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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Who's in control here, anyway?

I am a pastor. Every Sunday, I preach sermons. When you do you that every single week – some are better than others.

This morning, I got up to preach, and I started talking. I said my opening words, looked down at my manuscript, and kind of got lost. I kept talking. You have to – everyone is watching, waiting for you to say something. Of course I knew the general theme of the message, I had worked on it all week; but the more I talked the most lost and discombobulated I felt.

I finally recovered around the bottom of the page. Every time I looked at the crowd – really looked people in the eye – I could tell they were listening intently. I felt like the whole sermon, I came across as disorganized. As I got the last page of the manuscript, I was thinking, “Man, I am glad this is over.” In my mind, I was already making commitments to work extra hard in the upcoming week so I wouldn’t subject my folks to another exercise in unprepared rambling. I have two more weeks in a 5-part series in Judges, which is very hard to preach. So I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Then, afterward, two of the people who are typically very attentive listeners were talking. I entered their conversation not thinking the sermon would be mentioned. But, one of the women said she was getting a lot out of the sermons on Judges – especially today! The other woman agreed. ‘Really?’ I asked, astounded!

Who’s in control here anyway? Not me!

Once I got home, I asked the woman who is my harshest critic, my wife, what she thought. (By the way, because she is my harshest critic, she’s also the best, bar none). Before the two friends at church had said what they said, I had planned on avoiding the topic of the sermon in hopes that my wife wouldn’t bring it up. Because of their encouragement, I asked her for her reaction.

Expecting to have my worst fears confirmed, I waited. She said it was one of the best sermons I had ever given. Flabbergasted! I could not believe it. I felt awful about the whole thing and three of the people whose views I really trust affirmed me.

Who’s in control here anyway? Not me!

God guides how words are spoken and how they are heard. In the book of Job, many of the words spoken by his three friends are good words. They are good words spoken at the wrong time. They are good words spoken by people who did not have the right to speak them; the friends were especially out of line in saying what they did to Job. They forwarded a theology that God rewards righteous people and punishes wicked people.

Job’s suffering must have come from God. God would only send such awful woes on one who was wicked. Ergo, Job was wicked and things would go better for him as soon as he repented. The lengthy speeches of Job’s friends were poetic, quite beautiful and compelling at times. But, they did not adequately reflect the reality of Job’s situation.

God condemned good words, well-spoken words, by Job’s friends. And, not that God needs vindication from anyone, but, an ethicist would find God in the right. In the book of Job, God comes out OK.

This morning, God ordained words poorly spoken by me. Four different people were blessed by what they heard. It’s a good thing God is in control here. I would pity the world if it relied on me for eloquence or Job’s friends for truth spoken appropriately. We human beings try our best, and all the while pray and trust that God is guiding the way.

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