Summary: The people of ISrael were tempted to disbelieve God, to listen to the voice of Sennacherib. They, like us, needed to recognise the voice of evil and reject it.
Sermon by Rev Heather Cetrangolo
How big is too big?
A hundred? Two hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?
What’s your general feeling about mega-churches?
We don’t really trust them, do we? We don’t really like it when people visit our church and later decide to join, GWAC, or Crossways, or City Life, or Planet Shakers.
It all seems a bit unfair when larger churches refuse to share their wealth or their people. So we are inclined to accuse them:
We might accuse them of being empires built around the ego of the Senior Pastor ..
Or Of being soul-less, money-grabbing, miracle-selling, prosperity doctrine businesses
And we ask ourselves, are these churches really advancing the kingdom of God, or are they building up a kingdom that is of this world?
But you know, size is relative. There are some, who go to much smaller churches than this, who would say that the property development we are planning here is empire building, and not kingdom building.
How do we know if we have fallen into the trap of building our own empire? Well, we know when we see the fruit of it – the fruit of distrusting God (and the fruit has nothing to do with the size of a church).
We see this fruit in all of our lives … including mine … and it’s in every church.
I was talking the other day to Shellie, on the way home from a parish dinner … and she asked me what I had on this week. So I began to tell her about my Monday and all the meetings and commitments I had that took me from mid-morning to 10pm at night.
Shellie looked at me and said, ‘Do you ever stand still? What are you scared might happen if you stop?’ (then she smiled at me as if to say, ‘you know I’m right’)
You see, I know that my weakness towards perfectionism, workaholism and control … this is bad fruit, and it indicates that I don’t completely trust God. I don’t completely trust him to protect and grow his church.
I know when this began. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the pattern started when I was nine years old, and both of my parents suddenly became extremely sick … and I thought my family was falling apart.
In a hidden place in my heart, which we all have I think … I decided that God must be sleeping on the job … or that maybe he had abandoned my family …
This soon extended into my experience of the church. I couldn’t understand why God would let churches close and decline, in which people were genuinely doing their best.
So I got busy making everything right in the world, and I’ve been working hard to achieve that ever since, with varying levels of success.
I think you could call that attitude, ‘empire building’ … relying on my own strength, rather than on God. In different ways, we all have this kind of bad fruit in our lives.
We all have that hidden place in our hearts, where the Devil convinces us that God’s not really doing a good enough job.
What’s the source of this distrust? .. there’s a basic equation – an experience of suffering combined with voice of evil. (the Devil uses trauma and woundings in our lives as a platform to speak fear and doubt into our thinking)
We see this pattern in Isaiah 36
In the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, the people of Judah had good reasons to doubt God. Just like nine year old little Heather had good reasons to ask, why does God let his people suffer?
The suffering of the people of Judah was very real: King Sennacherib of Assyria had captured all the fortified cities of Judah and Jerusalem was next on their list. Their sense of defeat was real. Their fear was real. They had good reason to wonder if God had abandoned them.
Just when things seemed hopeless, the Assyrian king’s right hand man, the palace administrator, turned up with an ultimatum to pass on to Hezekiah.
His words were nothing short of evil. The palace administrator became at this time in history, a mouthpiece for the devil … who (the scripture tells us) prowls like a lion waiting for an opportune time …
… and that opportune time is when our defences are down, and the suffering meter is high, and defeat is immanent … that’s when he strikes, with words designed to get us to lose our faith in God.
This speech given by Sennacherib’s administrator exposes the strategies of the enemy, which he routinely uses against all of God’s people … and in this speech there are five strategies:
1. Doubt God