The shopping mall received a Christmas makeover but it still resembled a harlot. Rap music throbbed from one store while another peddled tarot cards and voodoo supplies. One little girl squealed with delight as she spotted the Harry Potter collection.
I searched two bookstores for an audio Bible on CD but found none. Instead, the religion shelves were stocked mostly with New Age books, including several on spell casting. Darkness permeated the mall. If the tattoo and body-piercing parlors didn't motivate you for the holidays, you could catch a showing of Elf or Bad Santa at the mall cinema. I found Jesus in one store, but He was for sale: a crystal figurine of Messiah hanging on a cross. In the middle of the mall I noticed a teenage girl sitting on a bench with her boyfriend. She looked crushed emotionally, her sad eyes staring blankly at other dispirited shoppers. Maybe she suffered from sensory overload from the unrelenting noise and eye pollution. Or perhaps she felt a deeper void estrangement from a loving and merciful God who is only a prayer away.
When I got home I thought of Matthew 24:37-39. Jesus informs His disciples that in the end days, just prior to His second coming, people will carry on as they did in the days of Noah: eating, drinking and marrying, but blind to their depraved condition. God promised never again to flood the earth, but justice and judgment will be served when the Son of Man returns as King of kings and Lord of lords. As I look around me, that day can't be far off. Perhaps the Lord had this age in mind when He spoke prophetically in Luke 21:28 "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."
"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel" the apostle Paul in Acts 20:33
The TBN pledge drive gets more bizarre by the hour. This morning Paul Crouch was beaming as he informed viewers that donation pledges were pouring in as a result of the recent Praise-A-Thons. He said the demand was so great for the "anointed" prayer cloths peddled Friday by Juanita Bynum that supplies might run out. These little squares, which Bynum said were cut from Hebrew prayer shawls, look like torn bed sheets. And one can be yours for sowing a $1,000 seed.
This snake-oil act was so upsetting I could hardly sleep Saturday night. The prayer shawl, or tallit, is a holy garment and a symbol of the Lord's covering over us. Had a religious Jew tuned in and seen Bynum lay tallits across the studio floor and walk on them in this disgraceful ritual, they would have been confused and offended. The apostle Paul wanted believers to provoke the Jews to jealousy by their witness (Romans 11:11), not repulse them. Crouch admitted that Bynum was "swinging from the chandeliers" during the Praise-A-Thon, but gave his nod of approval. He looked almost giddy. But how many broken lives and bank accounts will TBN leave behind? How many low-income seniors will go hungry this month because they mailed in their last few dollars for the promise of a blessing?
I don't know why God allows these con men and women to prosper. But one day they will stand before the righteous Judge, as we all will, and give an account. The Lord addresses these abuses in Ezekiel 22:7 "In your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow." The Hebrew word for "oppressed" is osheq, which means fraud, unjust gain, extortion and cruel behavior. Now look at verse 13: "Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst." The word "beat" in Hebrew is nakah, meaning to slaughter and punish. God ultimately will administer justice in His timing and, as we can see here, the penalty will be severe.
TBN's greed was transparent Friday. Bynum said if all you have are your clothes, send them. God's rebuke in Ezekiel 22:25-26 was directed at the false shepherds of ancient Israel, but the application is timeless: "The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made widows in her midst. Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things."
Sometimes on a clear night I'll sit in the backyard and gaze at the canopy of stars. I'm in awe of the handiwork of our Creator. Psalm 147:4 says the LORD numbers the stars and calls them all by name. I can barely make out the Big Dipper.
This week I read an MSNBC report on the two Voyager space probes, which are hurtling toward the edge of our solar system, 8.4 billion miles away. I found this fascinating: Even at speeds of more than 35,000 mph, it will take 20,000 years for the Voyagers to reach the middle of a comet system called Oort's Cloud, which is barely held in orbit by the sun's gravity. It could take twice that long to pass the outer boundaries of cometary space. By this time, they will have traveled the distance of two light years, equivalent to half the distance to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star.
With that in mind, look at Isaiah 48:13 "My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together." God is that big. Even though my finite brain can't fully grasp those dynamics, I can put my trust in Him every day. He is bigger than anything I can see.
Yeshua calls us friend if we obey His commands (John 15:14). According to a Christian quoted in this morning's newspaper, we also can be His buddy. The woman and her church are reading Rick Warren's best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life and going through a 40-day book study.
Buddy. That casual remark bothered me. A buddy is someone you joke with and take to the ballpark. Aren't we supposed to approach God in fear and trembling, which means in reverence? Perhaps that is symptomatic of today's seeker-sensitive approach to evangelism and church growth God is reduced to a warm and fuzzy grandfatherly figure, beckoning us to climb onto His lap.
There is something wrong with that picture. Look at the respect afforded God by Jewish commentators in the ArtScroll Tanach Series book on Yechezkel (Ezekiel): "So intense was the holiness of the Shechinah, Gods Presence, as it rested in a cloud upon the Tabernacle that even Moses feared to enter (Exodus 40:34-35), and so total was its presence on the Temple that the priests could not enter (I Kings 8:11). . . . when Israel descended from the lofty heights of spiritual grandeur to the earthly depths of lust and iniquity, the Shechinah ascended from Israel's Temple which had become no more than a shell beautiful but empty."
During Solomon's dedication of the Temple in 2 Chronicles 7, the Israelites bowed their faces to the ground as God sent fire from heaven to consume the offering and sacrifice. Verse 3 says the people "worshipped and praised the Lord, saying: 'For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.' " I doubt anyone that day addressed the Most High as buddy. No one barked like a dog, wobbled like a drunk or broke into holy laughter as some charismatic Christians like to do. But through YHVH God's infinite mercy manifested through Messiah Yeshua we can know Him as friend.