Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Did Things Ever Get so Far?


Vito Coreleone: How did things ever get so far? I don't know. It was so -- unfortunate -- so unnecessary.”

Are we looking for too much of a utopia? Are we taking the Scriptures far too literally? I don’t mean our worthless theologies which proclaim our orthodoxy because we say the Scriptures are inerrant. If there ever was a paper doctrinal tiger it is that one. Who cares what you say you believe ABOUT the Scriptures. How do the Scriptures dictate your life is the ultimate theology. But if we allow the present state of Christianity to influence our interpretations of Scripture then we can find much contentment in lowering the bar. In fact most church members would be bewildered by the suggestion that things have drifted so far.

But if we truly receive the Scriptures as God-breathed and God’s eternal Word, then we must ask ourselves are we asking too much. Do we have our head in the clouds and is that kind of theology over the top and completely unreasonable? But instead of holding fast to the supernatural essence of Jesus and His teachings we have created a theology of situational ethics and futuristic events which affect nothing in our lives. And if perchance someone holds us to the teachings of Jesus in their literal form we consider that person as unbalanced and even unreasonable.

So are we expecting too much from us who say we follow Jesus? I mean do the multiplied millions who claim His name set the standard? Is there a danger when we read the words of Jesus and apply them literally to our lives? Is that a destructive wildfire which harms the norm? If God could erase your memory and you recalled nothing about Scripture at all except that Jesus was Savior and Lord and you began to read through the New Testament without commentary, what would you think? We have become so inoculated to the words of the New Testament that even the most startling exhortations do not move us anymore.

And why is that? It’s because they have all been diluted and explained in terms that have been influenced by the culture, and it’s also because none of your fellow believers seem to do what they say literally. So we can read a verse like:

Matt.6: 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

And as we read those words we have a buffer already built in by the secular and the ecclesiastical culture which allows us to make them some spiritual guidelines about how you view money but surely not literal in any sense. If we would take those words as a literal exhortation how could we exist in this western culture? It would be way too fanatical and so we dilute them to suggest a heart attitude rather than a specific obedience. This is just one example of how the church has bowed to the culture and incorporated all kinds of fail safes as we interpret Scripture.

Lk.14: 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

This verse sums up a teaching from Jesus that exhorts us to count the cost before becoming His disciple. And just what cost would that be? Is Jesus suggesting that we should present that cost in a sharing of the gospel? In fact is that cost a part of the gospel? And does that cost include more than giving up cigarettes and swearing? So a man can “accept Christ” and begin to “go to church” and stop being a adulterer and stop getting drunk but he can still strive for material things and corporate advancement and save large amounts of money for his retirement? He can take out a mortgage for a house which exceeds his needs and take out a car loan which also exceeds his needs and still he has “forsaken all”?

Sometimes when I read the words of Jesus I wonder if we really know what being a disciple is these days. The modern definition and revelation of being a disciple or a follower of Jesus is without personal cost. Give up a few obvious sins and “poof” you are in. Look around and see how everyone else lives and follow suit. And if and when you come across these “problem” Scriptures just remember they surely cannot mean what they seem to say literally. Come on, let’s be reasonable.

Matt.5: 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

And verses like these also fall by the wayside and are compartmentalized. They might mean your cantankerous neighbor but they cannot mean America’s enemies. You see, even God’s Word must bend to the patriotic culture. And when we do not even pretend to take God’s Word literally then we make the Bible a book of religious writings which when used properly can have an advantageous affect upon your life. And then these writings can lend themselves to a variety of messages that comfort and soothe the conscience and add some religious garnish to a life lived well within the cultural norms.

How did things ever get so far? When we replace the Word of God with our milquetoast interpretations then the faith veers way off course. When our theology replaces our life-ology then our faith becomes paper. When Jesus the Living Being is replaced by jesus the caricature and when prayer is replaced by organizations and when worship is replaced by music then we have invented a faith unlike the true faith. All of these things have led the church far astray from what is the true expression of the faith which follows Jesus. And after so many years rare is the person who knows something is very wrong, and rarer still is the person who fasts and prays and seeks the face of the Savior with such diligence and passion that he or she will not be denied.

Oh dear brothers and sisters, is there any chance we could be painfully honest and allow the Spirit to remove the scales that have covered our eyes? We stand so far off course that a minor adjustment cannot even begin to set our feet upon the path which bears His mark.

Gal.6: 17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Let us go ahead and place our lives against that litmus test. Do we bear His marks in our bodies? Do we even know what it truly means to bear His marks in our bodies? Do we even desire to know what that means? Can you not see just how shallow and hollow and self serving we have made the faith that claims His name? What do we do least in our lives? We must sleep and we must work, but after that what consumes us? Is it television? Is it music? Is it eating? Is it driving? Is it fellowship with others? What do we do least? I would guess that time alone without distraction with God in prayer, meditation, and worship is somewhere near the bottom of the list.

It is true that Paul did not have the distractions that we now deal with. That is very true, However Paul did have something that changed his life and made other things subservient to this one thing. Paul had an experience with Christ. He could not deny that He had met the Living Christ. And that initial encounter drove Paul to seek more encounters. And with each encounter Paul desired more. And each encounter changed Paul in tangible ways. It would bring to his remembrance his first encounter with Christ; It would both satisfy and also create more of a thirst for more of Christ; It would energize his faith and infuse it with more of Christ’s life; it would remake him to be a little more like his Savior; It would make the things of this world appear as worthless as they are; and it would make Paul long for heaven.

So in light of those things what is wrong with the church that most professing believers do not experience that which Paul did? There must be two possible answers.

Perhaps many church members have had no authentic experience with Christ. It is entirely possible that literally millions of evangelical church members have never really been born again. Oh, you say, but who has had a Damascus Road experience like Paul? Do not underestimate the power and ministry of the Spirit. Who can be translated from the kingdom of darkness and the blindness of that kingdom into the kingdom of God’s dear Son and have their eyes fully opened and yet not manifest a change? God does not rely on the Road to Damascus to regenerate souls. But I fear that many church members have had no spiritual experience with Christ and therefore cannot really have any hunger to meet with Him again. They have not met with Him at all yet.

Secondly many believers who actually had a life changing experience with Christ and who can give testimony to that wonderful event no longer seek Christ and therefore their lives and hearts have grown cold. Yes they feel a kind of exhilaration on Sunday mornings but their spiritual lives have been dormant for some time. They no longer run to get alone with the Redeemer and bathe in His presence and be broken by His Spirit and walk back into the darkness of this world changed once again. They know the creeds and they appreciate their church and they support missions but they do not walk in the Spirit fresh from His throne room and with an anointing to live His life with Whom they meet regularly and with great passion.

Their faith has become a religion. Yes, they have been redeemed and yes they love the Lord Jesus, but the freshness and the power and the hunger have all fled. They now walk as card carrying evangelicals who know on which side of all the moral causes they should stand and they know what sins they should avoid and they even know the difference between being lost and being saved. They are in Christ to be sure. But where is the fervency, the passion, and the relentless hunger for more of Him? Where are the tears that sometimes accompany a personal visitation of the Spirit Who ushers them into the unmistakable presence of Christ which not only cannot be denied, but which overshadows them and literally transforms them anew and afresh? And the next day the go about their earthly tasks with a longing to get away and be with Him once again. And when they leave their jobs that longing becomes excitement as they drive home.

And as they do what must be done at home they have an appointment of glory almost raging through their beings, They are not interested in television or exercise or anything else that isn’t necessary. They long to be with Christ and while they perform the tasks of Martha they have Mary’s place in their hearts. And as they steal away to be with Him they once again bow before Him and offer themselves as living sacrifices. Oh yes, it may not be as long a time as they would like, but it is a time separated just for Him. And as they place their head upon their pillows sometimes they literally smile. They have been with Christ today and with that they find sweet slumber in His hands.

Do you believe that even generally describes the spiritual lives of most believers? And what kind of faith do we really have if we claim that the things of this world that Paul did not have keep us from our Savior? Go ahead, and change places with the Apostle Paul. Would we even dare to suggest such a thing? So Paul’s life is filled with in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”

Distractions? And yet with all these things and more this apostle lived on meeting with the same Jesus he had met on that dusty road. And have we no shame? Can we even mouth the words of some excuse? Are we that self centered that we are not even convicted as we read words like that? No one can believe the Word of God and not spend much time with Christ in prayer and meditation and worship and repentance. No one. Knowing the Bible and all its teachings without spending uncommon time before the Lord is like a glove without a hand. It might be smooth and pretty but it is lifeless.

We have many, many Bibles. We have read many, many verses. We have heard many, many sermons. But without a revival of spending time alone with God our knowledge just puffs up and has no manifestation in our lives. In fact, without a deeply committed prayer life we have head knowledge of God. We can claim we are not atheists, however we cannot claim we live differently than do they. And that, my dear friends, is a pitiful state indeed. It is so unfortunate and so unnecessary.

And how did things ever get so far?
It’s because we became content with what we know instead of seeking Who we know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Pastor Rick, this is a great summary of what the modern church is made up of. I have also sensed that many pew warmers are not true believers, and the scary thing is that some sermons indicate that the pastor is also not a true believer - of course only God knows, and perhaps these individuals will one day have their eyes opened. As for the other type you mention, the ones who are born again but distracted, it reminds me of Jesus saying that we cannit serve both God and money - the acquiring of it or the spending/managing of money is a huge distraction. People can be constantly reminded of this, but many times I find that many people will only 'see the light' when God allows some disaster/loss to occur. The knowledge as you say is one thing, but the full knowledge of God's truth may require the appropriate circumstances.