Insider Status Keeping Us Out
I wasn’t really raised in the Christian faith. My family very seldom went to church, usually not even on Easter or Christmas. When I opened my life to faith in Christ as a teenager it was like entering a whole other world. I soon learned Christians had their own tv stations, radio programs, music artists, magazines, clothing, and even businesses. One of the more challenging things for me get under control was Christian Insider language. Even in casual conversation other Christians would worry others were “backsliding” or that they weren’t “feeling convicted” about their lifestyle. They’d pray these wayward friends would “get on fire” for Jesus and sense the “Spirit’s anointing” on their lives. They might as well have been speaking an alien language.
Another thing that struck me as odd when I read the gospels for the first time was how few people seemed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah or remain faithful to him. Most of the religious experts seemed to be in opposition to Jesus. Most of his disciples seemed to be wavering in both their understanding of and commitment to Jesus. It seemed that the only people who understood Jesus were people who were really broken spiritually or physically, and those who were marginalized by their community. At times it became laughable. People who you’d think should recognize Jesus as the Messiah seemed so unaware or unwilling to see him as such. Then it hit me…
Would I recognize Jesus if he were walking around on earth today?
This question further developed to wondering if I do recognize Jesus when I encounter him in the world through other people and spiritual promptings. My first inclination is to affirm wholeheartedly and enthusiastically with a resounding, “YES!!!” But then I remember how those who were insiders in Jesus day missed the one (Messiah) their whole lives had been studying and longing for.
In the book of Acts, chapter eighteen, we see a similar pattern of the apostle Paul’s ministry at work. As an apostle, he was a person sent by God to share the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the Mediterranean world. He would often go to the Jewish religious practicing synagogue of a city-center first, and then go to the non-Jewish (gentile) religious practicing crowd afterwards. In Acts 18:7 Paul is facing abusive treatment and seeming rejection of his message, and so he shifts his proclamation efforts to a crowd less familiar with Judaism.
There are lots of reasons we could give for why many of the spiritual experts, and spiritually devout missed the coming of the Messiah. I would suggest that one reason is that overfamiliarity can tempt us to become “experts” in a way that leaves us closed off to new insights, fresh understandings, and surprising developments. Brian McLaren puts it this way, “What you focus on determines what you miss.” We can be so spiritually focused on our theological positions, preferred community mission work, or worship preferences that we miss out on a fresh work or experience of God.
What ways might our over familiarity with Christianity be a barrier for us experiencing Jesus in a fresh way? How might our over familiarity with the Christian faith be a barrier for others experiencing Jesus in fresh ways?