Jesus: The God We All Imagine to Be True

It was about 20-years ago now that I walked away from what they call “full-time” ministry in order to take a much-needed sabbatical.  The break was also necessary for me to lick my gaping wounds from the continual attack from preacher-biting sheep!  Equally, this detour gave me the opportunity to dissect my own naivety as to what the ministry was actually supposed to produce both in them and myself, but also in simply putting the pause button on what had become akin to my own personal purgatory in a valley of very, very dry bones.  I realized then rather acutely that this was not at all what I had bargained for, and definitely not what I had envisioned as a preacher of the gospel with what felt like an actual call to do so.  And so in the aftermath of my last gig on the preacher circuit, the only thing that made sense was to tuck tail and run as far away as I possibly could.  It was at that time that I got a different call: an invitation of the world into the land of sales and business.  The shift was not what I had expected, or had wished for up until that point, but the hopes of actually providing for my family and then landing somewhere on the actual food chain sounded like a feast we’d all been missing.  And of course, for a while, it was indeed that.

God Conversations

Since I took that leap, traveling from week to week to a new city, a new hotel, or wining and dining those who would buy what I was peddling, I pondered time and again on the actual “why’s” of my exit from being a man of the cloth.  And though that is still somewhat an experience in progress, I learned a lot about people outside of the four walls of the church in my exodus.  And the eye-opener was, that the people I encountered and had conversations with, by and large, were really intrigued and secretly both loved and desired to talk about the man we call Jesus.  Now to be sure the times have shifted as we continually become far beyond anything Post-Christian used to mean, but the fact remains that people in general know down deep inside of their heart of hearts that this man Jesus (or the very idea of Him) is the very God they imagine.  A God they wish were true as they sleep at night when one else but them and the God they don’t believe in are paying attention.  It’s as if somehow, they almost instinctively know that this mysterious figure in history is as close to a God they could potentially follow as anything they have ever come in contact with, even as they shuffle on from day to day pretending that it’s actually too good to be true.

The Upset Applecart

There are some reasons for this indecisiveness on their part of course.  But before we touch on that, the holy scriptures actually tell us that He is indeed the God they secretly admire from afar in the entirety of its story.  Yet it also states that Jesus is not only God, but that he is the exact representation of His nature (Heb. 1:3 NET), and that if we have seen Him we have indeed seen the Father (John 14:9 NET); and that this same Father has made Him known in space, time and history (John 1:18).  So bottom line: Jesus “is” the God you and I in the choir know, and indeed the God the world covertly longs for.  So that seems like really good news at the outset doesn’t it?  Of course the problem comes in when the same conversations I mentioned earlier lead to a conversation about the church that is to be at least some representation of that same God we wish to be true.  All of a sudden, the waters gets really muddied.  And as you probably already know, their admission is that they really like the idea of Jesus (what they think they know about Him), but as far as the church goes, they have a hard time distinguishing whether or not they are indeed one and the same.

The Problem is Nothing New…But

This problem I’ve described is of course no new story.  Many have in fact ranted for a couple of decades now about the supposed decline of the church and how secularists (the nones) and those who have left the church (the dones) have opted for a day at the beach or to be “home-churched”.  But this brings up something that I want to begin to wrap our talk up with today.  In fact, a guy by the name of Michael Lewis (internetmonk.com) who passed away several years ago now, hit a nerve with a book he wrote called Mere Churchianity.  The book really changed my life and ruined me more than I already was quite frankly.  But his overarching thesis was the gaping difference between what most of us have been eternally baptized in (what he calls a “Church-shaped spirituality”), and the one he rightly says we should have instead that he called a “Jesus-shaped Spirituality”.  I mean after all that makes sense doesn’t it?  I mean if Jesus “is” the exact representation of God, and he’s the God we imagine, then those of us who truly know him should probably look like and act at least like a distant cousin.  But hang with me for just a moment longer.

Jesus-Shaped vs Church-Shaped Spirituality

 Now again, you might be saying, “I get it”.  We’ve all heard this before Mark.  But I think if we stop long enough to think about it, it deserves meditation beyond the typical defense posture we posit with such things as “I’m not perfect, just forgiven”, or, “It’s all about grace brother”.  Or the one I like the most which says: “Be careful talking about the Bride of Christ man”.  And in all fairness to those church defenders, we know to some degree that all those rebuttals have their credible merit but have also become far too “Christian cliché” if I may.  But the truth is, I have long believed that Michael was on to something that is just as relevant today for our equal musing.  Because the fact is, that the ones who walked and talked with Jesus for 3 ½ years, and who mostly were murdered for holding on to this very unpopular belief, remind us that “the one who resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked” (I John 2:6 NET).  And though this seems obvious to the point of being overly cliché again, I ask you, “Does Michael have a point here”?  Does there not seem to be a stark difference in what you observe from what he called “churchianity” and what instead exemplifies a little more in the way of Jesus”?

 If It Was a Snake, It Would Have Bit Us

 The truth is, we all know that if this was a snake it would have bit us by now.  But perhaps we have become the Anti-Venom.  Yet surely we all know (myself included) that somehow deep inside ourselves, we are often more shaped by American values (enculturation) or the values and agendas of our favorite church, more than we are by the values of Christ himself.  The reason of course is because they are often polar opposites, or still yet to be deciphered by wood, hay and stubble that Paul warns us about (I Cor. 3:12-15).  And of course it doesn’t take even an amateur theologian to inform us that to not live by the values that the world and society says we must somehow operate under for our survival, is to bring about additional pain and suffering to what is already natural to the collective human experiment.  Yet somehow, we must secretly also know, that as we sheepishly negate the spirituality of Jesus rubbing off on us too much, we must also recognize that our watered down version of that same otherworldliness will indeed continue to thwart the impact of the gospel upon those who are secretly wishing for Jesus to come walking through their front door in some kind of shoe leather.

The Show is Sold Out Folks

Again, though the song remains the same here, it seems nobody is really listening or wrestling enough in most circles as to what a “Jesus-shaped spirituality” is to look like amidst the upstream current we will be swimming against should we decide to change our course.  But I ask you dear friend, “Will all of our reasoned discourse, homiletical precision, multiple church services, and rock and roll worship bands begin to turn the tide of those secretly wishing the Jesus we herald is the God that they imagine”?  Or, is the form of godliness we currently possess just shy of the power both to walk as He walked and to do what He did?  And if the demon now is so deep in the culture (Martin Lloyd Jones), which any thinking Christian must readily admit is the case, will anything but little Christ’s in some form of distinct saintliness and power be able to have the potential to expel it from our midst as we are now in the outskirts of what feels like our final hours?  If we still think so; somehow, perhaps we will forever be doing nothing more than playing musical chairs with the same choir we’ve always been preaching to–shuffling in and out to our same song and dance.  But for those who still wish for the God they have imagined, well; I guess there’s always another show!

Selah

 

 

When Someone Takes You Where You Don’t Want To Go

The concept of being taken where we don’t want to go or being forced to do what we don’t want to do is anathema to those born and bred in the land of Stars and Stripes.  Although we might concede to that arrangement as a child with no current bargaining chips, to be sure our goal as we exit the tutelage of our mothers and fathers is to never, ever do so again.  The ability to choose what we want when we want, akin to a never-ending seafood buffet line, is something most of us have been burdened with since we first put our foot on the floor.  In fact, it’s really not that beneficial, though it is not my purpose to explore that outside of setting the stage for our talk today.  Yet I’m told by many from third-world countries that this is in stark antithesis to their everyday experience.   The ability to choose, or to perhaps “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” even, as a matter of choice, is a far-off and even grandiose idea.  For on the one hand too many options brings with it great confusion; and on the other, changing one’s “caste” so to speak is not only impossible for them, but somehow a disruption of some reincarnational destiny baked into their subconscious.  And even though this “I did it my way” philosophy seems to be the entitlement of those of us in the land of plenty, my “spidey-sense” tells me that we ought not get used to it all the way to four score and ten.  In fact, my dear friend and spiritual mentor Peter the Rock had a conversation with Jesus one day about this very thing.

Breakfast On the Beach

It was shortly after the resurrection, when the disciples gathered together with Jesus in Galilee, that Peter; perhaps reminiscent of previous days, decided they would rondavu for some good ole night-fishing.  And yet as is often the case, on this night, the fish weren’t willing to join the party, and so they caught nada, zilch!  Then in a flash, equally similar to those miraculous days before the crucifixion, Jesus, who now affectionally called them “children” (I really love that by the way), asks them to throw their net on the right side of the boat.  By this time of course, they have at least learned to do exactly as he says it seems, and faith having now taught them these valuable lessons, now yielded so many fish that they could not pull them all in.  And so it was, right before the fish fry, that Peter and the true love of his life were to have their most difficult, and at the same time transformational conversation.

It started out as John realizes that the guy who tells them to throw the net on the right side is of course the Lord (duh).  It is then that Peter ditches the fish cleaning duty and jumps into the sea in order to beat the rest of the gang to the shore where Jesus is already serving up a morning breakfast of fish and bread.  He then shoves a few more on the grill from the morning catch and invites the rag-tag fisherman turned disciples to join him for a sumptuous breakfast on the beach.  And our text tells us in John chapter 21, that though the disciples know it is the Lord, something inside tells them that he is different now in both the strangest and magnificent of ways that they cannot quite explain.

A Class We’d Like To Miss

And now, as is often the case, the conversation turns to Peter; perhaps somewhat still dejected and reluctant to offer much busy spiritual talk in the aftermath of his utter denial of the man he walked and talked with for three years of his life.  Jesus of course knows this, and so He asks him a rather pointed question as he often did when he says, “Do you love me more than these do”?  Peter’s normal tendency, as is still the case here, is to be the best in the class as he retorts “Yes, Lord, you know I love you”.  Peter figures they can now move on to other things, but Jesus is not ready to concede yet, as he asks him yet two more times if he loves him, adding the admonition to “feed or shepherd my sheep”.  And it is here that we see that Jesus seems to be giving him a hall pass for the utter denial at Jesus’ darkest hour, yet as Peter perhaps reluctantly accepts this, he also begins to feel that maybe Jesus is sticking in the knife further by asking him “3” times just as he denied Jesus in the same progression.  Yet what we find is that Jesus is doing nothing of the sort, but lovingly letting him know that He has not given up on him, but is yet again commissioning him to take up the towel and serve in the way of the Master, and to equally love and shepherd those like you and I, who need this broken shell of a man to lead us down our own broken and sometimes cruciform road.

And I mention cruciform because it is to be both Peter’s and our own in some form or fashion if we take seriously the call to love, to serve, to feed and to shepherd the stubborn sheep of God until He returns again.  You know…people like us.  Yet it is here that our lesson comes into clear view.  Jesus tells him ever so generally, yet prophetically nonetheless, that though in his reckless youth he has been used to calling the shots and marching to the beat of his own drum, that there will come a time when this will not be the case.  He reminds him that when he is old, he will be taken outside of his own will, and outside of the purposing of his own life, somewhere that he doesn’t want to go at all.  We are then told by Jesus in a somewhat cryptic form what church history seems to confirm–that Peter would suffer the same fate as his Master.  And yet, Jesus still says to him the same words, “Follow me”.

Can I Just Be Like John for Goodness Sakes?

But before we unpack this (and I’ve always been able to relate to Peter’s response here) he then turns and looks at his spiritual rival (John), and essentially asks Jesus, “Well, if I’m going to die like that, which I don’t even want to think about right now, then what about John boy here”?  And it is here that Jesus says to Peter something that I have often heard him similarly saying to me, and perhaps on your walk on the narrow path, you’ve heard it as well.  He tells him to quit worrying about John, Paul, George, or even Ringo for that matter, but gets right back to the most important issue at hand for us all.  And that is to answer the question correctly and most decisively whether or not we will accept the call to follow, though none go with us or not.  Because to be able to answer the question rightly is the only thing that really matters.  And Jesus is confronting Peter head on with this, even as he tells him that there will be a time when he will not call the damn shots at all, but will instead give up the ghost in the fight of faith.  And so there remains before us a similar and yet equally important reminder before we take another step, that whatever our lot in this life; whatever our achievement or not; our legacy or not; or inheritance we leave the ones we love or not, answering whether we have decided to simply follow is the watershed issue of our lives!

The Answer That Is Still Blowing In My Wind

It was September the 12th, 2019 when I wrote, Forever Trying to Graduate from the Incredible Sinking Class https://marknealprince.com/2019/09/12/forever-trying-to-graduate-from-the-incredible-sinking-class/ where again I attempted to instruct myself and others in the Petrine class of failures, hard knocks, and lessons we must learn if we are to walk on the narrow path Jesus is always guiding His own towards.  In my conclusion, my analysis was that sometimes, and even oftentimes in this life, it is not until we are truly sinking, and the one thing left visible of us out on that big ocean called life is one lone eyeball sending out one last S.O.S. right before we drown!  It is then, and many times only then, that faith comes in like a tsunami and yet actually saves us (even from ourselves) so we can finally be useful in the Kingdom of God, and so we can finally have the kind of sight that can actually guide us and others the rest of the way.

Now though I’m not Peter by a long shot, though in some ways we all are, on Friday, September the 13th, I was taken where I did not wish to go.  As I lay on the cold operating table still awake to the sights and sounds of men and women with masks deciding my fate, inserting long tubes into my heart to mend what I had for so long ignored was broken, I longed for someone to tell me it was finally over.  From the days hence, I’ve sought the Lord and waited like a dog longing for a long-lost bone for a word from Him.  And like Martha, and like Peter even, I am worrying about many things and wondering what is to yet to be made of my life in the grand kingdom story, or if I still have a shot like John and others seem to have.  I’m still waiting, and waiting for some epiphany, for some silver bullet, or perhaps a still small voice would be nice.  But there is one thing that keeps coming back like a resounding gong in my ear that I have a tendency to ignore due to its utter simplicity, since I too have heard it time and time again.  And like Peter, I’m a little perplexed and perhaps a little sad at its eternal repetition throughout my life, somehow waiting for something more.  Yet here it is again, and yet now it is so much sharper in my ear.  I hear him saying to me, “Mark, my dear, dear child, just follow me”!

Selah