CBN.com Going back to Webster's definition of "cosmetic" that we used at the outset of this book:
"Superficial measures to make something seem better than it is."
Since I am in the interview business on TV and radio, once again allow me to conduct an interview of you.
As the Church, are we superficial?
Do we think we are something we are not? Are we kidding ourselves?
Is our theology accurate? Or have we twisted it to fit our predisposition, tradition, culture and experience?
Is the Church shaping the culture? Or, is the culture shaping the Church?
Do we live by a balanced, accurate, theology, or is it some sort of spiritual cosmetology?
In a phrase - are we self deceived?
This is the most frightening of deceptions; because even if we are deceived, we don't know we are.
The Apostle Paul cautioned the Corinthians on this: "Be honest in your estimate of yourselves it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people." Romans 12.3 (New International Version and The Message)
Certainly that problem was addressed in the book of Revelation when the seven churches of Asia had a plumb line of measurement dropped into their midst by God Himself. They all thought themselves to be something they were not. Only one of them measured up. (See Revelation chapters 1-3)
In many ways I see these churches as representative of churches throughout history. Many of the problems and issues cited in Revelation about the early church also pertain to Jesus' Church on planet earth today.
Again, "There is nothing new under the sun."
Taking off the Makeup
The statement I quoted earlier from the Apostle Paul, "Be honest in your estimate of yourselves," can be fearfully intimidating.
Think about it. Especially the ladies. And I don't mean that to be a chauvinistic statement. Women wear makeup, and they spend a lot of time putting it on. Frankly, I often think that it is the men who really need it! With beards, pimples, bags under their eyes etc. In the business of television that I am in, makeup is essential. Why? Because we want to appear as good as we possibly can on camera for the audience. And as age progresses, the makeup increases. Some resort to more drastic measures, by going under the knife in plastic surgery in an attempt to recapture the look of youth.
The purpose of all this cosmetology? "Superficial measures to make something seem better than it is."
The fact is we are not really fooling anyone by superficiality, religious performance, and our lack of transparency. When it comes right down to it, as individuals, the real person is still there under all the cosmetics. Multiply individuals and they in turn become the society the corporate body of people, Jesus' church. And guess what? We're not fooling God either. He knows us.
And being the church is more than simply attending a meeting on Sunday morning.
If I was going to be talking about a church makeover, I should have known that God would start with me, so that like the Apostle Paul I wouldn't be talking about anything except what Christ has done through me first. As a result people obey what I have said and done. Not just said. (Romans 15.18)
I was to find out that the saying was the easy part, but obeying and doing would be the cleansing agent that would strip away the cosmetic Scott.
A number of years ago as the pastor of a church, in a barn, in upstate New York, (these autobiographical events were told in my book, Scott Free) I was scheduled to speak to our congregation on a subject I had been wrestling with for some time. I still didn't feel I had my theme nailed down. As a result I was emotionally edgy in the car on the way to the meeting. My wife Nedra made some sort of remark about my driving, and we were off into a pretty good argument. It wasn't the first time this had happened. It's interesting how these things sometimes have a pattern. Just when I was trying to be spiritual. I let her win the argument, and I began to rehearse in my mind what I was going to try to talk about to the church that evening.
The Philistines had been a historical pain in the hindermost parts of the Israelites going back to the time of Abraham. In a face off between the two camps, there were a number of things from that ancient conflict that I believed applies to the Church today.
As the Scripture tells it:
"At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing four thousand men.
After the battle was over, the army of Israel retreated to their camp, and their leaders asked, "Why did the LORD allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?" Then they said, "Let's bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies."
So they sent men to Shiloh to bring back the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, helped carry the Ark of God to where the battle was being fought. When the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud that it made the ground shake!
"What's going on?" the Philistines asked. "What's all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?" When they were told it was because the Ark of the LORD had arrived, they panicked. "The gods have come into their camp!" they cried. "This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. Fight as you never have before, Philistines! If you don't, we will become the Hebrews' slaves just as they have been ours!"
So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; thirty thousand Israelite men died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.
A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefront and arrived at Shiloh later that same day. He had torn his clothes and put dust on his head to show his grief. Eli was waiting beside the road to hear the news of the battle, for his heart trembled for the safety of the Ark of God. When the messenger arrived and told what had happened, an outcry resounded throughout the town. "What is all the noise about?" Eli asked.
The messenger rushed over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and blind. He said to Eli, "I have just come from the battlefront--I was there this very day."
"What happened?" Eli demanded.
"Israel has been defeated," the messenger replied. "Thousands of Israelite troops are dead on the battlefield. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed, too. And the Ark of God has been captured."
When the messenger mentioned what had happened to the Ark, Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck and died, for he was old and very fat. He had led Israel for forty years.
Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near her time of delivery. When she heard that the Ark of God had been captured and that her husband and father-in-law were dead, her labor pains suddenly began. She died in childbirth, but before she passed away the midwives tried to encourage her. "Don't be afraid," they said. "You have a baby boy!" But she did not answer or respond in any way.
She named the child Ichabod--"Where is the glory?"--murmuring, "Israel's glory is gone." She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her husband and her father-in-law were dead. Then she said, "The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured." (1 Samuel 4.1-22 New Living Translation)
To recap this complete and total rout of Israel:
To quote Israel and Eli: "Why did the LORD allow us to be defeated. What happened?"
Good questions. What did happen? A number of things.
Israel was living in sin they had disobeyed God and were living in apostasy.
Not good. God had forewarned Israel about the consequences of this kind of conduct. (Leviticus 26)
But instead of getting it straight with God and repenting, they resort to running off to get the Ark of the Covenant, (which represented the presence and power of God) and having a loud meeting. It was so loud that the Philistines heard it and went into a panic. They knew they were about to be slaughtered and they would have to fight for their lives.
However, just the opposite happened. God didn't show up.
The point: We can have wonderful, loud, demonstrative meetings. We can sing, shout, jump, speak in tongues, prophesy, and play tambourines. This is religious activity. But God is not impressed. He wants obedience.
In my message I was going to confront our people with the question: "Do we see any parallels here between Israel then and the Church now?"
Yesterday is Today
In spite of my rotten attitude we had a pretty good worship time, including some of the worship elements I just described. But as I stood up to speak, I found my thoughts quite jumbled. It was like my radar was jammed. My brain and my words were out of sync. So, stalling for time, I resorted to religious activity.
"Let's pray folks," I announced in my best spiritual intonation.
So, like good spiritual people, we all bowed our heads, closed our eyes, and I asked one of our associate pastors to pray. I needed recovery time. He took off, praying for everyone and everything from Afghanistan to Zanzibar. It was loud. And I know God was impressed.
In the meantime I was having my own private conversation with God.
"OK, Lord what's happening?" I prayed. "I can't seem to get my thoughts together. I felt this was the subject I was to speak on."
Then comes back that Voice in my inner spirit. "What's your subject?"
"Well you know, Lord. I prayed about it as I was preparing for this meeting."
"Yes, I know. What's your subject?"
"Uuuh, my subject is, O O O ohhh!" I saw it coming "Obedience!"
"Well son, you're always interviewing people; allow Me to interview you. How can you speak on something you yourself are not practicing?" Or are you planning on speaking on disobedience?
I was working up an answer, when this mental movie began running through my mind. Scenes of my arguments with Nedra. The car incident had not been our only disagreement. Other pictures flashed by in my mind. A promise I had made to the Lord about losing some weight (Eli's problem) and exercising regularly. Taking more time with our children. Getting a handle on my anger. A commitment to fast one day a week for a while. Spending time resting and unplugging from activity. I was having serious insomnia. Saying no to speaking engagements and other activities. In other words a reordering of my priorities.
I unplugged the movie in my mind. "OK, Lord. I see. But what do I do?"
It's weird how we do that kind of stuff. I knew the answer before I asked.
"Son, do what I asked you to do, and keep your commitments to the things you said you would do, that I didn't even ask for. It's a matter of integrity, and of course obedience. Don't be like Israel of yesterday and come to Me with your lips and your heart somewhere else. That is not acceptable to Me today."
I turned my attention back to the meeting, where the guy who was praying for the nations was still at it. I began uttering some amen's, hoping he would soon come to a stop. He eventually did after declaring events that he wanted to see transpire somewhere in the third heaven.
"Folks," I said to the people, who were kind of glassy eyed by now. "I need to just say that I was going to talk to you today about obedience. But I believe the Lord has just pointed out to me, I can't talk about something I'm not doing. So, in obedience to that I have nothing else to say."
It was one of the shortest and best sermons of my not so illustrious speaking career.
We all sang a hymn, I dismissed the meeting, and we went home.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.