We make one kind of cookies in our home: Chocolate Chip. The recipe is memorized. The process is rote. Good quality butter, at room temperature. A tad more sugar than for what the recipe calls. And waaaaay more chocolate chips—dark, of course—than should be legal.
One might say that we are religious about our Chocolate Chip Cookies. We have a liturgy of whirring mixers, wafting oven aromas, sticky taste-testing fingers, and kerplunking of chips rolling out of the bag. We gather around clinking measuring cups and steaming masterpieces of ooey, gooey yumminess and bonds are made, problems solved, and identities remembered.
The order of service was progressing along according to plan when a spoon scooped through the dough and a declaration pierced through the heart of all Chocolate Chip Cookie lovers everywhere, “Perfection. Dough without the chips!” And the boy swallowed down that spoonful in ecstasy, relishing his radical assertion.
No! No! No! The dough is made for the chips. Without them, it’s dull. There’s nothing to open up the flavor. It’s not that dough is bad; it’s incomplete. Without chips, dough doesn’t make sense.
It’s like Christianity without Jesus.
What? How can that be possible, you ask? Well, it seems more and more common to have all kinds of ingredients that make pretty sweet dough: Dynamic worship, interactive experiences, inviting environments, compelling mission statements, blah, blah, blah. These aren’t bad things; they’re just not the point. Jesus has to be.
When he’s not, we’re on a troubled path.
Religion has a way of tightening the tension between the old and the new. We want our traditions. We don’t want them to bore us. We want experiences that quiet doubt, while jolting awake our faith. We don’t want to be wrong in our beliefs. We want vibrant, energized, and dare I say, ‘relevant.’ But not so much that we call attention to ourselves or risk too much. No one wants to play the fool.
We’re apt to cut the tension with compromise, well I am. Or maybe apathy. Worse, apostasy.
It reminds me of a path two disciples of Jesus found themselves on after his crucifixion described in Luke 24:13-35. These two men were walking and wondering about what the past few years had meant and what meaning the future held. The old days seemed confusing—with Jesus dead and all—and the new days, well they seemed empty of promise. The text tells us that even when the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, they couldn’t recognize him and “they stood still and looked sad.”
It reminds me of a lot of friends in the faith I currently have. So many in the church, some days I too, have become disillusioned. There’s so much dough—some sweet enough, some not at all—that it’s hard to recognize Jesus.
Jesus’ response to these two despondent disciples? “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in the scriptures” (Lk. 24:27). Jesus cuts the tension by revealing the meaning of the old as the inspiration for the new. How can we live resurrection-convicted lives if we can’t recognize our Resurrected Lord?
It’s the same strategy I believe the author of Hebrews is using when he addresses saints who aren’t sure if they should go back, move forward, or just give up all together. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” Hebrews 1:1-2. These listeners (and most likely they were Jewish), and we listeners, need to look at Jesus who is the message of God. They don’t need to forsake the old—they need to go back and see Jesus in it. They, and we, need to see that Jesus–and his redemption–is the point of all that God had spoken in various ways.
To go back, without seeing Jesus in it is like eating cookie dough without the chocolate chips. Only Jesus opens up the flavor of God’s revelation to man. Jesus is the sweet aroma of God’s goodness and love. Religion’s tension between old and new is resolved with the relationship to God found only in Jesus. To see him rightly is to be nobody’s fool.
Maybe we’re discontent and discouraged because we aren’t looking at the old things or the new thing the right way. That is, with Jesus in view. Do we believe that in Jesus we have been given the best that God has to give; that without him, whatever it is that we gather around is incomplete?
The days in which we are living are hard on faith. The culture is loud; it presses, it beats, it never rests. Now as much as ever, we need robust visions of Jesus to release us from the pulls of world that will marginalize his reign and paralyze our resolve to live faithfully. Do we know the scriptures well enough to be in awe of Jesus as he is revered and praised in heaven? Only as we do, will we be able to live in the conviction that he is better than anything and that without him nothing is complete. Without Jesus, none of our religion will satisfy or be complete.
Are you discouraged? Disillusioned? Bored? Look to Jesus! He is the radiance of God’s glory, the imprint of God’s being (Heb.1:3). He will not disappoint you.