Saturday, January 22, 2011

STREAMS CHRISTIAN CHURCH, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS (SERMON ANALYSIS 2)

June 2010

Mr. Keys, Streams, We are the Champions.

Summary: (He opens after the worship team ends. He speaks about the great encounters they had with God the previous Sunday nite. And he mentions that there have been prophetic words of late in his church.) “A Goliath always stands at the door of promotion.” A champion wins more than he loses, and wins the final game. (He gives a football anecdote.) Christians, we have to realize that we have the Spirit of a champion living in us. (Examples of victory from the life of Jesus are given.) His Spirit, the Spirit of a champion, lives in you. “We are what we contain. Therefore we are the champions of the world.” Greater is the champion in us than any champion in the world. No one is a born winner or loser. We are born choosers. (1 Samuel 17 is the text. Here he makes a joke about an Old Testament giant.) Goliath’s motives: to steal, kill, and destroy. The weapons: disease, fear, shame, addiction, control. His strategy: He’ll wait until you’re in the valley, and then he comes. His strategy: to intimidate, separate, and annihilate. We look at the enemy’s champion, and say, “I don’t know if I can win…Nobody understands. My Goliath is bigger than your Goliath.” That’s the Saul attitude. You have to be a David. Some, you’re bullied by past mistakes. Or you feel beaten this week. You can lose the battle and still win the war. Paul was a champion. “I know that Christ won the war,” he said. He knew he would win in the end. (He quotes Romans 8.35-37.) Even the greatest champions can struggle. Just go to Romans 7. But then Paul reminds himself that he was meant to win. After the crucifixion the demons discussed that Jesus was now in the tomb. But the Spirit was waiting. The same Spirit that raised Christ up lives in you today, the Spirit of a champion. If the Holy Spirit can raise up a corpse, he can raise you up. David, that little runt, faced down a nine foot giant. (He makes a joke here about Goliath.) How could David face the giant? By the anointing he received from Samuel. That anointing is the same anointing we’re talking about today. He was anointed with the Spirit of a champion. David’s reference to Goliath as uncircumcised was to point out that Goliath was out of covenant with God. He did not have the Spirit of a champion in him. He did not deserve to be called a champion. (Here he screams out some biblical victories and speculates about why David chose five stones. Then the worship team comes on because the pastor wants to do some warfare.) “The God of David is here, so let’s go.” (The pastor drifts into prayer as the worship team meanders along. He prays over addictions and fears, etc. He prepares to anoint people. A woman reads from Isaiah 42. Music proceeds while the anointing goes on.)

Remarks. He did not stray from his topic. The content in the sermon is okay. And it is preached a little, not just taught. But Mr. Keys is guilty quite often of screaming instead of preaching. A scream should not be used in place of an argument. ‘That’s just the way it is’ is not a satisfactory, logical way to present an opinion or truth for acceptance. No one should be expected to receive a proposition on the ground of a scream. The speculation about why David chose five stones is tolerable because of the valuable lesson drawn from it: David planned to kill more giants after this, and so should we. Goliath was well used as a figure of what the Christian must combat. But our Goliaths do not always meet us in the valley. Perhaps most often they meet us when we’re on the mountaintop. No one is a born winner or loser, he says. But who is a bigger loser than fallen man? Man is born in sin and condemned to die. We’re all born losers. This is why Jesus says we must be born again. The comment about us being what we contain is not true; otherwise the Christian, who contains the Holy Spirit, would be God. This proposition is probably a slip, not something Mr. Keys actually believes. But this slip shows the danger of this preoccupation with the truth that Christians possess the Holy Spirit. It is easy, if we are not careful, to stumble into the New Age belief that the God within is really our Self.

The major faults are these. (1) The pastor’s disposition. He is more like a coach than a preacher. And too often he is a joker. But more serious than these defects are the pride and affectation that the sermon is delivered with. Clearly, Mr. Keys is thinking much of himself while delivering this message. This is apparent not so much in what he says but in how he says it. There is more self-promotion here than humility. Mr. Keys gets his ego fed by the feedback he summons. He puts himself, instead of Jesus, in the spotlight. He is the centerpiece, not Christ. He should imitate the apostle Paul, whose presence was weak but whose words were weighty. But it seems as if he’s attempting to be charismatic in some televangelist sense. And this is a form of religion that has more swagger than might. It will be difficult for this pastor to give up the mere show of religion, for this kind of charismatic spectacle is what the multitudes want; also, he will be slow to give up the show because of the effort he has put in to get this far and because of the progress he has made. This progress, though, is a regress in the eyes of God. Unless this pastor decreases in order that Jesus Christ may increase, his fruit and treasure will amount to, in the end, nothing more than wood, hay, and stubble.

(2) The worship style. The praise has little content and theology, but a lot of beat, noise, and repetition. The sound, the mood, and the feel remind us of American Indian spirit worship or the performances of drug-induced aborigines. The climb of the music to a hyper point and the trance-effecting rhythm and repetition are the same characteristics you find in mindless jungle exhibitions. And because of the absence of theology, we cannot assume that the god worshiped with the praise at Streams is any different from that which is worshiped by shamans and their devotees. Phrases like ‘we’re not backing down’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘alleluia’ are not tied to any interpretation because the lyrics consist of nothing but these phrases. This kind of praise is not biblical because there is no theology in it. Compare the lyrics, if you can call them that, to what the Psalms contain, for instance. Without theological teaching, the mind is not directed to any truth. And these pointless phrases are chanted in the face of the vain repetition that is condemned in the Bible. The people in this church are trying to be heard by their words often repeated. This is a form of worship not accepted by Jesus. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6.7.) If vain repetition is not a biblical means by which to get God’s ear, then it is wrong to do it both in prayer and in praise. Vain repetition is more dangerous in praise than in prayer because of the element of music that can carry the mind away. Expressions like, ‘spirit rise in this place’ and garbled phrases (probably some form of ‘tongues’) are repeated over and over as if by persons in altered states. When worship is not instructive, just emotive, it is not true worship, for God will have his people worship ‘in spirit and in truth.’ It is obvious that the music, when combined with the pastor’s manner of yelling out verses of Scripture, aims at getting the people up to a frenzied pitch. People are worked up by the screaming and the music until the scene comes to a crescendo. They are very emotional then, and ripe for receiving whatever the pastor proposes. They will come forward to be anointed, thinking nothing except that this might impart some kind of mystical strength to fight and beat the enemy. Obviously, all of this is flesh, not spirit, and certainly not the Holy Spirit. When you’ve become informed on what true worship is and is not, even the words ‘praise God’ will feel spooky to you in this milieu, for this reason: although this praise is a work of the flesh, there is a sort of spirit at work in it, a spirit of iniquity, a demonic factor. One of the mantras used in this worship service is, ‘Shower us like rain, God.’ But the worship feels more like, ‘Shower us like rain-god.’ Of course, the people there do not realize this. And we must allow for the possibility that a few sincere souls are able to focus through the mist of this pagan atmosphere to get up to God. But the spirit of this worship service feels like, and bears the marks of, not Jesus, Truth, and Order, but demons, paganism, and chaos. This may seem hard to believe, especially since the sermon contained no intended heresy. But we would direct anyone who doubts the matter to the following podcasts: True Melody, parts one and two on a program called, Living Grace; and the Crosstalk broadcast of March 25, 2009, called, Biblical Approach to Music. There is a lot of people display in this church, and lots of smoke and mirrors. One gets the impression that if you have no magic trick to contribute, then you can’t be part of the elite at Streams. The whole debacle reminds us of the scribes who put themselves on display by their pretentious prayers and their modified garments. “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes…and for a shew make long prayers” (Luke 20.46, 47.) This worship seems to be coming from a people who “love greetings…the highest seats…and the chief rooms” (verse 46.) This is what we have to say if we would give an honest opinion. Not every person there is guilty. We must be careful to emphasize this. It is mainly the pastor and the worship team. How must this sermon and service strike the na├»ve seeker who comes to church to inquire about God? A visiting unbeliever should be ill at ease during a sermon, and in awe at the worship given to God by Christians. But we think he would have been quite comfortable hearing, We are the Champions, and amazed and bewildered at the mad kind of worship unleashed in this strange service. The Old Testament speaks of strange fire being offered to God. The fire at Streams on this day is a modern-day equivalent.

(3) The focus on ‘the Spirit that is in you.’ He gets this from 1 John 4.4: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” This expression is a fact, not a direction. The pastor seems to focus on these words as if to direct us to a power within. But even though the Spirit of God may be in us, we are not directed in Scripture to appeal there for any victory. Jesus instructed his inquiring disciples to pray unto the Father in his name. If we want victory, we must be careful to appeal outside ourselves for help, for this is how we are commanded to do it. The element of pride can easily take over in focusing on the Spirit within simply because of the fact that the Spirit is contained by the Self. We tend to get proud about a fact like that. Mr. Keys is very proud about it, and errs because of this pride. If we appeal within instead of appealing up, then we are apt, because of our sinful love of Self, to end up depending on nothing but our own strength. Therefore we appeal to where Self is not, up in heaven where the throne of grace is. There is another danger to this inner focus. An unbeliever, if he were to judge by this sermon, just might get the impression that for salvation all he’s got to do is bring this champion out from inside himself. And this is pretty close to what the New Age crowd already believes.

Conclusion. When the Spirit is said to be inside the Christian, it behooves the pastor to tell us how this takes place and why. Mr. Keys tells us nothing about these things. The champion theme should have pointed, ultimately, to the conquering life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But it is the service, not the sermon, that causes us so much concern. In his other sermon, The Devil’s got your Address, Mr. Keys says that we do not debate the devil. But this ‘Champion’ service was exactly that, a debate with the devil. When we chant, ‘we’re not backing down,’ this is what we’re doing. We’re debating the devil. Indeed, the service was devil-centered, and Mr. Keys lost the debate. Far from being the dummies that Mr. Keys says they are, the demons were smart enough to gain control of the worship in this service, and wise enough to make the people believe their devilish praise was pleasing God. If more attention were given to preaching the grand, sobering doctrines of the Bible, like the inability of fallen man to procure the favor of an angry God, the pastor and his people might have some chance at getting humbled enough to listen for his voice instead of playing with the bells and whistles of religion. And may the grace of God open the eyes of the blind and perform this sovereign work, for this worship service resembles voodoo more than Christianity! When you can find no ‘dust and ashes’ mingled in the praise somewhere, be on your guard for a counterfeit form of worship. But the problem in this church is basically a theological one, for sound worship stands on the platform of solid preaching. Worship is really a reflection of what we believe and what our priorities are. It is a reflection of what we have learned from the sermon. The pastor and his people are failing to learn from the texts of Scripture preached from. And the pastor is leading the way into a form of anarchic, sub-Christian praise. In fact, it would not be wrong to call it anti-Christian. If we were to hear the praise portion of this service without knowing it came from a church and without hearing the sermon preceding the praise, we could easily mistake it for a native Indian ceremony or a witch doctor’s meeting. You have to hear it to believe it. It’s hard to believe that a church could stray so far from the standard of holy, thoughtful praise that you find in the Bible. In this church you have noise and vain repetition; in the Bible you have thoughtful verses prepared for musical accompaniment. But we are confident that this worship team intends no evil. Probably, it is a victim more than anything else. It is a victim of what’s in vogue and it is convinced that the spirit communicated with by its commotion is the biblical God. But think about it. We have praise without design, and mantras instead of lyrics. In other words, we have confusion and heathenism. This kind of worship is not recommended by God in the Bible. Therefore we have no reason to believe this is the kind of worship the only true God receives. What spirit is being tapped into here? And what spirit, if any, is animating the worship team? We foolishly and perilously deceive ourselves if we imagine that God is in what he condemns. And he certainly does condemn confusion and heathen worship. From what we hear in what precedes and follows the sermon, there is a lot going on in this church that we cannot glean from a podcast. For instance, we worry when we hear, “The ways that you can encounter God. It’s so varied…last Sunday night…It was loud. It was crazy. It was warfare…I am wearing shoes today….” We’re afraid of what might be discovered by actually attending there.    

STREAMS CHRISTIAN CHURCH, THE DEVIL'S GOT YOUR ADDRESS (SERMON ANALYSIS 1)

October 2009

A few of us have listened to the following sermon you put on the internet. Now we have also discussed it and drawn up an analysis of it. We thought you would like to see the pros and cons of this sermon you delivered. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Mr. Keys, Streams, The Devil’s got your Address.

Summary: (He begins with a story, and speaks generally on the kingdom of God.) You should be ashamed if the devil doesn’t know your address. When he has your address, you can expect some hate mail. (The text is 2 Kings 18. He gives a little history to set the context. He’s on the topic of Hezekiah and Sennacherib.) “Sennacherib—sounds like a fast food, doesn’t it? I’ll have one sennacherib and a side of fries.” Sennacherib set his eyes on Jerusalem. (He quotes Byron here.) The devil had Hezekiah’s address. He had a message for him. (He reads from the chosen text.) Paul says these Old Testament stories are for examples to us. Sennacherib means ‘man of sin.’ He is a picture of our enemy, the devil. Hezekiah is like the Christian in the kingdom. The devil will oppose the Christian. He will tempt, slander, rob, and afflict. Don’t blame the devil for things you do to yourself. “If you live on hamburgers, don’t blame the devil for your heart attack.” But when you become a reformer, like Hezekiah, the enemy will come against you. He that is in you is greater. We need to be aware of the devil’s schemes. Messages the devil will send us when things get tough: (A) He will try to shake your confidence in God (verse 19.) Jesus said you would have tribulation in this world. And so when that happens, the devil will send you a message. When you lose your job, or get sick, your confidence will be under attack. The devil will then say that you can’t trust God; your faith is useless; you might as well give up. The devil’s native tongue is the lie. He has liarera. It’s okay to laugh. ‘I have overcome the world,’ says Jesus. (B) He’ll tell you that God is the cause of your troubles (verse 25.) You’ve blown it, so God is doing this to you. “He sent you cancer so you can grow. Christians have been swallowing that one, hook, line, and sinker for years.” The devil sends this message so you’ll distance yourself from God. (C) He’ll brag about others that he has taken down (verses 32, 33.) Look at the televangelists and marriages I’ve brought down. I’ll do this to you. (D) When intimidation doesn’t work, he’ll cut you a deal (verse 31.) A little lie can get you out of this financial mess. Just tone it down, and I’ll leave you alone. “If you come out and meet him halfway, before you know it he’s slapped the shackles on you, and you’re on your way to Nineveh.” (He summarizes and recapitulates.) What do you do when you receive messages like these from the devil? (2 Kings 19.14-16.) When times get tough, and your enemy has your address, you lay it all out before God. He wants you to show that you trust him. Don’t just grumble. God has written you letters too. And these are for confronting the devil’s letters to you. You don’t debate the devil. Jesus said, ‘It is written.’ It helps to know what is written. (He quotes some verses that are full of God’s love to his people and their victory through his love and power.) Christians, stop reading the devil’s hate mail. Read God’s love letters. Who’s report are you going to believe? What report will you believe about your circumstance? What report will you believe about your relationship with God? (2 Kings 19.21-23.) God takes it personally when the enemy attacks you (verses 27, 28.) In other words, return to sender (verses 32-37.) Whatever the devil has sent you, it’s not too big for God. He uses one angel to put down all these hell-inspired soldiers. (He quotes some verses that speak of deliverance.) God is able to deliver you. (Worship team comes on, begins to play, while he mentions that his family is facing cancer. He speaks of prophesying over himself in song.) “You need to prophesy over yourself…Would you begin to prophesy now?”

Remarks. He has a good delivery and clear enunciation; but there is an atmosphere of pride in his address. The sermon does not take us very deep; but it is for the most part, biblical. The sermon feels like a commentary; but Mr. Keys manages to preach it a little. That said, he sometimes gets into a pitch that sounds like a scream. The outline coincides well with the title. His four points are all lifted from his text. He summarizes and recapitulates well. Many verses of Scripture are read. Listeners are challenged to read the Bible. And the quote from Byron is unexpected and fitting. 

Here are the major faults. (1) Lack of sobriety. Mr. Keys does not come to the pulpit with that sobriety of mind the Bible demands of him. “When I was a child, I spake as a child…but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13.11.) Lack of sobriety is a hindrance to the Holy Spirit’s use of a man. Uttering expressions commonly used by celebrity figures is inappropriate. Illustrating God flicking his finger seems juvenile. And comparing King Sennacherib to a piece of fast food is nothing but humor for humor’s sake. It does nothing but make the people comfortable in a worldly way. There is a kind of humor that builds up. This is not it. But we can give an example of the use of humor for edification from the ministry of John MacArthur. During a sermon he compared Christian Science to Grape-Nuts (the cereal): Grape nuts has neither grapes nor nuts; and Christian Science is neither Christian nor scientific. This piece of humor was instructive. And he did not labor the point. It was a memorable lesson, not just a memorable joke.

(2) Misinterpretation of Scripture. The devil may try to make you believe that God is against you when he’s not (2 Kings 18.25.) This is true. But then Mr. Keys pours his own opinion into the text, which opinion is easily shown, by a few examples, to be false. The devil might say that God is against you when God is really for you. But does God being for you preclude the possibility of a cancer being sent to you from God? Of course it doesn’t. God was for Jacob, but he injured his thigh; God was for Miriam, but he struck her with leprosy; God was for David, but he smote his offspring; God was for his only begotten Son, but it was by God’s determinate counsel that Jesus was crucified (Acts 4.28.) With all due respect to the family of Mr. Keys in their battle with cancer, it is wrong to dogmatically assert that God does not put disease upon his people. The Bible shows that sometimes he does this, and not necessarily through any agency but his own hand, which seems the case when Miriam was made leprous. “Behold, Miriam became leprous” (Numbers 12.10.) If God did not appoint this event, he at least must have permitted it. Everything that happens must be, at the very least, permitted by God, or else God is not sovereign, which only a heretic or a pagan will maintain. Even that which is permitted by God is somehow sent by him, for a sovereign God could prevent it. So even when the devil afflicts a saint, the will of God is somehow in it. The case of Job is proof enough. God was for Job, but gave the devil permission and power to afflict him. No matter what happens, and no matter by whom, it must be by God’s appointment or permission. And so Mr. Keys is wrong when he says that cancer is never sent by God. In some sense, it is always sent by God. Mr. Keys then quotes Isaiah 61.13 in support of his opinion that disease is never sent by God. And so beauty, joy, and praise are of God, while ashes, mourning, and heaviness are not. But this is untrue. There is a heaviness that is of God. There is a mourning that is of God. This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are they that mourn.” Does the devil compel us to mourn over sin? No, but God does. This is why there is a blessing in it, or a godly happiness in it. In the Christian life, joy and mourning are not exclusive. There can be no Christian joy apart from this mourning over sin. And such mourning is by the Holy Spirit, who is God.

(3) Missed opportunities. When speaking on the devil trying to shake our confidence, here the way is open for the preacher to press the listeners to test that confidence of ours. Is it confidence in Jesus to save us from sin and hell? Or is it a sham confidence we have convinced ourselves of for the sake of fitting in with the church crowd? When speaking on the devil’s accusation that God is the cause of our troubles, here the way is open for telling us how God does allow or send bad things to get our attention, especially if we think we are saved but are not. When speaking of the devil bragging about who he has brought down, the way is open to suggest a self-examination to prevent a similar fall. When speaking of the devil wanting to cut us a deal, the way is open to ask us with whom we have dealt. Have we cut a deal with the devil to continue in sin? Or have we entered into covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ? This sermon could easily have been more Christ-centered.     

Conclusion. This is a clear, simple sermon whose points follow in good order and are easily retained. The message is not clogged with extraneous matter. The wisecracking is a hindrance, but limited to few instances. The misinterpretations are probably due to suppositions commonly held among Pentecostals. Happily, these are not dwelled upon. We do not mean by singling out his missed opportunities that we expect that every sermon should be a preaching to the lost. What we maintain is that a preacher should always be aware that unbelievers creep into churches and that false professors abound and that he therefore should fold in some preaching to the lost when he can. And this would have been entirely possible here without disturbing the flow of the sermon. What he means by ‘prophesying over yourself’ is unclear. If he means that we should remind ourselves of what God’s word says, this is proper. If he means that we should speak positive things over our lives, then this is to the purpose of empowerment by some kind of wish. And this is to treat our words, or the words in a song, as if they have inherent power to create, when we should be praying to God through his word instead. We don’t know what he means by it. And so we won’t guess what side he is on regarding the ‘word of faith’ heresy.


Mr. Keys, we confess that your sermon is better than we anticipated. We are hoping that you are humble enough to admit that you could do even better. With godly mortification, you will no doubt realize more of your potential. We do not judge your sermon except by the command of God and the example of Scripture. If you like, you may contact us about anything we have said.

Monday, January 3, 2011

LIVING STONES CHURCH, THE DIFFERENCE JESUS MAKES (SERMON ANALYSIS 2)

April 2010

Mr. Vallee, as you can see, this is another analysis of one of your sermons. Permit us to point out that you say that you want to be outside your comfort zone—‘outside the box.’ If these words of yours are sincere, then you will carefully look over this analysis of the sermon you said these things in, will you not? Once we state that we want to be challenged and that we want to grow, do we not have to follow through and prove ourselves honest? Are we correct in guessing that your sermons do not receive a lot of examination? You would certainly be outside your box by perusing this exercise of ours. We believe that if you are an honest man, you will scrutinize your sermon and our analysis of it in light of Scripture in a prayerful, humble spirit toward God, and that your prayer to God will include asking him to show you what we, as weak as we are, are trying to show you.  

Mr. Vallee, Living Stones, The Difference Jesus Makes.

Summary: (He begins with a prayer concerning what difference our lives make as Christians. Then he follows with a story of tragedy that begs the question, ‘Why?’) His text is Luke 7. His theme is the difference Jesus makes in four areas of our lives. (A) Sickness. We all have an appointed time. We have to have a vision beyond this life. (Anecdotes of terminal illness follow.) The centurion in Luke 7: “We would describe him today as a non-believer, if I can use that term, right?” Merit does not attain anything in the kingdom of God. The centurion said, “I do not deserve….” He recognized that Jesus had authority over disease. Some people are healed; some are not. It’s about more than just faith, and faith is about more than results. (He reads a little from Hebrews 11.) We must put our faith in God regardless of outcomes. (The example is the faith of three Hebrew boys before king Nebuchadnezzar.) Bring your crisis to Jesus, not because of what you have done, but because of who he is. (B) Sorrow. This happens to all of us. Then we ask God, “Where are you?” We get angry with God. Sorrow shatters our image of who we think God is. When we suffer, God’s heart goes out to us just as Jesus’ heart went out to the woman at the funeral of her son. Here we have the author of life encountering death. There is hope beyond this life. Jesus conquered death for us. We will be reunited with our loved ones. Life is not a right, but a gift. (Anecdotes follow.) In our darkest times, Jesus is with us. (C) Personal Struggle. John the Baptist went through this. “John is telling people to straighten their lives out, and Jesus is hanging out with sinners…John is telling them to repent, and Jesus is hangin’ with them.” God’s ways are not our ways. God asks one to do this, another to do that. It is so dangerous for us to be critical. John the Baptist needed to be encouraged. Jesus sent the disciples to him to explain. Job became a better man after his tests. Job declared to God that he didn’t know what he was up to but that he was going to trust God anyway. We can’t understand the mind of God. We need personal affirmation. Jesus affirmed John’s ministry. When we see no results, we get discouraged. If you’re struggling, the word for you today is, ‘Stand firm.’ Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Our lives make a difference. How do I know this? Because the Bible says you are greater than John the Baptist. Why are you greater? Because you’re in the kingdom of God. (D) Sin. (He references G. Campbell Morgan.) This woman in Luke 7 who washed Jesus’ feet went from sin to worship. I like what Michael Wilcott points out, “The formal religion of the Pharisees had no answer to the problem of sin, and could only respond with disapproval and condemnation.” (Vallee): “Sometimes we become Pharisaical when we look upon other people disapprovingly and condemningly.” Jesus could actually do away with sin and bring salvation and peace. He doesn’t disapprove and condemn. He forgives. “Have you, like the centurion, discovered life as a gift of grace? Do you realize, like the widow of Nain, that Jesus is the author of life? Have you ever wondered, like John, what Jesus was doing in your life, because it didn’t match your expectations? Wherever you are, the issue is how you respond to him: in worship, like the woman with the tarnished past whose sins were forgiven, or in a distant, self-righteous mode like Simon, who had no idea that God was at his house. And he was totally indifferent to him. What difference does Jesus make? I think he makes all the difference in the world. He can deal with whatever situation you’re faced with today.” We should never be critical. People are all different. They do things differently. We could be children of God, and be coming at it from a totally different angle. Sometimes we’re very harsh with each other. Say this, “I want God to do some exciting things in my life. I want God to open the play-book.” He wants to do it anyway. He’s going to do it anyway. You’re just opening yourself up.

Remarks. The title and division of this sermon suit the text. On the first point, sickness is presented as something faith cannot always remedy; and healing is always undeserved. Faith is not just about results, and it should be applied regardless of outcomes. On the second point, sorrow is presented as that which all will experience, and as that which shatters our image of who we think God is. On the third point, personal struggles are presented as tests that make better people out of us and that happen regardless of our obedience. On the fourth point, sin is presented as that which Jesus forgives and takes away. This is all good, as far as it goes. Facts like these are lost on many pastors today, sad to say. But this presentation of Luke 7, even with such excellent facts, is not that enlightening nor convincing. The difference Jesus makes is not made very clear, and therefore it is not very memorable. And, if we may be bold enough to risk saying so, the pastor comes off just a little self-righteous because of his oft mentioning all the good that is done behind the scenes by the staff in his church. Also, many of his expressions seem calculated to generate a chummy relationship with his listeners. Because of this, the atmosphere is no doubt unbecoming of a pulpit space.

Having said that, here are the major faults. (1) His misrepresentations. About the doubts that John the Baptist entertained, he says, “John is telling people to straighten their lives out, and Jesus is hanging out with sinners…John is telling them to repent, and Jesus is hangin’ with them.” But were the Baptist’s doubts really because Jesus treated sinners differently than he had? Why did Jesus praise John, then? In light of what seems like a subtle attempt to contrast the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist in an unbiblical way, what Mr. Vallee’s position amounts to is that John the Baptist must have been wrong to preach as strongly as he did, and that Jesus did not preach like him at all. John the Baptist preached repentance. But Jesus hung out with sinners. This is what Mr. Vallee communicates. Maybe he doesn’t mean to, but this is what is communicated. This idea that Jesus hung out with sinners connotes a very different Jesus than the New Testament reveals. It is irreverent language. And it is no exaggeration to say that this sort of language borders on blasphemy. It gives the impression that Jesus did not reprove sinners, but just hung out with them, forgiving without warning or commanding, and maybe even participating in some of their sins to make them feel comfortable. That’s the kind of image we get from the phrase, ‘hanging out.’ No one can blame us for seeing this image because participating in sin is what people who ‘hang out’ do. Lazy people hang out. Immoderate sinners hang out. People who gossip hang out. People who ‘walk in the counsel  of the ungodly’ hang out. People who ‘stand in the way of sinners’ hang out. People who ‘sit in the seat of the scornful’ hang out. This is the kind of Jesus communicated in this sermon: someone who hung out with sinners the way we see vagrants hang out downtown near the library. But we do not accuse Mr. Vallee of this misrepresentation of Jesus solely on the ground of his use of the phrase ‘hanging out.’ This is not just a case of using unguarded, careless language. The tendency of this sermon is to present a ‘non-judgmental’ Jesus who just loved and forgave and never accused anyone of anything. To bolster his misrepresentation, Mr. Vallee misrepresents the case of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears in Luke 7. Jesus did not disapprove or condemn in this instance. This is true. But what Mr. Vallee fails to mention is that Jesus, unlike anyone else, knew her heart, and that this woman was approved and commended because she was repentant. And so the disapproving attitude we should no longer have toward sinners is not, as Mr. Vallee presents it, toward all sinners, but only those who are repenting. Because people do things differently, or are coming at it from different angles, we should never be harsh with each other, Mr. Vallee says. It is difficult to know what he means by statements like this one because he does not qualify. But the tenor of his message is that we should not criticize people even if they are continuing in lifestyles of sin. This must be it, because with Mr. Vallee, it’s all about forgiveness, but nothing on what should be repented of in order to the blessing. This is a gross caricature of the method of salvation, and no one can be saved by it. We’ve got to wonder on what basis Mr. Vallee says to his listeners that they can hope to be reunited with their loved ones hereafter. How can they unless they repent to be forgiven? And for all we know, assuming these loved ones died under the ministry of this church, they might not even be in heaven to be reunited with! It is blunt and uncommon to draw a deduction like this, but is it not a logical one? It worries me when this pastor speaks about his obligation to be ‘outside the box.’ The tone and content of his message indicate that this means that he thinks he’s supposed to become less and less critical of sin and more and more accepting of unrepentant sinners. Messages pervaded with this kind of uncritical mood and manipulation of Scripture can only result in a church more and more filled with hypocrites. Mr. Vallee fears that he and his congregation might take on a Pharisaical spirit by a disapproval of sinners. But a Pharisee is not one who simply disapproves and condemns. God sometimes disapproves and condemns. Christians are commanded to do the same when necessary (Galatians 1.8.) Therefore it is not always wrong to disapprove and condemn. A Pharisee is a professing child of God who disapproves and condemns others for not obeying his own superfluous commands or additions to the law and who does so even while he himself remains unrepentant. And the unrepentant hypocrite is just the sort of person Mr. Vallee can expect to create by not preaching, as Jesus and John the Baptist both did, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ This is the sad truth. And it is not a pleasant thing to have to point out. Though Mr. Vallee is wrong to classify the centurion as a ‘non-believer,’ it is revealing of his fearful unwillingness to sound like a ‘condemning’ preacher that he apologizes for having to call him that. A message of forgiveness without any command to repent is not the gospel, but a heresy of the most dangerous kind. Heresies result in hypocrites. A hypocrite is a Christian in profession and name only, who has not repented and yet assumes he is forgiven. And so what heresy will more greatly tend to make hypocrites than this omission of having to repent in order to be forgiven? How does this pastor know that the labors of his members are not in vain? Not by being convinced of the state of their souls as a result of sound preaching, faithful, instructed lives, and spiritual fruit. No, but because the Bible says they are greater than John the Baptist! What ‘greater than John the Baptist’ means, at least, is that those referred to are in a saved condition. But should Mr. Vallee just assume that all his listeners are saved? He assures them of a reward even while he undermines the doctrines by which they must be saved in order to any reasonable prospect of reward! Mr. Vallee may not be attempting to deceive. We will not even assert that his misrepresentations are from his own mind. Maybe he borrowed them. We’ll give him the benefit of doubt. But deception must be the effect of such lukewarm preaching. Sinners will be deceived all the way to hell by preaching like this. And we cannot warn of such a thing too severely. Mr. Vallee is obviously shy of preaching sin and repentance. This is our best guess as to why he misrepresents as he does. For instance, consider his misrepresentation of that passage about John having come to neither eat nor drink, while Jesus came eating, drinking, etc. This passage is about John the Baptist and Jesus both being rejected and caricatured by faultfinders just for fulfilling their respective missions. But Mr. Vallee uses this passage, not to warn against judging sinfully or hypocritically, but to warn against judging at all. Paul says to Timothy to ‘preach the word’ and he tells Titus to ‘speak the things which become sound doctrine.’ Mr. Vallee preaches a softened word, a word without teeth, an emasculated word that falls far short of sound, solid doctrine. When he mentions the various duties fulfilled by Jesus Christ in his mission (see Luke 7.22), it is no surprise that he leaves out his preaching the gospel to the poor. This is the very aspect that Mr. Vallee is most shy of.

(2) His coercion. It might seem like a contradiction that a pastor could be timid and coercive at the same time to the same people. But Mr. Vallee is coercive in spite of his timid spirit because he seeks a response from his listeners. Why he seeks this response is an open question. Maybe he suspects his listeners are not saved after all, even though he’s just treated them as if they were. Maybe he thinks they can be saved even by his watered down gospel and modern methods. Maybe he’s looking to add numbers to his church, not saved souls, but numbers. We just don’t know. What he’s doing is just what is in vogue in evangelicalism today. Near the end of his sermon, he starts to speak in a very orchestrated, scripted manner. And then the background music begins to play while he coaxes the people to ‘open up’ to God. This is a manipulation of the emotions and wills of the people, especially considering that their intellects have just been misinformed and deceived. And because the minds of these people have not been properly instructed on how salvation is obtained, any response elicited is liable to be an emotional response merely, without any genuine repentance to speak of. Instead of commanding repentance, Mr. Vallee coaxes the people to adopt the following approach to God, “I want God to do some exciting things in my life. I want God to open the play-book.” Is this preaching? No, this is psychological jargon that manipulates instead of saves. And this kind of language teaches people to be vague in their approach to God. It is indefinite, indeterminate language that people use who do not want to commit and sanctify. This pastor’s behavior is quite contradictory. On the one hand, he assumes the people are in a state of salvation, while on the other hand, a watered down gospel is given by which to be saved; and on the one hand, he asserts that God will do everything anyway, while on the other he goes so far as to manipulate emotions to elicit a response. Why is this sermon not convicting? Because there needs to be a preaching of sins to sinners for that to occur. It is useless for the pastor to try to manufacture a response like he does at the end. The Holy Spirit will induce his own response according to his own will. But for any hope of this happening, the pastor must preach rightly, then stand back and trust the Spirit to move sinners to repent.

Conclusion. Mr. Vallee thinks that preaching sin and exposing sinners is wrong. This would be too ‘disapproving’ and ‘condemning.’ Mr. Vallee would have us believe that Jesus cultivated a buddy relationship with sinners that John the Baptist was too hard on. But the Bible shows that both John and Jesus disapproved of sin and that sinners are under condemnation. To preach the fact of condemnation is not condemnatory in any sinful sense. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. But he said, “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18.) If it’s so wrong to speak like this, why did Jesus do it? And since Mr. Vallee’s preaching is that which tends to make sinners into hypocritical professors, the perilous probability is that instead of approving and affirming these people deceived by Mr. Vallee, Jesus will instead address them as vipers just as appointed to hell as the Pharisees of old. And the pastor guilty of being the blind man leading others into the ditch of hell will receive the greater damnation. It may sound unfriendly and even combative to say these things. But it is the loving thing to do, for souls, including the pastor’s, are in danger. If the apostle Paul blurted out his own condemnation at the mere thought of not preaching the gospel, then should every pastor not fear? No one who understands even a bit about what Jesus is truly like and how deadly his judgment will be, will maintain for a second that these warnings are unwarranted or overly sharp. Any sermon that aims to show Jesus as an indulgent fellow who forgives without demanding repentance must be regarded as an abominable heresy that the devil takes advantage of to deceive souls into hell. Strong warnings are therefore necessary.