In the 8th century B.C., there was a prophet named Amos. Of his own admission, he had no particular prominence in the world (Amos 7:14)…he was essentially just a blue collar guy whom the Lord called out, placing on him a burning message. That message was a message of judgement. This was during the time period called “The Divided Kingdom,” when Israel was the Northern Kingdom and Judah the southern. He was sent to the Northern Kingdom and told to call them out for their sin and let them know of the ensuing subsequent judgment. They were guilty of many things but there seems to be one root problem…and it is a problem that is alive and well within our modern culture as well. The people had given in to the self-centered tendencies of human nature and had become very indulgent. When I say indulgent, I’m not necessarily referring to food, although that is somewhat symptomatic of the deeper and more systemic problem. To cut to the chase, in 4:1, Amos calls the women “cows of Bashan.” Bashan was a place rich with resources in which the cattle would become “fat and happy.” He goes on to speak in the same verse about how they constantly want to be served…and catered unto…and spoiled…and this was followed by a host of other injustices.
I was doing some work for a friend some years ago, helping him with his cattle. We drove up into the pasture in his truck and they came running…and I asked him why they would come running after this enormous monstrosity of machinery but would be scared by someone that is probably less than a quarter of their size when approached. He said that they had become accustomed to being fed every time they saw his truck coming. Interesting to note that they were eating already when we pulled into the field…and none of them were skinny…and that is the nature of cattle. Frankly, I’m glad because I love beef, but there is a sad reality in the metaphor that Amos used when he compared human beings to cattle…the metaphor of consumerism.
What is consumerism? Google the word and you will find this definition: “The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.” Essentially what this means is that we love “stuff,” and we love getting “stuff.” We love to hoard, and we love to be served. We love to be pampered and we love to be spoiled. We love to answer the question of “what’s in it for me?” It’s not wrong to want some things…nor is it wrong to receive things. What’s wrong is when we are driven by the desires to be served and catered to…because it seems to me, based on a reading of the Bible (specifically the life of Jesus), that God’s design for us is to put others first and to want to serve them. This is the essence of love.
Of the many problems contemporary Christianity faces, the insidious evil of consumer-driven thinking has got to be in the top five. The reason it’s a problem is that just as stated above, it doesn’t seem to be the way Jesus lived…and His life is our greatest example by which we should live. We see this lived out and illustrated by the attitudes and actions of many church attenders. I’ve had many conversations with people that were leaving their churches or were simply unhappy/dissatisfied with their church. The majority of the time their reasons are about what they do or don’t “get” from the church. I’ve NEVER had anyone tell me that they are leaving a church because there was no other way they could serve…that they had reached their potential for service… and they were seeking to go elsewhere to serve. Instead…they come running up to the “truck” of consumption that will provide them with what they wanted. As a pastor…one might hope that I would be exempt from this issue, but I have to admit that I’ve been so guilty of looking at my church in terms of self-serving agendas…it’s a difficult thing to admit, but true…and that’s a huge part of the church’s problem…because I think that people tend to mimic those in authority over them.
In John 13 there’s the very familiar story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. I don’t want to go into a lengthy explanation of this, except to say that He was a Rabbi and this was the job of the lowliest of household slaves. However, they were in a borrowed room, and there was no one there to perform this duty…no official slave or servant…and it was a very important task that needed to be carried out. None of the blue-collar disciples would even lower themselves to this task…and we may ask, “Why?” Perhaps the reason is that just like the rest of us, they were too busy waiting to be served and not thinking at all about how they could serve…and then their Master…a Rabbi…a great Teacher…and actually the Son of God…picks up the implements and exemplifies what this is all about. He serves…He serves in the most lowly of jobs and He does it because He loves them, sees the need, and is leading by example.
So, consider with me for just a moment…in the modern church, are we fat cows or are we foot washers? Are we looking to be served or are we looking for opportunities to serve? Imagine how much it would straighten out the paradigms of our local churches if we put our energies into following the Rabbi instead of the feed-wagon. Imagine the impact on the reputation of the Body of Christ if the unbelieving culture around us saw that we cared and truly wanted to serve them in whatever way we could…
*Image taken from: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_VzeYo3lwyXY/SjAW1uyxOkI/AAAAAAAAAGA/b4wramcuwwM/w1200-h630-p-nu/fat+cows.jpg