Just Jesus – No Additives, Please
As a pastor of a new church I am often asked what our church is like. For most who ask this, they probably have experienced “church-world” and are wondering what “flavor” we are. The smorgasbord experience for church shoppers nowadays is exceedingly varied. It seems that most churches, or more fairly, most pastors have some area of focus or expertise, some spiritual special interest that is near and dear to their heart, or maybe they just have an ax to grind! At any rate, whatever the special interest is, it somehow finds its way in some form or other into nearly every message and over time creates a very specific flavor. And more dangerous than that, we tend to begin making things fit into our emphasis, and this is the hotbed for false teaching.
I’ve had such emphases myself over the years—times when it seems everything I read or study is somehow connected to my current interest. For me, there was quite a long period that my personal special interest was worship. I was a worship leader for many years and eventually ascended to a fairly high position of influence in my denomination (at the time). I could preach worship a thousand different ways and knew how to connect virtually any verse, thought or theme in the Bible to my flavor. There were also the “end times” years, when I lived and breathed last-days-madness. There were the prophetic years, the five-fold ministry years, the prayer and fasting years, the repentance years, etc., all of which in their respective seasons seemed like the most important stuff in all the world, and I couldn’t understand why others just couldn’t see it like I could. (Sounds pretty arrogant, yeah? It always does when it’s someone else!)
Over time, in His unceasing grace, the Lord is always narrowing, always pruning, always challenging these little flavors I pick up. As a church planter in the Bible belt I am now confronted with many folks with several of their own flavors of preference. The great challenge I face is the ability to help move us beyond these emphases. I don’t say ignore them, but we need to learn to literally lay them down, put them aside and move on for the sake of something considerably larger and more profound – being united as one in Jesus. This might feel shocking to some, but think, how can we ever be one with so many divergences? Still, the fact remains that Jesus prayed that we may be one just as He and the Father are one. Wow. Breathtaking, this vision of Jesus for his people.
A Deeper Unity
A oneness like this is much more than simply making a vague spiritual excuse for our differences, passing them off as inconsequential. I’ve heard (and in the past, taught) that we can be in a kind of spiritual mystical unity with the entire body of Christ despite our differences. That may be true to some degree, but as we are now, we stand in stark contrast with the kind of unity the Lord calls for. The sad fact is that so many feel so strongly that they are so right and others are so mistaken, that it is nearly impossible to be one in heart with those in whom we find distasteful disagreement. Paul said (1 Corinthians 1) that we should all “speak the same things” and “be of the same mind.” I fear that now the church in America has so many fracture lines that this is nearly impossible without a genuine reformation.
What is needed is not simply agreeing to disagree, nor is it attempting to sit down and work through every single difference in doctrine and belief. No, I believe the answer is far more powerful than that, more breathtaking and life-giving. We need to come back to the very central focus of all the Bible, the central focus of the gospel, the central focus of God’s work on planet earth. Jesus.
The focal point of our message must become Jesus. Not Jesus and… Not Jesus and worship. Not Jesus and faith. Not Jesus and financial prowess. Not Jesus and prayer. Not Jesus and healing. Not Jesus and discipleship. Not Jesus and the end times. Not Jesus and prosperity. Not Jesus and mission or purpose. Not Jesus and the 5 points of anything. Not Jesus and revival. Not Jesus and a better life. Not Jesus and baptism and communion and spiritual gifts and, and, and, and…Not Jesus and anything. These things all create division when they move toward the center of our attentions, thus slowly occupying more and more of the place in our hearts and minds that only Jesus should fill.
While it is certain that we can and should speak of such things, we dare not let them flavor or muddy the clear message which is simply, Jesus – who He is, what He has done, and what He does. You can typically discover what a person’s flavor is because it usually takes only a few minutes before it pops out in just about any spiritual conversation. A few weeks ago we had an open forum type of message, where people from the congregation could interact. It was intriguing as I watched person after person whom I know inject their particular flavor into the subject.
Do you want to see the Holy Spirit work? Preach Jesus, not the Holy Spirit. Do you want to see people worship? Preach Jesus, not worship. Do you want to see people grow in faith? Preach Jesus, not faith. If we preach faith or worship or prayer or _________, then people try harder to do those things. If we preach Jesus, the Holy Spirit invades the heart transforming us to be more… like… Jesus. This is known as a Christological approach to preaching. (Oooo, a big, shiny theological word!) Without it, preaching and teaching from the Bible tends to become a mere self-help seminar. If we will embrace a solid Christological approach to understanding the Bible, we may avoid creating a lot of weird and funky pet beliefs (as well as untrue), and better yet, we may also steer clear of alienating a lot of people from the love of Jesus.
Less is More
It’s funny, but I find that the more flavor we add to the message of Jesus the less flavorful it is. The more we work to “clearly define” God’s work into terms of great benefits or blessings or experience or expectations, the narrower and smaller it becomes. Think of a mission statement. The shorter it is, the more focused and dynamically powerful it becomes. The longer the mission statement, though perhaps more deeply defined, the more narrowing and limiting it becomes. The message of Jesus should never be limited or diminished by our special interests. By choosing to not add anything to the Bible means learning to live with some unknowns and ambiguity and mystery, and we thus leave the powerful, life-transforming message of Jesus un-tampered-with.
So when you come to Lake Hills I encourage you to check your favorite flavor additives at the door. If you’re looking for the next, newest, latest, greatest, oldest, vintage, radical, progressive, modern, postmodern, prophetic, liturgical, organic or revelatory flavor of preaching and teaching… I’m afraid we’re not that. Furthermore, by God’s grace, we won’t become that. So if you’re hoping we somehow mature into, or receive a deeper revelation of your flavor, I sincerely suspect that will likely not happen. In fact, I’ve got a “been there, done that” tee shirt to prove it!
I want you to come face to face with the living, all-powerful Christ, whose overwhelming presence causes people to fall on their faces before Him. Paul said, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1Corinthians 2:1-2) This is the power of God. (1Corinthians 1:17-18)
For the sake of a real working unity, I am seeking to leave undefined or under-defined whatever the Bible leaves undefined or under-defined. So if you’re wondering what flavor Christian I am or what flavor our church is going to be…you will either be delighted or disappointed to learn that we are seeking to define ourselves by just Jesus, no additives, please.