of preaching I enjoy more than others, just like everyone else. Maybe this blog will give you insight into my own personal preferences and, if nothing else, let you know that I analyze my sermons more than anyone else.

Favorite Sermon in 2014: “God is Revealed” (from the “God Made Flesh” series)

Why? I loved the interaction with our congregation in this message, particularly after asking for more responsiveness from our church a few weeks prior to this message. It requires vulnerability as a leader to have a conversation like asking a group to change its dynamics. This message was so affirming for me as a leader to see people engage and interact like they did.

On top of that, I loved the drawing exercise at the beginning of the message. I wish I was creative enough to do something like this every single week. So, while the content maybe wasn’t my favorite from 2014, the creative/artistic elements in this sermon coupled with the response from our congregation made this a fun one for me to preach.

Least Favorite Sermon: “True Religion” (a stand alone message)

Why? I was preaching from one of my favorite books in the Bible in this message, but didn’t have enough time to develop the text due to it being Compassion Sunday. I felt like it resulted in a message that was half baked.

While interviewing Ben from Compassion was fun and provided a few “off the cuff” moments (which I really enjoy), I ultimately felt like both the sermon and the interview deserved more time. In hindsight, I think I should have focused solely on the Compassion portion and shelved the sermon section.

Favorite Series: “God in the Movies”

Why? First, let me say that there were a few series (like “The New Exodus”) that were more significant doctrinally, but I believe the reason behind this series is of the utmost importance for the American Church today. Learning to see Christ in all things is such a critical skill to develop. I feel like this series is always an opportunity to preach and teach people how to develop this skill at the same time.

On top of that, I love the challenge of finding the core message of movies (as well as other pieces of culture) and comparing it to Scripture. It always challenges what I actually believe, not just what I profess to believe. This series also sharpens my own discernment because it forces me to be conscious of what I am taking in, which is not always what we want to do when watching a movie or TV show. In fact, we mostly want to “escape” or “veg out” when consuming media, which can be detrimental to our lives. This is why a cultural series will usually be part of our annual rhythm at Harris Creek.

Least Favorite Series: “The Art of Peacemaking”

Why? I think this series was, quite possibly, the most important series I’ve done to date at Harris Creek. I also have heard of some concrete ways God used this series in the lives of our people. So, I do not regret doing this series at all; in fact, I loved the series in many ways and hope to continue to flesh out this subject in the future.

In the same breath, there are two reasons why this ended up being the most disappointing series for me personally:

  1. The topic of reconciliation is such a broad subject, this series felt like trying to “eat an elephant.” There was so much left unsaid that I felt like the series could have accomplished more.
  2. There are some relationships in my own life that need to be reconciled, yet the window for that to happen still hasn’t opened. I personally was wrestling with the weight of a few relationships that remain unreconciled while teaching on the subject.

The other thing I wanted to do with this blog is share a few “stats” from the last year. We had eight guest speakers in 2014, and 13 times when someone other than me was preaching. I believe this is a healthy number for both the congregation and for me. When it comes to what I taught over the last 12 months, here are a few stats I always like to analyze from the year:

Microsoft Word - 2014 Sermon Recap.docx

Overall I feel like 2014 was a productive and fruitful year, teaching wise. What about you? Are there any series or sermons that stand out to you? If so, why? I would love to hear what you’ve learned or enjoyed over the last year in the comments section.

Engaging the Culture

One tension Christians throughout the ages have wrestled with is how we are to relate to the culture around us. There are groups of well-meaning Christians that arrive at far different conclusions when it comes to this subject. At one extreme, there are people who attempt to live lives that are completely separate and distinct from the world around them. Their posture towards culture is generally defensive and guarded. On the other end of the spectrum, there are believers who look no different than the world around them because they want to be known for “engaging the world.” The tendency in this camp is to blindly consume all that culture has to offer. The challenge for every Christian is to learn how to thoughtfully and prayerfully engage the world without becoming a product of the world.

Raphael's painting of Paul at Mars Hill
Raphael’s painting of Paul at Mars Hill

Acts 17 contains one of the best and most famous examples of how we can approach this subject as Christians living in an increasingly pluralistic society.[1] While alone in Athens, the Apostle Paul becomes a student of the culture he finds himself in and engages the people of Athens in a way they could understand. He engages people in this context by using pieces of their culture to explain the story of the Gospel. In verse 23, he uses a false idol to explain the Gospel. In verse 28, he quotes famous Epicurean poets, the rock stars of their day, to again point to Christ. Paul took things the people of Athens already believed and reframed them in a way to help them understand the truth found in Scripture.

In the same way, I believe we are called to be students of the culture God has placed us in so that we can point people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. The technical word for this is “contextualization.” Alan Roxburgh says, “Contextualization means ‘weaving together,’ and when applied to theology, it is the process of using conversations to interweave the gospel into every aspect of local life.”[2] The interweaving of the gospel into “every aspect of local life” does not mean we are called to awkwardly force the gospel into every conversation; rather, it means the gospel is already present in every aspect of life.

This approach to evangelism is predicated and built upon a fundamental belief, and that is God is already at work in the world around us. We simply need to have eyes to see where God is working and get better at learning how to reveal this work to others. To say it another way, our job is not to “bring truth” to the culture we live in. Truth is already present in the world long before we arrive on the scene. Our job is to reveal the truth that is already present. The sooner more of us can grasp this subtle yet important distinction the better.


[1] See Acts 17:16-34
[2] Alan Roxburgh, Introducing the Missional Church, Pg. 93

Lent Day 26 Reflection

Blaise Pascal[1] is famous for once saying, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town.”[2] The focus of our Lenten readings this week is on the subject of “peace.” It seems as though peace is what we all long for, yet is most often just beyond our grasp. We want peace in our relationships, peace in our country, peace in the world, but most of all, we want to feel a sense of peace inside.

When we lack the internal peace we long for, we begin to wage war on those around us. I believe, like Pascal, that the lack of peace in our world stems from a lack of peace on the inside. Apart from Christ we are restless, conflicted, troubled souls that cannot sit quietly with ourselves. Yet any admittance to internal turmoil would mean we would have to forfeit some of our social and relational authority, so we begin to find other ways to deal with the internal storms. We quickly blame our problems on something or someone “other” than myself. The harsh reality of human nature is that we tend to project our unrest onto others just to quiet the dull roar going on in our own souls.

How can we find the peace we are all looking for as fellow human beings? How can we find the harmony we so often pray for? The Scripture for today from Isaiah 33 says it comes by submitting to the authority of God, the Creator and Sustainer of peace. Isaiah 33:6 says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times…the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.” The key to living a life of peace is submitting our lives, our emotions, our desires, and our plans to the authority of God alone.

The problem with this statement is we have become really adept at creating God in our own image. We convince ourselves through the manipulation of Scripture and community that God has ordained our plans, rather than submitting our lives to His purposes. Richard Rohr says, “We will all find endless disguises and excuses to avoid letting go of what really needs to die for our own spiritual growth. And it is not other humans (firstborn sons of Egyptians), animals (lambs or goats), or even ‘meat on Friday’ that God wants or needs. It is always our beloved passing self that has to be let go of.”[3]

As I said in my sermon this morning, the scary thing is that we can actually get to a place where we justify in our hearts what God clearly says is wrong. We can get to a place where we justify our gossip because that person deserves it. We can begin to justify our anger because “they intentionally did that to upset me.” We can easily justify our pride because we need to have a positive self-image. We can justify our lust because it’s a normal part of our biology. We can justify our laziness because “Jesus paid it all.” You get the point.

To make God the true foundation of our lives means we must move past our terrible habit of turning Him into a genie that is there to affirm my decisions at genieevery turn. In the story of Exodus, one of Pharaoh’s primary problems was he continually exalted himself above God.[4] This stemmed from his failure to listen to God and the counsel around him, which eventually led to his own demise. Pharaoh had made his goals, his desires, and his thoughts the foundation of life. Paul says it this way in Romans 8:5: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires.” In other words, if you live to make yourself “god” of your universe, you’ll never see beyond yourself and never find the satisfaction, or peace, you are looking for.

On the flip-side, Paul goes on to say, “…the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.[5] If we allow God to govern, or rule, our lives, the result will be life and peace. Perhaps the only way to see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, finally bring peace on earth is to allow Him to first bring peace to our hearts. If that is going to happen, we must submit to His lordship and surrender our desire for control. I will close with a prayer that our Lenten guide calls us to pray today: “Lord, Fill our minds with knowledge. Fill our hearts with wisdom. Fill our agendas with redemption. And fill our city with peace like a river.” Amen.


 

[1] Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher, physicist, mathematician and pure genius.
[2] Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées, Kindle Locations 857-859
[3] Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters, Pg. 134
[4] See Exodus 9:17
[5] Romans 8:6