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.
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!
Thank you Mark for reminding us that Jesus is truly “God”. For whatever reason I’m guilty of assigning three distinct personalities of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit thus unintentionally negating those very words Jesus spoke when He shared, “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father”… Then for reasons unbeknownst to myself my prayer life continues to follow the dividing up exercise, resulting in seeming to be less genuine. However, regardless of my approach, whether on bended knees or saying a quick “Jesus help me” my heart of hearts knows that God the Father and God the Jesus know me better than I know myself and therefore I know that I know that I’m not fooling anyone, especially for those supplications that are sprinkled with man’s ultimate nature, selfishness. However, I do believe we’re to seek His will in all our coming and goings and I also know that regardless of my desires that particular events or activities behave to “bless me Lord, bless me Lord”that ultimately God will have His way and we are of much greater service if we’re at a minimum, at least willing to be willing. As of late, this is more of my focus, “not my will Lord but yours”, and while you’re at it please don’t let me being formed into the image of your Son not be so painful. So how does this tie into what you’ve shared? Quite simply that as we mature and the mind of Christ wins over against the flesh were to die daily to, that ultimately one desire of God the Father is that none should perish and if I allow that to not only dwell in my mind but to stoke the ember into a flame and reach out to those I encounter to ensure they’re at least aware of the Good News, then I know I’m of some service to His Kingdom. What encourages me about your writing Mark is that you came to these conclusions based on your sharing Christ in whatever way you did to elicit the understanding that most humans do desire intimate relations with our Heavenly Father, and although their thoughts about the so called church of today is not very positive it’s entirely expected considering what it’s morphed into especially these last fifty years where it’s a business wherein a pastor hits a clock just like the common working man and checks on his 401K on a regular basis like any other job…not suggesting there’s anything wrong with saving for “retirement”, but more stating that the desire to spread the good news sometimes needs to be stoked and there are times when the good shepards need to be refreshed themselves, but ultimately, no matter how messed up things may look to those who may take the time to even make an assessment, God still sits on the throne, His will, will be done, and I can either actually engage in helping to build His Kingdom or not. From everything I’ve seen in you, you’re actively engaging in building the Kingdom and whether you see it or not God the Father does, so thank you for your contribution towards pointing to the cross and letting your light shine.
Thank you for your kind and also equally insightful remarks Tommy.