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When You Get Dull
October 17, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto

HEBREWS 4:12-13

Who wants to be known as dull? Just about the most humiliating, humbling experience is to be called dull! "I had such a dull time at her house,” or “What a. dull party he gave!" Don't you dread to hear such comments about you? I would much rather you say, "I disagreed with your sermon," or "Your sermon really made me angry," or "I wasn't very interested in your sermon,” or as one of our children wrote to me last year, ‘I like your sermons but they are too long!” That comment I can handle, rather than for you to say, "What a dull sermon!" or "What a dull service this morning." The title of this sermon has caused some interest. Some are prepared to yawn appropriately during this “dull" sermon. The office staff prepared an insert for the bulletin with the back empty so people could doodle during the "dull" sermon! 

When you get dull, what can you do? We're not alone, of course. People do have dull spells. Time Magazine reported this week that even engineers get dull and lose their sharpness after a few years. The M. I. T. study concluded that engineers need refresher courses to keep their mind alert and ideas growing. We all need to sharpen ourselves and keep growing, keep alive. How? How do you prevent or treat dullness once you've got it? 

The suggested text for today has an answer, Hebrews 4: 12-13, "The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to God that we must all give an account of ourselves." 

I paraphrase this passage: "When you get dull, sharpen yourself on the word of God." Or, "When you get dull, be honest with yourself and focus on Jesus." Be honest with yourself. Honest is called “repentance" in the Bible. Take a good look—open and honest—at yourself, at what you are really like. Don't cover up, pretend, hide. When you cover up with blankets, or pretend to be someone you are not, or afraid someone will really see you as you are, you tend to become unreal and dull. When others try to relate to you, they find only covers, or blankets, or a mask and can't find you. There is little substance, little depth, and you become a dull person. 

God sees all. The word of God is like a sword, like a laser beam, cutting through all the garbage that is in the way, cutting through the blankets and masks. I enjoy the phrases the author uses, phrases that probably had more meaning and perhaps were common expressions like we say "get to the heart of it all." The author said, “The sword cuts all the way through where soul and spirit meet, where joints and marrow come together ..” I don't quite know where that is but it must be an expression meaning right to the center, exposing all there is. The author says, "Nothing can be hid from God. It’s all exposed and open before God's eyes." You are quite naked in the eyes of God, so why pretend, why cover up, why try to be someone you are not? God sees. Be honest. 

God not only sees, but holds you accountable. It is written, "We must all give an account of ourselves to God." This is called judgment. What you do to yourself and with yourself, what you do with your life is judged. Someone has said, "What you are is God's gift to you; what you do with what you are is your gift to God." It is not only a gift; you are held accountable. Are you doing your best and being your best? You are held accountable in this life and at the end, judged in eternity. So, therefore, why cover up, why pretend? God knows and God will hold you accountable to be what you were created, intended to be. When you cover up, you become dull. Why get dull? 

The standards by which you are held accountable are revealed in the word of God. Now, what does the author mean by the “word of God which pierces, reveals, exposes and judges”? He means the written, spoken word that is recorded in our Bible from the prophets, from Jesus, from Paul. The Bible shows us the standards by which we are judged. But, supremely, the word of God is Jesus Christ. John in the first chapter, says, “The Word of God came in human flesh.” God spoke his clear, final word in the person, in the life of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus is the criterion, the standard by which you are judged. 

Look at yourself through the eyes of Jesus Christ. Look at yourself in contrast with the example, the revelation of God, namely Jesus Christ. We call this act "repentance." Looking at Jesus and studying the Bible, we can summarize and say, as written by Lloyd Ogilvie, "The goal of human nature is to be fully human. The glory of Christ is a person fully alive, reaching full potential, recreated in his image." You are created to be you. You are a beautiful person, not dull, half-dead, boring, insignificant. You are called to be you as a tree is called to be a tree, a rose is called to be a rose, not a gardenia. You are called to be you, released from all the sins, the coverups, the pretense—healed, loved and loving. 

Therefore, focus on Jesus, the Word of God,  Focus on Jesus, not on yourself. Be honest with yourself, yes. Look at yourself, clean up your act, yes; but don't focus on yourself. Don't get preoccupied with yourself. Be honest. Don't the most boring people you know, the dullest, only talk about themselves? Sometimes we have spent evenings or conversations with people and I say to Ellie, "We asked all the questions. They never asked us one. They just talked continually about themselves." People who have only themselves to talk about have a limited subject matter. Interesting people know how to ask questions, know how to reflect and show genuine interest in you. Focus on others as Jesus did. Follow Jesus' example. Look to the needs, the problems of others. Let your own problems be caught up in the concern you show for others. Focus on others and you won’t be dull. 

By focusing on Jesus, you will grow into his likeness, and be a growing, exciting person. Lloyd Ogilvie wrote that the motto of his life is: “l am not what I used to be and, thank God, I'm not what 1'm going to be." Can you say that? Praise God, you're not what you were ten, five years ago, even last month. Thank God you have not yet arrived. If you are a changing person, a growing person, what are you changing from? What is your agenda? Do you need to be more concerned with others? Do you take yourself too seriously? Do you need to read more, study more, join a club here at the church, join a Bible study? Plan some agenda to keep you growing, then you will not be dull. You will be growing, exciting, vivacious, 

Focus on Jesus and be transformed. To be a Christian is not to take on some kind of super pious spirituality, not to be spiritual as in ghostly, pale, wish-washy, colorless and drab. What ends up is not being the human God made you to be, but an escape from it. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” wrote Paul. Fasten on Jesus Christ, draw into him, love him, abide in him, and you will be transformed, becoming like Christ. And becoming like Christ does not mean a pale imitation, but a human being as God made you to be, "softened, perceptive, feeling, caring, empathetical and loving." Such people are not dull. People that the Holy Spirit is allowed to work on and turn into loving, warm, caring people are not dull . They are listeners. They care. They are concerned. They are fun. They are bright. They are sharp like the word of God, like Jesus. When you get dull, be honest with yourself and focus on Jesus. 

I can't help but apply this text to our church. When a church gets dull, when its sermons put people to sleep, when its services are boring, when its Sunday School listless, it is sad. By the statistics of numbers of our members, of the second generation of members who should be here, we must have or have had a dull streak in this church. The remedy? As a church, be honest with ourselves and focus on Jesus. Let the word of God pierce through to the very heart of this church, cutting all the way through the subterfuge. And what will we see? 

Focus on Jesus. What does Christ want of our ministry? Where is God leading us as a church? Its an exciting question. Are we following? As a church, we are not what we used to be (Praise God) and, thank God, we're not what we are going to be. The future calls us. Let’s ask ourselves this question at our annual meeting on December 8 when the membership gathers together as the Church Conference: What is God calling us as a church to be and do in 10, 20 years? What will be our ministry? 

A church gets dull when it sits back and rests on its accomplishments. A church gets dull when it tries to repeat the past year after year after year—the same programs, same activities over and over, smaller and smaller. A church gets dull when it has no vision, no dream for the future. A church gets dull when it fails to focus on Jesus and focuses on itself.  

When you get dull, when a church gets dull, be honest with yourself (repent), and focus on Jesus (be transformed). 

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris