Last Sabbath (Saturday) in church the preacher made the divine hour a humorous adventure. By the looks of him he is a naturally mischievous man with an unapologetic sense of humor. He began well enough, with a Bible verse and an exposition of the principles it entailed - the need to pray in faith. Then his natural predilection for jokes kicked in and he went on and on, raising bouts of laughter from the congregation with spontaneous good-natured jokes (the young lady I was seated next to was a particularly rampant giggler), until eventually, when the joke was too good to let slide, he spoke unadvisedly, something downright irreverent, and he reaped a hailstorm of laughter.
Earlier on today (Sunday) I was at a roadside hotel for late breakfast with a friend (long story!). The TV at this chapati-and-mandazi establishment was tuned to a live Sunday broadcast of some church service somewhere in Kenya. The pastor's message was the usual "prosperity gospel" fare that's all the rage these days- "your breakthrough is in the pipeline". The camera cut to scenes of attractive listeners nodding in inspired expectation. Effectively his message was that Jesus' blood had purchased his audience's miracles. Now that may be open to interpretation, but his focus was decidedly temporal. Afterwards the worship team leader turned out to be a shrill, loud lady.
With hindsight there was little difference between these two sermons. That disturbs me. Christians are supposed to have a message for the world that is distinct from the world, especially at this time of world's history. But the podiums have become stages for "charismatic" but meaningless performances of humor and smooth talk. "All will be well, relax, have a laugh."
Elisha's rhetorical question to Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:26 becomes relevant.
...Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?
You may think I'm being uncharitable with criticism. Hear me out.
Ezekiel 21:8-9 (I recommend you read the whole chapter) contains GOD's message to Israel at a time when judgment was imminent. It thus gives us the correct attitude we should have in view of the impending end of the world:
8 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,9 Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished:10 It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter: should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my Son, as every tree.
A sword brings death; GOD's sword is His executive judgment upon the wicked who reject His ways - they shall be destroyed forever.
A rod represents correction; the rod of GOD's Son - the cross - is the only means by sins may be forgiven.
These verses are prophetically telling us that if we reject Christ's "rod", we must then contend with GOD's sword! That someday it will be too late to apply the rod of correction, and only the sword of destruction will be applicable! Could any warning be more urgent? Indeed it is repeatedly given throughout the Scriptures in a variety of ways!
But the churches increasingly have other things to say.
The signs of the times multiply, prophecies of the end time are fast fulfilling, but many pastors, the shepherds of the flock are blind to these things hence not preaching the need for preparation. Even excepting that, there is a wealth of spiritual instruction for character development (take up your cross daily, etc) that a pastor must overlook before they settle for jokes and nice-sounding promises of prosperity. These two sermons were similar in their omissions, by which the true gravity of the present situation was minimized in peals of laughter and obscured by visions of opulence.
1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,:1-16Indeed. Not peace, but a sword.
2 Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD;
3 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
4 O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts.
5 Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD.
6 They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.
7 Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken?
8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD.
9 And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
10 Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered morter:
11 Say unto them which daub it with untempered morter, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it.
12 Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?
13 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury; and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to consume it.
14 So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered morter, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
15 Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered morter, and will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it;
16 To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord GOD.