Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
Character: the distinctive nature of something
Caricature: a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.
I walk into the mall a few weeks before my wedding. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I keep spending money! Ana calls. Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Hello? Hi sweetheart…Yes, I got your 78th email about the final-final-final reception list….No, your mother is not going to decide what color suit I get to wear…Uh.. you want a portrait of us propped up on the reception table? I hesitate. Umm, alright, I can make that happen. I hang up the phone to quickly look over my shoulder, and what do I see? An artist is drawing a picture of a lady. That’s cool. Maybe he can draw a picture of us, and then I can surprise Ana by thinking I already bought the frame and planned this whole picture thing! Good thinking, Shaun!
I walk over to the booth. The man is really focused. The lady he’s painting, she’s a pretty lady—long beautiful hair, exotic eyes, and an Angelina Jolie smile to match. Of course my wife is prettier, but that’s beside the point. I watch. I stand. I wait. The guy takes about five minutes to finish his masterpiece, and the woman walks around to see what he’s done. I need to see her reaction so I can decide if this guy is really worth my cash. Immediately, the lady jumps up in excitement. Let’s give her a name. I don’t want to call her lady anymore. Let’s call her Tybermilinda or something. Ok. So, apparently, Tybermilinda loves the painting. She has the little shocked expression on her face and tries to gasp for air, but she’s too busy smiling that she can’t regulate her emotions. At this point, you know I’m anxious to see this Picasso piece. I politely ask Tybermilinda to see the painting, and she turns it around. I watch. I stand. I pray I don’t say what I really want to say. She has the, “So… what do you think” look on her face. I have the, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” look on mine. The pause was really awkward. The painting looked nothing like the real person. It really was a bootleg Picasso mess-terpiece. Tybermilinda’s nose was crooked—I mean, really crooked—and her eyes were mega droopy, and her hair was kind of electric-looking. It was horrible. Mr. Artist was certainly not getting my money.
Then I realized something. This work of art wasn’t supposed to portray an actual reflection of the lady. It was a caricature of her. It was drawn with the intent of making viewers laugh at the obvious difference between this beautiful woman and her comedic art piece. She loved it, and obviously the artist loved it, but me? Not so much. I was disappointed in this joke-of-a-thing they called art. And then, like clockwork, I saw God in this.
For a second the world around me took a commercial break and I saw a vision of the church. I saw an artist painting a distorted image of God’s beautiful face. I saw the artist turn the painting around toward the congregation. The congregants loved it, and obviously the artist did too, but me? Not so much. I wanted the picture to display the real God, the God I knew existed before we humans messed up His image.
When Caricature Comes to Church
I am deeply concerned about the way so many churches portray God. My joyful smile turns into a painful burden when God’s name and reputation becomes the butt of everyone’s joke. When we see manipulation in the church and we don’t cry out against false prophets in order to bring social justice to the God of justice, I have a problem with it. I’d like to call this holy cop-out our form of safe silence. But my dear brothers and sisters, why do you sit there silently and allow the comedian to continue her act? Why do we confront the issue behind closed doors or at the local restaurant after church? Why are we afraid to lovingly tell someone to stop the buffoonery and get their act together? Even worse, why are we, the children of God, more likely to mock our Daddy than to submit to His direction?
I deeply believe God is very disappointed in what the church has turned into. If you look around, you will find churches Xeroxing God’s presence, and manufacturing the celebration event. It’s inauthentic and it is not what God intended. We deflate the balloon of the Spirit, and ignore God limping into His temple as He gasps for air in His own church. We’ve replaced true worship with our own artistic design, and the terrible part is, we think we’re headed in the right direction. We need the character, not the caricature of God.
Instead of God reigning and ruling in our churches, Jesus becomes the guest preacher whom we invite in if someone in our family gets sick. He’s invited the day before we lose our home, and asked to leave the month after we walk into our new one. The day after we get approved, we remove his name from the lease. When our marriages break down or the cable stops working, then maybe God will get more than 20 minutes of our week. We need the character of God, not the caricature.
I use “we” language because all of us must see ourselves in the middle of this problem, and not as the exception to the rule. Many of us have lost focus of the things that really matter. Look around. There is so much money and so little ministry. God’s miracles seem to be on mute and the North American church is growing weaker and weaker by the decade. But what irks me most of all is this: instead of asking God to transform us, we turn around and justify reasons why God isn’t moving, healing, and changing things; as if God is the variable and we are the constant. We say we’re married to Christ eternally, but in the meantime, we resort tomatch.com for a hot new mate just in case Jesus doesn’t work out. The church is unfearful of the God who established her. The longer we live, the more we resemble our Israelite forerunners, who, in an attempt to understand the spirit of the age, lost touch with the Rock of all Ages. In our aim to become more relatable to contemporary pop-culture, we have buried God’s To Do list under our Do Me list. We need the character of God and not the caricature.
We are all guilty, in some way, of conforming to the way of worldliness and carnality. We have allowed the world to become our social instruction manual. It tells us how to operate, and not the other way around. And after we’ve drawn our perfect portrait of the way new church should look, we turn our doodled sketches around to God—last but not least—and God doesn’t jump up with excitement like the lady did. God isn’t happy with our alterations. God doesn’t see a real reflection. He may see an inflection, an infection, or a dramatization, but God surely doesn’t himself. We need the character of God and not the caricature.
The Character of God
The missing link is the character of God (Gal. 5:22). We need it desperately. Before we host another groundbreaking service, we must first break up the fallow ground in us. Before we host another conference, we need to stop and make sure we’re conferring with God more than we speak to His millionaire preachers. We need to study who God is and pay attention to who God is not. It’s a problem when ministers easily forget the call to discipleship but always remember to take up an offering. What are our true priorities? The character or the caricature?
The character of God is the spirit of God (John 4:24). God is a spirit (John 4:24). The Spirit is the essence of God’s nature. It’s the stuff God is made of. God’s divine features make Him indistinguishable from anything we see and anyone we know. Yet, we can get to know God if we are in relationship with Him. We can see God in creation (Romans 1:20). We can feel God’s presence in this wonderful expression called mystery. Even though God is not us, we were created after Him, so we look like Him, and we can find him if we really want Him. Let me say it another way. Humans are prone to describe someone’s character by their characteristics. You know, by the immediate images that come to mind when you say a person’s name. So when I say Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, you might think of a Caucasian female with a blue checkered dress, some little red shoes, and her dog To-To. The same is almost true with God’s character, but there is one component about God that is very different from man. God is not man. God is a spirit. We have a spirit, yes, but God IS Spirit. His character, therefore, is in His spirit. That means, there is no way I can notice God in the spirit until I abide /see through God’s spirit. God’s being is wrapped up in mystery. God’s love is realized through relationship. God’s character is revealed in the Spirit, by the Spirit, because God [is] SPIRIT.
Finally, the character of God is formed within us. It cannot be copied and pasted from one church to the next. Godly character is produced from the raw materials of human flesh, mixed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and creates something new within us that only God can take the credit for. But here’s the catch: God’s character can only be imputed in you once your flesh is cut down. Your flesh needs a haircut. Not just once a year, but frequently and consistently. Like hair that grows very quickly, you can exude God’s character one week, and the very next week, your flesh hairs can sprout up and cause Mr. Caricature to come out of the closet. My advice to you is to find a spiritual barbershop and get the flesh in order! Galatians 5:24 tells us to crucify our flesh! Another verse tells us to mortify the deeds of our flesh. Thus, when we adhere to these scriptures, we agree to work diligently on us, so that God can live in us without interruption.
My prayer for the church is that we will get saved all over again. I pray that we will fall in love with the Spirit more now than ever before. I pray that we seek for God’s Spirit, and not for our success. I pray that we will want to reflect His image, and not our own. Let us pray for the character of God, not the caricature. Amen
Shaun Saunders is the President of FinishYourBook, LLC (formerly Godzchild Inc.) Professor of English at Bloomfield College, Professor of Dialogue at Claremont Lincoln University, the Discipleship Pastor of Change Church (Dharius Daniels), and the Senior Director of Education and Retention at New Life Covenant Southeast (John Hannah).
A preacher, professor, ghostwriter and worship leader, Shaun is the author of 6 books and holds degrees from Seton Hall University (B.A. and M.A. in English), Duke University (Masters of Divinity), and Princeton Theological Seminary (Masters of Theology).
His publishing company has assisted over 300+ authors since its inception in 2008, including but not limited to: Tamela Mann, Richard Smallwood, JJ Hairston, Myron Butler, Stephen Hurd, Bishop Eric McDaniel, Evang. Tiffany Morriar, Bishop Eric Garnes, and Tye Tribbett.