As was stated in the sermon, we know all too well how much violence is in the headlines, politics and concerns of 2016. One of the reasons I chose this short series of sermons are the timely themes of the book of Habakkuk. The main thrust of the sermon (and the passage cited, IMO) is that God will not stand for people advancing their standing or cause by means of callously violent behaviors. The Chaldeans were known for their brutally oppressive policies, and God's promise of judgement against them would seem to be a good illustration that mirrors the preponderance of scriptures warning against violent behaviors.
But the reason for this post, frankly, is that I may have gone off the rails a little on my final point/illustration. You know, the part where I called some gun owners "sissies"! More on that specifically in a minute, but first some preaching theory 101.
Politics and current events are necessary topics on occasion in good preaching, but they have to be handled very carefully. The Bible is full of patriarchs, kings, prophets and evangelists who addressed these issues in their day. On the other hand, many of those same examples made sure to declare God's ways and leading as superior to the secular events that swirled around the nations. Perhaps some pertinent scriptures to remember are Philippians 3:20 (But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ) and 2 Timothy 2:4, (“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”)
You just have to be careful. There is a fine line between making a spiritual point and simply using the pulpit to give your opinions. You also have to respect people's genuinely held political beliefs, even if you might strenuously object to them. It is why a competent and disciplined minister works as hard as they do on every sermon. Stand up for the truth and state your convictions if it is done to adequately illustrate God's Word...but do so with great care and consideration.
Another point that every preacher and listener has to consider is the time factor. While opinions are varied as to how long any given sermon should be, we can all agree that you have a limited time frame to get your points across. Understanding this is crucial to a good sermon (and frankly an effective speaker overall.) You just do not have time to perfectly explain some points and ideas to an exhaustive degree. Therefore if you decide to make a strong statement about something complex and/or controversial, you'd better state it in such a way as to not leave people wondering what you are thinking. Carelessly saying whatever enters your mind leads to confusion, controversy...and sometimes unemployment! So many factors enter into this point - preparation, humility, clarity and discipline to name a few. Stated in a much more juvenile way, you have to be able to hit the mental "no" button to that inner question that is "Do I have to go there right now?"
So to the point in question: The last 5 minutes or so of last week's sermon was pondering how God's judging of violence could be applied to all of us "regular folk", and not just dictators and the world's governments throughout history. My point was that if we are not careful, we can slip into a mindset of justifying using violence to combat violence. My scripture reference was Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written "It is mine to avenge; I will repay", says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
And then I wandered into gun ownership.
The point I wanted to make was something like the following: There is a lunatic fringe in today's America that not only defines their citizenship by their fire arms, but embraces the idea of the quick use of violent force in more situations than most rational people would approve. While there are places and times that one could use their rights as an American citizen to protect their lives and property with a firearm (and I am one of them who has undertaken such measures), we need to make sure that violence is something that is kept as far away from our demeanor as possible.
Unfortunately, what I basically said was this: There are some people who have never been threatened by anything or anyone since the day that they walked out of their final high school P.E. class, who are still the biggest sissies in the world...scared of their own shadows whimpering "I need a gun!"
I do concede that upon reflection, I used a very flimsy illustration that I worded rather poorly. It certainly could be construed to say that Ken believes all gun owners are sissies and that having one is a sin. I do not believe either of those preceding points. I believe in responsible, competent and safe gun ownership - regardless of the forms of said firearm. I also know that there are people whose jobs and neighborhoods thrust them firmly into more dangerous surroundings, and I support fully their right to "keep and bear arms."
For clarity, I do have opinions on gun ownership that may not be shared by the majority of people who support gun rights. For what its worth - I'm not a fan of high capacities in rifles. (My completely arbitrary rule is that a law abiding citizen using a firearm for defense really doesn't have much of a rational need for more than 7 shots per mag.) I don't see some of the slippery slope arguments concerning some expansions of background checks. I'm also not particularly a fan of "open carry." These beliefs are certainly not iron-clad, but they are where I lean at the moment.
But in a sermon, you don't have time to fine-tune your beliefs on these kinds of topics. Therefore, a wise person chooses their illustrations - and how they word those illustrations - very carefully. Hopefully my clumsy and somewhat arrogant sounding illustration did not override my main point, which was that the tendencies toward violence can be a problem for common people and not just governments, rulers and mobs. All of us are capable of having violence become a problem in our everyday lives and thinking, and we need to guard against this.
So consider this a "mea culpa" on some of my words and attitude in a sermon. I do appreciate all of the compliments I did receive about last Sunday morning's sermon, but I wanted to be transparent about a point I could have made in a better fashion. I'm sure I could do this a lot on this blog, and I'm somewhat surprised its taken me this long to write this type of post!'
And hopefully anyone reading this would know - please don't hesitate to ever ask me for clarification or explanation of something I say in a sermon, class, writing, etc. I'm a big enough boy to handle constructive criticisms, disagreements and scrutiny. I'd only ask you do so at appropriate times and with courtesy.