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
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
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
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
That day in my office I learned another valuable
What we think we know absolutely is not always absolute.
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.
– As the Creator at the creation
– As the great I AM who spoke to Moses from a
– As the Rock that gushed forth living water in the
– 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
– As the first prophet of a New Covenant
– As a drunk and demon-possessed cult-leader to
– 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
– 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.