Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jesus - In Him We Live, We Move, and We Have Our Being

Almost ten years ago I used to teach a Sunday School class in a 4000 member evangelical church. For two months I came early and walked around the campus and listened to all the conversations people were having. I was like the proverbial "fly on the wall". I literally heard hundreds of conversations people were having before and after Sunday school, before and after the church service, in the auditorium before and after the service, and even in the parking lot before and after the service.

Why did I do that? Because I wanted to see what occupied people’s hearts and minds as they gathered to worship God. I wanted to see how many people spoke about Jesus. I heard conversations about vacations, cars, children, politics, houses, current events, work, gas prices, store sales, weather, the president, terrorism, clothing, money, sports, and many other topics. And after hundreds of conversations how many people spoke about Jesus?


Now I believe that many of those people were born again believers so why were there no conversations that centered upon the Lord Jesus? I believe there are many reasons for that sad situation. Jesus is no longer the focal point from the pulpit. And even in churches that believe in Jesus and that He is the only Savior, Jesus finds precious little pulpit time. And sometimes his name is used to garner and amen when the preacher states that Jesus if the only way and people say “Amen!” because they want to make sure we all know we believe the Bible and many do not. But that is not what I call having Jesus as the center of your message and your church.

Jesus Himself said he was meek and we could find rest in Him. Preaching Jesus and His teachings must always be done with a profound sense of humility and wonder. This is no competition, and even though we many truly believe the right gospel we still have a long journey in order to follow Jesus with a crucified life. Identifying and pointing out error in others should never supply us with any self righteousness or confidence in the flesh. And yet many times it does make a church feel puffed up about their “orthodoxy”. And when that occurs then there will be very little focus on Jesus. There will be much more focus on the theology about Jesus.

Now what does that mean and just what is the difference between focusing on Jesus and focusing on our doctrine about Jesus? A few things will be evident. When you focus on your doctrine there will be a treatment of prayer as perfunctory and not as a life giving discipline. Those that hold up doctrines as proof of their approval by God will walk in doctrines and not walk in the Spirit. They will speak of true doctrines and false doctrines much more than they speak with Jesus. And when people speak about Jesus it will not be personal and intimate. But rather it will be like they are speaking with respect about the President with whom they have not spoken nor do they know him.

That is what happens to a church when the shepherd preaches the Bible but treats it like a collection of doctrines rather than the Words of Life which bring forth the King of Life. It is so easy to get caught up with our doctrines, even though they may be true, and in so doing we sacrifice the intimacy and spiritual power that comes from abiding in Christ and allowing the Spirit to bring you closer and closer and deeper and deeper in the things of the Spirit and the Person of Christ Himself.

The cares of this world will not only keep you from Christ but they will literally tear down any authentic relationship you have with the Master. And that kind of distraction is the residual effect of a pulpit ministry which is utilitarian and uses the Bible to help us achieve success in all the earthly areas of our life. When you sit under that kind of preaching then eventually your heart and mind is literally consumed with the things of this world. Your entire spiritual walk will be captured by the temporal at expense of the eternal. And a mind and heart that walks in the temporal cannot and will not have intimate communion with Christ through the ministry of the Spirit.

And therein lies the very heart of the problem with a church which has been affected and infected with the surrounding culture. And when a church embraces the secular and fallen nation in which is resides then there can be no repentance that allows the eternal Spirit to refresh and lead us into the spiritual Canaan land. It seems so easy to see, yet its powerful influences fueled by the flesh and the devil are significant and will only release their grip through prayer and fasting. The eternal vision and mindset does not come naturally. It is supernatural. All our six senses are aimed at the temporal and it is through these portals that we operate in the temporal. We then incorporate our religion into our lives in the flesh and make it a nice compartment in which to dwell.

That construct, although practiced by most professing believers, is unbiblical and is diametrically opposed to anything to do with the Spirit. The Spirit has instructed us to seek those things which are above and yet we continue to accumulate our knowledge and direction from the things of this world. “So are we supposed to quit work and move into a caved,?” you ask. Sometimes I wish I could but that is still not the way of Christ. We are to be used of the Spirit as earthen vessels which shine His glory into the kingdom of darkness and the hearts of lost men.

But that question reveals a significant level of ignorance about the ministry of the Spirit and the path that has been paid out for all who profess His name. We have been so nullified by the culture in which we live and the church culture as well which now reflects the fallen culture with only a statement of faith as the difference maker. Can you see where I am going? In essence we as believers and the church at large stand in need of a spiritual revolution, or as we would say a revival. I hesitate to use the word revival since it brings up a picture of some preacher stopping by for a few days and then leaves the place pretty much as he found it.

I have no confidence that churches as a whole are even open to seek a collective revival, however all of us individually can sincerely and sacrificially seek the face of God with repentance and an unquenchable thirst for more of Jesus in our hearts and lives. Paul, in writing to the church at Philippi, makes an indicting observation. He is sending Timothy to them but he makes this statement.

Phil.2: 20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.
21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.

He is referring to the leaders of the church. They are wrapped up in themselves and they care and are mindful of things which interest them and not the things which belong to Christ. What a statement! But that is also the sad state which has enveloped the church in America. We have carnal men preaching carnal messages to carnal people and the entire spectacle grows more carnal by the day. And the things of Christ are sealed nicely within Biblical doctrines and like fine China are only taken out on special occasions.

Do you experience a sense of camaraderie when your preacher talks of the evils of President Obama? Do you get a thrill when liberals are singled out as enemies of the state? And when your pastor verbally flogs some Hollywood sinner does your voice cry out “Amen!” And are you thankful for your pastor when he identifies these miscreants and suggests that they are aiding the decline of the culture? You see, you are outwardly moral and you need your pastor to help light the torches and go after these monsters until they have been eradicated from within your midst!

I want you to imagine Jim Elliot as he came to faith in Christ at the age of six. All through his life he would show unmistakable signs that substantiated his early profession of faith. While in college Jim feels the call to foreign missions, and one day he and his wife and four other couples go to Ecuador to reach an unreached tribe of Indians called the Auca Indians. These people had never heard the gospel and really never seen a white man. They walked around naked and they were sinful barbarians. Now what if Jim and the others saw the sinful condition of these people and began a crusade to get them removed from the jungle where Jim and the others now made their home?

Ridiculous, you say? Why? Because these Indians were the reason Jim and the others went to Ecuador. They were the very sinners God called Jim Elliot to reach with the gospel, you say. Yes, and you would be correct. So here is the question I propose to you: Has God called you to reach the sinners where you live with the gospel? Does the Holy Spirit within you desire to see the sinners in your jungle reached with the message of the saving power of Jesus? Do you rejoice that Jim Elliot gave his very life for the Auca Indians and all five male missionaries died at their hands only to watch from heaven and see many of them saved later?

So let us take it a little further and into the realm of the absurd. Are you willing to literally die if it would mean seeing Rosie O’Donnnell saved? If your death would serve as a seed which would eventually see Barney Frank saved would it be worth it to you? Let us be painfully honest here. If you cannot even refrain your lips from condemning lost sinners how could you ever die to see them saved. In fact, the American church now believes that was Jesus’ job so that we could live a self centered life which views lost sinners as enemies of our worldly culture. And in so doing we have left Jesus and now we live and move and have our being in an earthly nation.

But we have been called not just to make some moral adjustments to our lives which even the lost can and sometimes do. No, we are called to live a life in the eternal Spirit which surrenders to the complete control of Christ. And most of the church scratch their heads and wonders what that really means and how it can be actually implemented. In fact that has long been lost as even a pursuit to say nothing of a reality. That alone indicates the state of the church. If we are to mind the things of the Spirit, and if we are to have the mind of Christ, and if we are to die to ourselves, and if we are to see the eternal things, and if we are to be crucified with Christ, and if we are to forsake all, and if we are to walk in newness of life, and if we are to mortify the works of the flesh, and if we are to be living epistles, and if we are to show forth His praises, and if we are to be a holy nation, and of we are to cast all our cares upon Him, and if we are to deny self, and if we are to be witnesses for Christ, and if we are to be a peculiar people, then just what is the path which leads to those things in all their spiritual reality?

Jesus must become the central theme of the church. His teachings and the narrative of His earthly life must become our moment by moment template. Jesus must become our passionate pursuit. Jesus must be our very life. What do the words “live, move, and have our being” mean both in the English language as well as in spiritual terms of truth? But if we can be satisfied without that kind of life then we will be, and we are. How can we honestly be content with complacency? Well, you must first embrace complacency as the faithful norm. And just how can you arrive at that definition? Well you must create that definition by assessing the lives of your peers and of the church as a whole, and then with that comparison in hand, you consciously and subconsciously embrace your own spiritual experience as well within acceptable parameters. In essence you use others to define your own spiritual walk.

Let us be honest. You do not want to live a life of unrestrained sin and debauchery. And you do not desire to be a complete fanatic and be seen by your peers as weird and unbalanced. So you run to the middle ground which is safe and acceptable. But is that really how Jesus lived, safe and acceptable? Is that what the New Testament teaches? Are we called to a life which blends in very nicely within a fallen and hedonistic culture? And where is Jesus in all of this? We have heard the self serving slogan, “What would Jesus do?”

Ok, what would Jesus do and how would He live if He lived in your house and in your community? Isn’t that the litmus test of a believer’s life or is it something else? Let’s get real here. Is the life of Jesus as revealed in the gospel narratives the standard of how a Christian should live? And if so, then should we identify all His teachings and the way He lived His earthly life and hold it up, unvarnished and undiluted, and present that as our pursuit? Is that our mandate, and is Jesus the life we must lead, or can it be found in what we believe? Does what we believe define us or does what we live define what we believe?

What does it mean when we say “In Jesus we live and move and have our being”? Is that a religious philosophy which finds its expression in our doctrines or is it the essence of living as a true disciple? The reality is that the church no longer has Jesus as its theme and as its sacrificial pursuit. If we read the four gospel accounts of how Jesus lived and what He taught by example and by words we must be overwhelmed by two things. One is the magnitude of His teachings and the colossal spiritual challenge they present. The second is just how tepid and innocuous and Christless is the church and her message.

For me to live is Christ…” says the Apostle Paul. Six words that are filled with a soaring eternal truth. Six words that should shake our very beings and empower us to a life whose passion is Christ. But oh how the church has diminished the glory of Christ and polished Him up and placed Him upon our doctrinal shelf and as we admire our trophy we feel so superior to all the sinful miscreants around us. And that is supposed to be Christianity and following Jesus? A thousand times no! We have taken the path to true discipleship and made it lead to…us.

Yes, we compare ourselves with ourselves and in so doing we have forsaken the blood stained path imprinted with His feet. We have rejected the self denying, cross carrying path and traded it for a path which leads to being a moral patriot. Oh Holy Spirit, how have we grieved you? You who came to draw us to Christ, it is you we have quenched and ignored. Lord, to follow Jesus as put forward by Your own Words is too high a cost for us. We appreciate what He did for us, but our earthly lives are way too precious for us to deny them in hopes of gaining Christ. We will continue to feed ourselves and our egos by advertising the sins of the lost, cleansing the culture to our standards, accumulating all the wealth we can, and if per chance some lost sinner comes to Christ in our church service we will feel good about it for a few minutes. Jesus, you might as well get used to it because that is all you are going to get.

Jesus, You can be our Savior, but as far as living and moving and having our being in You, well, we can talk about it someday in heaven.


Anonymous said...

Just learning so much here and to hear what is so noticeable in this world, by a pastor. Very few pastors speak up about this.

What's so noticeable to me is how destructive a segment of the church is, to the Name of Jesus Christ. I also have to every day watch my language, walk, and behave correctly, but, those with powerful voices make a mockery of the Name. Many christians listen to Fox News and believe everything they hear there, believing it to be a bastion of christian morals and faith. One of the journalists recently called Jesus a historical figure and was indignant that he was referred to anything other than being "white".

I'd love to ask these people what difference does it make as long as His blood covers all our sins. His blood was red, like ours, and the pigmentation of our skin color doesn't matter, and our culture has this pre-conceived idea that Jesus looked like the pictures depicted of him, with long hair, a sandy-colored beard and hair and white skin. Would the culturally-melded christians still love Jesus if I knew He had dark skin? Could they break through the generational prejudices?

Our hearts are so wicked and it's so easy to ignore these cultural inhibitions that keep us from having Him in our being. I am on this road where everyday now I have to look for that check in my spirit and ask why I think certain ways and if my habitual thinking conflicts with who He is.

Thanks Bro. Rick for these grounding words.


Anonymous said...

Great theme. Exceptionally well written. Best article that I have read in 2013!



michael said...

Rick, this may be one of the or the most difficult articles I've read visiting your site now these couple of years!

I still vividly recall being directed to it from another site I've been visiting for years.

A couple things.

One, have you spent any time in the two Chronicles, first and second of late?

If not I'd encourage that.

Second is the wonderfully powerful yet convicting story of the missionaries to Ecuador and that tribal group.

What a way to show us just how deluded we've become here in the safety of the USA.

I remember years ago a couple of our missionaries we sent to Chicago back in the late 1970's. They were at "mother" Church visiting and the wife was given some liberty to get up and exhort the up and coming troops on a Wednesday night. She exhorted us to get out of our comfort zones and start reaching the lost of our community like a number of our missionaries are in many places around the United States and other countries in the world. My ministry started a work in Quito. It is still there flourishing and is still raising up missionaries to the indigenous tribes in Ecuador and other contiguous border countries. She was making the point that the city here where we were gathered is as much a mission field in need of workers as our missionaries in other cities and towns in the Untied States and in the other countries we have missionaries to give Christ and His life to.

Anyway, this one cut and convicted me. I'm grateful for that, so thanks and may Our Powerful Lord and the Holy Spirit continually daily enriching your whole spirit, soul and body as you press beyond to more and more of Christ and less and less of your carnal nature.

I'm down to the bedrock of sins that I deal with on a daily basis and can happily say I have just three reoccurring sins I must mortify daily by the assistance of the Spirit. They are to my shame the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride that so easily blocks my seeing Him!

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.