Epiphany Meditation: The Word Became Flesh – Pt. 4 [14JAN2011]
Christ revealed, but largely unseen…
“Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” –Isaiah 6:9-10
While my meditation into the Word became Flesh has been enlightening and edifying, it has also had an effect on me that has brought on burdensome lamentation. Much of the past week I have experienced deep sadness over the state of “Christ revealed, but largely unseen.” Spending much time in thought over the prophetic promises of the Savior Christ coming to dwell with men is encouraging and hopeful, but to realize it in the full with the Nativity stories narrated to us by the Gospel authors is even more so still. Continuing the journey through the gospels, walking alongside Jesus as we read, we sense the close embrace of our God with us today… the warming of our souls heated with the very Breath of God in the embodiment of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. God is with us. The promises, all true, are our hope for abundant life today and eternal life tomorrow. The kingdom people of God, those who live today, stand on the shoulders of the saints who have walked before us carrying on the missio dei of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration in the now.
Or do we?
And, this is my lament… Why, if Christ has been revealed, do we see so little of him amongst those who profess him so loudly?
My question, and my continuing commentary, is directed toward the majority of professing Christians located primarily in the Western world… I realize there is a small minority of Christians who are revealing Jesus to the world through the lives they live and the lives they aspire to live. On the whole, though, we are failing the mission and commandments of the Lord we claim to be following and representing.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus—(John 13:34-35)
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Jesus—(Matthew 7:15-23)
The statements above come from Jesus describing his true followers and those “not so true…” When I think about what the Bible teaches us, in particular the gospels, about the ways of Jesus and the kingdom among (in) you life, I am hard-pressed to reconcile the way we live with what He teaches. This problem grows exponentially with our acknowledgment of it followed by the calm dismissal of our responsibility to change from the way we do things and move to a more Jesus-designed way living and responding to humanity and creation.
I consider the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) as the template and outline for kingdom-living followers of Jesus; a high bar to say the least, but the Christ standard nonetheless. I also consider the prayer of Jesus (John 17) indicative of his deepest desire and expectation from and for his followers. Filling in the details of this “template” from Jesus are the teachings, epistles, and letters that complete the Canon of the New Testament. The Church, as I have been exposed to it, fails to live up to the teaching of this book. Why?
1. We treat it as an ideal. My experience has conditioned me to believe that most Christians (those I have met) understand the Bible as a “best case scenario” way of living. They do not really believe anyone can truly live out the teachings of Jesus; consequently, no one makes the effort to do so.
2. We misinterpret and inaccurately redefine God’s grace. Although Scripture argues against sin increasing so that grace may abound, our general propensity is to live contrary to that argument. We go to great lengths with very impassioned pleas that the “Law” was destroyed with the new covenant of grace… things like spiritual disciplines, sacrificial acts of love toward others, and moral, ethical, and social rules are all “works based” acts of that “ugly” word “religion.” We redefine grace to mean we are free to live as we wish under the banner and blessing of Christ’s shed blood; which covers the multitude of our sins, both of omission and commission. In this, we trample the cross of Christ under foot.
3. We make ourselves the center of the salvation message. I do not think all the streams of Christianity are guilty of this one, but my limited experience within the ranks of Protestant Evangelicals leads me to include this reason. Whether it is intentional or subconsciously inadvertent, we have made the majority of the teaching about the user experience. The worship among many (if not most) Protestant Evangelicals is consumer driven. As a result, the “Christian shopper” matches their personal preferences to their “wants” with regard to their perceived spiritual needs. The church perpetuates this errant and heretical teaching by catering to it and designing “worship experiences” for the sake of the “seeker.” We dumb down the teaching of God, we streamline and glitter the “performances” and we outsource our discipleship. Jesus teaches self-denial while his church teaches self-survival.
4. Everyone thinks their way is right and everyone else is not: aka pride. How else can we explain the disparity in our doctrines, the division within our ranks, the refusal to work through disagreements? I refer back to Jesus’ John 17 prayer and his comment, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why, in the name of Jesus, can’t Christians get along?
5. We are idolaters. We chase after and profess faith in our ideals and the god we have imagined Jesus to be. When and where the “Bible Jesus” or God of the Bible does not conform to our imagined god, we dismiss that idea as something false or unattainable. Consider the WWJD questions we ask… why do we need to ask “what would Jesus do?” If we are following the examples of His life and living with His Spirit guiding our own… well. I think the greatest reason we fashion our own god (and call it Jesus), is the fear that comes with following the true Jesus. The fear that we have is the fear of losing ourselves… what it will cost me, what will “that” Jesus ask of me? The answer? He will ask you for anything and everything that will be a stumbling block between you and Him. Somewhere in our core, we know this and avoid having to answer the question by creating our own jesus who never asks us anything that overly complicates our life.
So, you tell me… do you see Jesus being manifest in the full in this world? If yes, please give me the example. If no, why do you think that is?