Saturday, December 8, 2012

“Seeing Jesus in a Different Form” by Garris Elkins

When I was in Bible College in early 1970’s, I attended a very conservative institution that has changed for the better over the years.  I can still remember buying a plastic covered scripture reference note sheet that had one section titled, “Problem Scriptures.”  These problematic scriptures were ones the author felt were not intended for the Church today. These  “not for today” scriptures had to do with God healing people, miracles and the gifts of the Spirit.

Ten years after Bible College, after walking away from all things church, my wife and I had birthed two children and felt it was time to reconnect.  We began our search where we were living in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon. 

As a then committed “not for today” person, I found it odd that I felt myself reacting in a negative way to church after church we visited who were preaching this same “not for today” message.  The first three churches we visited went into great detail affirming that what happened in the Bible was somehow locked in the history of the Church and unattainable today because some professor in their Bible College said so.

I was fed up and disappointed with our search and I told Jan, “I am done looking for a church.”  In great wisdom Jan said, “Can we try just one more?”  I agreed and much to my horror she mentioned a church in Eugene, Oregon called Faith Center.  I heard some wild stories about that place.

On our arrival at Faith Center I was immediately drawn to the honest passion these people had for God.  I loved how they focused on Jesus and not all the foolish arguments about secondary issues I had been hearing for the past few weeks.  We stayed, got touched by God and were eventually sent out from Faith Center to plant our first church in Montana.

As the years have gone by I have come to realize that Jesus appears in many different forms.  Some of the ways He appears will actually violate our current understanding of Him.  Most of our concepts of God are formed by our personal history and preferences and have little to do with a realistic picture of his life.

In Mark 16:12, Mark is describing the incident where the disciples were walking along the Road to Emmaus sorrowfully discussing what had happened with Jesus.  Verse 12 says, “Afterward he appeared in a different form…” These disciples were only seeing Jesus in the past tense so Jesus revealed himself in the present moment and joy filled the disciples hearts.

In verse 14 another scene is described where some disciples are locked away behind closed doors in fear. To them, Jesus is dead and gone. Jesus then appears to them in another form - in his resurrected body - and rebukes their unbelief.  This time they were filled with joy and wonder as Jesus revealed himself in a different form.

In both cases, on the Road to Emmaus and behind locked doors hiding in fear, Jesus had to appear in a different form in order to get the disciple’s attention and confront their disbelief. Jesus did this when he appeared to me in a different form at Faith Center and healed my broken life.

This issue has been a challenge in the Church for the last 2,000 years.  Whenever Jesus comes in a form different from what is familiar to us we can start talking like the new form can’t be from God.  We label it, “not for today” or “this is not of God.”  In the end, these ways of thinking can cause us to hunker down in our religious foxholes and focus our theological gun sights on anything that approaches our lives challenging the status quo.

The Early Church father Augustine said something profound about 1,600 years ago that still makes sense today. He said, “In the essentials unity; in the non-essentials liberty and in all things love.”

A danger in the people of God today is that anyone can appear like they know what they are talking about if they have Internet access and begin to parrot someone else’s opinion. It must be true if it’s on the Internet – right?

Most of these Internet and YouTube sparring matches are over what Augustine called the non-essentials.  The non-essentials are things you don’t go to hell over. These non-essentials are made up of our preferences and opinions and they end up defining our closed circles of fellowship.

I remember the first pastor’s conference I ever attended.  I had been pastoring for a grand total of three weeks when I left my sweet wife and two kids in a new and unfamiliar town in Montana and drove by myself all the way to Portland, Oregon for the conference.  I walked around the conference in an innocent and wide-eyed amazement at simply getting to be present and have someone call me “Pastor.”

During one afternoon session a very well known pastor got up and shared a great word.  As I took notes, I hoped that someday I could have about 1/10th of this man’s wisdom.  The next speaker got up and I could tell he was not happy.

This second speaker went on to publicly disagree with the first pastor’s position on the Second Coming of Christ – even before he began to preach on his given subject.  I think the first man was a mid-Tribber and the correcting pastor was a staunch pre-Tribber.  That was a hot-button issue in those days.  I felt uncomfortable and wondered why this man was acting the way he did at this wonderful pastor-party. He was manifesting the “not for today” way of thinking that can attach itself to anything we disagree with.

That day at the pastor’s conference I learned a valuable lesson.

          The same truth can be seen from two different angles.

My angle is not better than yours – it is simply different.  We are both looking at the same beautiful object and yet we are viewing it from different positions.

Years ago a pastor, who was new to our area and was going to take the leadership of a local church, wanted to meet.  My secretary made an appointment for us for the following week. 

A week later, after we introduced ourselves, our conversation progressed along in a wonderful way.  We talked about our families, the beautiful Rogue Valley and God.  We talked for about an hour when, for some reason, the subject of women in ministry came up.  I voiced how excited I was to see women released to do whatever God asked of them and how I enjoyed their perspective as they taught the Word of God.

It was like someone had changed the atmospheric pressure in the room.  This smiling-faced pastor went stern.  From his leaning-back-on-the-couch posture he leaned forward and said, “Having a woman teach a man is in the same league as saying that salvation can be had apart from Jesus.”

I was stunned.  I had to ask him to repeat what he said.  He repeated it, but this time around he provided even more emphasis. I felt gut-punched.  Our conversation stumbled on for a few more minutes and then we parted ways.  I never saw him again. He is no longer pastoring the church he came to lead. I wish him well wherever his is and hope he is seeing life and ministry from a different perspective.

That day in my office I learned another valuable lesson.

          What we think we know absolutely is not always absolute. 

That dear brother had narrowed God down to such a small field of focus that if Jesus ever dared to show up expressing anything feminine that he would have been labeled as “of the devil.”

When Jesus gave us the Great Commission he wasn’t giving us the fine points of our personally interpreted views of theology.  He was giving us the essentials of the faith that need to remain intact in order for us to be considered the Church. These essentials are found most clearly in the simple and profound creeds of the Church. There are not as many of these essentials as some people think.  

In all the years I have been following Jesus I have come to realize there are a lot of non-essentials.  We need to give each other some slack with these or they can kill our agape love and show the world that the Church is not really worth investigating.  Jesus didn’t get into the non-essentials. He left those with us to struggle together in love in order to find some common ground. This is where humility plays such a huge role in the health and vitality of the Church.

Jesus has always been in the business of showing up in another form than we are familiar with and in his arrival confronting our unbelief. As I mentally scrolled through the scriptures I saw Jesus do this a lot.

He appeared…
-       As the Creator at the creation
-       As the great I AM who spoke to Moses from a burning bush
-       As the Rock that gushed forth living water in the wilderness
-       As a baby in a manger
-       As a 12 year old boy in the Temple going about his Father’s business
-       As a carpenter’s son in his unbelieving hometown of Nazareth
-       As the first prophet of a New Covenant
-       As a drunk and demon-possessed cult-leader to the Pharisees
-       As a teacher to those who wanted to learn
As a problematic revolutionary to the Roman Government
-       As a healer to the diseased
-       As an impotent false prophet hanging on a criminal’s cross
-       As a brother to his brothers
-       As a son to his father
-       As a miracle baby to his mother
-        As the resurrected Lord to those who arrived at the tomb

How Jesus appears to us will depend on the condition of our hearts.  How we perceive those who come in his name will also depend on the condition of our hearts. Jesus may look very different in each of his manifestations, but he will always be the same yesterday, today and forever. He is both the same and different. This is why we have to be careful if we ever find ourselves saying “not for today” or “this can’t be of God” because the lesser images of God we have created by our non-essential ways thinking may be the very thing he is coming to heal.

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