Isn’t Jesus enough? Why do some feel they have to gild the Lily of the Valley for others to appreciate Him?
Several years ago, we were blessed by visiting the Holy Land Experience Park in Orlando when it was run by Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish-born Baptist minister, of Zion’s Fire. The love of Christ shone in every face, from ticket takers to those who told inspiring messages in drama, song, and praise dance. The Gospel message – salvation by grace through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God Who paid our sin debt in full (1 Corinthians 15) – was evident in every exhibit, witness, and dramatic or musical presentation. Attention to detail and historical accuracy gave the visitor a true sense of living where and when Jesus walked the earth.
So what went wrong?
We were so looking forward to our return visit a few weeks ago, as we knew many exhibits had been added. Our first experience that day was positive – a tasteful yet dramatic fountain display synchronized to Sandi Patty singing “We Shall Behold Him.” Sadly, it was all downhill from there.
Our first clue to the very different perspective since Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) took over the park in 2007 was “Christus Gardens,” a wax museum allegedly depicting scenes from the life of Christ. The infant Jesus lay in a manger (Luke 2:7-16) filled not with hay, but with tinsel!!
The next scene confused me. At first I thought it was supposed to represent Jesus eating with the publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11), because His dinner companions were all decked out in glitzy crowns and fine brocade robes. Sadly, I realized from the number around the table and the seating arrangement that it was the made-for-TV version of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:20-30), where apparently the itinerant apostles who were told not even to carry an extra coat (Matthew 10:10) had rented kings’ attire for this special occasion!
Other details at Christus Gardens were also less than Biblical – “Jesus” handing golden keys to Mary Magdalene as he appeared to her on Resurrection Sunday, and a white horse waiting by the tomb, as if He needed transportation!
We shook our heads, but made our way toward the new Church of All Nations, a 2,000 seat auditorium used for the theme park dramas as well as for broadcasting Sunday church services. The opulence was overwhelming, far from tasteful, and even sickening. Ornate gold plaster moldings, huge crystals bedecking crowns, sequined silver lamais adorning the curved balustrades, and a Disney-style sculpted panorama encircling the ceiling, with lit-up replicas of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Coliseum, the Statue of Liberty, and other national landmarks.
I do appreciate that the temple in Jesus’ day was God’s house, and that no expense was spared in decorating Solomon’s temple with taste and symbolism honoring God (1 Kings 6). Since Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit indwelled each believer (2 Corinthians 1:22), the house of God has been within the heart of everyone who placed their faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) as the only way to heaven (John 14:6). Early Christian churches met in the homes of believers (Acts 16:15,40; 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), and there is no Biblical mandate to build ornately decorated, large sanctuary buildings.
Nonetheless, centuries later, the majestic cathedrals of early and later Christendom drew the eye heavenward with their lofty architecture, and their costly statuary and stained glass served as a Bible depicting scenes and characters that parishioners could not read otherwise, as most were illiterate and had no access to printed Scripture.
In contrast, The Church of All Nations is in my opinion tacky, tasteless, and honoring the world rather than the Creator. The lavish extravagance continued into the ladies’ room, where every stall was completely mirrored on three sides so that you had a full frontal view of yourself perched on the porcelain throne and side reflections echoing ad infinitum! The highly polished black granite on the back wall and floor added to the mirror effect, prompting many women to giggle and one to exclaim, “There’s a message here – nothing is hidden!”
I thought rather that a church that would use mirrors as such a pervasive theme in its décor was worshiping the idol of Self, screaming: “There’s nothing more important than me!”
And speaking of thrones, they were everywhere, in the lobby, in the gift shop, beckoning visitors who wanted to play King or Queen for a Day or just to get a great photo op. What the thrones had to do with Jesus’ earthly ministry I’m not sure, other than to remind us of Herod and Pilate while relegating Jesus to a supporting role or even to an extra. Speaking of photo-ops, these were available with cardboard statues of a hippie angel on a Harley-Davidson, and other characters from the dramas supposedly honoring Christ and the Gospel.
Ah yes, the dramas. The first one we saw was supposed to be a tribute to patriotism, but the poor quality of the acting, singing and dancing came across as cheesy and left us feeling cheated. Next came an unfunny comedy about an angel (yes, the hippie on the Harley) witnessing to a café owner about angels in the Bible. This led to a shockingly irreverent portrayal of Daniel (Daniel 6:16-23) in a den full of pompous, cowardly, inept lions, and his “rescue” by an angel whose main function was to flap her butterfly wings.
But the saddest of all was the “passion” play. It started to go south in a hurry when “Jesus” started whimpering like a scared puppy in the Garden of Gethsemane, crying about his fear of the ordeal to come. In the Bible, Jesus is described here as being “exceeding sorrowful unto death,” (Mark 14:34) not afraid, because of the cup of sin of all mankind that He would have to endure to pay the debt for all our sins. Taking on our sin would mean that during that time He would be separated from His Holy Father Who could not look on sin. But Jesus’ Godly sorrow was far from fear, for His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
After the crucifixion, a centurion swaggered toward the audience to intimidate everyone into being saved. “Close your eyes!” he roared. “You must believe! Ask Jesus into your heart right now!”
The scene then dramatically changed to a boxing match, staged as a battle of cosmic proportions, complete with music and lighting effects reminiscent of Star Wars. “Jesus” was dressed in what I assume was supposed to be grave clothes, but this looked like a muu-muu made of many layers of gauze with a big blood stain over his chest. In his corner were Elijah, Moses and an unidentified angel/prophet- type being, while Satan was supported by Pharaoah, Hitler, and Al Capone(?)
The two began duking it out, and about half the audience roared in delight (the rest of us were too embarrassed and sickened to even watch) when “Jesus” growled, “Go ahead, Satan, make my day!”
“Jesus” then died, then arose, then miraculously appeared at the back of the auditorium, wearing a huge sparkling crystal crown and a 40-foot long bejeweled purple velvet train. As he marched down the center aisle and shook hands with those who cheered him on, more angels with butterfly wings threw their tiaras on his train (wait a minute, I thought it was believers, not angels, who witness (Matthew 28:19) and who cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10).
It made me wonder if “Jesus” would be signing autographs in the lobby, but according to the printed schedule, I guess he had to get ready for an event described as “Have communion with Jesus!” We opted to skip that, along with “get your miracle” at the fountain of prayer consecrated by Benny Hinn.
In fairness, it was not all bad – the grounds were immaculately kept and beautifully landscaped, and there were some interesting artifacts including a replica of the excavated boat thought to be the one in which the apostles sailed the Sea of Galilee when Jesus walked on the water. A drama called “Four Women Who Loved Jesus” was actually Scripture-based and quite moving once you got over the fact that these women, including Jesus’ mother, were dressed in costly sparkling gowns.
And thankfully, the Scriptorium, an extensive collection of rare historical Bibles and Scripture parchments assembled by the previous owners, is still there so we ended our day on a positive note based on God’s Word.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Jesus Christ is my Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Lord, Saviour, Master, Friend Who sticks closer than a brother. I don’t need and I don’t want man’s fancy trappings and worldly ideas of dressing Him up with entertainment, Hollywood fanfare, wardrobe, pagan temples and special effects.
He is all I need. Just give me Jesus.
© 2012 Laurie Collett
Thanks for your comment, Wendy! God bless!
Today in churches there is more people's tradition than Christ. It is everywhere: in Catholic Church, in Lutheran Church, in Pentecostal Church, in Seventh Day Advendists Church, in Baptist churches... It is so common, that we very rarely think, what is real true. For me the Bible - and only this - is the authority. Not church or people. People can be wise and godly, but they are only people. Greetings for You :)
Sadly. so much of modern "Christianity" views the biblical story in just such a perverted way, with little connection to day to day life and reality. It is no wonder the world views it as false when it is presented in such a manner.
Heavy sigh! Sorry.
Very true, Zim. People hang on to their traditions even when there is nothing in the Bible to support them. Sola Scriptura -- Scripture alone -- should be the believer's authority.
Blessings to you,
I appreciate your thoughts here, Laurie. I've been thinking a lot about how Jesus never had to talk himself up or pretend to be something He wasn't so He could fit into some crowd. Jesus and true Christianity doesn't need anything else.
I agree, dfish. What an insult to God for producers to act as if the greatest story ever told needs sprucing up, and as if they could tell it better than He already told it through His Word.
Thanks, caryjo, for your comment. It was a good day with my hubby anyway, despite these events.
Thanks, Jen! Jesus was the embodiment of perfection and never "promoted" Himself. He always pointed to His Father, and the Holy Spirit always brings attention to the Son.
Love in Him,
Laurie - thank you so much for the lovely comment you left on my blog today. There is such a lovely sense of peace every time I visit this blog.
Have a great week in Him
Wendy @ ECTaS
You're very welcome, and thank you for being such a blessing!
Love in Him,
Thanks for your comment, Sandra.
My jaw nearly hit the floor! What more can I say??? Except, is this what we've come to?
Thanks so much for your comment, Sylvia. This whole experience just makes me think that we are in the End Times and so close to Jesus' second coming -- praise God for that!
your title said it all...oh my...linked behind you at Laura's blog...
Having carefully read your article, I felt disappointed over your experience of what looks to be a complete shambles. Holy Land Experience? Sparkling jewels? Mirrors? Fine clothes? A boxing match? Come on!!!
Actually,I read from a reliable source that Benny Hinn has a shady reputation. Therefore I'm not too surprised to read that he has a hand in all this, if I had understood your blog properly.
I have visited the REAL Holy Land four times in my life already, including three months as a volunteer in a Christian Conference Centre, a former hotel. I have lived in Jerusalem, and I can testify of the many sites that has connections with the life of the Lord, both before and during hid crucifixion. Unfortunately many of these sites were turned into churches and therefore had lost their originality. Yet they remained far closer to Scripture than the place you have written about.
The Sea of Galilee remains very much as it was since the days of Jesus Christ. True, outboard motors have been fitted on all fishing boats, but the industry is still very much alive as it was two thousand years ago. Nets can be seen drying out in the sun, just as Peter knew about them.
If you have not done this before, a visit to Israel would be a very spiritual experience - as it was for me.
Thanks, Dolly, for your visit & comment! I just visited your lovely blog, too!
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. My husband and I would love to visit the Holy Land someday, preferably with a church group and guides well versed in Scripture. However, the safety and practicality of that I'm not so sure about, at this point in history. Anyway, we can look forward to the new Jerusalem!
Wow. I am speechless. I agree with your opening question. Why?
Thanks for your comment, Laura. I fear the answer may be that the organizers of parks like this, and some mega-churches too, are becoming conformed to this world instead of being transformed by the renewing of their mind through Scripture.
I'm a new blog follower from a blog hop, it would be great if you stopped on by and followed me at http://iheartpears.blogspot.com
I think the problem is that the gardens were planned with a particular taste in mind (which I agree is hideous) rather than with authenticity in mind.
Thanks for following, Hubba! I'm headed over to your blog now!
Thanks for your comment, Journey to Epiphany! Some of the sections of the park, those originally designed by the first owners, are still intact and quite authentic, like the Jerusalem marketplace and Solomon's temple. My husband commented that on our earlier visits, Solomon's temple was, appropriately, the focal point of the park -- now, it's overshadowed by the ostentatious Church of All Nations.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Far too many trappings, far too much focus on appearances and attraction - self! - and not nearly enough focus on anything that's really important. And things like this happen, though not quite as obviously, in many American churches - not putting God in His rightful place, ignoring certain parts of Scripture, making this into more of a religion than a relationship (pray this prayer and then come to church every week and you'll be saved, no matter what your life really looks like or whether or not you actually love God for who He is, whether or not you've really been changed - http://www.amazon.com/God-Wonderful-Plan-Your-Life/dp/1878859498 available free at http://www.freewonderfulbook.com/). We are the ones Paul was talking about, following our own desires and looking for teachers who will tell us whatever our itching ears want to hear. We'd much rather have myth than truth! I'm so sick of all that. So, so sick of it. I'd rather have Him - as He is - than anything else. Really, He is all I have.
Thank you so, so much for sharing this. Such profound truth in this post. And that passage from 2 Timothy - one of my favorites! Again, thank you so, so much. This is truly appreciated.
You're very welcome, Mary, and thanks so much for your encouraging and thought-provoking comment! Yes, it is sad, but true, that many churches today follow the ways of the world and use whatever they need to to lure in seekers with itching ears. It may fill up the church pews, but I doubt that the sheep are being fed or that the seekers are being saved. Jesus is all we need.
Love in Him,
A bathroom with mirrors in the stall and a sign that read "nothing here is hidden?" oh my.
Why in the world would they do that to that park and try to build up Jesus. Jesus stands on his own without anyone building him up. That's what I like most about him, besides the fact that he died for me, he wasn't a people pleaser. I have a lot to learn from him.
Amen, Alecia! He is perfect and all in all!
Hey there! I found your cute blog via the blog hop and just added myself to your followers! Also I wanted to invite you to come enter a fabulous Steve Madden giveaway I'm having right now!!
Hope to see you there! And thanks so much lady!
Hi Emily, Thanks so much for following! Looking forward to checking out your blog!
WOW Thanks for sharing your story at "Tell Me a True Story."
I can see that perhaps the younger set had a hand in glitzing up this theme park. Too bad they did not keep the previous version and the staff that portrayed Jesus in a more fitting manner. I will not be planning to visit this park, but I can imagine that my grandchildren might enjoy it!
ugh. where to even start...it is hard..e.sp to think of those that go there and think this is how it is...i would have had a real hard time stomaching it...
Hi, A Joyful Noise! It is too bad indeed. The park under previous management was truly an uplifting and positive experience offering a true Gospel message, but sadly that is no longer the case.
Thanks for your comment, Brian. You're right -- it was hard enough for the believers, but ultimately even worse for the unsaved who leave feeling justified in their rejection of Christianity.
Oh, My! what a horrid thing to have happened! I am shocked and sickened right along with you! This is in Orlando? I knew we were pretty far along, but I didn't realize just how far along...Well, I thank the Lord that He is in control! I don't even now what to say!! We must become prayer warriors and repent of our own sin and that of our nation. Thank you for illuminating us.
Thanks so much for your visit and comment! I agree -- we must be pretty far along on God's timetable of His return, considering the world around us.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Love in Him,
I'm so glad you decided to share about this, as it will help us make an informed decision about whether we will visit. Thanks!
oh man. yes. please, just give me Jesus. it saddens me to no end, how we make a mockery of him... thank you for your honest, forthright, beautiful heart laurie. e.
Thanks, Lisa, for your visit & comment!
Thanks so much for your sweet encouragement. You are a blessing.
Love in Him,
"He is all I need. Just give me Jesus." If only the world could always see that it is only this simple, if tinsel and gift shops didn't try and add glitz and intrigue to what is the most simple, intriguing, saving message that will ever be. He needs no adornment, certainly. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
Ugh. How disappointing. My family went to the Holy Land Experience many years ago, and enjoyed it. We attended some very informative talks, and liked the atmosphere. This sounds entirely different. And ... yuck.
You certainly described it well. I've never been there either before or after, but I almost feel like I have. I'd say the before is definitely better.
Thanks so much for your visit and comment!
His is the greatest story ever told, and He is the only perfect God-Man to ever walk the earth, so why people try to dress Him up is beyond me.
Thanks for your comment! Yes, we had a similar experience to yours when we visited several years ago, as did several people from our church. What a shame the current owners had to change that.
Thanks, Charlotte! Yes, this "makeover" was more of a disaster than an improvement.
I read about this and heard about it also from some other Christians...definitely not going there ever again!
Amen! Thanks, Laura, for your comment.
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