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The Empty-Handed Church

Friday, March 18, 2016 @ 9:20 AM
The Empty-Handed Church Dr. Ray Rooney, Jr. Digital Media Editor MORE

“It’s All About Me. Deal With It!”  Those were the words emblazoned on a t-shirt one of my children was wearing after Christmas several years ago.  I remember looking at my wife and asking her which genius in the extended family thought that was an appropriate message for a Christmas present.  Mysteriously, the t-shirt disappeared somewhere between the dirty clothes hamper and the dryer never to be seen (or worn) again.

If there was ever a perfect fit for a jingoistic theme concerning the 2016 presidential election that is it.  “It’s All About Me.  Deal With It!”  From the electorate who seem bent on supporting whoever promises them the most to the candidates who all seem to believe they are entitled to be the next president.  The 2016 election seems to be a celebration of narcissism.  Query people today on who said, “ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country” and if anyone gives you more than a blank stare it will probably be “Adolph Hitler?” 

Donald Trump’s campaign theme is “Make America Great Again.”  Sounds wonderful.  However, the nuts and bolts concerning the plan that is going to make that happen seem to get brushed aside revealing the only real answer the Donald is giving: by electing me!  Ditto (pretty much) for Hillary Clinton.  Both presidential frontrunners are conveying the message that America is their own personal oyster.  Not a word from anyone about the kind of personal sacrifices it would really take to get our nation back on track.  You know, like cutting out all the free stuff government is giving away?  Not paying out more Social Security benefits to a person than he paid into Social Security. 

How did we get here?  To the point that we are regularly electing people we know have no intention of doing anything with their office and power other than making their own name great?  We’ve got one candidate for president promising to pay the legal fees of those who get arrested for roughing up any protesters in the rallies while another barks like a dog on stage and the audiences at both rallies eat it up. 

I point the finger at Christian leadership. 

We’ve got a church on nearly every street corner now.  First churches, Second churches, Third churches, community churches, country churches, city churches, inner-city churches, urban churches, suburban churches, mega churches, denominational churches, non-denominational churches, and on and on it goes.  It has gotten quite competitive.  With so many choices people began to shop for the church that best suited them. And that means they started going to church with an expectation to have their needs met. 

In order to keep their churches alive Christian leaders began to shy away from preaching about sin, repentance, self-denial, or sacrifice in favor of more accommodating and pleasing messages.  In essence, Christian leaders began to give people what they wanted rather than what they needed.  Like everything else in culture, churches embraced consumerism and began to shout “we’ve got what you want and if we don’t have it, we’ll get it for you!”  Like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, they keep the religious work going but have lost their first love.

As shocking as this may sound, church is not primarily about meeting your needs whoever you are.  If that is what you have been led to believe you have been sold down the river in exchange for cultural relevance.

In Exodus 23 the admonition to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread is found.  It is all about remembering the Passover.  Verse fifteen says, “None shall appear before me empty-handed.”  Wow.  That same phrase is found in 34:20 as well as Deuteronomy 16:16.  In Psalm 51 David explained that what God was always after in requiring a presentation of some sort before Him was “a broken and contrite heart” (v.17).  Flash forward to Romans 12:1 and we hear Paul appeal to the believers in Rome “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Among his final words to Timothy Paul wrote, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The gathering of believers was never about meeting their needs.  It was always about bringing something worthy to God.  A presentation.  A presentation that allowed God a direct path straight into the heart and soul of the presenter.  A self-presentation for acceptance.

Society looks like it does today because churches and their leaders decided that the gathering of believers no longer needed to focus on bringing to God what He desired (the broken and contrite heart).  Instead, it would be about giving people what they wanted.  God wanted a soul sorry for sin.  The people wanted a gymnasium for their kids.  God wanted a pastor to proclaim forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus.  The people wanted affirmation from the pulpit that their sinful proclivities were really endowments from the Creator.  God wanted a holy Church.  The people wanted a happy church.

You want to know why America has become the world wide capital of narcissism?  Look to the pastors who now believe their chief purpose is to keep the people happy rather than lead them to the altar of Calvary.  “None shall appear before me empty-handed.”  

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