Saturday, July 28, 2012

More Church Signs of the Times

I’m probably going to be accused of not having a sense of humor. Just warning you up front before I write this post. I do have a sense of humor. I laugh a lot, in fact. But I’ve been doing some thinking and there is a time and a place in which it’s good and proper and right to be funny, and other times....not so much.
I wrote a post recently about appalling church sign finds and the little game we play in our family to spot and collect them. Here are a couple more we’ve seen since that post, and then I have something to say.
“Are you at the center of God’s worship?”
I think this is the worst one I’ve seen yet....ever. I don’t even know what they are trying to say here. Face value it is blasphemous and appalling. I can’t even think of a way to take this that is good. I better not be at the center of any worship. I better be worshiping God first, foremost and only. Are they trying to say that worshiping God should be the center of my life? If so, they mangled it. Somehow, though, in our self-actualization and contemplative naval-gazing, self-absorbed, demand and expect and think you deserve your best life now culture, I suspect it’s as bad as it looks face value. Truly terrible.
“Be friends with Jesus. Use Faith-Book, the Bible.”
As we were driving along a highway we drive quite often close to home, I happened to see the other side of the ‘cold butter’ sign I drive by and mentioned in the first church sign post. This is what was on the back. Sad to say, in comparison, the cold butter sign is better. Wowza. Thinking about this one since I saw it yesterday is what got me pondering what I want to say in the rest of this post and for which some people will probably think I have no sense of humor. So be it.
We live in a culture that increasingly shakes its collective fist in the face of God. In a time when the church desperately needs to be a prophetic voice in the midst of a Romans 1 culture of spiritual blindness, we laugh ourselves into irrelevance. The seeker-driven, best life now, felt-needs focus of the church is a foolish mess. If it makes me a complete idiot to say I believe that, then so be it. We wonder why our churches are so filled with false converts that studies show large percentages of our youth are leaving the faith, yet we scream foul and pitch fits when our culture rails and gnashes their teeth and threatens to boycott when the Bible-influenced Christian beliefs of a Chick-fil-A president are gently stated in answer to a question. Why should our culture take us seriously when we don’t even seem to take the faith seriously? “Be friends with Jesus. Use Faith-Book.” Really??? 
I grew up in a solid, Bible-believing church. It was one of the better ones in the SBC, by all accounts. And yet, as I was listening to Todd Friel the other day on a ‘Witness Wednesday’ episode where he shared some encounters he had talking with random college students as he visited their campus and compassionately struck up conversations with them, I put my head on my kitchen counter and wept. In that episode, he ran across a couple of Christian kids who, though sincere, couldn’t articulate the gospel when he said, “Say I’m not a Christian. Why should I be a Christian?” The best one kid had to offer was along the lines of, well, Jesus has made my life so much better; I see what it’s done for me to be a Christian. When Todd came back and said that his life is fulfilled and he’s happy already, why would he need Jesus, the kid didn’t have a good answer. Todd gently then suggested that what the kid had forgotten to mention was that he’s a sinner and needs a Savior. Repentance is what was missing. And the reason I wept at my kitchen counter while listening is because I realized that had Todd run across me as a college kid, I would have answered exactly the same way that kid had, and I would have been just as confused about how to properly explain the gospel. And it’s really so simple once we get over our self-esteem and self-centeredness and realize that the gospel message is not that we can have our best life now. The gospel message is that we are wretched sinners who have broken God’s law and cannot earn His forgiveness no matter what we do. But God, who is rich in mercy, demonstrated His love to us while we were yet sinners and Jesus died for us, took the wrath which we deserve as He died on that cross. And now God commands that we repent and put our trust in the One He sent, namely Jesus Christ the Lord. 
I loved Jesus, wanted to follow Him and put my trust in Him, live for Him, as a college student. But I don’t think the gospel message was spelled out for me in such a consistent way as I hear Todd Friel teach it on the Wretched Radio podcasts I listen to now. I am so thankful to my loving Savior for pointing me over the years as I’ve grown in the direction of good preachers who consistently preach the gospel soundly, biblically, rightly, and that by hearing it preached well I have come to understand and repent and fully trust in Christ alone, and that the faith God graciously allowed me to express as a child has been realized through the sound preaching of His word. I am saved by His grace alone. 
Repentance is what is missing from so much of our ‘gospel’ proclamation in so much of our evangelical preaching today. We teach a message of having our felt-needs met, having better lives, fixing our self-esteem (loving ourselves better), and though repentance is mentioned, it isn’t often enough and strongly enough stressed and fully explained why we need to repent and from what. Had someone asked me back then if I was a good person, I would have proudly said, “Yes.” I didn’t fully comprehend until much later how wretched I really am. The righteouness in which I am growing is due to the work of the Holy Spirit in me through Jesus Christ my Lord, not because I’m good enough in myself to get there on my own.
I’ve been listening to Alistair Begg preaching through the book of Amos recently. He said this in the podcast I was listening to yesterday, and it struck me in light of my thinking about these things, “Religion without repentance leaves men and women in a perilous place. It affirms them in their rebellion, and it is a very large part of much of the proclamation in our western world today.” And later in the same message he said this, “Repentant-less religion eats out the soul of our society.”
So, back to the church sign nonsense. I know that a cutesy phrase on a church sign probably isn’t the whole of the message that church teaches. But I think that we better be much more careful of the message we are sending to those who drive by and see it. That church sign is a public face of our church. If we’re so casual and silly about our Savior on the sign, are we really going to be sober-minded about Him in our preaching and teaching and what we’re passing on to our children? Sure, I can laugh about funny things, but I don’t think the Church’s face to the world is a funny thing. Our culture is more and more antagonistic to the truth claims of Christianity. We need to be about the business of teaching the gospel well - especially within the church to our children so that we and they can be salt and light by knowing and understanding and sharing the faith outside the church.  Instead of trying so hard to be ‘cool’ and trying so hard to get them to ‘like us’ because we aren’t really all that different, let’s focus on knowing and teaching the gospel well. That’s what our fist-shaking culture needs from us. Not another ‘Reclaim America’ type of rally (I have a whole other post brewing on that subject, just so you know), but a church that is in awe of our Holy God and who would fear to trivialize Jesus, who should be most precious to us indeed. Have we read Revelation?? The vision John saw of the risen Lord Jesus Christ would never have allowed him to say such trivial things about Jesus as we cutely put on our church signs. Jesus is the Friend of Sinners, but He isn’t our buddy and boyfriend. He is the Friend who is closer than a brother, but we must never forget that He is the Lamb who was slain and to whom all the Redeemed will forever sing Worthy is the Lamb for all all eternity.
Could we please rethink the cutesy, silly, irreverant and sometimes outright blasphemous church signs (not to mention the posters/t-shirts/cups/junk we see in Christian stores and on Facebook and e-mail chains that are usually followed by ‘like and post if you love Jesus’)? For the love of a world that is dying and going to hell, can we not be more serious about what we present to the world? For the love of the Savior who died to redeem sinners and make us free from sin, could we please be more careful with how we represent Him before the mockers? Is that really a laughing matter?

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