Wednesday, June 28, 2006

God and Coppertone

One of the touchiest areas in preaching is the part that is usually tacked on at the end of the sermon: application. Now you may be thinking, "What's so hard about application? Just tell me how to put the biblical passage into practice." But God is not like Coppertone -- he's just not that easy to apply.

As creatures made in God's image, we are "wired" for law. By this I mean that, unlike the gospel, which is foreign and counterintuitive, the law is in us by nature. Whether it's "Five Simple Steps for Victorious Living" or "Ten Ways to Improve Our Marriages," the fact is undeniable that the imago Dei in us craves instruction, and the American in us believes that if we put our minds to it, by golly, we can accomplish anything.

When we add to our moral self-confidence the fact that we are hopelessly self-obsessed, practical application becomes even more tricky. You see, the notion that the Bible is not actually about us, but about Jesus Christ, is rather offensive to our fragile egos. Hence the promise on the websites of our megachurches that the messages given contain helpful principles that can be used in the "real world" (which means my world). But when all the minister does is talk about Jesus and what he has done the complaint quickly arises, "But what does all that have to do with ME?"

I'm not suggesting we jettison practical application, but I am suggesting that we alter our approach to it. Rather than viewing God as a commodity that religious consumers use to improve their lives, ought we not reorient our lives to make them useful for him and his purposes? And instead of reducing God to a "co-pilot" whose occasional advice helps steer the ship of our lives, shouldn't we see ourselves as hopelessly shipwrecked without him, and him alone, at the helm?

It is only after we humbly acknowledge that we are but small parts of something much greater and grander than oursleves that we will ever be ready to be told what to do.