Friday, January 31, 2014

The Art of Tickling Ears

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. 
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number 
of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."
2 Timothy 4:3

This past Summer I had a nasty run in with a poison ivy plant, resulting in the worst outbreak I've ever experienced. I tried steroid shots, pills, creams, ointments, sprays, warm baths, and about a zillion home remedies. Everybody had an opinion about what I needed to do to get rid of it (one brother, in all seriousness, recommended gasoline). But, the one common piece of advice everyone gave was "Do not scratch!"

Yet, scratch I did. And scratch, and scratch, and scratch. I eventually got over the outbreak, but my arm still bears the scars of that encounter. The scars are not from the outbreak, mind you. There from the scratching.

The apostle Paul talks about an incessant 'itch' that many people have. It's a desire to hear only what they want to hear. They want their church to be a certain way and the pastor to only say certain things. They want to redefine Christianity according to their own preferences and beliefs, picking and choosing those aspects of Scripture that they like, and either denying or conveniently ignoring those aspects they find disagreeable. Paul calls this "itching ears", which can only be scratched by finding a pastor or teacher that says what they want to hear).

Over the last decade of church ministry I've had lots of people demand I say certain things. I've had mothers demand I preach about the appropriate length of shirts. I've had people leave the church because I wasn't "hell, fire, and brimstone" enough. I've seen others go because they were sick of hearing about sin and wickedness, preferring a more "positive" message (presumably, one that doesn't ever mention sin). I've had first time attenders seek me out after the service, promising to become members if only I would promise to consistently preach on social justice. I've heard the same promises from people demanding I speak regularly on End-times prophecy, the dangers of Roman Catholicism, and the evils of the Charismatic movement. I've had Calvinists demand I never use the phrase "choosing to accept Christ", and Arminian-leaning folks demand I always present the 'Romans Road' at the end of each service. One believer demanded I regularly preach from the pulpit that only Baptists are truly biblical. Another angrily insisted that I must consistently preach against the evils of taxation and big government!

Sometimes, when they don't get their ears tickled, they slam their Bible shut, walk out the door, and find a church that scratches the itch.

Over the last decade, I've learned how to respond a little better to such demands. Now I almost always say, "at our church we go about things fairly simply. We just open God's word, find a section on it, and talk about what it says."

Then I usually add this, "I promise you that I will talk about whatever that passage is talking about. Nothing more, nothing less. Our goal is to hear from the Lord and understand his Word. We will believe whatever it says, and strive to do whatever it demands. I cannot, and will not, make you any other promises."

Open God's word today. Don't search for something you agree with and ignore everything else. Just read it and submit to it. Let it take you, change you, and shape you. Our ears don't need to be itched, but our hearts desperately need to be changed.

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