Junk food – delicious and deadly! Preparing fresh healthy meals requires time, effort and money. Only the persuaded and committed will embark on a consistently healthy diet. In an unexpected turn of events, obesity is replacing starvation as a serious threat to world health. Who could have predicted that? But not only is fast food accessible and affordable, it is addictive by design.
This analogy comes to mind when considering the state of the church today. “Christians” are plentiful, disciples are few. The difference comes largely from what we consume – what we feed our soul. Jesus warned us to be careful about what we hear and how we listen. “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Jesus Himself was able to resist the misapplied scripture used by Satan to tempt Him because He knew His Father’s ways and words. Many voices vie for our attention, but only One has the words of life. Our attentiveness has eternal consequence.
Jesus takes it a step further when He call us to feed on His life – to abide in the vine. That radical invitation turned many away. It still does. It is much more logical, accessible, and predictable to follow a creed, a cause, or a community than to follow an enigmatic Savior. We lament the shattered testimony of a wayward church in the aftermath of replacing relationship with religion. But before you smugly say ‘Amen’, remember WE are the church. What if we are the religionizers?
Feeding on gifts, works, doctrine, preachers, community – each produces a different manifestation of Christianity. Attending more to the shadows than the substance, getting caught up in speculation about unrevealed realities, making specious rules which insist that only certain works commend you to God, or that certain food consumption or abstinence results in spirituality – these are issues that arose at the outset of the church, prompting apostolic correctives. For example, the intellectual pride of the Gnostics refined away the gospel into a philosophy, one whose question was ‘how can the order of the cosmos be restored’ rather than ‘how can one be saved from sin’. Or the teaching ‘we sin so that grace may abound’, or you must be circumcised to be saved, and the list goes on, prompting the epistles. There is still an abundance of rational religious teaching that undermines the Gospel of the kingdom Jesus taught. There are also perspectives that have Scriptural support on opposing sides, like the dilemma about eating meat or vegetables addressed by Paul. Clinging to confusion instead of searching the scripture is a flimsy excuse to avoid seeking the One Who offers the words of life. All will be revealed in its time.
Keeping it distant – that is the work of the world, the flesh, and the devil – the trident of our undoing. Works keeps it philanthropical. Doctrine keeps it intellectual. Community keeps it comfortable. Jesus wants us to feed on Him – it is relational. He said “Come to Me”, not to a dogma, a ritual, a religion. He was not kept at arm’s length by Mary, who poured out on Him her most precious and costly oil to perform a ritual act of cleansing that could have been done with water. Impractical and wasteful was the logical response of Judas, who knew the value and thought the money should go to the poor, or more probably into his pocket. Is this not a clear picture of rational religion alongside radical relationship? Jesus weighs in: ‘Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Do you want that kind of devotion? Do what Jesus did and begin each day by prayerfully listening – consider it spiritual breakfast. Add to or replace the Coco Puffs of a devotional reading with the hearty ham and cheese omelet of Scripture. Ask and expect Him to speak to you. Filter your desires through His heart. Let His life flow through your mind, emotions, and actions. Take the example of Jesus’ friend Mary, choosing the better part of sitting at Jesus feet, not busy and anxious about so many things like her sister Martha. Find the balance. Do the hard work, the very hard work, of sitting quietly at the Master’s feet and learning Him – His heart as well as His ways. To know Him is to love Him. He longs for intimacy with each of us – after all He carried our many sins to the cross for us, so He knows who we are yet still invites us to be with Him.
I guess this has always been the challenge for believers, as is evidenced by this commentary made years ago by Alexander Maclaren: “I am afraid that the Christian life of this generation suffers at a thousand points, because it is more concerned with the ordering of the outward life, and the manifold activities which this busy generation has struck out for itself, than it is with the quiet setting of the mind, in silent sunken depths of contemplation, on the things that are above. Oh, if we would think more about them we should aim more at them; and if we were sure that we possessed them today we should be more eager for a larger possession tomorrow.”
So let us be persuaded to upgrade our diet and feed our souls on the Bread of Life and the Living Water. And super-size it! All of us together living His life could turn the world upside down! It has been known to happen.