John the Revelator warned the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev. 3:17)
While Christians in other parts of the world have been sharpened by much suffering and persecution, many Christians in America have been softened by lives full of comfort and ease. Many devout Christians in other countries are willing to die for what they believe, but here in America, it’s hard to get people to even live for what they believe. Too many American churches are characterized by apathy and spiritual laziness. “If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks.” – (Ecc. 10:18)
As watchmen on the wall, we must awaken those who are spiritually dead. John used the word ‘wretched’ in his description of the church at Laodicea. Is ‘wretched’ a word too strong to describe the church in America? We are wretched because we have made acceptable what God has declared an abomination. We are wretched because we have worshiped our own idols, and we have twisted the word of God to suit ourselves. We are wretched because we have been displeased with whom God says He is, so we’ve created a God whose sovereignty is bound by His own love and who is incapable of demonstrating the wrath of His judgment.
We have become enthralled by our own pleasure, and we are obsessed by our own prosperity. Many American churches have become shamefully man-centered. When we ought to solemnly enter the church to worship the great and mighty God in fear and trembling (the One who spoke us into existence and has the power to snuff our lives out like a candle), instead, we enter the church focused on ourselves. The church has become like a psychic smorgasbord for those who are experiencing difficulty or for those who feel the need for more satisfaction in life. We want recreation for our kids, we want financial and emotion counseling for ourselves, and we want the services of the church to focus more on man-centered entertainment rather than God-centered worship.
God has said to us, “…I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) But we have no interest in his plans for us. We arrogantly submit our own agenda to God and expect him to accommodate us. We have become a foolish and senseless people “who have eyes but do not see and who have ears but do not hear.” (Jeremiah 5:21)
Death can come to a church in two ways. It may simply cease to exist, or it may die inwardly. Many American churches are just empty shells, filled with spiritual zombies-walking dead men. False teaching has crept into the church and has smothered the truth. Satan has perfected his deceptive skills. Heresy comes in many ways. It is often introduced by a big-name preacher whom the majority will follow like senseless sheep. We must be awakened to the danger of ministers who are more focused on entertaining us rather than pointing us toward the Lamb that was slain to take away the sin of the world. Paul gave Timothy a formula for a dying church: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Many churches have spiritual life strangled from them because they have allowed immorality, materialism, and worldliness to creep in like a slowly growing cancer. The church is in deep trouble when more of its members are lusting after the flesh and after materialism rather than fostering a deep yearning for fellowship with the true God.
As watchman on the wall, we must awaken a disillusioned church. “Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.” (Isaiah 51:17)
We have been drugged by an enemy who will steal away our souls if we don’t awaken. We have been intoxicated by our own indifference. When our pews are full of people who want to attend but don’t want to get involved, we know it has become more about us than about God. When we only pick up our Bibles on Sunday morning, or when our only call to God is a 911 call, then we have become apathetic about the most valuable thing anyone can experience on this earth; a personal relationship with God Almighty!
What was God’s reaction to indifference in the church at Laodicea? He said, because “you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am going to vomit you from my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16) It is much less harmful for a church like that to cease to exist than to continue to spread a distorted gospel to a lifeless people.
Our calling as watchmen on the wall is to bring sinful people to salvation through Jesus Christ. We are to lovingly reach out to the lost. Our first priority is to “open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me (Christ).” (Acts 26:18)
As watchmen, we are too often hesitant to confront our culture. We must do this, not in our own wisdom, but in the power of the word of God. Watchmen are not glorified reformers of society. Jesus didn’t come to start a social revolution. He didn’t try to abolish the slavery that existed in his day. He didn’t lead a march against Rome in protest of high taxes. He didn’t campaign for the Democrat or Republican parties. He never led a civil rights march. His focus was not on this kingdom. He came to awaken the sinful, sleeping hearts of men and women.
As watchmen on the wall, we must not lose ourselves in the task of trying to reform a sinful, earthly kingdom. Many in our society believe that the ultimate act of service to mankind is to plant another tree or save another whale. This is but another deception. The ultimate service any man can do for another is to point his darkened soul to the Light that can dispel all darkness. The greatest service we can do for our fellow man is to love him with the love of Christ and invite him to live his eternity in the Kingdom of God.
Photo credit: Fr. Stephen, MSC (Creative Commons)