Sunday, October 30, 2011

Abducting Jesus (5) - "Artificial Sweeteners"

I want to be careful in these blogs to keep the main question before us, "Where is Jesus?"  Remember that my premise is that we have done things, mostly in the Institutional Church (IC), that have replaced - and almost hidden - Jesus.  I have to tell myself to be sure to focus on the point of finding where Jesus is in the midst of all this stuff, not just taking shots at the IC.  So, before moving on, let me say that I have been a member and leader in the IC for over a decade.  I was a Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, an executive pastor, administrative pastor, associate pastor, assistant pastor, youth pastor, Christian Education Director, men's ministry leader, Chilren's/Youth/Family Ministries Director, and basically any other title you can throw in front of Pastor or Director to sound pretty official.  I have preached my share of sermons and planned my share of services and carried out my share of programs.  I did all this with a good heart, or so I hope, in an attempt to bring people closer to God.  This is the same attitude I believe most workers in the IC have!  I want to be clear that I am not attacking individuals.  What I desire to do is to analyze the IC system because I believe it is the system that traps many good people into a life and pattern that eventually covers over Jesus with many other things.

Having that out there, now I move to one of those things that I bought into hook, line, and does most of the Western church.  I use the term "artificial sweeteners" on purpose when describing some of our traditional "sacred cows," like the Sunday morning sermon or Sunday School.  An artificial sweetener is something that is intended to make something taste better, to be more palatable, to "go down easier."  It is artificial, not natural or organic, but an additive - man-made!  In other words, it was not part of God's original design, but something we add to make whatever it is different.  We do it to make it sweeter for us

Now, I am not on a campaign to end the use of artificial sweeteners around the world.  I am not holding a picket sign that says "God Hates Artificial Sweeteners!" or frantically telling my friends to stop using artificial sweeteners right away.  In fact, I have no doubt that many of the food items I enjoy are the direct result of artificial sweeteners.  Sometimes, they can help people eat or drink what they otherwise would not.  In short, they can be used for good purposes.

So, here is the analogy to the church.  Many programs or traditions we have in place are like artificial sweeteners.  They are something man has added to the mix.  They are intended to make people happy - to be "sweet" - and cause them to come back for more.  They deal a lot with people's "tastes," their likes and preferences.  They keep people comfortable.  They are artificial, in that they usually take place in a compartmentalized fashion away from the rest of real life.  We usually leave our homes to go hear a sermon.  We usually do not attend Sunday School classes in our workplace or the recreational places we frequent.  It is often a half hour or hour outside of our normal routine of daily life.  It is, therefore, an artificial setting, kind of like a lab.  We simulate the "real thing" with an imitation.

These programs and traditions can bring people closer to God, but my observation is that they usually lull people into a false sense of relationship with God.  Through these "artificial sweeteners" people learn a lot about God, but they do not relate to Him.  After enough time of having them, the original, real, organic flavor becomes forgotten and unfamiliar, or worse, even unwanted.  Eventually, people prefer the artificial over the authentic.  In church, it looks like people preferring the programs and sermons and classes over direct interaction with the Holy Spirit.  That "ride" is just too unpredictable for some people, so they substitute things they can control in its place.  They feel religious and content and better about themselves, but drift further and further away from the real Jesus. 

They are, in a word, Pharisees.  And often they are the last to know it.  I speak from experience as I have been one. 

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