Thursday, July 17, 2008

Steadfast Trust in the Word of the Lord

But the man of God said to the king, " If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. "For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.'" So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.--1 Kings 13:8-10

Though we know very little about the man of God, if the story ended here, we'd have a pretty impressive situation. He boldly preaches to Jeroboam, stands there as he threatens him, and sticks to his guns even after the king seems to repent. God has told him to get out of Israel and get back to Judah. Certainly, he seems convinced of the Word of the Lord.

However, an older prophet hears of his encounter and runs to intercept him. He invites the prophet to to come to his house and dine with him. At first, the prophet stands his ground, explaining the word he received from the Lord. However, the older prophet assures him that an angel also spoke to him, and told him to bring the man of God home with him. 1 Kings 13:18 tells us, "But he lied to him." Trusting the older prophet, the man of God relents, and heads to his home for food and water.

The result is shocking:

and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, "Thus says the LORD, 'Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, "Eat no bread and drink no water"; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.'"--1 Kings 13:21-22

This time, the old prophet does speak the word of the Lord. When the man of God left, he was attacked and killed by a lion. The old prophet goes and retrieves the body and buries him in his own grave.

So the lying prophet receives no punishment. He admires the man of God, for he even requests that his sons bury him in the same grave, once he has died. But the Scriptures do not record for us when that happened. We see no sign of this old prophet being punished for deceiving the man of God.

But the man of God, who stood boldly before the king, refused to stay with the king when he appeared to repent, and yet was fooled by the lie of another prophet? He is killed by a lion. Showing how this was the judgment of God, the lion did not even eat his body, or kill the donkey he had ridden. But he wasn't killed for believing another prophet. He was killed for doubting the Word of the Lord he had received.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8

It would be so easy to throw stones at this man of God, if not for my own need for spiritual Dramamine. Lately, I began to question my ability to preach. However, this was not concern over my qualifications, study habits or delivery. I began to question the process of exposition. Are all the nay-sayers correct that it simply doesn't work today? (Yes, though the blog is titled lectiocontinua in honor of a passion of mine, I began to wonder if my zeal wasn't placed in the wrong area.)

I have received skepticism from other pastors regarding the "relevance" of exposition. Recently, I had begun to deal with some murmurs within our congregation regarding the effectiveness of exposition. Now, on my vacation, I sat in my cabin assessing three messages I had spoken to fifth, sixth and seventh graders. As I sat there, I was convinced that I was failing. These kids needed more than exposition. What I was given them simply wasn't working.

God would have been perfectly justified to maul me with a lion at that point. (Though in central Wisconsin, a giant mosquito may have been more appropriate.) It would have been an act of grace. He could have simply taken this waffler home.

However, he began to do something else. First, since I have taken Dr. Keith's preacher's challenge, I started my Wednesday morning with this chapter in 1 Kings. Next, I preached a message from Ephesians 1 to the students (on the glory of God's grace). Shortly after the session (and lunch) I then entered into a meeting with all the camp counselors. I waited through a lot of administrative discussion and detail before the man in charge opened the floor to discuss the sessions. There was a brief silence (which felt like years to me, I was just sure no one wanted to speak for they had nothing to say), and then a couple counselors spoke up. There words were gracious and kind. Then others began to speak. The counselors became energized as they began to discuss the conversations they were having with young people. Their compliments were not the "great illustrations," "you're really funny," "my kids liked the story about..." type comments. These were comments about how the kids were engaged, growing and getting it.

And at that point it hit me, "I am that double-minded man." Exposition of Scripture is not a method. It is not simply a way that some men like to preach. I have not fallen into this method simply because it saves time (though I don't waste time wondering "What do I preach next?" I would suggest steady exposition, particularly sequential exposition requires more study time) or because it fits my lack of creativity. The Lord reminded me that I have come to be an expositor for theological reasons. It is the Word of the Lord, I should not doubt it.

I sat there amazed. God had granted me a grace He was not required to give. My motivation for preaching should not be results or affirmation from anyone other than the Lord. The power is not in me, but in His Word. I preached the rest of the week with joy. I returned home renewed to my commitment to exposition. I even found myself longing for a chance to show a nay-sayer that this is a theological issue not methodological. I longed for the chance to help them see the power of the Word of God.

I am sure I will continue to doubt my abilities as a preacher. But I pray to God that He does not allow me to again doubt the power of His Word plainly spoken. He has given me sixty-six books of His wisdom. I should not doubt them.

And most of all, I am thankful for the One who did not believe the lies, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23), remaining steadfast all the way to the cross to ensure my salvation!

7 comments:

Brad said...

You seem to be saying any method other than verse-by-verse exposition through a book constitutes unfaithfulness to the scriptures, to the extent that to doubt that particular method is to doubt the very word of God. Am I hearing you correctly?

And if this is in fact what you are claiming, what verse-by-verse exposition can you give us to support such a notion? How about giving us the straight biblical case for lectio continua? Can you show us from the scriptures alone that it really is the method God requires?

Your longed-for nay-sayer...

danny2 said...

brad,

i deliberately avoiding advocating sequential exposition in this post. i simply was dealing with exposition of Scripture.

(i did make the comment about sequential exposition, but merely saying that i think it requires more study time.)

the kind of resistance i've received lately does not even get to the point of discussing sequential exposition...the charge starts that exposition itself (with the Scriptures being the central focus of the sermon) is primitive and ineffectual.

i love sequential exposition, but i do not demand it of a preacher. it is particularly difficult to do when traveling or speaking infrequently. (at the camp i just spoke at, i exposited 2 Peter 1:16-21, Luke 24:44-47, Romans 1:18-23, Ephesians 1:3-12, Romans 12:1-2, Romans 10:13-17, Matthew 5:13-16, Matthew 16:13-18 and John 5:39-47 during the course of the week. clearly i did not feel tied to picking up at the next text...but did feel the responsibility to preach a text.)

however, i do think that a primary preacher for a church (one who speaks regularly to a Body) should consider strongly lectio continua. it can be tempting, if not, to preach topics you think the people need to hear (and find accompanying passages) rather than simply preaching through a text and allowing the Scripture to determine what needs to be said.

possibly in the future, i'll write a post addressing your other issue. is it a valid argument that sequential exposition should not be advocated more than other ways if an example is not found in Scripture? i think to make such an argument is to ignore that some pretty significant things have happened since the apostolic period (something i'm pretty sure you advocate...though different things.)

Brad said...

Thanks, Danny. Forgive me for misrepresenting what you were saying. I'm happy to hear I misunderstood you.

I am sorry that you're having to deal with that level of opposition even just to preaching the scriptures. That has to be discouraging.

I know you know this, but whether everyone realizes it or not, you're doing your church and all your hearers a great service by sticking to the word. Hold the course, brother!

And I do look forward to someday reading your biblical case for lectio continua.

dee said...

since i know my opinions carry so much weight in our church, i will say that i LIKE the expositional preaching - even the sequential kind - and miss it when i'm gone. and if for some reason i don't "get much out of a sermon" on any given sunday, i assume it is MY fault for not studying deeply enough myself during the week.

you gotta keep doing what you believe God has lead you to do, danny.

Brad said...

...is it a valid argument that sequential exposition should not be advocated more than other ways if an example is not found in Scripture?

I believe that in most things the apostles did and taught, they were laying down a pattern that Christ wanted the church to follow.

It seems to me, then, that whenever the church has any questions as to how she should go about her work-- whether it be preaching or evangelism or worship--the first question she needs to ask is "How did the apostles do these things, and how did they teach others to do them?"

Rarely, I think, will the best way of carrying out the work of the church be by using a method the apostles never used nor ever instructed anyone else to use.

Now, that is not to say the apostles didn't teach others to employ lectio continua; I just haven't yet seen the evidence. My point here is that if there is in fact no evidence that anyone in scripture either used or taught anyone else to use lectio continua, it's status as "best method" seems to me, well... suspect, at least.

Margaret said...

you have no idea how much our family has benefited from expositional preaching. it has been absolutely refreshing to know we can go to church sunday after sunday and hear NOTHING but God's Holy Word. The Bible has come alive for our kids. it certainly beats a sermon preached from opinion and finding random, out-of-context verses so support that opinion. expositional exhortation helps to understand the entire book, the author's intent, who it was written to, etc. it is much easier to understand the bigger picture within the smaller.

thank you so much for staying true to the Holy Spirit's promptings. we will remember to keep praying for you as our pastor.

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