There are some things you will never hear. Ever seen those lists?
“On tonight’s news, we have nothing but good and uplifting stories to report.”
Sorry, that’s just not going to happen.
Or maybe you’ve seen the list of comments a pastor likely is never to hear:
“Pastor, I hope you’ll do that 10-week stewardship sermon series again this year.”
“Since we’re all here early for Sunday school, let’s go ahead and start.”
“I just love singing hymns we’ve never sung before.”
“I think the temperature in the sanctuary was just right for everyone today.”
“Pastor, would you consider letting me be the permanent teacher for the middle school class?”
“Hey, it’s my turn to sit on the front row.”
Things we do hear, maybe too often
While there are some things you will not be hearing any time soon, the Bible is filled with familiar sayings and ideas we hear quite often. In fact, one of our problems is becoming so familiar with biblical texts we no longer hear them. That familiarity allows us to repeat life-changing words while not allowing them to change us.
Commands like: “Pray without ceasing,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” have been handled so often we have rubbed them smooth, and they have lost their bite and become tepid.
Things we think we hear but don’t
Another issue with our Bible reading and understanding is our tendency to inject into the Scripture tweaks or modifications of its wisdom that actually are contrary to its teaching.
See if the following list of “things Jesus never said” rings true for you.
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Jesus never said that the end justifies the means. To see how some of us go about doing church, you would be hard-pressed not to believe this.
The tendency for congregational leaders to try just about anything to get people in the pews or money in the plate is toxic. The effect either is to water down the scandal of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to the public or to use unethical or dubious methods to insure our success.
What Jesus did do was to present a demanding call to discipleship and not back off, even when it proved unpopular (John 6).
Jesus never said that the first would be first, the last would be last, so look out for number one. Twenty-first century Christianity seems to have lost its way with regard to our place in the world. To hear some, the church’s appropriate role is at the head of every line in culture. We want acclaim, political power, recognition and status.
The same goes for our parishioners and clergy. We easily overlook those in need and on the fringes of our society. Our practices belie an insatiable appetite for the limelight that seems incongruent with the one who “came to serve, not to be served.”
Jesus never said we are to live by the rule of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In fact, that ancient code of retribution and retaliation was overturned overtly when Jesus offered a radical alternative in Matthew 6:39-42.
Our calling is to be unreasonably gracious and generous. Watching us nurture our grudges, wounds and prejudices while allowing them to cripple our witness must be heartbreaking to Jesus.
Jesus never said when we come and follow him, we will find success, fame and fortune. In fact, the biblical and historical witness is directly contrary to that silly folk wisdom.
The cross most people bear in order to be faithful is real and significant. Some of God’s most faithful servants seem to have suffered the most.
The benefit of biblical faith most often is internal, not external. Our most meaningful rewards cannot be deposited, driven or worn, for they are eternal, not temporal.
Restoring our ability to hear Jesus
We all are guilty of distorting the gospel to make it fit our preconceptions and personal convictions. A needed antidote to this illness is a hearty dose of biblical truth.
Try this: Read the Bible regularly without anyone telling you what it says and means. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you, and see what emerges. If you need a place to start, try Matthew 5-7, the finest and most famous sermon ever preached.
Warning: This is dangerous and will change your life.
Bill Wilson is the director of the Center for Healthy Churches and has been a leader in local church ministry for over 30 years. This article has been adapted from the original post. The views expressed are solely those of the author.