THE FATAL DISTANCE
We were part of a small house meeting this week; it was good to be together. During the discussion that followed a brief ten-minute video, the word ‘lukewarm’ came up a good deal. What is a lukewarm Christian? What causes someone to become merely lukewarm? Most of us will know that the Lord Jesus uses this word when He sends a letter to His church in the city of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). He describes the true state of the church in devastating terms and indicates just how dimwitted and blinded they had become as to their condition in the eyes of the Lord, “you are neither cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
During our house group discussion someone remarked that apparently, the reference to being lukewarm would have struck a chord in those that heard Jesus’ words because, some distance outside the city, there were hot springs which flowed into the metropolis by means of an aqueduct but, the downside was, that during the time the water flowed from its source it lost much of its heat and was not very useful and even distasteful to the people. Lukewarm-ness was therefore the result of distance away from the springs! That is a telling sentence! The church in that place had put a distance between themselves and their source of Life, the Lord Jesus! We should think about it and then take into consideration what Jesus said to this very church as to the remedy, they were “to be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20-21). Distance again! This time only a short distance, Jesus outside the door and the church snug and complacent within the spiritual home they had made for themselves. Contented in their Christian work? Self satisfied in their doctrinal correctness? Happy in their church ritual, whatever sort it was? Perhaps all of these and more, we do not know details but must take warning.
The picture of distance absorbing heat from the boiling waters and Jesus outside, desiring His place at the table with His people speaks loudly. Although this is not everything that could be said about this matter we ought to make note of how Jesus introduces Himself to this particular church because this is profoundly relevant, “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14). Jesus is the source, the beginning and fount of all and from Him our fruit is found. He is our beginning and also our end, and must be source to us every step in between. As believers ever and always, distance from Him and anything between must be avoided. True continuance can only take place when we live in the immediacy of a face-to-face relationship with Him and permit nothing to force Him to leave the building and stand outside the door. But, it happens, all too easily, a subtle stealthy drift away into habit and ritual and a wilderness of words. He is the Word and how easily we sink into words, words and more words about doctrine, church and even about Him! “A wilderness of words,” this is a powerful metaphor and comes from a relatively unfamiliar Bible Translation called the New English Bible. It is found in a verse in Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into a wilderness of words” (1 Timothy 1:5-6). Our Lord Jesus is the Word, detachment from Him Who is the Word will mean that the Word does not become flesh in us and we repeat only words.
It is amazing to think that a whole church can sink into this state, neither cold nor hot, just going through the motions, degenerating into the habits of Christian religion. But how does heat return? “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him” (Revelation 3:20). Not, “if any two or three or five or ten,” but renewal in a church can begin with ‘anyone’ returning to the Source in their daily living. Immediacy of relationship with Jesus is the key to true spiritual life and its continuance. To “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire (meditate) in His temple,”(Psalm 27:4) is the way forward. I partly understand beauty to be something to do with the symmetry and perfect integration of all parts that make up the sum. A beautiful face, in someone younger or older means that the various parts are brought together in a way so as to enhance each feature. In just a simple way then, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord must mean to look at Him and consider His tenderness, boldness and courage, His restraint, His meekness and willingness to give and give and give. His attributes are so many; things that can be pondered that make up something of His beauty and such gazing and pondering will cause the fire that is our God to be enflaming our hearts with His heat also. The fatal distance between us must not be allowed, the fatal break must never occur, but alas it does, and we awake all too slowly. Oswald Chambers once said, “The only way to remain true to God is by a steady persistent refusal to be interested in Christian work and to be interested alone in Jesus Christ.” Do not allow even the beginnings of distance that might lead to a break between your own soul and its vital, daily and simple communion with the Lord Jesus, if such is permitted it will have fatal consequences.
Death will set in to the flock if the pastor and leader allow this to happen. Our Lord Jesus is “the evergreen tree and from Him our fruit comes” (Hosea 14:8). This is relevant for us all, not simply those who are leaders. We must become much more discerning, what was the point of departure, what was it that caused the fatal distance to begin? The great tragedy of the church is when it breaks with Christ Jesus, the Living Word and descends into words only. When the Word is made into words and ceases to become flesh in us. I remember a line or two from a Wesley hymn that said, “Con-centered all in Christ alone, we hand in hand, go on.” The ‘all’ in that line is ALL the saints, the believers gathering together as a church, everyone con-centered in Christ alone. We run the risk of being church centered, or holiness centered and even mission centered. We hear so much about “serving the Lord.” Amen, what an exhortation, but, I suspect that when it is “serve the Lord” with an absence of gladness we are missing the vital immediacy with Jesus and are suffering from the results of distance. “Serve the Lord with gladness,” says the psalmist (Psalm 100:2). He is the fountain of joy, the psalm continues, “know that the Lord, He is God! It is He Who made us, and we are His, we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture,” (Psalm 100:3).
Is it not the knowledge and sense of Him that causes the sheep to skip? One of the things I notice in the life of many believers is the increasing uncertainty of where they really stand in the Lord. I am persuaded that much of this has its roots in a departure to other cisterns to gain an ‘answer’ to the needs of the soul. Many are turning to counseling techniques, psychiatric methodologies are baptized by using Christian language and some seek solace in these. However, we must see, with far greater clarity, that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ and set Him against the needs of man’s soul. He did not send techniques, no matter how insightful they may appear to be, He sent His ministers to preach the gospel of His Son. I am not necessarily suggesting abandonment of counseling and so on, but most certainly I am saying, make sure that other things are entirely secondary to the head on confrontation that is implicit when the Person of Jesus is preached as Lord to any one. I use the word ‘preached’ advisedly, so many want to ‘discuss’, they do not want anything authoritative. Many will know that the word ‘preach’ is associated with the idea of announcing like a herald, someone speaking on behalf of a sovereign.
The gospel is not a nice suggestion; it is the commandment of God, we are to believe on His Son. Ultimately, all sin boils down to the refusal to change and come under the sway of Jesus Christ as Lord. A human life in need (as we all are), cannot be saved and remedied by anything other than meeting the Living Christ Jesus, He must become flesh in us so that through us, not only through our words, He, the Living One vitally meets the broken life of others bringing deliverance and healing. In the Laodicean church Christ and their Christianity had become distanced from one another. There must be reconciliation and reconciliation comes through repentance. I heard the other day of a man in the Christian ministry pouring scorn on the idea that anyone could have a personal relationship with Jesus. To that man, minister in a church as he is, Christianity is just words, ideas, concepts to be known, nothing more. Thus, he makes Christianity just another religion alongside Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. That man is robbing Christianity of its vitality and its uniqueness. He has only words to give, perhaps mixed with some philosophizing and maybe well laced with some psychiatric jargon and well-reasoned apologetics but it can never be enough.
The fatal distance can be witnessed in such a man and his attempts at ministry. We have a Living Savior; He reigns and is able to meet sinful broken lives with His own Life and save them to the perfect end. If we are in the heat of a daily, relationship with Jesus we shall have hearts made pure in the heat of His love and we shall embody our message. We must not organize our churches around the word of Christ but around the Christ of the word. Could it be that our churches become organized around a theological idea and a doctrine? That idea and doctrine may well be a truth but churches built on and around any particular doctrine alone will most certainly drift into lukewarm living as far as Christ Jesus is concerned. He said, “I am the truth, “ truths distanced from the Truth do not set men free. If a truth preached does not lead to Him Who is THE Truth there will not be true conversion to Him but to a doctrine, correct though it may be. It will not bring about life transformation but conformity to a pattern and adherence to what will degenerate into theological sloganeering.
Proselytes to that emphasis will be forthcoming from such ministry, but those in whom the revelation of Jesus Christ is taking place will not be its fruit. Paul was an advocate of truths and it led him to an exclusivity in which he was ready to put others who knew Christ into prison. The transforming grace that came to him he describes in these words, “God called me by His grace, and was pleased to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach Him” (Galatians 1:11-16). God WAS PLEASED to reveal His Son to and in his servant Paul. God’s pleasure is to reveal His Son and Paul preached Him ever after. Christian education is not enough, Christian counseling is insufficient; do not think that they will bring a cure to the sin sick soul. In fact, in many instances I observe that they seem to nurture the fatal distance because it is assumed that all will be well and life answers will be given. At best these only help a little, it is Christ Who is the physician and He alone heals the wounded soul.
Paul preached Christ because He was bathed in the hot springs of eternal love that flowed from His Savior, he preached and although, at times, he dialogued with others he was not into the discussion concept in vogue in our day where everyone blogs their opinion, or so it appears. Are we dying from a surfeit of words and little of the Word? Is this a far cry from the Lord Jesus and His teaching? He sat down on the mount and gave instruction and prefaced what He said with, “But I say unto you” repeatedly, (Matthew 5:1-7:29). When He had finished what has become known as His sermon on the mount, “the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes,”(Matthew 7:28-29). And why was this? Because there was no distance between Him and the Father Who had sent Him and no distance between His words and His manner of life. He was and is the Living Word, God made understandable. He is the everlasting Word, the unchanging speech of eternity brought into what we know as history and time. The answer to lukewarm Christian living is nearness to Him.