Only heaven knows how many commercials are plastered on our televisions that call for us all to lose weight and build up our bodies. Most of the commercials have both male and female models who look like they been sculpted in museums who would like for us to believe they achieved such physiques doing some exercise on a particular machine for 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week! Being more than a little overweight myself, I cannot help but have a natural resentment towards such folks. However, on some of my "weaker" days, I have caught myself looking for the cordless phone before the 800 number disappears from the screen! Complementing the exercise commercials are the diet commercials. These contain famous people and some not so famous smiling into the camera telling us how they've lost 40, 50, 60 pounds or more on this or that plan! The imagery from these things certainly makes an impression and several lines from these commercials have made it into society's vernacular. One of the most memorable is the guy saying, "I gave all of my fat clothes to my fat friends." Gotta hate that guy! Wonder how his fat friends felt about his commercial?
In preaching through Mark's gospel on Sunday mornings at our church, I have encountered some very "weighty" Scriptures. From Jesus forgiving sin to the high costs of discipleship, the weight is unmistakable! Yet, many of America's pulpits have found ways to trim back the weight for the "sake of the hearer!"
It is no secret that modern topical sermons purposefully avoid the biblical doctrines of sin, hell, judgment, and the like. People who preach like this, instead, choose to highlight the "positives" of the gospel. Subjects like heaven, forgiveness, and blessings are all but sure to be Sunday "homeruns." Most conservative preachers have books lining their shelves highlighting this failure committed by thousands each and every Sunday. Tying this in to my introductory comments, one might say the pulpit is "losing weight."
I am now in Mark 8. This is one of the greatest chapters in the book and is certainly a pivotal chapter in the ministry of Christ. Soon, Jesus will turn south and begin a timely journey to Jerusalem, the site of His impending death. After Peter's great confession a memorable scene occurs. Jesus, for the first time, begins to speak concerning what will happen to Him when He gets to Jerusalem. In fact, Mark writes that Jesus spoke plainly about what would happen. It is at this point Peter rebukes Jesus! Matthew's account in chapter 16 sheds a little more light on this rebuke as Peter basically says there is no way he will let this happen to his Master. Jesus sharply rebukes Peter for his outburst for He knows the cross is absolutely necessary for our redemption...something the disciples will come to understand in time.
Immediately following this exchange, Jesus begins to instruct the disciples and the surrounding crowd on the particulars of following Him. It is in this setting we find the remarkable statement by Jesus, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." The verses which follow are also weighty as well.
After preaching on these verses, I went home and started thinking about the "weight loss" in America's pulpits. Certain doctrines being purposefully avoided has always been a serious threat to the church. But the problem is bigger than that. By not preaching the high costs of discipleship as well, the door has opened even wider for the shallow and pitiful prosperity guys who plague our country and blast lie after lie from behind their expensive pulpits. Not many today desire to hear sermons about denying ourselves and bearing crosses or, truth be told, following Jesus. To hear some of the big wigs tell it, God's primary concern is blessing you more than He already has. God surely wants you to have 3 instead of 2, 5 instead of 4.
Of course, the well-fed believer knows better. Once you feast upon God's Word, you develop and desire a taste for more of it. Preachers certainly have work to do...but so do those in the pew. It's a great thing to drop some weight here and there. But we must keep in mind, physical weight loss is often good and beneficial to one's body. Weight loss in the pulpit is to everyone's detriment.
This blog is a call to put meat back into the diet from our pulpits! Sweets turn to fat and make us lazy. Same thing happens in churches! The truths of our Lord are sharp, distinct, and powerful. May we be gripped by the words and demands of our Lord. May we share these truths with our people with hearts devoted to Christ. May they see these things in us!