This morning I was in prayer over the aversion some people have about attending church. Church Dodger Doug hates the thought of coming to hear a sermon. Strangely, he may be OK with an occasional visit to some churches in town, but not others. Why is this so?
An image immediately formed in my mind of Dodger Doug warily entering the front door, taking a seat in the very back pew. He looks up to the pulpit and instead of gazing at a smiling preacher he sees a tall body-length mirror reflecting a high resolution image of himself. The reflection clearly displays every facial blemish, skin splotch and protruding fat roll. Dodger Doug is confronted with the ugly truth that he is not the person he thought he was in his imagination. Appalled at the loathsome image Doug draws back and swears off the church, pointing to the other blemished congregants and their inherent hideousness as an excuse for not coming back. But the hard truth is he couldn’t bear to look at himself as he truly is.
Church Dodger Doug may find refuge in another church where the mirrors resemble those you find in a carnival fun house. The contorted images may entertain him but he never sees himself as he truly is.
Any place where the whole counsel of God is expounded from the pulpit, the preached word acts as a mirror that tears down all guises and shows us just how deeply the image of God in us has been damaged by the raging disease of sin. Our original honor, dignity and glory has been ravaged by the boils and infected wounds of our own self-inflicted transgressions.
The faithful minister preaches from the scriptures in such a manner that it brings out the glory of God’s holiness and contrasts that to our inner darkness. He doesn’t have to twist or manipulate the scriptures to do so. Rightly dividing the word of truth produces this contrast naturally. The tension between God’s goodness and man’s sinfulness is what binds the story of redemption weaved throughout all 66 books of the bible together. Any good preacher transforms his pulpit into a mirror, for the word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of our desperately sick hearts. We no longer see him but ourselves and how remaining the way we are will ultimately lead to a horrific fate. The faithful minister does not stop there. He continues to expound God’s love and mercy and the plan he has for our eternal good. The image in the mirror will then show us as we ought to be and could be if we would turn away from our sin and self-righteousness and embrace Christ in faith as Lord and Savior. Over the course of our lifetime we will slowly see the hideous disfigured reflection of broken man transformed into the very image of Christ as we become like him by God’s grace at work in us.
Churches that don’t show a pure reflection of who we are will have no power to transform us into the very likeness of Christ himself. Recognition of our current malformation is the first step to recovering the image of God we originally were made in. As long as we believe that we are beautiful (when in actuality we more closely resemble Medusa) we will not submit ourselves to the extreme makeover God has prepared for us.
Yes, preaching the truth will offend some and they may never return. It’s not the preacher’s fault nor is the church to blame. Sin, as manifested in pride and self-righteousness lead people away. They love darkness more than the light. They love themselves just the way they are. They don’t believe they are as ugly and helpless as the preacher tries to tell them they are.
The mistake many churches make is that they will bend over backwards to not offend a Church Dodger Doug by teaching self-affirmations and moral platitudes that stroke and build-up the ego. The distorted fun house mirror of modern evangelicalism invites chortling instead of mourning, chuckles in place of sorrow.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt 5:4)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:17)