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A Cautionary Tale from Michael Jackson's Father

Do you preach for the feet or the heart?
A Cautionary Tale from Michael Jackson's Father

Michael Jackson's rise to fame is the stuff of legend. He began in the small town of Gary, Indiana. His father, Joseph Jackson, saw the giftedness in Michael and his brothers at an early age and was obsessed with turning them into the greatest singing and dancing group of all time.

His obsession with their success teetered on abuse. Joseph Jackson would rush home from the steel mills, push the furniture to the outskirts of the living room, and demand that Michael and his brothers relentlessly rehearse the routine. They would do so under the watchful eye of Joseph Jackson, belt in hand, daring his children to miss a step. If they had the audacity to turn right when they should have turned left, if they had the nerve to move forward when they should have moved backwards, they could expect to experience the wrath of Joseph.

Joseph Jackson got his son's feet but never got his son's heart.

What did Joseph's obsession produce? From a performance perspective, we could deem Joseph to be a success. His relentless, abusive technique gave the world the greatest entertainer ever to work a stage. And yet, while he was successful as a manager, he was a failure as a father. For while he got his kids' feet, he missed their hearts.

We know this is true from the 2003 interview that journalist Martin Bashir conducted with Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. For several days Bashir talked to the 40-something Michael Jackson, and they reminisced on days gone by. They sat in Michael Jackson's theater and watched video of Michael as a little kid, doing all the steps in the dance routine that his father obsessed over. What you may notice as you watch this interview is that as Michael Jackson reflected on his past he never referred to his father as father or dad. Instead he called him Joseph.

Martin Bashir picked up on this and said: Michael, I've spent several days with you, and I've heard you talk about your dad. Why do you never call your dad Dad? Why do you always call him Joseph?

Michael said: From the time I was a little kid, my heart always longed for dad, but all I ever got was Joseph.

Joseph Jackson got his son's feet but never got his son's heart.

Joseph Jackson in the Pulpit

I'm concerned that many pulpits across our country are filled with spiritual Joseph Jacksons. They wield the Bible as if it's a belt, demanding that their parishioners do the right steps: stop porn, give money, stop shacking up, put down the bottle.

Now, don't get me wrong. Is there a place for holiness? Hebrews 12:14 says, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Some postmodern preachers have a distorted view of grace. Anything that smacks of holiness or conviction we label as legalistic, and we use grace as license to do whatever we want. We need to hear the words of Paul, who said, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2) So there is a place for holiness.

Even so, "Joseph Jackson" preaching won't cut it. The Joseph Jacksons of the pulpit get to the people's feet but not their hearts. Such preaching is too low. "Joseph Jackson" preaching won't change the people in your church.

You have folks in your church who want to change. You've got little Michael Jacksons in your church who long to change. You've got a single mother who longs to change. You've got a greedy couple whose hearts cry, Abba Father. But all they get is Joseph Jackson. What will bring change is not a legalistic, Joseph Jackson approach to the Scriptures, but rather an approach to the Scriptures that is so lofty and lifts up God so high that along the way it gets to the heart.

Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California ..

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