Thursday, July 20, 2006

Do You Smell Like Jesus?

There is a restaurant in my town that I rarely patronize. It is one of those greasy spoons where profanity flows and smoke blows and the air could be cut with a knife. Breakfast is their forte.

Go there for any length of time and what? Right! You’ll emerge smelling like the place you just left, smoky. Most of us can identify with the scene, that is why I use this analogy, albeit negative, to make my point: THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN WITH JESUS SMELL LIKE JESUS.

Read Acts 3 and 4 (one of my favorite passages) and go as far as 4:13. No sooner than bold-speaking Peter and John had healed a man (not exactly a capital offense) they were arrested! Kept overnight and interrogated, these two men spoke with boldness! It must have come as a shocker to the powers that were that Peter and John did not cower and capitulate in order to attain freedom. In any event, they were hastily up and released! All the dumbfounded officials were left with was that they “recognized them as having been with Jesus.” They were as blown away by the Jesus in the apostles as the garrison of soldiers sent to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane. Read John 18 (4-6):

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground.

Here it was Jesus, Himself. In the case of Peter and John, they merely smelled like Jesus – they had the same impact on others that Jesus would have had if He had been there in the flesh.

Rocket scientist I ain’t, but I can put it all together to say this: Churches of impact into the gates-of-hell of this world smell like Jesus – they are an assemblage of Christ-followers who “have been with Jesus.” This is the opportunity afforded us all in John 15 by none other than … Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”

Churches of today do smell, stink even, but not much like Jesus. George Barna reminds us that the number of Christ-followers leaving the organized church in order to find Jesus is at 20 million and rising! Imagine that, leaving the church to find Jesus!! Now I’m dumbfounded!

Churches today are consumed with anything and everything but Jesus! We spend tons of time planning to worship Jesus, but do we … worship Jesus? We have the latest and greatest Vacation Bible School week complete with every creative craft known to man in order to encounter Jesus, but do we? We meet as a small group, go deep as heck, share our lives on a weekly basis in order to become like Jesus. Do we, really? Are we becoming more like Him with all this Christian “activity” we are given to?

Question is this: Is the product of the postmodern church human incarnations of Jesus, “little Christs”, Christ-ians? Are we turning out people who smell like Jesus? Statistically, the answer is no. We divorce like the world. We shun, gossip, abuse and molest like the world. We bicker and split like the world. We eat our own worse than the world ever did.

What to do? What to do?

We must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work us to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Ph 2:12f). First, we must find ways to simply “be with Jesus” (Mt 11:28-30 in The Message):

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

This is so simple it is nearly impossible, given the consumeristic, busy, traditionalistic, narcissistic, legalistic state in which we find ourselves. Yet, it is the next step for the church. The cost is high – it may take leaving or closing the doors of what we know as “church.” It will take a humble and daring heart that says, “I am gonna do it.”

If you will, start with ten minutes of alone time, in which your only objective is to be still and silent. It’ll kill ya! Fidget ain’t the word for what you will likely do! Ten minutes will seem like ten years. We are so unaccustomed to stillness! Yet, it is in the still times we will hear the voice of God saying, “I really like you, y’know!” And it is in the still times, close to Jesus, we will begin to smell like Jesus. We will be doing the right thing, and the world will see the building of the Kingdom of God if we do it!

Second, we must rest in the mysterious grace of God. It is God who is at work in us to will and to do. Do what you hear Him saying to you. Fight the guilts that say you haven’t done enough. Do what you can to “keep company” with Him! Then, pat yourself on the back because He is just glad you showed up!

He will bring you to discipline yourself. In the quietness and far reaches of your heart, see if therein lies a flicker of willingness to take the high road, the counter-intuitive, counter-productive path to holiness. I’ll bet it is!

May the Kingdom of God be built – may you and I so BE with Jesus that others smell Him on us and come to Him!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Letter to a Pastor Friend

Dear _________,

Today was good.

I am in one of those pensive moods as I prepare to paint the bathroom - long over due. Ya know the new bathroom is over due to be painted when your wife buys kleenex to match the color of the drywall!

Bear with me.

Jesus said that the world will be changed ("by this world will know") when believers "love one another" - as you said today... LOVE WELL. That is clear as a bell in John 13.

We live in a culture in which believers in Jesus have not been loved well. They have begun to journey with Him, but they have not experienced that kind of agape atmosphere (relationships, community) enough for life change (transformation).

You and I have to love well. The requisite for that is to have been loved well. We have to have been loved well by His incarnation in the form of another believer - we have to have been mentored, discipled.

The folks in the room have not experienced that. Sure, a few have to an extent, but the majority have not. So, for them to hear the admonition, "Love well," they don't have reference for that. They are like the young person in the slum making mudpies... he does not want to go to the beach!

Love well means to DO something they (in their current belief system) are not currently not doing, and the congregation doesn't want to. Each of us is doing exactly what we want to do.

We cannot talk about obedience, mission, and outreach until we have people motivated by the love of Christ found in people like you and me.

Step 1: You and I "keep company with Jesus." We allow others (mentors) to love, and nurture, and lead us to Him. Here is where we experience agape.

Step 2: You and I pick out a few friends to live with, to invest in, and to sacrifice our lives for... exactly like Jesus did. Here is where we give away (agape) what we have received.

Step 3: Once trust begins, you and I can invite our few friends toward life change.

Obedience, etc. is nearly automatic at this point.

You and I have got to live our lives as Jesus would live them if he were us.

We have to incarnate Jesus.

We have to create relational atmospheres conducive to life change.

It seems we will do ANYTHING but this - the tough work of investing in the lives of a few friends.

Change is going where we have never been with someone who has. The church is stuck on the Savor Christ step. We all worship what we know of Jesus. We get to know Him better as we journey with those who do. Telling others to go and Savor Jesus is not enough.

From John 1:

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.
45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Some how herein lies the key to the future of the church... loving one another.