Monday, March 26, 2012

How it changed me.

To get the full picture read this post first.

Last year I attended the pastor's conference at First Baptist Church, in Jacksonville Florida and I was blessed.  First of all I was able to spend time with my pastor and two brothers from our church as well as the former pastor of our small country church in rural West Virginia.  In short we all had fun as we talked, hung out, attended workshops and met up with other pastor's from all over the country.  The experience was worth the travel time,the money, the airport security patting me down because I look middle eastern and so on.  I am thankful to all those that enabled me, and us, to go.  I personally benefited greatly from the conference and I am thankful for the experience.

A year later I have come to grips with a few things in my own walk, with the call on my life (I think, maybe) and the state of the American (dream) Church.  Before the conference I had NEVER heard of FBC Jax, Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, Junior Hill, Mac Brunson or anything else associated with this Southern Baptist bastion.  I had no idea this was a mega-church.  None. But before agreeing to go to the conference I went to the conference website and looked at EVERY single presenter to get an idea for what type of theology and doctrine I would be subjected to and I found that there were only a handful of men that I agreed with.  However, our differences certainly did not mean they did not have much to offer.  These men were older, wiser, more educated and more experienced than me, so I knew they had MUCH to offer and they did.

Back to the conference . . .  we walk in, wait in line, get our passes and other goodies, bag of books, conference schedule, a map (A WHAT?) advertisements (huh?) and the like. We walked through some doors and found our way to the "sanctuary" and my heart just sank, I was sick, just in AWE at the massive space before me.  It was huge, HUGE, I have never seen a "sanctuary" like this and that moment, that very moment I shut down, a bad attitude set in, cynicism welled up and I began to battle against those feelings because they can easily lead to self-righteousness and arrogance. I was impressed, and in amazement at the "sanctuary" that was before me.

But I battled, kept an open mind and generally had a great time.

I will not go in to detail about the sessions I went to, the main sessions or the music.  The thrust of this post centers around Proverbs 23:4 and I did not see a spirit of "being discerning enough to desist" and I am also reminded of Deuteronomy 15:11 which says:

 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ 

So what's my problem?  To start with the marble stairs: I cannot stop thinking about the marble stairs, accentuated with beautiful hardwood railings, complete with stainless steel hardware.  Seriously, why marble? I am not sure how much they cost and I am sure there is a good reason right?  Easy to clean, lasts a lifetime, looks good, strong and inviting.  Well, why not just put up some preformed steel/concrete steps instead?  They last a lifetime and I bet they are cheaper, not only that they are not dangerous when wet! And those hardwood railings and gorgeous stainless hardware made quit an impression.  See for yourself:

Do you think these stairs are excessive?  Would a poor family, with shabby clothes walk in to this place and feel comfortable?  Does this feel like a church?  It might feel like a church to those who go there, but to me these steps are a bit more than simple, functional and economical.  I wander if the concrete/steel steps would have saved enough money to buy gift cards for grocery stores to give out to needy families. Or what about this:

I am not even sure what this is for or what it is supposed to be, but it is all marble with in-laid stained, hardwood accents.  Heck do you even need this odd, Stonehenge type, circular "thing" in a church that is charged with  "taking care of widows and orphans" as James admonishes us.

I will let the images speak for themselves and refrain from hurtful, loveless speech as some have used in their evaluation of FBC Jax.  I wonder how many months of rent they could have paid just by limiting the space in the above photo.  Rent for a building in downtown Jax to help feed, clothe and minister to the homeless, and there are many homeless in Jacksonville, I saw them not a block from the church.  I wander if those homeless folks look at FBC Jax as place of refuge or a place of privilege.  I have no idea, just think about it.

I am not suggesting that FBC Jax does not take care of widows and orphans, because they might.  What I am saying is when your heart is open to the poor you forego the brand-new mini van for a used van you can pay cash for to free up more monthly money for ministry.  When your heart is open to the will of God I think you will look for ways to give (money and time) instead of holding it for yourself.

OK, so you think I am just ranting and rambling and that there is nothing wrong with making a "house of God" look nice and respectable.  In response I would say that no church building is the house of God and I don't think we should ever say stuff like: blah, blah, blah Father  . . . . in your house, or this is your house.  Although yes He owns it, He does NOT live their, so it is not any holier than my barn!

Sorry, mild ADD moment, here is what I would say:

Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?

Acts 7:48-50

Well maybe I am being too harsh and they do have have a huge budget, $14,000,000 a year so really they could have still did great ministry, and they did it all by not going into debt.  WOW, good for them, but how did they do this without going into debt?

I can tell you it wasn't based on Exodus 35:4-36:7 especially Exodus 36:6-7.  How do I know that?  The senior pastor admonished us visitors like this:

"Y'all don't be eating and drinking in this auditorium, I had to twist arms and beg to get this thing paid for."

At that everyone, except me, laughed.  WOW, how does that compare to to the spontaneous, voluntary gifts that Israel gave for the tabernacle?  It made me sick because the Word says the opposite, 2 Corinthians 9:7

I understand that we want a nice building, one that reflects the glory of God and is inviting to outsiders, but as Christians we are consistently called to lead a quite simple life that is free from ostentation.  We know what Mark 10:25 says about rich people and heaven, so I wander how that verse relates to "rich churches" if at all. Before y'all get worked about how awesome the temple was, you have to remember the temple was where the priests met God, behind the holy of hollies is where His Shikinah Glory dwelled, so you bet the temple was incredibly ornate because it was where God's glory dwelled.  And now that the temple is destroyed and the Holy Spirit has been sent, where does God live?  In us, the people of God, in our hearts, (1 Corinthians 6:19)  there is NO LONGER priests to minister for us, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we are the priests.  No more Levites, no more sacrifices, no more blood . . . .   Think about it, we ought to take care of our bodies because that reflects the Lord, MORE than the building we meet in.

I will end this post, part one of many, with this question:  When you walk in to a place like FBC Jax and see that ornate, elaborate building filled with thousands of nicely dressed overweight people are you seeing a reversal of what should be happening?  I am not putting down overweight people, or nicely dressed folks but what I am saying is: why do we treat the place we meet, where God DOES NOT DWELL, better than the place where HE DOES DWELL?


  1. because we're lazy, self-indulgent, and superficial


Keep it classy . . .