david herndon

face value

My boss and pastor, John Stephens, is taking our staff through some of the wisdom of the desert fathers.  Its all really good stuff, but on Tuesday one conversation stopped me dead in my tracks:

Ammon brought this question to Sisois: “When I read Scripture, I am tempted to make elaborate commentaries and prepare myself to answer questions on it.”  He replied, “You don’t need to do that.  It is better to speak simply, with a good conscience and a pure mind.”

Heavy words if you think about it.  It is better to speak simply, with a good conscience and a pure mind.  How many times do I feel the need to add to God’s word?

I immediately thought of another quote that I read some months ago on Donald Miller’s twitter account.  He said, “I find it suspect when Christian teaching is more concrete than Christ’s teaching.”

I’ll ask it again: How many times do I feel the need to add to God’s word?  How many times have you heard a speaker/preacher read a verse of scripture and immediately follow up with “Now, what God is really saying here is…”  or “Today we’re going to break this down into 3 easy steps…”

Does God really need us to simplify his word and break it into a payment plan or acronize his scripture?

Even Jesus said in Matthew 6 not to let our acts of righteousness become a performance for others.  And Paul teaches in Ephesians 4 that the only words we should speak are words that benefit other people and not ourselves.  Any other kind of talk is called unwholesome.

As a Christian leader/minister/oratator, I was very convicted by the magnitude of all of these statements.  I was in awe at the power of God’s words, and at the same time I was amazed by the weakness of my words.  Mostly, I was ashamed at how often I get those two mixed up.

I am often tempted to “add” to God’s words – to simplify Jesus’ teachings, to explain the Greek and the Hebrew and the Piglatin, to read between the lines, to give the coolest, newest, and most hip interpretation of scripture.  But God doesn’t need my help.  He said it right the first time.  If I’m real honest, the motive behind dressing up God’s word is not for his glory, but for my own.  Don’t we all like to sound smart and original?  The best job I can do as a Christian (not just as a leader/minister/oratator), is to repeat what He said just as He said it, and then live my life accordingly.  No additives necessary.

I was blessed to see the pure power of God’s pure word in action last weekend while helping to lead a youth retreat.  Going into an evening worship service we read James 5 as he gives instructions on how to worship together.  Simply put, James instructs us to pray on our own, to sing songs of thanksgiving, and to confess our needs to each other and pray for each other.  So that’s what we did.  We prayed.  We sang.  We confessed.  We prayed.  What was planned to be a one hour youth worship service turned out to be over 3 hours long!

What if I truly lived my life that way – taking God’s word at face value?  For example, in Matthew 5 we hear Jesus say that if our hand causes us to sin, then we should cut it off.  Most of the time as a teacher I would follow that verse up by saying something like, “Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut your hand off, he’s just trying to make a point.”  Doesn’t that explanation immediately deflate the statement Jesus is trying to make about sin?  When I make a statement like that, then I am really saying, “Sin is something you need to work on, but God doesn’t really expect you to cut it out of your life completely.”  Maybe He does mean it literally, because it truly would be better for me to live a handless life than a life trapped in sin. 

Sometimes at home I struggle with my tongue.  I often say the wrong thing to my wife and my children.  Even more often I say things in the wrong way at the wrong time.  I also often say that this is something I need to work on.  Maybe instead of working on it I just need to shut up.  It would be better for me (and for my family) to have a quiet husband and father than a strife-filled house.

What would my life look like if I truly applied this principle as Jesus teaches it, oppossed to my comfortable, watered-down version?

I do the same thing with James 5:16.  God doesn’t really expect me to confess every single one of my sins to another person does He?  Yes!  God knows true healing will only come from complete honesty and complete confession, which brings complete accountability.  A hidden life, a secret life is no life at all.  When I have nothing to hide, then I will have nowhere to hide.

God’s word is good.  God’s word is strong.  It does not need to be added to or overly explained.  It only needs to be believed in.

So what scripture do you need to take at face value today?

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good endings bring great beginnings
December 10, 2010, 11:08 am
Filed under: bible study, leadership | Tags: , , , , ,

Remember that song “Closing Time” by that band that had that one song a few years ago… you know their name… okay, neither do I.  But I do remember the song.  There is one line I really love from that song: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  That’s good stuff.

Lately I have found myself reading through the Psalms.  As a musician the book of Psalms is one of my favorites, and I am amazed that no matter how many times I read through this book I always learn something new.  Yesterday I was reading Psalm 72, a beautiful passage in itself, but the ending is what really intrigues me.

Psalm 72 is a Psalm of Solomon, King David’s son, who followed David to the throne.  This particular Psalm seems to be a prayer over Solomon’s kingship.  The very last line, verse 20 reads, “This concludes the prayers of David, son of Jesse.”  What an interesting way to end this prayer.

So what are the prayers of David and just how does this one Psalm end them?  Just read through the first 71 Psalms and you’ll get an idea of David’s prayers…

“Lord, how long will you hide from me?”

“Protect me from my enemies…”

“Deliver me from the evil around me…”

You get the point.  David was anointed by God to be the King of Israel and then spent decades in exile before he could ever sit on the throne.  David was the King that brought the ark of the covenant, the very presence of God, back to Israel… after many battles and bloodshed.  David was the man who worked tirelessly to have God’s temple built in Israel.  David’s life was anything but peaceful, and that is reflected in his prayers.  God asked a lot of David, and David never backed down – even in the greatest of difficulty.

So now Solomon is king and he asks for God’s help as he surveys is inheritance.  Israel is at peace.  The ark of the covenant is home.  The temple is built.  All that David worked and fought for has happened.  So Solomon very poetically says, “This concludes the prayers of David, son of Jesse.” 

Jesus said something similar on the cross – “It is finished.”

It did not escape Solomon what he was inheriting.  He was fully aware of how much was required of his father to bring the kingdom of Israel to where it was.  He was wise to ask for God’s help in following David’s footsteps.   “This concludes the prayers of David.  Help me to preserve everything God has done through him.”  Solomon went on to become one of the greatest kings the world has ever known.  Perhaps he was able to do so because he was so aware of all that came before him, and therefore he moved forward with mindful honor of the past.

So for the leader:  Make sure you end well – work hard, fight harder, and pray, pray, pray.  Someone will come after you and you have a chance to put them in a very good situation.  A leader can never be deemed “good” until they’re gone.  David was a great king because his kingdom grew after his presence was gone.  If your “kingdom” only grows because you are there it says more about you than it does your “kingdom.”  Good leaders leave a legacy.  Your end is someone else’s beginning.  Make it a good one.

For the follower: Wherever you are, whatever you do, someone came before you.  Do not forget the sacrifice, the hardship, and the prayers that came before to put you where you are.  They might not have done it like you, and that’s okay.  The important thing is that they did it.  Your beginning is someone else’s end.  Proceed with mindful honor. 

All that from one tiny verse…

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