I’m About to Overdose on Jesus

November 5, 2010

Anyone else ever get the feeling that Jesus is a little overexposed?

I’m talking about how some of us seem, well obsessed with consuming more and more Jesus.  Like he’s going out of style.

Right now, you’re saying, “What?  Matt, how can we have too much Jesus?  That’s like saying you can have too many ninjas or pirates or sparkly rainbow haired prancing unicorns!  It’s a scientific fact that you cannot have too many.”

I’ll admit, I’m like a lot of Americans.  I have a bunch of Bibles in the house that spend a good deal of their time as very holy paperweights.  I think people literally spend more time going to the bathroom each day then they spend with their Bibles or in prayer.  That’s not something I’m proud of, no arguing there. 

On the other end you find people who are practically OCD about reading their Bibles, hearing sermons, doing whatever else they need to get their Jesus fix.  If Jesus could be somehow liquified and concentrated, these would be the people injecting Jesus directly into their veins three times a day. 

So I’m not talking about the obvious.  Many of us need to read our Bibles more.  I’m asking the other question:

Is it possible to OD on the JC?

Verse by verse

I do not teach the Bible verse by verse in my church.  Most pastors don’t.  Sometimes, we’ll go through a book.  Then we’ll take a break and go topical.  I use stories, delve into ancient culture and throw in some Greek when it’s helpful.

But that word “topical” alone is enough to invoke the intense, firey scorn of some people who wouldn’t even call what I do “preaching,” as if my last topical sermon was an eight part series on precious puppies.  My Baptist preaching professor insisted we teach verse by verse.  Naturally, many people who go to churches where this is done are very proud of the truckload of knowledge they have.  (At least I’ve never met one who wasn’t proud.)  Their pastors haul out the Greek and spend 45 minutes on a few words in the Bible, (which is also the God ordained minimal amount of time a pastor should preach, according to some people.)  The people leave, proud of how they only stick to the “original meaning” of the text with no fluff as they examine the biblical meaning of the word “is.” 

Makes the rest of us look pretty weak, like a bunch of illiterate baboons.  My teaching looks downright heretical, what with all the “application” and “illustrations” I use.  I might as well be Joel Osteen. 

I know I’m painting with a broad brush, but I ask, when you break down the Bible into teeny tiny pieces, and you spend more and more time on each piece, are you really sticking with the original intent?  Could the author have really intended there to be 45 minutes worth of hidden messages in every little detail they wrote down? 

I’ll take thirds on the sermon, please!

You know there are still people who go to church three times a week?  Maybe you’re one of them, but I’m not.  I don’t think I could handle coming up with three seperate messages each week. 

I have to ask, what are people doing with three sermons a week?  Or two sermons and a Bible study?  Or a sermon, a Bible study, a couple of podcasts, and a new Joyce Meyer book?  People treat sermons like fast food.  We eat it, then we forget it, and we’re hungry again in a few hours.  Why do we eat fast food?  Because we don’t want to cook.  Do we listen to sermons to justify not reading the Bible for ourselves?

Are our lives so out of control that we need that much preaching?  How did those poor illiterate people keep it together without a priest telling them what to do every day?  How are we able to absorb the message when we’re encouraged to Twitter the message as it comes at us?  You know how Twitter works.  A tweet is born, and it dies in about 2 seconds.  How do we even give ourselves time to apply anything we’ve learned when the next day, we’re onto the next message, the last one already flitting away in our minds.

We have more access to sermons and Bibles than ever before.  They’re a cheap commodity.  Has all that convenience made us any better?

Spiritual Piglets

You know we’re all a bunch of porky slobs in America, right?  We shove food by the bucketful down our gullets without even tasting anything.  Have you ever been to Chicago?  Wow, there is literally a Dunkin Donuts on every corner, right next to a hot dog stand, on top of a pizza shop, inside a Seven Eleven.  My wife’s always asking me to make her biscuits and gravy, which is nothing more than a biscuit topped with a liquid biscuit.  Yeah, we’re really healthy. 

What’s funny is that even though we have too much food, we’re really malnourished.  Well, I guess it’s not “funny.”  It’d be better if we ate less and ate better.  I think our vast ignorance of the Bible is caused just as much by not reading the Bible as it is by overeating it.  We eat it, tweet it, and delete it.  We’d all be a lot healthier if we ate a bunch of small meals, rather than eating a few huge pig troughs of food.  Maybe it would be healthier to spend our week on one or two Bible stories, rather than gorging ourselves like spiritual piglets.

That’s me.  Are you a verse by verse or a topical sort of person?  How many sermons, Bible studies and podcasts do you consume in a week?  Is more always better when it comes to the Bible, or are we filling ourselves up on empty Bible calories?

37 responses to I’m About to Overdose on Jesus

  1. Verse-by-verse preaching is something that I actually really miss about my old church. I know that for a lot of churches, that sort of preaching becomes a pride thing- I’ve been to churches like that. I just think that verse-by-verse preaching encourages the pastor to stay “on point,” if you will, and not venture into other topics or personal stories. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing so, but also, not all pastors have the ability to stay on point otherwise. I see it as a preaching tool that’s good to have but isn’t absolutely required.

    As for multiple sermons a week, I used to podcast a lot. I’d end up listening to maybe four sermons a week, including that of my own church. People warned me about over-gorging and under-absorbing, but honestly, it was a really helpful experience for me because I made the conscious effort to apply the principles that I had learned or even just to rejoice in my position before God or to remember to mourn my sin. I see sermon-listening as the same as Christian book-reading. It’s a tool. Tools can be used in good and bad ways. And just as with certain preaching techniques, not all tools are for everyone.

    • There you go. Maybe it’s not the sermons that are the problem but the listeners. Of course, absorbing is all in the ear of the beholder, right :)

      • Good point, Matt! What was helpful was that my circle of friends listened to the same podcasts that I did. We’d get together and talk about them and encourage each other to apply them.

        Regardless of the number of sermons a person listens to per week, Christian community and fellowship are incredibly important to reinforce the concepts that we hear and help transform ideas into action.

  2. Great point, Matt!

    It’s easier to spend more time churching than alone with the Lord.

    Although I regard the Bible as God’s Word, I think it should be read just like any other book. When I write a book, I expect readers to read the whole thing to get the general idea of what I’m trying to say. If they were to analyze it a word or two at a time, they’d go nuts.

    And, though it be heresy, I think dear Saint Paul could really have used a good editor! Thank God he did not have a word processor so he could write longer letters!

  3. I’m both a verse by verse and topical person. Our church will either follow a theme, or a book for a few weeks. But is also open to having the prepared sermon thrown out and letting the Spirit move as He will.

    I also have been taking notes for about 25 years, and still have the books. I find that I remember more that way, and can apply it, or go back and recall it. I also write in my Bible, when something hits me, to help me remember, whether it is historical, or practical application. I occasionally listen to a teaching program on the radio, and am slowly reading through a book (5 chapters over 6 months) which God is speaking to me through.

  4. Generally I think preaching through books (as opposed to topically) has its benefits, but I agree it can go over the top. I was gonna download John Pipers series on Romans until I found out it had 224 sermons in it (no I’m not joking!). Romans is a complicated book with a lot of truths in it, but that many parts is possibly a bit over the top.

    Sometimes sermons or books or worship music can become a bit of a God avoidance thing. As long as you are listening you don’t have to be dealing with stuff. Or maybe that’s just me.

    • Ha! I had a brilliant seminary prof who was in love with Romans. I think the entire NT could just be Romans, and he’d be happy. But, I took an NT class with him, supposed to cover Romans to Revelation. Guess how far we got? 1 Corinthians. Would’ve been great for a class on Romans, but a ripoff as a class on the NT.

  5. I prefer topical studies. Personally, as I read I like to think of other verses that relate to that particular passage as well. A verse-by-verse study is okay now and then if the chapter is packed with lots of points (such as I Cor. 13, the love chapter); however, often going through a whole book this way just gets boring. I believe application and illustrations are necessary to keep people’s attention and get the meaning across–Jesus did this all the time when he spoke in parables.
    Karen and Gerard recently posted..8 Things I Learned This Week 94 Blog Frog- impact- winner- publishing- book- Swift- dogs

  6. I like your post. Verse by verse preaching often is like missing the forest for the trees. About half the time the Greek meaning of a word is pointless, it is the message that is the point. More Jesus, more life application, less yakking about chapter and verse.

  7. How much time do we spend going to the bathroom each day, now here’s a handy gadget I wrote to figure that out.

    http://www.fireandgrace.com/fireandgrace/d2.asp

    Are you a verse by verse or a topical sort of person?
    I am both. An anointed teaching is one in which God speaks to us. It can be long or short, what matters is that it is what God wants to say at the time – the Greek word: rhema.

    How many sermons, Bible studies and podcasts do you consume in a week?
    Just Sunday – and sometimes I yak with someone in the lobby instead. I do get 3 TCONP doses each week. They cause me think, which makes me study – which ends up on my blog. It’s a win-win. I study every single day-

    Is more always better when it comes to the Bible, or are we filling ourselves up on empty Bible calories?
    Americans are filled with teaching – but interestingly, many claim that they don’t really hear God, or that He seems distant. Lots of folks are bored with church – sad, really. If it were not for the presence of God, and the fact that He speaks to me, I would have ended up in the doubt can a long, long time ago.
    David recently posted..Friday Geek Christmas Gifts Nov 5th

  8. I like topical studies that use scripture as the basis for each message. (Some Greek can be thrown in, but if it’s too much I’ll start making out my grocery list long before we get to the point of the sermon.)

    I think applications and illustrations are great – and they hold the listener’s interest – but they need to point back to the scripture. That’s the part that Joel Osteen misses – or at least he’s missed it the couple of times I’ve managed to make it through one of his messages (can’t call them sermons).

    Matt, you’re not Joel Osteen unless you can maintain a smile the entire time you’re teaching.
    Single and Sane recently posted..Healthy Things Grow

  9. Expanding our interests is vital if we are to converse with people with other interests. I had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly for years mainly so I could communicate better with the teenagers that I taught. I didn’t care about Lil’ Wayne or the Gilmore Girls or really anything else the magazine, but many of those I taught did. It helped.

  10. Amen. Thanks for this; gives me some good “food for thought” (ha) for my two-month sabbatical. I’ve already hit the point where I’ve realized I’m practicing too many spiritual disciplines at once.
    Angela H. recently posted..The Pursuit of Rest

  11. Interesting.

    I have heard thought-provoking sermons in both methods (verse-by-verse, topical). I think it depends on several things: the speaker, the topic/verses, and even possibly where I (the listener) am at in life. I definitely think that it’s not really necessarily about the sermon itself that people “don’t get it”. It’s their fault, and I’m included, we hear it and forget it, like you stated. Sometimes, it’s hard to put forth the effort to absorb it AND apply it. Taking notes definitely helps me, but half the time I just don’t want to take out my pen and journal to do so. I should get over that. :)

    I guess I consume two to three maybe four sermons a week. This semester (I’m a college student, therefore my divisions of life are by semester), I have been attending Sunday church, Thursday “homegroup” (sometimes there is a message given, sometimes it’s a testimony, other times we only worship, or other times we talk about what’s going on in our lives related to God), and Tuesday Discipleship class. Occasionally, I listen to Breakaway podcasts (Breakaway is a very large non-denominational weekly Bible study, more like church service, at Texas A&M). For my Discipleship class, I meet weekly with my mentor to discuss what we learned and how to apply it and then I work on doing so… So, that definitely helps. Sometimes I make a point to discuss the Sunday sermons with others, but it depends. Discussion definitely helps for absorption and application.

    I definitely don’t think more is always better. :)

  12. I like our church because our pastor does verse-by-verse teaching most of the time, but takes time to put everything in context, showing us how it fits into the big picture of the book or God’s big picture. He also makes sure to include how the verse applies to our lives. Of course, there was that time when he blew through five chapters of 1 Samuel in one sermon. Getting into the Greek can be really helpful because there are so many nuances in Greek that have difficulty being captured by English–like the NIV translation of 1 Peter 3:7 in NIV is that wives are the “weaker” partner, whereas the Greek really means more like “precious, fragile” like an alabaster or porcelain vase. We have Bibles in most every translation–NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV and even The Message. And yes, when I am really struggling with a verse, I read them all to get a more complete picture of the verse.

  13. I’m a little worried here Matt.

    You see, I attend church, a Bible study, maybe read a book, and that’s all. But I also read about 10 blogs a day, most of them focusing on Jesus, or the Christian subculture.

    They’re like little sermons. Sermonettes, you might say.

    I consume these sermonettes the same way you’re talking about. Sometimes all the blogs align, like planets or something, and I get a good dose of good thought. But usually I just consume them, possible write about them, then forget.

    I’ve been struggling with this lately. Do we overdose ourselves on blog-thought as well? Do we consume so many blogs so quickly that we don’t have time to focus on the topics that really matter?
    Bobby_k recently posted..Out with the old

  14. I’m more of a topical kind of guy. But honestly, I haven’t picked up my bible in like 3 months. I’ll read a Proverb here and there.

    As a dad, I feel the need to spend 24/7 with my kids but my wife says, “You don’t have to spend every single second with them.”

    I wonder if God sees it the same way?

    Because I always hear people say, “Every second I give my life to you Jesus!” But I don’t know if that’s possible really.

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com
    Jonathan Chang recently posted..236 Retiring my monkey suit

  15. My pastor does the verse by verse thing. We spent 29 weeks (yes, you read that right) in just Ephesians. I’m so busy looking down my nose at you right now, I can hardly type this comment on your blog.

    😉

    Topical is a good thing. I know some people around me who struggle with Biblical application (I used to as well). If you do solely verse by verse, you lose those people. I think, ideally, you give topical and show folks how this ancient book STILL applies to this culture and to their specific life–and you give verse by verse to teach folks how to seriously study God’s word as they mature in their faith.

    Great post Matt!

  16. Can we overdose on church? Absolutely! I don’t want to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Following Jesus is a hands-on activity.

    Can we overdose on Jesus? I hope we never get to that point, because guess what we’ll be doing for all of eternity?

    My personal preference is for a pastor to go through a book of the Bible, rather than topical. It’s too easy to skip around and only cover the “easy” topics, the ones the pastor is doing well with. Going through a book means you deal with controversial issues, difficult passages, and especially those we don’t want to hear (such as about suffering).

    That said, I like to move right along, with points illustrated with personal examples. None of this “is” defining, please.

  17. I try to alternate between expository (verse by verse) series and more topical/textual series, with a few other types thrown in to keep things interesting, mostly because I get bored. I have read a single scripture then spent an hour talking about it and I have read the book of Ephesians or Psalms 119 and spend 5 minutes talking about it.

    More and more I realize my job as a pastor is NOT to teach the stories of the Bible. I often end up doing this because folks are so malnourished they have to be spoon fed, but I resent having to do it. That’s not good.

    Actually, my job is to teach them in order that they might be prepared to do the good works which have been set out for them. Imagine if we actually taught like that across the world and if the congregation actually followed through. How powerful would that be?
    Nick the Geek recently posted..The hardest thing is letting go

  18. I don’t think it matters what style of preaching you get, but that we all get so much of it. It’s hard not to see posts like this and think of all of the people that have never heard of Jesus before. It’s idea of seconds at dinner, why should we all get seconds, thirds and fourths before some people even get their first serving?
    bman recently posted..REPOST- Do you know that God is good

  19. I think people tend to, more and more, look at Bible study as if they were cramming for a test. Dump all the “facts” into their brains, but they end up with no long term knowledge.
    Jason Cormier recently posted..Friday Funnny- Computer Prank

  20. Interesting take. I think what goes on at home is huge. Are people spending time with God and developing a relationship? Are they reaching the lost? If so, it’s probably ok if they want to hit up church 3 times a week 😛
    mo recently posted..156- Getting Fat

  21. I’m not sure if I like your post or take offense. I didn’t read it for a few days because I disliked the title.

    Going back to your blog post about ‘white noise’, every message is important. I’m somewhat incredulous that you would ask whether we are “overdosing” on the Word of God. Isaiah 55:10-11 talks about the word of God always achieves its purpose, sometimes bread for the eater (application right now) or seed for the sower (later application).

    In the gospels, after Jesus died and ascended, the disciples “remembered” what Jesus had said to them while he was with them. By your post, you may question whether the disciples were spending too much time with Jesus and not absorbing it. BUT in hindsight, the word they received previously was finally revealed in fullness and they started to put into practice what they had been taught.

    Lately, I have been going to church 3x a week, sometimes more but not for the teaching necessarily, but for the presence of Jesus. I crave it; my body literally jumps when the presence is around. I don’t want to live without it. Sure, I can experience the presence by myself, but the impact is not as great as when I am with other corporate believers.

    As for the Bible, I love the Word of God. I don’t care if it is topical, or exegetical. ALL of the Word is life to me, but the Bible is not the 4th person in the trinity. I am seeking to know the Father, the Son AND the Holy Spirit. Currently I’m in a season where I have put aside Bible study (as it is typically understood by evangelical Christians) and I delve into…yes, you guessed it, the presence of Jesus. The strong Bible knowledge roots I have developed over the past 14 years assist to give reference to the experience of Jesus but my own Bible understanding does not override the experience the manifesting presence of God.

    • I’m glad you brought that up. I seems a lot of people could not be less aware of the presence of God. It’s about getting “filled up” with whatever is being hocked, and getting out. If people are truly there for God, I don’t see how you can overdose. That’s like saying monks can OD because they’re in church every day.

  22. I’m currently a theology student at a preaching college, and I find it incredibly frustrating that they teach what they call “exegetical preaching,” by which they mean 3-point alliterated sermons from a tiny selection of text (the more you can pull out of a single verse the better) & extra credit if your points rhyme.

    Perhaps I am exagerrating a little– but I really don’t need the Bible regurgitated to me ala Sesame Street. Who cares if you can still remember the 3 points of the sermon from Sunday on Wednesday if there has been no aligning of one’s life to Scripture?

    When will God’s people yearn for solid food?

  23. Matt, I understand your post and your pastoral frustration. I think that your main point is good: why bother learning what you’re not going to apply?

    Please help me understand it better. If I’m going to consume information during the course of my day (my commute, my workout, reading blogs, news, etc.), isn’t is better to have Spiritual nourishment than not? Doesn’t Jesus tell us to Abide in him? How can we abide while we’re watching How I Met Your Mother? Isn’t a sermon or blog, verse by verse, topical, whatever, a better choice? (Eat this not That :-)

    Bman’s point of 3rd and 4th helpings when people haven’t had first helpings, treats spiritual nourishment as a zero sum game. The analogy breaks down because my consumption of spiritual nourishment does not leave less food on the table for starving people.

    I’m all in on this: if my occupation with sermons, spiritually based blogs, etc. is so time consuming that it keeps me away from the good works to which I am called, then it’s bad/negative/avoidance. But if this consumption is in my spare time, like when I can’t sleep at night, or when I’m stuck in traffic, no harm, no foul, right?

    I suggest that the problem with the American church is not Too Much Teaching. It’s too little maturity, weak faith, and too much self absorption.

    Sincerely,
    Bob

  24. A biscuit topped with a liquid biscuit. See, now I want a biscuit. That’s a funny image. Good point, Matt. I agree, we do have a bunch of people ingesting and becoming gorged, with very few making time to actually use their ‘energy’ to do any good.
    Rick Nier recently posted..Hungry

  25. Overdosing on Jesus and the gospel is never a bad thing. It is actually recommended. Feeding our spirits is very important.

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