I believe I have established that Jesus did not use politics as a way to bring on the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom comes from changed hearts:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
Ezekiel reiterates the same theme:
"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezek. 36:24-27)
A nation of righteousness is solely built on hearts that are transformed by Christ, for He is our Righteousness. We have to be guided by His light in order to create light; His wisdom, to create wisdom and His love to create love in all we do.
My greatest fear today is the evolution of the mega-church, where individuals come in to a large worship center, the lights darken, and the congregation becomes a crowd. Everyone is enveloped in a sense of self-focus: I am worshiping God as opposed to We are worshiping God together as His Body.
The lights come up and the focus is now on the pastor. He alone dispenses the Word; have we been in the Word at all this week, and come to church already fed? Or do we rely on him to feed us in a fun and exciting way, that will make personal Bible study later on seem rather boring by comparison? His stories, his analogies, his jokes seem to make the Word interesting; just sitting there at home, simply reading the Word, is comparable looking at the sheet music, as opposed to going to a symphony.
But I don't understand the Word, many will say. But that is our problem. We have many churches where, for some time now, people have listened to the Gospel in topical preaching, filled with stories, videos, film clips, personal experiences and modern references. No depth, no digging deep: just enough Bible to make it a sermon, but it is short, sweet and simple.
That is why many don't know the Word now, and pastors have to dumb the Word down.
I have seen and heard in the last ten years:
- A large, stuffed beat placed a wooden altar to talk about sacrifices.
- A clip from Survivor to talk about the lost.
- A clip from the 60's sitcom, the Andy Griffith Show. (forgot the application)
- A flyer from a new church sneering at hymns ("Nobody ever played Hymn Hero") and mocking name tags.
I have participated in:
- Setting up a full concert venue for the worship team in a school auditorium with an elevated stage, a very tall screen, concert lighting, full sound board and having the main pastor streamed in, with all the attendant problems technology brings with it.
- The volunteers in this church were exhausted. Then the Sunday worship was renamed, "Sunday Experience" which put even a heavier burden on the volunteers to make Sunday interesting and going off without a hitch.
I was told to:
- Wear a t-shirt to the school's games (the school that allowed us to use their auditorium) to cheer on their students. (I refused. I thought that was asking a lot, and it felt disingenuous.)
I have watched:
- The branding of a church reach epic proportions of importance. (The amount of discussion was disturbing.)
- Money that was tithed was spent on mugs, pens, banners, cafe tables, chocolate, expensive equipment, water bottles and t-shirts. (How does any of that further the Kingdom of God?)
All right. I will stop. I have also watched good, well-intentioned people get caught up in trying to pack their churches for various reasons, whose hearts are for God to examine, not me.
But the one thing I notice as I work through the Gospels is how much time Jesus spent with the individual, because He made the time to do it. He had a world to save, but He went to the places where an individual was hanging out, and He made a point to talk with that person and share His love, healing presence and care.
The apostles, on the other hand, got caught up in being busy, going from town to town, bothered about children getting in the way, finding meals and worrying about the angry leaders who were spying all the time.
In other words, they were caught up doing church.
Jesus, on the other hand, made the time to:
- Talk to two men who were living amongst the tombs, and were demon-possessed; their only contact was being chained by the townspeople;
- Talk to the woman at the well and bring to her the words of life;
- Talk to the Phoenician woman whose comments about taking the table scraps made Jesus appreciate her faith;
- Face the woman who touched His garment and received healing;
- Encourage the man who asked Jesus to help him in His unbelief;
- Talk with centurion whose faith amazed Jesus;
and the list goes on and on.
So much of the Gospel is showing Jesus meeting one on one with the needy, the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized. We all know this, but how do we do church in His name?
Crowds. Concerts. Large groups. Small groups. Events that are women-themed; church-themed; men-themed; youth-themed; patriotic-themed. Lots and lots to go and do at church.
But is there the time for us to sit down and speak to the individual? The widower? The woman who is struggling with an abused past; the friend whose marriage is falling apart; the man who is lonely and has a lot of health problems and cannot leave his home...
If we are so busy doing church, with all work that needs to be done to just have one modern service (let alone two or three services, as many churches now have) and we have lots of events to set up for, volunteer at, and tear down, will we have the mental energy to sit down and talk with a needy individual?
I have sat with a few pastors who were so busy getting ready for the next thing, they didn't have the time to focus on me for a little while. I have had several pastors move the conversation over to what I could do for them, even though I was asking them to consider me. I walked out feeling betrayed, to be honest with you, for if a pastor doesn't have time to really listen, it feels very dismissive.
The modern church asks a lot out of its people. But there's always new volunteers, right? Or the burned-out ones feel guilty, so they don't speak up. These churches are so busy planning the next event, how many people who attend are falling through the cracks? Will anyone even notice if someone stops attending (especially if so many others are coming in to fill the empty seats)?
Jesus made time for individuals for He kept His ministry simple. He didn't even have a place to lay His head. He obviously trusted God for the day to day running of His ministry, so He could concentrate on speaking to those in need, who would then go on and be a living testimony to His grace, and train up His disciples to do the same.
These verses are ever so relevant to the modern church:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:1-9)
Check: Will the church go on if the pastor leaves? Or is it built around him? Do I expect him to be my "lord" and give me the answers, or do I seek out and depend on Jesus and His Word?
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Check: Will all the things the church focused on--the sound systems, the branding, the mugs and other promotional materials, the videos, the streaming, the amazing concert-quality worship--come through the flames when tested in that Day? Or will the time spent with each other, caring and sharing one on one be what glorifies Jesus the most?