Mr. Vallee, we found your sermon on the internet. We are glad that you are fond of those verses that speak of the body of Christ being made up of many parts. Two of us are of these weaker, indispensable parts you spoke of and that you love. A third is still a seeker whose soul you would like to win. We are all hoping that you will read our analysis of your sermon, that you will praise us for every right thing we say, that you will forgive our excited zeal that might be mistaken for harshness in places, and that you will close with God and his word in order to become better at what you do.
Mr. Vallee, Living Stones, The Price of Commitment.
Summary: (He begins with prayer for his church to have strength to commit in spite of conflict between good and evil, with the added petition that his church have a biblical worldview to address the evil in our world. He mentions his text as Joshua 10. But he continues, not with the sermon text, but with a fairly long story.) We are shocked when conflict happens. When we come to Christ we have an adversary. We will have enemies. The devil seems to be asleep until we make a commitment. Then we have resistance. But we get strong by resistance. It builds character. God’s people had to fight the battles to get the cities in the Promised Land. God was in it, and they did it by faith, but they had to fight. The greatest battle happens within us, or from unexpected places, like co-workers, kids, etc. That results in resentment. Our fight is not against flesh and blood. It’s a spiritual battle. So don’t take it personally. We need to look beyond the person to the evil behind that person and to take that out. It is easier to bless the person we’re in conflict with if we look at it that way. The normal Christian life is filled with conflict. Unless we know this, we’ll get thrown into tail-spins. If we have no battles, we must question our salvation. Remember, Jesus experienced resistance even from Peter. We mean well when we dissuade our kids from Missionary service. But we may be hindering their purpose to serve God. This is a more subtle form of conflict. (He summarizes Joshua 9 about the Gibeonites fooling Israel into making a covenant with them. Then he takes up chapter 10. I don’t know where his first point really begins, but here it is.) (A) Commitment results in conflict. Why people turn against us when we become Christians: (a) people are threatened by commitment; (b) they feel rejected; (c) they feel they’re losing a friend; (d) maybe they feel they have to reevaluate; (e) interests change. Before your commitment to Christ, you’re saying, “Don’t bring me there [to church]; I don’t like it; I don’t feel good; it’s convicting.” Why all this conflict in the Bible? That’s the way it is. People have no peace in their hearts. There’s conflict because righteousness and evil are at odds. When you said yes to Jesus, you said no to the devil. The more we get to know people, the more we have to work through issues. Deep relationships will have conflict. You get to love persons for who they are, not for who you thought they were. In conflict, the old way is to use criticism, gossip, manipulation, intimidation, etc. We have to use other tools now, or evil will overcome us. Some of our tools: to bless, forgive, pray, do good. When we bless, those who have done us wrong are confounded. We have to take our thoughts captive. We have to win the battle within before we can win the battle around us. Everyone born of God overcomes the world. We can’t win on our own, but we can through God inside us. (He quotes a suitable verse here.) Like the Gibeonites, we have new allies. We have the church. We need the church community. Beware of sectarianism, says Eugene Peterson. It’s easy to hang with a few people who agree with you in every area. God even puts people you don’t like into the family. We’ve got to love these people. The body is made up of many parts. The weaker parts are the indispensable parts. When we minister to these parts, we often get more out of it than they do. We must die to ourselves. (B) Commitment costs you something. Joshua had to defend the Gibeonites in difficult geography. He and his men did a twenty mile march uphill, then fought all the next day. And then Joshua prays for a miracle so they can fight longer! Ministry is not convenient. It costs. That’s the point. Commitment costs conflict, energy, resources, life. Is that not what Jesus did? He poured his life out for us. Then we complain if we have to do the same. Joshua was afraid, but continued to march. We must win the battle within us, fight off resentment, unforgiveness. None of us are equal to the task. It can’t be done apart from God. We can’t be committed apart from God. (He closes with a story about a man who held nothing back in his commitment, and whose commitment is summed up this way: no reserves [no holding back]; no retreat; no regrets.) Commitment impacts people’s lives. The great problem in North America is about lack of commitment: to God, to one another, and to God’s purposes. We like convenience, hate hardships. If you make a commitment to God, you’ll have conflict. Conflict will cost you something, probably everything. But in the end: no regrets.
Remarks: What he says is factual. Commitment brings conflict, and comes with a heavy price. It’s good that he teaches this. Many churches do not. Our fight is really with spiritual powers, and cannot be won apart from God. He emphasizes the conflicts that we have with those closest to us. This too is helpful. His lessons in point B fit the text, though they are quite general. But there are problems with this message.
(1) His lessons in point A are not drawn from the text. For instance, did the Israelites feel rejected by any commitment the Gibeonites made? Or did the Gibeonites feel rejected by any commitment made by the Israelites? No, therefore why is rejection presented as one of the sub-points of the sermon? The five lessons he offers under his first point are entirely detached from the text used to introduce them! If there are any connections at all, they are purely accidental. Commitment indeed results in conflict with others. They might feel threatened or rejected by our commitment. Or they might feel as though they’re losing a friend. They might also resent the need to reevaluate as we have done. These things may be true, but do we get these lessons from our text in Joshua? No attempt is made to show how his first point and its five lessons might have been culled from Joshua because they weren’t. In fact, there is conflict in the text (9.22); but that is brought on by deceit, not commitment! It seems obvious that he did not labor long in these two chapters in Joshua in preparation for his message. Why even present a text if you’re not going to teach lessons from it? Pulling lessons out of the hat like this is a poor way of feeding the sheep. It is nothing less than trying to yield life without offering the pure milk of the word. It reminds us of an attempt to make bricks without benefit of straw. But God is neither a Pharisee nor a Pharaoh. He has given us plenty to work with if we’ll only get out of our heads and into Scripture. If Mr. Vallee had stuck with his text to lift lessons from it, then deeper lessons than the ones he came up with would have arisen. It says in Joshua 10 that Joshua slew the five kings he had committed to destroy. Is that not a useful analogy of the converted sinner who goes all out in his commitment to God and slays all his chief sins? Would that not take us deeper than Mr. Vallee took us? This would have made the sermon look heavenward to God instead of at the problems around us. And this is not ‘to be so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good.’ No, this lesson arises naturally from the chosen passage, and so we may have confidence in the usefulness of it. The truth is that when we slay our sins, the greatest earthly good is done by it, for as the slaying of kings by Joshua drew his brethren to him, so our slaying of sins will draw seeking sinners to us, and so to our Saviour and our way of life. This lesson we offer as one better than all five that fall under his first heading was gleaned from just a cursory look in the right place. Imagine what lessons could be gleaned by the diligent pastor! Because of his lack of concern to have some agreement between the text and his lessons, here is a further problem. When a connection is attempted, it can result in the most absurd and perilous incongruity. At one point he says that like the Gibeonites, we have new allies. But can we present the Gibeonites as models of commitment when their commitment came by lies and hypocrisy? Do we become allied with God and with other Christians through deceit, or else by grace and faith? Our commitment must always be in doubt if it was come by ‘wilily.’ Some Gibeonites were no doubt truly committed, but to say that like them we have new allies is too close to saying that we and they have come by our covenant the same way. Awkward pitfalls like this appear out of nowhere when the passage we should exposit is just used to help us preach our own inventions. The Bible commands men of God to rightly divide the word. It isn’t stretching things to assert that Mr. Vallee did not even attempt to divide it! How may this prayer of his for a biblical worldview among his members be fulfilled unless he unfolds the word of God for them?
(2) This message is not convicting. There is no law to fear, hardly any mention of Jesus, and no dire consequences. For instance, what does he say about sin? Sin is not prominent in this message. It might have been if the text had been handled. No sins are mentioned as having to be repented of, except in an incidental way when he says we need new tools to replace the tools of gossip and the like. Nowhere does he put his people on the spot for sin. Or when he does, it’s with little nudges in a tender tone, ‘Come on now.’ This kind of talk almost excuses sin when it should be reproved and shown to be the consequential evil that it really is. Sin is really soft-peddled in this message, not preached. Any speaker is naturally averse to offending the audience in front of him. So when he pulls lessons out of thin air, it is no wonder that he comes up with no command to repent of particular sins. At one point, he states the following attitude a person might have before he commits to Christ: “Don’t bring me there [to church]; I don’t like it; I don’t feel good; it’s convicting.” A church service ought to be convicting. But would anyone feel convicted to commit to God by the sermon in this service? Not likely, because there is little or nothing in here to convict him. If someone did get convicted, it would have to be in spite of the sermon as much as because of it.
Conclusion: When sermon lessons are not taken from the text, this shows that the sermon is not centered on the text of Scripture. And when the whole sermon is wedged between two stories, this shows that Scripture is not the foundation of it. And so this sermon is not founded on Scripture and not Bible-centered. Not until at least fifteen minutes in does he touch upon any textual content. When Scripture is not made the basis and center, we are not surprised that the result is a non-convicting, man-centered message that contains no grand doctrines to speak of. This sermon is not really a sermon, and not even a commentary, but a kind of talk one might give in a café or on a street corner. It’s all very casual, almost interactive, if you can believe it, and the contents are little more than one might offer in a therapeutic lecture or a motivational speech. At best, this is public speaking, but more relaxed than that. Mr. Vallee has a talent for delivery, but the manner and tone are unsuitable for the pulpit. There is no solemn authority here. One might get a temporary lift from the talk, but one will learn little, be convicted not at all, see Jesus only in passing, and be taught to treat Scripture as a springboard for whatever one has in mind to say. What we should have is a real sermon: one that teaches right from the word, convicts us of sin, gives us both a lovely and an awful sight of Christ, and that models a proper approach and use of the Bible. A congregation that is out for God does not want to hear what the man in the pulpit thinks, but what God has to say. Is this congregation really committed, I wonder? Do these people know what real preaching is? If the members of this church were committed, would they not demand something from God and his word instead of something cobbled together from their pastor’s imagination? And how can a pastor expect God to speak through him unless he draws from the word that God has ordained as the medium by which he would reach both saints and sinners?
Three persons reviewed this message. One of these is responsible for writing the analysis. The other two generally agree with it. One of these three may be described as an intermittent seeker, but not a Christian yet. It seems fitting to end with his comments, for we’re sure that Mr. Vallee should be anxious to win seeking souls like this to Christ. The seeker says that except for a few references to Scripture, the message was like something by Dr. Phil, the talk show host, and that Mr. Vallee should quit the ministry and do something like that instead. In light of these comments, especially, the following question is appropriate: These young persons killed on the highway just recently might have been to this church on the Sunday before their end. If they had gone there to hear this sermon, could they have gleaned any saving message from it in their dying moments?
Mr. Vallee, we welcome and desire your consideration and communication. The Bible commands us to prove all things and to hold fast that which is good. For the sake of your people and your own soul, we beg you to test your ministry against what the Bible reveals your message ought to be like.