We have seen a ton of sports stars fool themselves into thinking that the effects of age didn't apply to them. There were the Michael Jordan retirement fiascos, when MJ fooled himself into thinking he was a major league caliber baseball player, and later that he could transform the Washington Wizards into a great team. Some analysts see the same thing happening today with slugger Barry Bonds, whose body is wracked by injury, but whose ego won't allow him to say he's done playing baseball.
But fooling oneself is not simply a problem for the sports hero. I submit that by and large, the Church is fooling itself into thinking it is making a big difference in the world.
It seems that over and over again the truth keeps coming to me. How would you like to hear this question like Shane at Wesley Blog had aimed at him from a teenage Christian a couple of weeks ago: "What's the difference between them [Mormons] and us, besides the fact that they seem to be more serious about living out their faith?" Read the whole post for a little more context. It isn't always obvious to those of us inside the church walls, but many people, including a great number outside of the church, are not looking through stained-glass glasses.
Kevin at Short Attention Span wrote a post called Lessons from a Church in Decline concerning what we can learn from the rise of secularism in Great Britain. But the focus is upon the current situation of churches in America (and elsewhere) where the Church is not seeking to honor and worship and glorify God anymore. Here is the horrible truth packed into a few short sentences:
There is a widespread perception among Americans that church should cater to them rather than help them deny self, take up their cross and follow Christ. Even some of the most solidly “Bible-believing” evangelical churches in America have their own pet subjects –prophecy or “faith”, for example– rather than engaging in broad-based teaching that equips people with biblical perspectives on all of life’s issues. To put it another way, there is sometimes a lack of relevance. There are also “Bible-believing” churches that are not communities but places where individuals gather for an hour or two on Sunday morning and perhaps during the week, where shared goals are a substitute for fellowship. Evangelical churches in America take great pride in being “Bible-believing”, but underneath the claim of believing the Bible is a lack of commitment to discover and apply biblical teaching practically. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, believing is as believing does, ma’am.
Take up our cross or get my own way... teach on end times every Sunday or learn the "boring" stuff too... study the Bible or actually do what I've been studying... the choices are painfully obvious to us. We know what we should do. And far too often we have fooled ourselves into thinking that we're doing it while the reality of the situation is just the opposite. James put it best when he wrote, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." And it doesn't help that we often try to impress others with our spirituality, or our church membership and attendance numbers, or the new program at the church, or the new building expansion. And it really doesn't help when others are impressed by that. God is to be the One who we are looking to please. So why do we keep trying to show off for man's approval?
Lately I've been convicted. God has impressed upon me over and over that He alone is the focus of our worship, yet it it so tempting for a Sunday morning service to be about pleasing man instead of God. It's not intentional. But I can spend time and mental effort making sure the attendance and the offering is counted, looking for approval from congregants and changing a sermon to appease those who are offended by something I might say, all the while fooling myself into thinking that God is the audience and the focus of our attention during the service. And if I as a pastor can be drawn away from worshiping God on Sunday morning, it's got to be easy for the folks in the pews to do the same thing. I don't want anything to compromise our worship of God or even shortchanges God. In short, I don't want us to fool ourselves any longer.
We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that Christian responsibility is simply a matter of showing up to socialize on Sunday morning. We cannot con ourselves with the claim that a church's goal is simply larger attendance and black ink on the budget. We cannot continually tell ourselves that living the Christian life is done by making things more convenient and comfortable for us. We mustn't live like a washed-up boxer thinking we are really champs. We must be honest with our failings -- even when it makes us uncomfortable. Especially when it makes us uncomfortable.
"Lord, show me the areas of my life and my worship where I've fooled myself into thinking I am honoring you. I don't want to live like that any more."