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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Church of Smoke and Mirrors

1 Thessalonians 2:3-5 (NIV) 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness.

The Wizard of Oz was a favorite movie of mine as a child. The Wizard kept the people of Oz believing that he was all wise and all powerful by trickery. They failed to look behind the curtain at the man manipulating the gadgetry. I wonder if the message of the gospel has stooped to the smoke and mirrors of the Wizard of Oz to draw a crowd.

I once heard of a pastor who was using special gimmicks to draw in crowds. He once told people to come because a certain famous person would be at church the next week. He even went as far as to have a limo parked outside that next Sunday morning. During the worship service he announced the arrival of this famous person but failed to produce them. Then, he looked down on the congregation who had arrived supposedly for the purpose of seeing the celebrity and tell them, "Jesus comes every week and you don't come to see him!" He played on the guilt he had produced. Think of it: he told them to come because of the celebrity then, when they come, chastises them for arriving. What a gimmick!

I am not opposed to using tools which help people worship or understand. The church has used imagery to convey the gospel from the beginning. Paul spoke of the monument to the "Unknown God" as he shared the gospel in Athens, Jesus picked up children while expressing the need to come into the Kingdom of God as children and healed them so that people would understand who He is by His power and glory. There were times when God used spectacular events like fire falling to light an altar or the stopping of the Jordan River to reveal His will. But these were not gimmicks. They were genuine acts of faith and miracles of God!

I am glad that there are many churches growing like weeds. I just don't want them to be weeds. I want them to accurately share the gospel with all of its truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. I would love to see them have a spiritual awakening that cannot be explained by the presence of a charismatic preacher. I would love to hear that God is moving without any other explanation.

A guy once told me, "If they come to your church for a hotdog, they'll leave your church for two hotdogs." The problem with gimmicks is what you do for an encore. You have to keep doing more and more spectacular feats to get people to come back. This is like the tv ad which is so amazing that no one can remember the product that is being sold. Gimmicks which draw attention away from the gospel diminish the power and truth of the gospel.

Jesus did not come to me with any gimmick. The Holy Spirit convicted me and revealed the truth. I was alone when I asked Jesus into my heart. A couple of years later, after walking away from my faith, the Holy Spirit came to me while alone and convicted me. He helped me remember the joy of the Lord. I pledged to Him that I would remain steadfast and asked Him for continued  conviction. I have not lived perfectly but I have been one who confesses often and seeks Him regularly because He draws me near. None of this came with any smoke and mirrors.

I suppose someone could think I am just full of sour grapes. They think I feel this way because my church is not experiencing the phenominal growth of the church of smoke and mirrors. I hope that is not he case and I want the Holy Spirit to convict me of this if it is.

My problem is that I talk with a lot of people who do not understand the gospel. They come to church regularly, were baptized as children and nod their heads in agreement with Jesus as the Messiah, but do not have a powerful relationship with the Lord. They believe that everyone is going to heaven. They have no daily time in God's word. Their prayer life is almost non-existent. I wonder what they think I am talking about when I speak of walking with the Lord.

The gospel must be preached with and by the power of God. It must reach people through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It must change people from the inside out.

The filling of a church by smoke and mirrors is a sham. It reveals the lack of faith found in the preachers who produce this trickery. They do not believe the gospel has the power to draw people or convict them so they resort to means they can produce.

Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." I believe that those who resort to thing apart from Jesus are doing nothing though it looks like a lot, but isn't looking like you are doing something when you really aren't the nature of using smoke and mirrors?


Anthony Chia said...

I have this in the comment against your preceding entry:

When things are going downhill, persevere in seeking His face. It is persevere IN SEEKING HIS FACE, not persevere in seeing things going downhill, for the latter, you do NOT need to persevere, you just see, don’t you. Unless the Lord asks you to wait, you are just a sitting duck, waiting for the water to rise to drown you, when you just let things be (maybe I should use chicken, since duck can …).

For the case of an existing church, this is particularly so (for a new church, of course, there is the question of whether or not, it is the will of the Lord for you to form that "formal congregation").

I have also, in the past, said that amounting to "go, do something about it” (congregation dwindling and greying out), so long as, what we do, does NOT irk the Lord".

Together, the two are still sound advice and recommendation. The problem, with many out there, is that they only take in the former and NOT the latter. No, the latter is most important, what we do must NOT irk the Lord.

The first addresses the misconception, and which most unfortunately, is being promoted as the ways of the Lord by the overly grace teachers, that the Lord will take care of it all. If we believe it is all God's part, and none, our part, our mindset will shift to letting matters be - whatever will be, will be. This is the most insidious lie from the Devil; that Christians should live their lives with God "owing them everything".

These mentalities below are definitely NOT in keeping with the ways of God:
1. God will defend His Word, and we need NOT be bothered about wrong teachings.
2. Who will come into salvation is all decided by the Lord; whatever will be, will be, and whoever will be, will be; there is no part of man (the unsaved person), and no part of men to effort in bringing the gospel to the unsaved or to intercede for one.
3. God will take care of all the local churches set up; no need for us to be concerned over the continuity of the churches.

This saying by an anointed minister of the Lord reminds us of our part, “What’s wrong with you, God does NOT eat for you!” There is already the tendency of our flesh to want that (not only God to give the food, God to eat for us, too!), yet the overly grace teachers are promoting like-vein. Such teachers are just giving people what they want, and NOT what God wants; it only promotes God is to spoon-feed all His children, which is NOT the desire of God for each of His children, at various stages. God, as the Father, desires His children to grow up (and therefore, no need of Him to spoon-feed), and be responsible, and co-work with Him.

Recently, there was a video being heavily reported on the news, and even being put onto the internet of a child in China, after being run over by a vehicle, was without anyone wanting to assist him/her; people just passed child by! How come like that? Someone’s child, NOT my child, someone else was to take care of it, NOT me! In the like-vein, is it if it is God’s Word, He got to take care of it? Is it, it is God’s Salvation Plan for men; He got it all planned (even predestination of all personal salvations, some believe!), then we are to leave it to Him, to do all the needy? Is it, it is His church what, if He wants it to continue, it is His job to bring in the people-lo? Or is it, God, I am pastoring your church, you got to do everything to sustain a viable congregation? Yes, sometimes, we can say, “It is NOT our baby!” but it is NOT that often we can say that. Yes, God is faithful, but His faithfulness does NOT mean He MUST, regardless! Or God is love; do you know that, ultimately God can only love you and I, unto righteousness? If it is NOT righteous, He won’t do it; you can accuse Him of being unfaithful or NOT loving, all you want! As far as I can discern, the righteous ways of God include us DOING His will, doing things in agreement with Him; in other words, co-partnering God; in other words, there is a part we have to play.

Anthony Chia said...

cont. from preceding page

The second piece of recommendation I stated at the beginning, which is what we do, must NOT irk the Lord. You may substitute “irk” with some other words, but I have preferred to use the word. God is first of all, God; and so, we do NOT annoy Him; we do NOT displease Him. The opposite is His requirement for us – we are to please Him. I am sorry, if you want to be a Christian, that is how it is – we exist to please Him!

So, we cannot go round doing things that irk the Lord, and then we expect the Lord to be pleased and would bless our effort! Clearly, the example Ps Prentis cited was gimmickry, if NOT trickery; even arranging a limo – poor stewardship, even!

Who says pastoring is an easy job? No, it is NOT. And one of the difficult things for a pastor to do, is that he has to ground himself thoroughly in the Word of God, to know the ways of God, to know what pleases the Lord and what does NOT. Ps Prentis, a few days ago, put up an entry of “Are you worthy of imitation?”; you can read my comment there, in which I expressed reservation of me being worthy of imitation, for I am NOT even with “L-plate” (in my country, when we learn to drive, we put “L-plates” on the car to tell others), but if you are a pastor, the sheep are looking to imitate you. If you practise the gimmickry that Ps Prentis mentioned, the sheep is going to say, it is ok, since the pastor was doing it! People in any leadership role, has responsibility to set good examples for others to follow; that is one of the ways of God.

Now, there are not many big or mega-churches in my country; in fact, you can count them with one hand. But it does NOT mean that if you are a big church pastor, you can do anything you like! Actually as mega-church pastors (or Senior Pastors), they are to be examples for the other many small churches in the country; but are the few big time senior pastors doing just that! God will judge, and the people are exercising discernment (we cannot judge, but we are to exercise discernment). Is a big church Senior Pastor’s performing magic shows, in similar league to that of big time magicians, including in places like the world most expensive casino property, a thing to do? It will draw notice, and attention, no doubt about that; but does it irk the Lord or NOT, is something you have to figure out yourself?

What irks the Lord and what NOT, must be discerned from the Word, His personal word to the person, through the Holy Spirit, and the closeness of the person to the Lord (this is how my son, in brief, understands, spiritual maturity – how close the person is to the Lord! Wow!). So, for a start, if you are a pastor and you do NOT eat the Word of God like “nobody’s business”, how can you discern what irks the Lord and what pleases the Lord? While I believe in direct rhema word from God, through the Holy Spirit, I do NOT believe the Holy Spirit contradicts the written Word.

Cont. on next page...

Anthony Chia said...

Cont. from preceding page...

It is interesting that the text that Ps Prentis has chosen, has this phrase in it, as the last part of verse 4 (of 1 Th 2): “We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”

Two things it tells us: One, the Apostle Paul’s understanding is that we are to please God (not men). There you have it, what did I say Christians exist to do – to please God. Two, Paul’s understanding is that God tests our heart. Does God know our heart? Yes, He does, and He knows through the Holy Spirit indwelling us (those who want understanding of this, can read my article, “”). Yet, here, it is said that God tests the heart. If God already know our heart why does He still test the heart? I believe it is because we are given free-will to choose.

Jer 17:9 said that the heart of man is exceedingly evil. But surely the heart of a believer, one having entered into salvation, having received the robe of righteousness, his heart cannot be evil! No, a righteous heart can turn evil! Go back with me to the days the first Man was created; was NOT Adam created righteous? Sure, he was, but because of the free-will God given him, he was capable of evil. What evil did he do? He chose to believe in the serpent (Satan)’s words, despite God’s prohibitive command given directly to him - that he shall NOT eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Actually, if you go back even further, and imagine with me, Satan was also created righteous and with free-will, and he chose to rebel (Eze 28).

Did God NOT know the heart of Adam (or Satan)? Sure, He did, yet He still put up test. What was Adam’s test of his heart? Yes, it is in that Gen 2:16-17 – Do NOT eat or you would surely die. To me, the heart is exceedingly evil or wicked, because it can swing to the other side! So, God, despite knowing the heart, still tests it; I believe the main purpose is to strengthen the resolve of our heart, that despite with free-will, we will NOT swing to the “dark side”. Listen to Paul (too many overly grace believers and their teachers do NOT read deep enough into Paul’s writings, and therefore, came up with distorted teaching of grace); he was saying we are to please God and God tests us. A Christian, including the leaders, is under God’s refining fire all the time; we are being tested.

If you are in primary 6, do you expect the teacher to test you with primary 1’s mathematics? Of course, not; that would be easy, light, in fact, to easy or too light! So, be careful, if you heard nice sounding overly grace preacher telling you, you got it all wrong when your going is tough; purportedly, quoting to you, Jesus said His yoke was light! If you are in primary 6, be expected to be tested with primary 6’s mathematics, and you can get some discomfort, although some would say it is tough, because they are a little below the category!

So, if your congregation is dwindling, is everything and anything goes? No, the Lord is testing you. Are you to do nothing, and be a sitting duck? No. Are you to resort to gimmickry or trickery? No. Are to engage in the ways of the world? Please remember, what irks the Lord, you do NOT do, for the Lord you are to please, and He is testing your heart.