“and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for.” (1 Peter 2:8)
God’s desire to give all of his creation the ability to protect themselves has always fascinated me. The “walking stick” an insect that looks like a twig and can hide itself from predators. Butterflies or moths with spots on their wings to give (many believe) the appearance of eyes looking up to ward off anything wanting to eat it.
Most famous of all, is of course, the chameleon. Not only can the chameleon adapt to its environment, but it’s able to adapt to any environment. It has the natural ability to camouflage itself and hide in the background. Sort of nature’s answer to Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.
It’s a wonderful adaptation. As long as the chameleon is still it can fade into the background and become invisible. It isn’t seen. It doesn’t bother anyone, and nothing bothers it. It becomes completely inoffensive.
As a United Methodist, I’ve always loved our denominational symbol of the Cross and the Flame.
It represents the uniting of the Methodist and United Evangelical Brethren churches. It symbolizes both our need for redemption in the cross and the ongoing sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to Christian Perfection. It reminds us of our Wesleyan distinctive of both Personal and social holiness (and how the two are intertwined.)
There is a lot to be proud of in our symbol. The only problem with it is that it really doesn’t truly represent us. The cross and the flame are bold. They are distinctive. And they are bound to offend someone.
And there is the rub. They are bound to offend someone. And if there is one thing in our culture that has become the unforgivable sin it’s saying or doing something that offends someone. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way we went from being the “Greatest Generation” to “The generation that takes offence at everything”.
It’s an odd juxtaposition. We take offense at everything while at the same time bending over backward to insure we don’t offend anyone else. And while it’s indicative of our culture, it’s also become indicative of the church today. We’ve become so worried about offending anyone I wonder if our symbol ought to switch from the Cross and flame to a Chameleon.
Take for instance the “Rethink Church” ads often seen in the media. While well done, they go out of their way to not talk about Jesus. Or that He is the only way. Or the Cross. With an emphasis on community service, they could easily be recruitment ads for the Rotarians or the Kiwanis. Both fine service organizations. Bu they aren’t the church. The church offers Jesus, And Jesus is always going to be offensive.
He just is. Take some time and read, really read the Gospels. Jesus says all sorts of truly offensive things. Things like He is the only way to Heaven. The only way to salvation. He offended the religious establishment by calling out the hypocrites. He offended the rich by lifting up the poor and disenfranchised. He offended the sinner by not accepting his/her sin as a part of the human condition, but as brokenness that God could change. He offended the Romans by hiding that His truth was eternal and not bound to the shifting sands of cultural acceptance.
Those who followed Jesus were offensive as well. That’s why they were martyred. In fact the closer the followers of Jesus become Christlike, the more offensive they were to the world. We live in a world that doesn’t want to see there is a better way. They don’t want a God so invasive He can change someone’s life.
If nothing else we should heed Jesus words. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth. But He also warns us that if we lose our saltiness we become useless. In Revelation 3:16 Jesus speaks to the church at Laodicea. He tells them that they have become lukewarm. And that it makes Him physically ill. He reminds us that when we hide our light it will go out. Jesus clearly warns us against living a chameleon’s lifestyle.
But what about all of us? It’s easy to pick on a denomination. But what flag flies above your heart? Is it a Cross and Flame, or is it a chameleon? Does your spiritual life adapt to its surroundings? Do you live one way at church and another at work? Are you living an offensive life for Jesus? Please note, I’ve used the word offensive exclusively. There is a big difference between being offensive and obnoxious. I’m not implying its Ok to be mean spirited, angry or demeaning to anyone. I am saying we must not be afraid to live out our Christian faith. We must not be afraid to get as close to Jesus as possible and become Christlike in all that we do.
Yes we may offend some. But if we smother our light, if we lose our saltiness, if we become lukewarm, what good are we? How will the world find Jesus if we are afraid to live out our faith?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><