Without a doubt, the absolute coolest thing that we have seen during our brave venture back onto American soil is the computerized soda machines at fast food chains. Yep, that’s it. It blew our tiny minds. Though it took us a solid ten minutes to decide what we wanted figure out how the machine worked, our taste buds were pleased and everyone’s heart’s content at our modest taste tests shoving 1,000 calories worth of soda down our gullets. I was the only one left unsatisfied because, like a complete novice, I chose raspberry diet coke. It was gross, and I learned my lesson. But, this is America, so I dumped it out and started over.
Our Tanzanian colleague, Apollo, came back to the motherland with us for agricultural training with my husband 100% only to try the soda machines. He is seeing everything in America for the first time and has graciously constantly teased us about how many options there are in America for every single thing on God’s green earth. He especially discovered this when joining in on a trip to an American grocery store. This experience turned me into a crazy self-loathing monster where I wanted every single item that I could wrap my greedy little fingers around while simultaneously feeling unbearably guilt-ridden at the scene of our grocery cart piling up to Apollo’s brown/red-from-shock eyeballs. He’s a great guy, so there wasn’t much judgment. I think it was more of the regular old queasy feeling that follows a repulsive scene of this nature. Dear Apollo: Watching us indulge in such grotesque undertakings at the grocery store wasn’t fun, but watching you watch me wasn’t fun for me either. You took all the fun out it.
We now know that the options are boundless in American grocery stores, but we also discovered that everything in the grocery stores is also claiming to be healthy…even the margarine. Margarine claiming to be healthy is like Apollo claiming not to be a little bit scared on his first Intercontinental flight. We can play along with you, man, but we all know it’s not true.
Just like the grocery stores, we have also been stunned by the many new brands of churches. Like all groceries claim to be healthy, all brands of churches are claiming to be Christian.
We expected to see observe partake in consumerism and indulgences in grocery stores but what we didn’t anticipate on seeing was the giant shift of consumerism in American “Christianity.”
“…the things that used to be normal to you start to shake you up a bit.”
It is just that when you have been away from a place for a long time, everything that you see upon re-entry kind of takes you off guard. It’s not that you are above it or incapable of the same or worse sin, it’s just that you see it differently. You see things with different eyes and the things that used to be normal to you start to shake you up a bit. Because you aren’t living inside of the culture anymore, you have the privilege of landing on the outside looking in.
I am going to admit that I am uncomfortable with some things that I see.
American consumerism has crept into the sacred beliefs of our faith. Rather than understanding that faith in Christ means that He gets our everything, many Americans believe that Jesus is just a nice addition to their already nice lives. We wouldn’t say that, of course, but our beliefs are exposed in the way we are living. To be honest, this type of “Christianity” is not only disturbing, but I believe it is a false gospel that is deceitful and damning to our culture.
“If Jesus is merely an addition to our American dream, then who really needs one more thing on their plate?”
If Jesus is merely an addition to our American dream, then who really needs one more thing on their plate? If Jesus is just a great way to help us live more moral lives, have better relationships, and good better slightly above ogre behavior at our kid’s soccer games, then who really needs him? Can’t Oprah help us with that? If we think of Jesus as an addition to our lives and not everything, then we do not really know Jesus. We are deceived.
If sermons in your church sound more like self-help, living your best life (“for Jesus” of course), or simply marital and family advice, then you need to be asking yourself some serious questions about what you are being taught. Jesus warns in Mark that many will come to deceive in the name of religion. They will say all the “right” things, dress in all the “right” ways, know the popular prayers and sayings and topics of the times, and they will be leading you astray from the path to Jesus. Guys, Jesus never promised a “better life” here on earth. Following Him is costly, dangerous, painful, lonely, unpopular, counter-cultural. And did I mention that it’s also worth it? *don’t quit yet, I promise I will get there.
“Don’t be fooled.”
The men and women who are teaching this brand of “best-life-now Christianity” are false teachers. They are taking the beautiful truth of the gospel and adding it onto their god, which is their life, and their things, and all of their empty pursuits, and their created community which is more like a club of similar interests than a body of believers seeking Jesus. I have a feeling that many Christians see the Bible’s warnings about “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in this abstract way of crazies like the t.v. Evangelists who are shoving everyone in the forehead off of their stage. Don’t be fooled. Satan is much craftier than that. Satan loves to take the “truth” from God’s Word and mix it with worldly wisdom to offer temporary satisfaction to our heart’s desires. Satan wants you to think that comfortable suburban Christianity is an excellent addition to your already comfortable life and that it leads you to Jesus. He wants you distracted. He wants you to find your hope and joy in things outside of Christ.
Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 8, that not only will He suffer but anyone who wants to be His disciple will also suffer. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.”
If you take the time to really discover what our sacred Scriptures say about following Jesus, and then really learn about the suffering that Christians are facing around the world for following Jesus, then I think you too will be uncomfortable sitting Sunday after Sunday in a sermon which focuses more on your bettering your life than on our Holy God.
Satan is doing his work all around the world. Unlike Tanzania where he uses fear and witchcraft and many visual displays of his dark spiritual work to keep people from Jesus, in America, he is simply lulling us. He is pacifying us with just enough satisfaction and just enough “religion” to keep us blinded to the true gospel message.
“A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all – and more amusing.”
It’s a battle for our hearts. It’s a raging war against the flesh and the spirit. In C.S. Lewis’ book, Screwtape Letters, he uses allegories to shed light on some of satan’s tools in the life of Christians. In this book, an experienced demon, Screwtape, teaches his apprentice nephew, Wormwood, the art of deceiving mankind by saying “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all – and more amusing.”
Moderate religion takes a little bit of Jesus and then it worships created things. It worships things meant to be gifts, small tastes, faint glimpses of the true source of complete satisfaction and joy, Jesus.
We are starving and blind citizens of the world, withered up like branches in a desert. We are desperate for help, so we follow leaders and pastors of these moderate religions (nice-looking, well-spoken, popular leaders) for the hope of being pointed to the way of salvation. We are desperate and in need of nourishment. But they are blinded too. They are leading us to the only thing they see, muddy puddles. They see glimpses of goodness, glimpses of God’s good gifts and point us to those rather than taking us to the Gift itself. They lead us astray, and many die there without ever tasting the water that will truly satisfy. Many die there. Many of us are dying there. But even if these puddles keep us alive, we are left sick and desperately searching for more. This dirty, murky water prevents us from seeing what is promised to us; Jesus. We are like addicts constantly searching and gnashing our teeth at the next thing offering satisfaction. We want a taste of it all; health, youth, beauty, respect, wealth, popularity, ease, options, fun, success, rest, importance, belonging…oh “and also Jesus.”
It rescues us from our restless pursuit and brings us real satisfaction.
But the Bible tells us that anyone who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him, they will be like a tree planted by the water; the water we are all so desperately looking for and the water that we are being distracted from tasting. When we are planted by this water, then our roots will be nourished by the stream. This stream never runs dry. This stream nourishes our weary souls and satisfies the deepest need; salvation and communion with Christ. It rescues us from our restless pursuit and brings us real satisfaction. Scripture tells us that even when the heat and droughts come (for they will come, we are promised this) that those who are planted by this stream will not fear and that their leaves will remain nourished and green.
These trees also bear fruit, which is what true followers of Christ do. They don’t just consume the everlasting water for themselves, but they bear fruit; they live their lives nourished by and then empowered by the water.
The water is Jesus; nothing else and no one else. We cannot pursue “our best life now” and add Jesus to it. We can’t be busy running around lapping up the muddy water and also have our roots planted by the stream. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot keep our lives and give them to Christ at the same time.
This isn’t a bitter American expatriate wanting to dust up trouble. This is a fellow Christian, who is just as susceptible to deceit and distraction, warning and begging anyone who cares to wake up and see the deceit for what it is. Don’t live another day being lulled to death by comfortable and convenient Christianity. It may make a comfortable place for you to spend your earthly pursuits and your weekly church services, but our very souls are at risk.
A rich young ruler wanted to follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-31), and the Bible says that Jesus loved him. But when Jesus put the young man’s true beliefs to the test, he couldn’t let go of “his best life now.” He left because he wanted to add Jesus to his other great things and Jesus wouldn’t accept it.
Jesus demands our all. In turn, Jesus gives us Himself. He saves us and then this salvation imposes upon us a condition of the heart that abandons all to follow Him.
“You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Duet 6:5)