Saturday, September 19, 2009

Exalting Jesus Through His Church

There is much discussion about the doctrine of Jesus. There are descriptions that identify a church by certain distinctives. Baptisms, communion beliefs, theology, and other things define churches. Cities and towns are in the name of many churches. Some churches bear an apostle’s name. Many have Christian, Christ, Savior, and other monikers in their church name. There are few churches that use the name “Jesus” in their name. Most believers use denominational titles to describe their genre of Christian.

But without attempting to be technical, are we not supposed to be believers, imitators, and followers of Jesus the Christ? Why then has He, His incarnate person and model, taken such a back seat in our theology and most assuredly in our practice? In fact, most of evangelicalism is very conflicted concerning how Jesus would behave and act in our modern day society. So in essence we do not even have an accurate Jesus-template against which to measure ourselves. What kind of religion wanders about without an accurate archetypal of their God to which they strive to emulate and obey?

And stuck with such a pitiful and dysfunctional vision of our Master we resort to all sorts of makeshift substitutes designed to fill in the spiritual void that should contain a distinct and unambiguous directive, simply by applying the revelation of Jesus Christ. And so many times the church has been satisfied with being one, nondescript gospel tract that is handed out from afar without the inconvenience of relationships, humanitarian efforts, or tangible expenditures of grace, compassion, and love.

But if we are to evaluate the church in light of the New Testament revelation of the life of Jesus Christ, what conclusions should we reach? Shouldn’t the church be a collective display of ministry that is known for its many and varied manifestations of love? Shouldn’t we be a worldwide continuum that flourishes in the spirit and activities associated with Jesus? If our message is to be taken seriously, shouldn’t our living expressions be at least supportive of our creeds if not in fact visual articulations of the same? The entire Christian narrative of redemption cries out to be released through graphic displays of loving comportments showered upon human kind through the people known as followers of Jesus.

So often we have assigned total power to the written Word without acknowledging the facilitating power of unmistakable and vivid lives that are noticed wholly based upon their selfless missions to minister to whosoever is in need of anything. And if we are restrained in our acts of benevolence through fear of presenting a social message then we have been deceived greatly. The social aspect of the church must be a natural blossom through which the very redemptive fragrance of Jesus draws sinners to the good news of forgiveness and rebirth. Like a relentless suitor the church must be unrestrained in her efforts to lavish the spiritual and material gifts of Jesus upon the loving objects of His cross. We as modern day Eleazars must seek out Rebekkah with the message of Isaac along with the temporal gifts that reflect the nature of her husband to be.

The command to “take up our cross” has been defined with such spiritual narcissism. The message of cross bearing has been preached and defined as either bearing one’s burdens or being separate from this world, and yet the fullness of that message is infinitely greater in scope and even in purpose. What was the purpose of the cross of Jesus, and who were the benefactors of that amazing act? Was Jesus bearing His own burdens on that cross or were His sufferings endured for others? Wasn’t the graphic pictorial we call “Golgotha” meant to be our model as well as our salvation? And if we are to emulate the spirit of Golgotha, then how selfless are we to be? What should be held back and kept for ourselves? And when we practice an antiseptic gospel that just verbalizes the cross of Christ without the living dramatizations of that crucified love, then are we not being unfaithful to the very cross we say we preach?

The church must be the very body of Jesus Christ, living, breathing, and ministering light in the midst of profound need and darkness. What has passed for representing the Savior has sometimes been an act of convenient cowardice. Preaching against sinners has replaced eating with sinners; judgment has replaced redemption; and law has replaced grace. His cleansing of the Temple has been magnified and misinterpreted, while His silently receiving the spittle of sinners has been ignored. Jesus allowed a promiscuous woman to worship Him while we construct our gatherings to insure certain sinners feel most uncomfortable.

The church has cultivated a club mentality and is now identified most prominently by its building and gathering location instead of its remarkable expressions of redemption that permeate the community. The average American church spends most of God’s money on building debt and staff salaries and whatever may be left over may be used as a conscience soothing food pantry. They usually pay no attention to widows, especially if those widows are not believers. Which church school offers free tuition to under privileged children in their community? Which church day care opens its doors to single mothers who cannot afford such “luxuries”?

Shouldn’t the weekends be littered with followers of Jesus who offer free rides to drinking sinners, or sandwiches to hungry drifters, or counsel to those in need? Which church searches out the names of teenagers in jail and reaches out to their families, making any and all of their services available, and assuring them that their loved one is being lifted up in prayer? And where is the weekly prayer meeting where all the needs of people, specific and general, are prayed for and where intercession is a passion? Do churches provide rides for people who have loved ones in the hospital and have no transportation? Will we watch children when a parent has an illness or been in an accident and one parent must do the work of two?

The point is have we as the church sought out modern day expressions of Jesus that stray far from the convenience of the couple of weekly gatherings at the local ecclesiastical edifice? Have we become satisfied with preaching and believing the truth but have painfully and shamefully diminished the fervent efforts to show our love for our neighbors? Have we redefined Christianity itself by confining it to a set of doctrines but have viewed the acts of love as electives?

Have you ever read a church brochure or church sign that claims to “exalt Jesus” at that church? Usually what they mean is that they believe and preach the true gospel and the true Jesus and that may be very true. But I submit that exalting Jesus is much more demonstrative than just what is preached in a church auditorium. Exalting Jesus must be much more public and much more unsterilized than a gathering of unified believers. Exalting Jesus to the darkened world will be filled with compromise and contamination; exalting Jesus outside the church building will require the spiritual soiling of our ecclesiastical reputations; exalting Jesus in the midst of lost sinners will be an inconvenient journey of much more giving than receiving; and frankly, if we are to exalt Jesus through the church, we will have to change everything.
Yes, everything…

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