Remember those goofy mirrors that used to be propped up outside the carnival funhouse tent? You know the kind – one made you look tall and thin, the other short and fat. Did you ever notice that kids gravitated to the one that made ’em look stout, while the grown-ups would clandestinely sneak a peek at the sveltemizer? Human nature is more than just a curiosity to be exploited, it is a profoundly simplified demonstration of the unseen but eternal spiritual self as well. When Paul confessed to the believers at Rome that there was nothing good in his flesh (Romans 7:18), he laid bare the fundamental truth of our incarnation — “….there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). The chubby little freckle-faced bully in the kindergarten class doesn’t have to be taught to weaponize his chewed down pencil fragment and launch it into the hair of the little girl on the front row – it just comes naturally. Even without a childhood steering clear of neurotically wielded wire coat hangers at home, some people just seem, to varying degrees, to grow up building their own self image on the distorted reflections of other equally imperfect travelers. Only a culture generationally mired in deifying it’s own reflection could produce an entire class of celebrity that is famous for nothing more than being famous. Left unmolested by consequence, these people can end up living their whole lives without ever making a single contribution to another human being’s life beyond holding up their own crooked mirror to perpetuate the confusion.
While these things are self-evident to any casual observer, there is a spiritual corollary to this carnal self-importance. It shows up as a distorted estimation of our own inherent value apart from the mercy of God, and a gradual, even incremental abandonment of the doctrine of human depravity. An overhead observation of this particular rat maze shows some tragic choices – some turns made long ago by much of the contemporary Christian world. The modern church is largely laboring, sometimes with absolutely exhausting dedication and zeal, to reach a predetermined but unseen dead-end based on those choices. Think for a moment about the amount of time and treasure invested in the praxis of worship over against the praxis of evangelism, and the point becomes clear. In the modern first-world church, evangelism is trending more and more toward a sort of über-specialization, only to be engaged in by those with a particular ‘skill set’ or ‘affinity’, while the thrust for ever more spectacularized worship ‘experiences’ demands disproportionate and growing emphasis and resourcing. Even in the ranks of those whose livelihood is gleaned from that environment, there is growing angst about the lack of participation in worship, especially singing, in the modern church. There is a grudging realization that the unintended consequence of too much focus on peoples preferences subjugates their invitation to enter into the presence of the Lord to the carnal tendency to dispassionately evaluate the perceived quality of the invitation. Even the mournful prayer band in the home of John Mark’s mother seems to have been overwhelmed by this very natural tendency to focus on the sensual rather than the spiritual. While Peter cooled his heels at the unopened door of the home, they debated as to whether or not it was possible that God had actually heard and answered their prayer, even though they were engaged in the petition with all their hearts and sacrificial late night engagement. Said another way, apparently they were so wrapped up in THEIR actions, it didn’t dawn on them to look for HIS answer (Acts 12:12-15). Sound familiar? Must have been a doozie of a prayer meeting, though.
So, what does that have to do with the funhouse mirror, you ask? Well, here’s a heartfelt invitation to those of us in the community of faith to take a look at our own fundamental set of priorities, and to prayerfully consider if they are aligned with the heartbeat of our Father’s sacrificial intent. When in our worship we focus more on excellence than anointing, it should come as no surprise when those being led focus more on enjoyment than encounter. A church that is confused in it’s purpose (holding up the wrong mirror) is easily buoyed by the metrics of people’s satisfaction, often at the expense of their own intimate personal interaction with the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in scripture are we commissioned to let people see what they want to see, yet that seems to be the ‘long and lean’ mirror of choice these days. Everything we do should obviously be done in a spirit of excellence (a mirror is still a mirror after all, even a crooked one), but excellence should be our methodology, not our motivation. A man cannot truly be born again until he sees his own nature with convicted eyes, and develops a murderous contempt for the sin that caused his ruin. That kind of Isaiah 6 intimacy is the sole purview of the Holy Spirit’s anointing, and cannot be artificially generated, especially through the prism of man’s fallen nature. In the absence of a vivid understanding of one’s own personal culpability for the consequences of sin and the unworthiness that brings, all who purport to be ‘just an old sinner saved by grace’ without owning their freedom from that sin miss the point entirely (John 8:36). The ‘greasy grace’ so beloved in the carnal church runs the risk of inculcating another generation with a me-first ethos of pseudo-Christianity and fueling that proverbial rat’s enthusiastic wanderings toward his inevitable dead end.
So what’s the answer? It’s the same as it was before entitlement took the place of opportunity, and personal fulfillment usurped civic responsibility. Ours is to maintain the balanced, fervent, prayerful life of disciplined obedience that keeps the main thing out front – to live as ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14), authentically reflecting the redemption we’ve received with the infallible Word of truth as our dispassionate standard. That’s the ‘mirror’ the world NEEDS to see, even if this hyper-tolerant, politically correct generation doesn’t WANT to see it. There’s an old saying that ‘the end justifies the means’, and some in Christendom have embraced that carnal distillation. In terms of Christian witness however, the ‘means’ is an integral part of the ‘end’. A Christianity that replaces the authority of the Word, authentically surrendered and transformed living, and the real-time influence of the Holy Spirit with some inferior (though pleasurable) substitute leads people away from that ‘straight gate’ and ‘narrow way’ that brings life (Matthew 7:14), and only makes the deceived’s journey to an inevitable judgment temporarily more enjoyable.