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Culture

Does Jesus Still Weep? Consumerism as Spiritual Warfare

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October 1st, 2009

PowerPoint plugs and video clips, pre-packaged music and crazy contests, cordless microphones and stage lights, Tommy Hilfiger pants and Abercrombie & Fitch shirts, SUVs and Nokia cell phones, kids are laughing and adults are smiling. But Jesus might be weeping. Why? Because this isn’t a school assembly; it’s a church youth group meeting.

The scripture passages that reveal Jesus weeping are poignant illustrations of our Lord emotionally involved in the lives of his people. Luke 19:41 reads, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” Descending from the Mount of Olives before his entry into the holy city, Jesus would’ve had a panoramic view of the city’s impressive architecture, massive towers, vast hippodrome, magnificent temple, and legions of legalistic Pharisees. His eyes saw human accomplishments, but his heart felt the downfall of the human soul. The city looked like a beautifully wrapped package, but underneath Jesus could sense the condition of the people. They didn’t yearn in their hearts for God’s teachings. The city ultimately represented human accomplishments, wisdom, and greed.

So Jesus wept.

What’s different about today’s cities, cities that are often blanketed by churches with their multitude of programs and ministries? Do these programs exude heart and passion? Are they totally focused on introducing others to God? Some churches have become lost in the secular style marketing and advertising that is seeping into Christian ministry and entertainment. Our youth leaders find themselves walking a tightrope as they minister to the largest consumer-fed and entertained group in our nation. So the big question is: How far do we wade into the marketing hype without losing our credibility in Christ? We desperately need a plumb line to help us establish and maintain a true vertical focus on God.

I’ve been a youth leader and a women’s Bible study teacher for over ten years, and I find myself having to ask some difficult, thought provoking questions about my own behavior and desires. There are two scripture passages I use as plumb lines to monitor my life as a wife, mother, sister, aunt, neighbor, ministry worker, school volunteer, and friend.

Jesus weeps when simplicity is replaced by showmanship. My first plumb line is Paul’s warning to the church at Corinth: “I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be lead astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

During the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, a billboard outside the basketball venue displayed a gold medal and the words “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” I quickly walked away with my two children and thought: Isn’t that the truth of the marketing mindset in our society? You’re never the best but always behind, never looking good but always touching up, never feeling smart but always studying. The world wants us to forget the truth that in Jesus we don’t have to be perfect, we’re forgiven.

Today’s marketing industry stresses this perfection to reinforce its major goal: to make us discontent with what we have and feel we must have more; if we keep acquiring more, then maybe someday we’ll have it all. Of course, the marketing world constantly redefines “all” so that we continue to feel dissatisfied and discontent. Consumerism is spiritual warfare, holding us in bondage to the world’s expectations while robbing us of our boldness to stand for Christ. If we don’t break away from this cycle, we’ll be unable to find a place of peace where God’s messages can be heard.

In 1 Corinthians 2:4 Paul asserts that he doesn’t come using decorated speech to impress but instead keeps his message focused on the power of Christ. I continue to ask myself if the marketing techniques and advertising methods I use with my kids direct attention to Jesus rather than me, the church, the entertainment industry, or society. I feel we’re called to simplicity in our life and our message about Christ.

During a recent Bible study, my youth girls asked if we could do away with the start-in game and get right to discussion of Scripture. Maybe Paul was right, the Word of God is so powerful it doesn’t need a big presentation—it does it all on its own. So at your next youth meeting, maybe you should ask yourself: Is the music too much or too loud? Are the PowerPoint displays and video clips an enhancement or a distraction? Has the simplicity of the Gospel been replaced by a complicated and cluttered message? Am I a listening ear for my kids’ comments and questions? Have I been misguided or intimidated by the world’s view on marketing? Is Jesus weeping?

Jesus weeps when his message is distorted by our self-interests.My other plumb line is from 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

Our fashion, looks, and money often bring attention to ourselves and draw us away from walking humbly with God. They can distract us and others from the Gospel message. To think that I may have turned someone away from following Jesus because of my preoccupation with pride or perception brings me to my knees. It also can be costly to walk in the way of the world and constantly maintain the latest fashion trends. While talking with my kids during a Bible study, we examined the worldly areas of our lives and what changes could be made. One of the suggestions was to shop at Target rather than Abercrombie & Fitch since the styles were similar while the costs significantly different. Many of them took the discussion home to their parents.

Recently, I walked into a Christian bookstore and saw a life-size cardboard cutout of a Christian singing group. I’m not sure if it was there to make me feel like we could all just sit and chat or to realize their CD was for sale and I needed to own it. I lean toward the latter. With the focus clearly on the group, where was Christ in that picture? But who can blame them? That is how marketing works. And most of us crave recognition, feeling significant, and acquiring riches. Whatever is left over we give to Jesus.

So do we market the message and ministry of Christ? Of course. But beware when the face of Christ has been replaced by celebrity, when the message has been so rehearsed that it’s void of sincerity and passion, and when the fellowship meeting has become a production rather than an invitation to know Jesus. When this happens, we’ve opened our hearts to the world rather than to Jesus.

The world can easily suffocate Christian growth with its subtle and not-so-subtle influence over and intrusion into our lives. As Christian youth workers, we have a mission to change lives for Jesus. We do this by using the world but not embracing it. Our plumb line has been established in Jesus Christ, and his way is made manifest in his word. Are we going to use these to question our stance on consumerism? On our mission trips, will we wear clothes from Target or A&F? Will we spend more time on entertainment or conversation with our youth? Will we give them Bible studies where they learn to understand the Bible or will activities and games tie up almost the entire study session? Will we help our youth understand the meaning behind the praise songs or just “crank it up” and be content with volume? Take a prayerful look at yourself and your ministry. Then ask if Jesus is weeping.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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