I hesitate to write this, for I know what people will say. They will say all I can do is rant about what I believe is wrong with the modern western Christian church. Who knows, they may be right. But I cannot help it. Especially when the solution is so simple.
A month or so ago, I was reading my Bible when I believe the Lord showed me a clear picture of the Church. It was in a common passage, and yet, I had never seen it this way before. The passage was John 5:1-15. You may want to reacquaint yourself with the story before continuing.
I admit, after I read it, I was incredulous. It was beyond belief that so many who had needs, so many of "God's people" would congregate around a pool where God's power was in operation in a benevolent dynamic that was so seldom seen. And I can just see them. The waters stir, and no one looks around to see who is in the most need. They all just surge forward to try to grab the blessing first. I don't know what amazes me most, the selfish nature of these good church-folks, or that God would perpetuate this display of what I deem blatant humanism. Did their parsimonious approach to God's grace stem from a lack of divine demonstration in their day? And yet, the person, regardless of motivation, would splash into the water and be healed.
Sounds like Church, doesn't it. I cannot deny that good things are happening in Churches. But what is the peoples' motivation? The fact is, when preachers preach that in God, there is provision for all one's needs, and that God's thoughts toward us are only benevolent, are met by His grace, he is essentially preaching a truth. It is bait to attract a crowd of people who want God's benefits, but not God Himself. It is humanism. Even the Churches that do not buy into the prosperity bit, but who emphasize the benefit of going to Heaven after they die might be guilty. I know it is truth. But its emphasis is out of proportion. One is saying, in essence, "God exists to make you happy on earth." while the other is saying, "God exists to make you happy after you are dead." Both appeal to the thread of humanism that exists in us all. The desire for happiness. The desire for security. That is Satan's ploy. Shuffle the truths of Christianity where what is central is pushed aside for more superficial aspects.
C. S. Lewis got it right. In the same breath he used to describe God as good, he said, "He isn't tame". That means, he isn't safe. He isn't a domesticated God. His interaction with humanity is more profound that meeting needs and answering prayer. We are His bride. He is our husband.
Indeed, we are like the wife that is devoted to her husband as long as he is working and providing a good living. But let that flow of provision become jeopardized, and the wife's loyalties begin to waver.
Think back to the pool of Bethesda. Christ... the very God who was responsible for the stirring of the water, walked right in among them, and no one recognized Him. EVEN THE MAN HE TOUCHED AND HEALED DID NOT KNOW WHO HE WAS.
Would we, with all our alter calls, tears, and going-through-the-motions, recognize Christ if He were dynamically in our midst? Is our purpose in all our Christian activities (Church attendance, prayer, study, etc) to apprehend His benefits, or to apprehend Him?
All the past rhetoric about streets of gold and walls of jasper, and seas of crystal, should all be in the periphery of our Christianity. Even more recently, all the temporal "name-it, claim-it", "purpose driven", "your best life NOW" benefits of being a Christian, are all a ploy by Satan to get your sights on the benefits, and get them off Christ. Satan is not threatened by our temporal prosperity, or by your eternal security, especially if that prosperity and security renders us spiritually lazy and consequently impotent (and it does).
Let me be straightforward.
We have one reward.
Let me re-emphasize that...
WE HAVE ONE REWARD!
Jesus Christ, the son of God.
If all our mind is on is answered prayers on earth, and mansions and precious metals in Heaven, then there is no Heaven for us. No reality, no existence, can provide the euphoria that Heaven contains. We need to rearrange our priorities, and let everything aside from Jesus Christ, even the precepts and truths of Christianity, become, at best, an ancillary, or better yet, a mere related aspect.
If our focus and desire is not for Jesus Christ, can there be a Heaven for us? All the good things God does for us, or that we do for God, could be the very things that keep us away from Christ. Remember Martha, who was too busy to sit with Mary at Jesus' feet (Luke 10:38-42)? And the good church folks to whom Christ claimed to have never known (Matthew 7:22-23). When I drive through town, and I see all these churches building gymnasiums and annexes, my questions becomes clear. Why? Will all these amenities contribute to one's spiritual life? I wonder if the recent explosion in Church attendance that presumably has created the need for all these buildings would exist if the humanism was trimmed away from the version of Christianity presented, and Christ, the bare Christ, in his person, walking in the midst of a people whose eyes are glued to the pool waiting for a stirring of the water, was presented in these churches?
The point is clear, although the allegory is easy to miss. Take your eyes off the pool, whatever that is in your Christian walk. Scan the horizon for Christ in His person. Quit rocking on go to splash into the pool when it stirs, and find the most infirm, and least likely to benefit from the stirring. Chances are, when Christ does show up, that will be who he gravitates toward. Take action to know Him, not the perks, even the eternal perks. All the perks, both temporal and eternal, pale before the privilege of knowing Him.