For though you have ten thousand teachers in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers… 1Co 4:15
For many years now, I have not been able to go into a Christian bookstore without feeling a profound sense of irritation. Without fail, as soon as I walk through the front door, all I can think is “get me the heck outta here ASAP.” I’m not joking or exaggerating about this. This actually happens to me nearly every time I try to buy a bible, or a gift or something at one of these types of stores. It’s like I get instantly provoked as if someone with really bad breath was up in my face insulting me while simultaneously poking me in the sternum. I can’t say that I completely understand what causes this violent impulse reaction in me, but I’m pretty sure it has at least something to do with the abundance of “Jesus Junk” that is characteristically distributed from this kind of venue. Shelf after shelf, rack after rack of fish emblems, cliché ridden bumper-stickers, T-shirts that rip off the latest fad by inserting a Christian icon into a popular image or design, cutesy coffee mugs with scripture on them… you know what I’m talking about. Jesus Junk. And as if the abundance of cheesy merchandise wasn’t bad enough, most stores also stock a wide variety of books that, in my opinion, do little more than add to the already overwhelming burden that believers tend to carry around as it is. “How to Lose Weight While Praise Dancing” “Keys to a Successful Marriage from the Pentateuch” “Victorious Christian Living in 10 Days!” It’s like we take our cues from a decidedly screwed up culture, and then haphazardly create our own diminished version of it. God forgive us.
But the overall weirdness of our little sub-culture is not my greatest concern. It’s the fact that somehow we have propagated the mindset that “church” is that place where we go to hear someone else tell us how to be a Christian. Week after week we sit and eat, sit and eat, until finally we get bored by the limited selection of buffet items and move on to a more promising location for further grazing. And if our Sunday morning gorge fest doesn’t sufficiently satiate us, now we can surf the web for the latest and greatest messages from all our favorite teachers and listen to them ad nauseam on our I-Pod. Especially in the U.S., it is certainly not information that we lack, but rather a lifestyle that is derived from and activated by the principles we’ve already accepted as truth. Wisdom is the application of truth, not just the acquisition of it. By in large, this is where we’re missing it. We know enough about Jesus right now to turn the world on its ear, but sadly, we are educated far beyond our current level of obedience. As a result, we have cheapened the Gospel message and the Christian experience in pursuit of more and more head candy. For many of us, “ten thousand teachers” is not an overstatement of the actual number of influences we’ve subjected ourselves to over the years. We must repent of this. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1)
In the next reformation, we have to break out of our addiction to rampant information consumption and learn how to make what we know work for us in real life situations. A stockpile of Bible verses in no way guarantees that we will actually enjoy our relationship with the Lord, nor will it necessarily have a positive affect on anyone else unless we are intentionally walking out those precepts in the context of our relationships. Just a little revelation of the simple truth that Jesus really does love us can radically impact our neighbor’s life. But not unless we demonstrate it to him in a way he can understand and receive. I’ve spent many hours of my life listening to brilliant men debate the nuances of a wide variety of theological minutia… but to what end? So what if we have an air-tight systematic theology? Does that really help us love one another? Who gives a rip if Jesus returns before, during, or after the tribulation? If we’re living right, it’s not gonna matter anyway! Too much eschatological mumbo jumbo gives me a headache.
Have you ever asked your computer to do more than its processor was capable of? We’ve all had our screen lock up, and our CPU shut down due to frantic data input. Say what you will, but our mind can do the same thing. Now is the time to return to the simplicity of our faith as we have surely reached level 10 on the information overload scale. We’ve yoked ourselves to far too many instructors. We need to own the fact that our current local church paradigm is geared for information gathering… and not much more. So much so that our intellectual over stimulation has made it very difficult to receive instruction directly from the Lord. With the abundance of info we’ve tried to cram into our brains, our Spirit has been left crying out for our attention. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this kind of behavior. “You diligently study the Scriptures… yet you refuse to come to me” (John 5:39-40)
Learning to follow the leading of the Spirit is a process. But if we’re his sheep, then rest assured, we do know what His voice sounds like. We’ve wandered from pasture to pasture long enough. He is our shepherd… not the guy behind the pulpit. Not the last book we read. We can’t blame our pastor or our church if we don’t feel like we’re fulfilling the personal call that is uniquely on each one of us. We all have the same responsibility, to simply listen and obey. But if we’re listening to “every wind of teaching” then we’re bound to get “tossed back and forth.” (Eph 4:14) Most of us are not called to a ministry within the confines of the local church structure. Instead, we should be looking for opportunities to illuminate our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods with the light that every believer carries within. The spirit will do in an instant what our striving could not accomplish in a million years. (Gal 3:3)
Remember how great you felt when you first realized that God loved and accepted you just as you are? As new believers, it’s not uncommon to go through a period during which we experience a sense of being “love sick” for Jesus. We’ve always called this “The Honeymoon Season” of the faith. Ever watched a pair of newlyweds that can’t seem to keep their hands off each other? We knew this one guy who, for several months after meeting the Lord, literally could not stop hugging each and every person he encountered. It was as if he was so full of the Lord’s affection that he just had to give some away so that he wouldn’t explode. You see, when we lose touch with our first love, that’s when we stop having fun. That’s when Christianity becomes burdensome. Our faith turns into a string of unending responsibilities and obligatory tasks. His yoke truly is light and delightful. The yokes of others are a big flippin drag and they suck the life out of us quicker than we can compensate for them. We have to take them off. In the next reformation, we must learn to hear from the Lord for ourselves and to show discretion with the frequency and number of our external influences. In turn, the Lord will help us to cease from our striving and to enter into the kind of rest that our souls are so desperately in need of. Lead on oh King eternal.