How do we take something as attractive and compelling as the gospel and the story of God and make it so unattractive, boring and unconvincing?
By we I mean the professing Church. And what I am speaking of is “selling our own version of God.” What made me think of this is an experience I had in trying to research more information on an antique shotgun that was passed down to me from my wife’s grandpa.
I wasn’t familiar with the brand.
The reason for that was at least in part a common procedure that occurred in the early 1900’s. Stores would have a gun manufacturer make guns for them, but they would put their own name on the guns, thus they would have their own brand.
It seems that we as the professing Church have branded God and the gospel. It’s God’s gospel but we have personalized and customized it and put it on the shelf with our name. And it may look pretty impressive. In fact it will impress people because human thought and insight form the marketing core of the brand.
And once we have truth “branded” and “labeled” it is nearly impossible to see past the packaging.
More thoughts on occurred to me yesterday concerning honoring God with our lips, and I would like to help us “see past the label and the packaging” as we look at our worship and praise of God. Let’s look at how we do church.
(Isaiah 29:13 NIV) The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.
Sometimes it takes so long to separate ourselves from a text so we can see what it actually says and how that may be relevant to our lives today. We need to understand how the information process works: By default we process new information to fit what we currently have in our “database.” Our first, and sometimes only, inclination is to make any new information fit with what we already believe.
In this text I immediately fasten my mind to all the thoughts of hypocrisy, which are accurate as Jesus quotes this text in Mark but there is much more to be learned from this text.
(Matthew 15:7-9 NIV) You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
What I would like to do is take a few moments and focus on what was happening without the big hypocrisy overlay obscuring our view. What may happen is that as we sharpen the focus and clean up the picture that we may see ourselves somewhere other than we would think.
So if we want to see what is really happening we need to remove the “big bunch of hypocrites” overlay and try to bring the picture into focus.
So what is happening? What would we see if we attended Israel Baptist Church during Isaiah’s time?
First, we would observe a people who as far as we could tell draw near to God and honor him with their lips. What does it mean with their lips? Speaking. Singing. Reading the scriptures.
Don’t miss this: They did draw near. They did honor God. And that is what you would observe because you couldn’t see their hearts. And if we were in attendance we would probably be very impressed.
Why do I think we might be impressed? Because their worship and teaching were built upon what was acceptable and worthy to men.
The formula: draw near to God, honor God with preaching, singing and reading, and brand the product.
How do we make what God has given us so unattractive and unconvincing?
We keep our distance with our hearts.
We take what God has given and we keep it within the boundaries of people. We do “God-stuff” but we do not give our hearts to the process. The result is a spirituality based on human rules, rewards and acceptance.
We have imprisoned ourselves with ourselves. We make an attempt to draw near to God, often a very powerful attempt, but we hold out when it comes to our hearts.
Our lips are moving but we don’t bow before God, and we don’t trust God. We have pleased ourselves but not God.
No faith – no pleasing God.
(Hebrews 11:6 ESV) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
So God delivers a masterpiece, but we take the crayons to it and wonder why people are disinterested.