Today's Word for Pastors...
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Today's Preaching Insight...
Outside-In or Inside-Out
When it comes down to it, Paul is pretty well convinced that there are two options for our lives. One option is to be squeezed. We can allow our lives, our values, our attitudes, our convictions, and our relationships to be shaped and formed from the outside in by the forces of the world around us. The other option is to be transformed. Our lives can be remolded, reshaped, redesigned from the inside out by the wind and breath of the Spirit of God.
Paul hangs those options out in front of us. With great passion he calls for our response. Therefore: because you know the mercy and grace of God, because you've seen how God loves lost, disoriented, confused and broken people, because you know how God's love has been made real for us at the cross, therefore, for God's sake, for your own sake, don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold. Rather, let God remold your life from the inside out so that you may demonstrate in practice the good, acceptable, loving, life-giving will of God for you.
Paul is correct, of course. You and I know that if we let it, the world around us will squeeze us into its own mold. If we let it, the world will shape our attitudes, our values, our convictions from the outside in, until it squeezes the life right out of us.
If we let it, the world will squeeze us into the mold of materialism. That's the belief, the ideology, the conviction, the assumption that everything that really matters in this life can be bought and sold with money. It's the belief that I can have what I want and have it now; all I need is plastic. We will mortgage our grandchildren's future to have what we want and have it now.
One of the emerging pastoral concerns that we share is the concern for good folks, Christian people, who are being squeezed to death by the demon on debt and the demonic power of plastic. People whose lives are being controlled and managed by their credit cards. The crisis for many families today is not only the high cost of living, but the cost of high living. It's a profoundly spiritual thing, and later this fall, we want to try to work on that.
If we let it, the world will squeeze us into the mold of self-centered amorality. That's the assumption that there is no objective standard of right or wrong in this universe, and that my behavior is determined solely on the basis of what satisfies me. It expresses itself in many ways. We desperately need gun control in this country, but we will never control the violence of our culture until we deal with the underlying desire to have whatever we want, whenever we want it, by whatever means it takes to get it. It works itself out in a multitude of ways, but if we let it, the world will squeeze us into the mold of self-oriented amorality.
If we let it, the world will squeeze us into the mold of "squishy spirituality." I borrowed that term from Jonathan Yardley, the book critic for the Washington Post. When I shared it on the Internet a few weeks ago, I received more response than anything I've sent out there since I wrote on Moncia Lewinsky. In a scathing review of a book on "boomer spirituality," Yardley described "squishy spirituality" as a "blend of all the most self-absorbed aspects of pop psychology, New Age pseudo-mysticism . . . and half-baked religiosity. It completely rejects anything remotely smacking of authority . . . It is self-indulgent rather than self-sacrificial, and it is utterly devoid of anything approximating intellectual rigor." He says the bottom line of most contemporary spirituality is "What's in it for me?"
(To read the entire article, "Squeezed or Transformed" by James A. Harnish at Preaching.com, click here)
It has been well said that the man who holds the ladder at the bottom is about as important as the man at the top. Everybody wants to be the man on the top, but he would not be there very long without the assistance he receives from the man at the bottom. If he is wise, the man at the top will recognize the importance of the man at the bottom. If he does not recognize it, he may find his ladder slipping away!
J. Michael Shannon is professor of preaching at Cincinnati Bible College in Cincinnati, OH.
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