Monday Morning Rewind: A Passion for ‘The House’

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The following is from my message yesterday at The Gathering.  You can watch video on Demand here.

What is your attitude towards “the House”?  I’m talking about the Church.  Not the building…the people; the Body for which Christ died?

Over the years, the church has been largely defined by individuals or groups who have led it…or been active in it. For some, by using manipulation and threats, church leaders could get people to act the way they wanted and so it has been used as a tool to control people.

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For others, it is a means of great gain, with so-called “ministers” using their pulpits to woo members to make a $1000 vow and pay it or to buy the minister a new Mercedes so he can make hospital visits in style, or give very large percentages of their income regardless of whether they knew where the money was going or not.

Politicians throughout modern history have used church membership in order to demonstrate their upstanding community status and improve their electability. Conservative political parties have “courted” the Christian vote in order to further their political agenda while liberal political parties have done the same to liberal Christians in order to rubber stamp policies that stand starkly against the clear instruction of God’s Word.yle, or give very large percentages of their income regardless of whether they knew where the money was going or not.

It seems so many people use and abuse the Church in such a way that, rather than being held up and protected as the beautiful Body and Bride of Christ that she is, she is mistreated and turned into a pleasurable commodity up for sale to the highest bidder, whored out as nothing more than some cheap, special interest group who can win over the populace or earn a buck under the guise of religious interest.

What does God think about this? Do you think it bothers Him when people fail to understand the nature of the Church and mishandle the very thing that Christ died to establish?

I think the clearest picture we get is what happened after Jesus entered into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, the week before He gave Himself up to be crucified on the cross. I’m framing it like that because I want you to see the connection between how He came as the suffering servant contrasted with His attitude towards those who abuse the Holy things of God.

Look at Matthew 21:12-13:

 Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

In this statement, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:

56 Thus says the Lord:

“Keep justice, and do righteousness,

wfor soon my salvation will come,

and my righteousness be revealed.

2 Blessed is the man who does this,

and the son of man who holds it fast,

xwho keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,

and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

3 Let not ythe foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,

“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and let not the eunuch say,

“Behold, I am za dry tree.”

4 For thus says the Lord:

“To the eunuchs xwho keep my Sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant,

aI will give in my house and within my walls

a bmonument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

cI will give them an everlasting name

that shall not be cut off.

6 “And ythe foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,

to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,

and to be his servants,

everyone xwho keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,

and holds fast my covenant—

dthese I will bring to emy holy mountain,

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

ftheir burnt offerings and their sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for gmy house shall be called a house of prayer

for all peoples.”

8 The Lord God,

hwho gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

i“I will gather yet others to him

besides those already gathered.”

By quoting Isaiah 56, Jesus is foreshadowing the very salvation He came to establish and not for the Jews, alone: (7b) “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples“. Keep in mind here that He is not talking about Universalism (all people will be saved), but all peoples as in “people groups”. This is in keeping with Revelation 5:9-10,

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Jesus has just walked into Jerusalem to prepare to be slain in order to establish for Himself a people from every nation on earth, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18 where God said to Abraham following his near sacrifice of Isaac:

By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

This song in Revelation, sung by the angels, is from the future looking back on the events of this week of Jesus’s passionate mission coming to a head. On the other hand, both the passage from Isaiah and the promise from Genesis are looking forward at this week centuries before they happened! This is the week! This is when it’s all coming to a head and salvation will either be secured for all peoples or it will not. Jesus is focused and He is passionate! It’s clear in His response to those who were abusing the Temple.

We see it also in the second part of Isaiah 56:

9 All you beasts of the field, come to devour—

all you beasts in the forest.

10 His watchmen are blind;

they are all without knowledge;

they are all silent ldogs;

they cannot bark,

dreaming, lying down,

loving to slumber.

11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;

they never have enough.

But they are shepherds who have no understanding;

they have all turned to their own way,

each to his own gain, one and all.

12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;

let us fill ourselves with strong drink;

and tomorrow will be like this day,

great beyond measure.”

 Jesus is very compassionate towards the repentant; towards those who know they are in need of a savior and fall on His mercy. He is merciful, providing forgiveness for those who desire to be holy yet fall in sin, calling out to His name in response.

Yet He is jealous of the Holiness of God and responds in fury to those who abuse and willfully mishandle things of God. Look at what He calls them: A den of thieves.

These are people who are not only cheating other people, but more importantly they are cheating God, robbing the Temple of it’s holiness; using and abusing the holy things of God for their own purposes.

Let’s not miss something important here: this was not directed just at those selling, but also to those buying.

“[He] drove out all who sold and bought in the temple…”

Everyone who missed the point, who got caught up in the accepted religious traditions of the day, and abused the holy things of God, fell under the righteous, passionate fury of Christ.

So, are we off the hook now that Christ died and Temple worship has been abolished? Now that WE are the Temple of God? Are there ways in which we still abuse the holy things of God by participating in the Body of Christ in a way that communicates that we’re primarily interested in what we can get like a pack of thieves?

Let’s see if we can identify the characteristics of a modern day Den of Thieves:

– Pursuing God for personal gain (blessings of some sort) at the expense of personal relationship (which is the greatest gain!).

– Personal satisfaction over personal holiness. Pursuing what makes me feel good at all cost.

– Emphasis on taking over giving.

Warning: this might get a little personal

Throughout the Christian church today, one of the most popular non-contact sports to engage in these days is church-shopping. That’s closely aligned with church-hopping, which is what we’ve done after we’ve checked out the amenities of each club.

We move around from church-to-church, going to websites first, checking out their online inventory to see what they can “offer me” before making our way to their “showroom” and ask for samples, like Saturday at Sam’s Club. We’ll ask for a test-drive, jump into the seat and take it around the block a few times, getting a feel for it so we can decide if this one is “for us.” We have to make sure all of our needs are met; all of the boxes are ticked. If not, well, there are plenty of other options around.

Sound familiar?  Have you been guilty of the attitude that leads us to this?  Obviously, there is validity in visiting churches before settling into one, but what is the goal?  Is it finding God’s place of service for you or finding the right mix of programs to keep you and your family happy, satisfied and fulfilled?

Is this the same thing that was going on in the Temple that Jesus was so upset by? I think so. I think it’s the same attitude that says, “church-involvement is all about what it does for me?” How it makes me feel. What they offer, using all of the most up-to-date principles of consumerism.

Of course, those of us who have settled into a church aren’t off the hook either. We can be a member of a church for years with the same basic mindset. We serve when and where it’s convenient; the times and places that it is both convenient and obviously rewarding. If the message on Sunday doesn’t leave me with warm-fuzzies as I walk out the door on Sunday, I wonder if I’ve gotten my money’s worth from the five I dropped in the basket…or maybe we’re relieved because we made the right call keeping the five in our pockets…what a waste of money THAT would have been!

No, I think it’s very easy for us to be among those whom Jesus would run out of the House because we live in such a consumeristic, “ME” world. We’re programed to think about our satisfaction first: “Have it your way” “Get the credit YOU deserve.” “It’s YOUR money and you want it now!”

Maybe we simply need to stop and ask a simple question:

Why am I doing ___________________? You fill in the blank.  Is it to get something out of it? Is it primarily to find personal satisfaction? To feel good about myself?

A House of Prayer

Jesus said, “MY HOUSE shall be called a House of Prayer.” You think that might be the problem? You think maybe we’re more focused on asking what will scratch our itch most effectively rather than what God wants?

Maybe before we set out to find that “perfect” church, we put our must-have list aside and seek the face of God so that He will direct us to the place He wants us to serve…rather than be served. It may be in a place that doesn’t check all the boxes. But then, again, it’s not about us?

Maybe we need to stop limiting ourselves to serving where we THINK we should be or where we FEEL we’ll be most blessed and simply say to God, “Here am I, send me.” Not what scratch’s my itch best, but where is the Spirit of God calling me to serve.

Maybe it’s less about your giftedness or passions for a particular area of service and it’s much more to do with your passion for God’s glory and will to be fulfilled in your life. Maybe it’s about you sacrificing what your want to do in order to pour yourself out in what He calls you to do…and maybe you’ve never even considered that thing because you feel you’re too gifted or talented for that.

Maybe you’re just playing around in a den of thieves.

A House of Prayer speaks of real relationship. Church is not just somewhere to “attend,” but a group of people who, together, walk in relationship with God, serving as His hands, His feet, mouth, etc.

So, now

 rather than pursuing God for personal gain at the expense of personal relationship with Him, I’m pursuing God Himself because HE IS ENOUGH; He is the prize and the blessing, regardless of what I’m doing.

…rather than pursuing personal satisfaction over personal holiness and what makes me feel good at all cost, I’m pursuing personal satisfaction THROUGH personal holiness and what brings God glory at all cost.

…rather than focusing on taking over giving, I’m focusing on giving more than taking, understanding that I’ll receive far more than I can ever give.

Jesus’ passion was and still is the glory of God. That is what led Him to the cross to die in our place so that God’s wrath against sin could be satisfied and He could rightly redeem for Himself a people. Is God’s glory YOUR passion, too?

Are you focused on God’s will for you and where He wants you to be and what He wants you to do and how much He wants you to give? Or is it all about you’re glory and what you can get and how happy you can be and how many toys you can collect?

As we move through Passion Week towards Easter Sunday, I’d like to ask you to consider where your own passions lie? Are you honoring God’s holiness in a House of Prayer, or have you found a comfortable home among a den of thieves?