Chickens & broken windows
My little brother and his friends weren't any more than 10 years old when it happened. They had been down at old Mrs. Smith's farm to gather eggs for her from her few remaining chickens. She was over 90 years old and frail, and my brother and his friends loved collecting eggs and doing little jobs around the small farm that she could no longer do. In return for their cleaning and such they got to keep all sorts of treasures like old bottles and worn out radios and other trash that any 10 year old boy would find valuable.
But one day after the eggs had been collected the boys started throwing rocks, aiming for windows in the old tool shed. Back when her husband was still alive the tool shed must have been a busy place; part workshop, part tool shed, part depository of all things needing repair. But now it was falling down on itself, so no real harm was done.
That was the story Steve gave our mom when she learned he had the most accurate throw that day: No harm done because it was falling down anyway, and everyone else was throwing rocks. Before scolding him and walking him down to Mrs. Smith herself to witness his apology and turn over his allowance to pay for the window, mom asked the question that every kid our age heard multiple times growing up: "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?"
Back in the day
The 1970's saw a charismatic movement in the denominational churches that was all about Jesus and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Millions left the denominations to attend home meetings, often called 'prayer and praise' gatherings. Though many acted like the things of God were toys to be played with, getting out of balance on things like personal prophecy where some thought they were prophets because they could give a personal prophecy or word of wisdom, or if they had cast out demons they thought they had a 'deliverance ministry', it was a simpler time.
We didn't know the Word back then, and many spiritualized everything, blaming demons for all their problems. Francis Hunter told of this conversation one day: "A very distraught woman came to me for prayer because she had gained 10 pounds (4.5 kilos). I asked what she was doing, and she replied, 'I cast the calories out of all my deserts in Jesus' name, but I still gained 10 pounds. What am I doing wrong?'"
Ah the 70's! But the 70's gave way to the consumerism of the 1980's, which was marked by Yuppie's - 'Young urban professionals' or the more common 'Young upwardly-mobile professionals' referring to people in their 20's & 30's with conspicuous lifestyles of materialism. With pastel jackets for the men, big hair for the women, and TV shows like 'Miami Vice', technology was also booming in the form of video arcade games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Centipede. (Though personally, I'll take Galaga over all those)
Money was flowing and the yuppies were experiencing prosperity the World War II generation had provided, and conspicuous greed entered society. It was about to enter the body of Christ.
A conversation among pastors about 1984
Pastors and the church world in general couldn't keep pace with the prosperity. One pastor noted "We are losing our youth to video games" while another said "Our church still looks like it did in the 1950's, how will we attract new people looking like that?" Still another noted, "People have more things than they used to; they would rather be out on their boat or in their camper on weekends than in church."
They noted that church had become irrelevant and the subject of comedian's jokes as examples of being backward. Instead of church being a catalyst for changing society and culture, society and culture was changing the church. One pastor asked, "The world has the best, yet we are God's children, so why shouldn't we have the biggest and best to attract people?"
What happened next
While the Word of Faith movement started with balance, originally providing much needed grounding in areas like righteousness, the power of Jesus' name, God as our source, and the gifts of the Spirit, which was good for the overly zealous charismaniacs from the 1970's, disciples of the original 'faith teachers' started twisting scripture towards making money to match the prosperity of the world.
Twisting passages that don't have anything to do with money into being all about money, like the '100 fold return' of Mark 4, greed entered the body of Christ in an effort to keep up with the world. Churches started spending money on video and other games to draw in and entertain the youth so they could give them a 20 minute sermon.
For the adults it was new buildings everyone could be proud of, boasting such things as Italian marble in the entry, expensive sound and video equipment, cafe's in the lobby, and pastors thought they could 'make it big' if they could just broadcast their services on TV. Becoming a speaker at a convention was a career goal.
Jumping off the cliff
In John 6:1-13 we have John's description of the feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children. Jesus had gone over to the other side of the lake, yet thousands followed Him because of the healings He had done. But it was now late, out in the country, and time for the evening meal.
"Jesus said to Philip: 'How are we to buy bread, that these people may eat?' This He said to prove (test) him, for He well knew what He was about to do."
Jesus never changes. He is the same today. He still places decisions before us to see what we will do just as He did to Philip, while He knows what He wants to do in our lives. We must realize as the Lord oversees His body from heaven, He places us in positions where we have a choice to make; do we jump off the cliff with our friends, or make the hard decisions which will mature us in Him and lead us into His will for us?
Back from the edge of the cliff for John and Barb
When I worked for the PTL Club in Charlotte, North Carolina in our first year of marriage, 1978-79, we tithed from my meager pay to Jim and Tammy Bakker's church we attended - either $11 or $15 based on my $150 per week salary or the $111 take home pay. That $4 difference could mean a treat eating out or not, as Red Lobster had an 'all you can eat popcorn shrimp' special for $2.89 at the time - they did NOT like to see me coming because they lost money on that one! So if the need and appetite was such, we tithed $11, and if bills were current and we weren't going hungry, it was $15.
We believed the '100 fold return' teaching that was starting up at the time, so changed to giving $15, believing $1500 for each week was coming our way someday. Soon. But something didn't feel right. Barb said one day: "We used to give out of love for God and His people, but now we give out of greed, to get something in return. We need to repent and get our hearts right." We did - we had stepped back from the edge of the cliff.
I was on staff with a large church in a highly visible position, this happened about 1997 or '98. During the annual week-long series of meetings that summer the woman teaching proclaimed a special blessing for everyone who placed $100 at her feet on the platform. Under peer pressure by the Pastor and Associate Pastor who was among the first to do so, many of the upper staff at the church followed along dutifully.
I sadly confess here to you that I did as well. It is an action I'll regret all my days, and though I know the Lord has gotten over it, I could still kick myself for caving under church peer pressure. I glared at the pastor as I passed him on my way to the platform for not shutting that woman down right then and there, and it was all I could do not to yell out "charlatan" to the teacher and "Ichabod" (no glory, or glory has departed) to the pastor and crowd assembled. I was so ashamed of myself I kept right on walking out of the meeting, not wanting to have anything to do with any of them anymore. I had jumped off the cliff with the rest of them.
But I repented and climbed back up to the edge of the cliff. That was the last time I was near the edge.
The Holy Spirit and the cliff
So this series is about how Jesus through the Holy Spirit places decisions before us to see if we will jump off the cliff with others, or go the path He wants for us. It is about how to make right decisions in Him. We'll look at several passages in the gospels and other examples from life. Stay tuned, more next week!