A Hard Tune to Hear

Ecclesiastes 7:5-6

Let me play a song for you. Here are some of the lyrics:

We have to conceive it on the inside before we’re ever going to receive it on the outside. . . . You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it. In other words, you must make increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass.

Okay, it’s hard to imagine those words to a tune, but they are a sort of song, mentioned in today’s text.

It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools,
for like the crackling of burning thorns under the pot,
so is the laughter of the fool.
This too is futile.

Ecclesiastes 7:5-6

Prosperity Foolishness

If you didn’t recognize the words of the “song of fools” above, they came from a book by Joel Osteen, a man who guides his church to pledge their allegiance to the Bible just before he preaches a message that directly contradicts the plain meaning of the Word.

Without belaboring the foolishness of the Osteen passage above, let’s just consider which of these biblical figures conceived in their heart what they later received: Abraham or Moses? Gideon or Samson? Peter or Paul? I could go on, but you get the picture. When we’re limited to receiving only what we can conceive, then we’ll never see the best from “him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

What if Simon Peter had read a copy of Joel’s book before Jesus came strolling down the shores of Galilee? He might have envisioned himself as the greatest fisherman on the lake. He might have conceived piles of fish and a fleet of boats. He might have imagined scores of employees. And we would have never heard of him.

The Wise Rebuke

Do we think that Simon Peter ever sat there in a quiet moment in the boat and dreamed of helping to feed 5,000 people? Did he envision healing his mother-in-law? Did he conceive in his mind the Transfiguration or the vision on the rooftop or bringing the gospel–what gospel?–to Gentiles? These were all things that were “beyond all that we ask or think.”

But in the course of experiencing all those things, Simon had to hear some unwanted words:

  • Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.–John 13:38
  • So, couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour?–Matthew 26:40
  • Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.–Matthew 16:23

If Simon had not opened himself to the things that were beyond all he could ask or think, if he had not gone beyond the song of fools, then he would have remained forever Simon and never Peter. The rebuke of the wise made him a rock on which Christ could establish his church.

Getting in Tune

And so the question that I need to ask myself today and that you should ask yourself is, what words to you heed most readily? Do you welcome the rebuke of the wise, or do you sing along to the song of fools.

The song of fools is much more pleasing to the ear. It will tell you that you should have all those possessions and liberties that you really want. It’ll assure you that you’re just great the way you are.

The rebuke of the wise hurts. It tells us that we aren’t “all that.” It points out our vanities and selfishness. It grates on the ear in a way that the smooth sound of the fool’s song doesn’t.

But only those rebukes will help us to grow to be more like Jesus. I surely don’t have to tell you what the song of the fool will help you grow toward.

Is It Better than Amazon?

My mother asked recently if they sell a certain something on Amazon. I chuckled and then informed her, “Short of a live elephant, I think you can buy just about anything on Amazon.” And it’s true. Yesterday, I bought an air-powered stapler locally, but I just checked and found the same exact model–two dollars cheaper–on Amazon. The staples for that tool are available in just about length and quantity. Obscure books, pointless Valentine’s gifts, and whatever this is are similarly available.

Amazon is amazing. They have everything. You don’t have to worry about some part being in the wrong bin or the price being mis-marked. With free shipping, it’s just about perfect. No wonder bricks-and-mortar stores are suffering so much.

There are, of course, some reasons why I might go to my local big-box store rather than scrolling through Amazon’s offerings. Let’s consider some of these.

  • I can actually see, feel, try on, or otherwise experience the item before I buy it.
  • I can talk to somebody about the item before I buy it.
  • I can get the item right now rather than a day or two from now.
  • I’m lonely and I just want to get out of the house.
  • I can do the right thing by supporting local business.

I mention this because I’ve been thinking about my church in relation to Amazon. Why should a “customer” come to my church rather than experiencing church online? I can watch Joel Osteen on TV. Better yet (for several reasons), I can stream Steven Furtick on my computer. Why wouldn’t I opt for this instead of going to the trouble of heading to a bricks-and-mortar church?

And it can be trouble. You don’t have to find parking at the Amazon church. Your kids won’t embarrass you there. There’s nobody with too much cologne or not enough deodorant sitting near you there. You don’t have to pretend to like people. No one will judge your clothes, your hair, your family situation, your lifestyle, or anything else. These are real obstacles.

Of course, I know the various reasons why I shouldn’t opt for the Amazon-era church. There’s Hebrews 10:25 and all that, but they didn’t have broadcast capabilities in the first century. How can I convince a potential church “customer” that my church is better than the one they can see comfortably and readily on a screen. And that question is only relevant if I can convince someone of the need to “shop” for some sort of church experience at all.

For the bricks-and-mortar church to thrive today, it needs to be better than Amazon. We, as dedicated church people shouldn’t be surprised when others don’t find our church body compelling if it does not offer something like what’s listed in the bullet points above.

We are not the Amazon church. We shouldn’t aspire to being the Amazon church. But in an age when Amazon is carving a path through retailing, we need to see them as a cautionary tale. If retailers don’t offer something that Amazon can’t, they’ll go the way of K-Mart. If the church doesn’t offer something that the Amazon church can’t, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see our attendance, our budget, our effectiveness, and our witness declining in the culture.