Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Turning Over Tables

jesus_temple I recently attended an event that was held in a large church. As we were sitting in the pews waiting for the service to begin, I took some time to notice their facilities and equipment. The stage was immense, likely 50 foot wide, and there was a huge decoration on the front wall that promoted missions. In large wooden letters were the words, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” and this was accompanied by a huge wooden relief of the earth. I don’t know how much that display cost, but I found myself wondering how many lives could have been saved and how many people could have heard about Jesus with the money that was spent on it.

I walked back through their multi-million dollar building and saw their 64 channel sound board, their television quality cameras and multi-media system, the numerous large flat-screened televisions scattered throughout, and the enormous wooden cross suspended over the foyer with recessed lighting attached. I approached one of the church’s many greeter stations and examined some of the paperwork that was lying on it. There was a prayer guide for the congregation that listed ten ways to pray for the church. Of those ten ways, eight of them involved church finances. The members were encouraged to pray for God’s provision, that those who had made financial commitments would fulfill them, that those who had not made commitments would do so, etc.

And as I observed all this, I found myself asking what Jesus would say about it all. That is a hard question to answer, especially by those who are imbedded in the culture of the west. We have come to see such facilities as a sign of God’s blessing on a ministry and an acceptable part of the American church. And, while most churches do not have such elaborate facilities, most have bought into this mindset to some degree or another. Western Christians spend money and they tend to spend most of it on themselves and their comforts.

In light of both scripture and the incredible needs of the world around us, I believe this to be sin. And I believe that sin needs to be addressed because it is distorting the name of Jesus and leading people to hell. But how do we do this? I do not want to be a harsh, condemning, finger-pointing person. I want to be known, above all else, as a person who loves Jesus and who loves others. At the same time, I don’t want to fail to shout a warning from God loudly enough and enable the travesty to continue.

Recently I have heard from some believers in my life who told me that they feel like harshness should not be a part of the message, but that it should be conveyed with hope and love. I don’t disagree with that, but I do question what real hope and love looks like. Is it simply wrapping the message in gentleness and a soft tone? Is it to always give words of encouragement, never criticism? Is it to say it with a smile on your face or tears in your eyes?

How does this fit with the person of Jesus? There is no doubt that He was the perfect incarnation of both hope and love. Was His words always soft, encouraging, and gentle? I don’t believe so. When addressing the religious establishment of His day he pulled no punches. Using words such as “whitewashed tombs”, “brood of vipers”, and “Woe unto you” he confronted the religion that had become so distorted as to misrepresent God and drive people away. He was also know to get physically violent at times, overturning tables and driving animals and their sellers out of the temple with a whip. Do these instances show Jesus to be unloving or reveal Him as the perfect incarnation of love?

Both the Old and New Testament are filled with prophetic words of harshness which seek to warn and turn people from sin to repentance. And the harshness was love’s attempt to spare the people from the consequences toward which they were headed. (If your child were preparing to walk in front of a moving car and I screamed loudly for him to stop, would you see me as unloving and berate me, or would you recognize it as love and thank me?

Please understand, I am unworthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as my Jesus. And in no way do I claim to be a prophet. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I come close to perfection in living out God’s Word. At the same time, I have been given a very unique opportunity to gain a world-wide view that has helped me to see some obvious truths from Scripture that are most often ignored or missed by many western believers. And, in light of that, I am convinced that the church in America is walking over a cliff and taking others with them. There are deep and profound problems within the church-at-large that extend to its very foundation. These problems manifest themselves through poor priorities that cause us to ignore the needs of the world around us while focusing on our own desires. We build facilities while ignoring Isaiah 58, James 1:27, and Matthew 25:31-46, and we wonder why God is not blessing and reviving us. Meanwhile, the world around us hears our words and sees our lives and recognizes the contradiction. So they turn away from the truths of scripture we preach because we are failing to care about the world for which Christ died to save.

So, I am haunted with how to issue the warning. I want to do it in with love, and I want to do it effectively. Somehow the warning must be shouted. The western church must be awakened or it will perish. It is time to start turning over tables.