How to Hide Jesus

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Today I’d like to give over a blog post to a poem called “How to Hide Jesus” by Steve Turner.

 

There are people after Jesus.
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let’s hide Him.
Let’s think; carpenter,
fishermen’s friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let’s award Him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They’ll never think of looking here.
Let’s think;
His dialect may betray Him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let’s teach Him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they’ll never think of listening in.
Let’s think;
humble,
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay His head.
We’ll build a house for Him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We’ll fill it with brass and silence.
It’s sure to throw them off.

There are people after Jesus.
Quick, let’s hide Him.

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The Pharisees are Right About You

By the first century the strict interpretation of the Pharisees and Sadducees replaced the office of the Levitical priesthood which God designed centuries before. Today Christian readers of the Bible are conditioned to instantly recognize the two sects as the villains of the story, not unlike the early moviegoers who knew to boo and hiss when the mustachioed man with a cape appeared onscreen. It is difficult to bend our perspective to that of the time and understand that these men knew more about the scriptures than anyone and followed it almost to the letter. It is difficult for us to see them as heroes and yet that is in a sense what they were to the people. What is even harder is to admit that they were right about you and I.

In Matthew 5:20 Jesus made this debilitating pronouncement: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees were right about the absolute need for absolute holiness.

At one point in the gospel of Luke Jesus was a guest in the home of Simon the Pharisee. A woman that Luke describes as “a woman of the city, a sinner” heard where Jesus was and somehow made her way into the house. As she began to anoint the feet of Jesus with an incredibly precious ointment and wipe his feet with her tears and hair and kisses Simon said to himself that if Jesus were truly a prophet then he would know what kind of woman this was. Simon did not even need to mention the further implication that if Jesus knew her he would never permit her to do this. Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

At this point those who are used to this sort of gospel story may think that Simon does not know the woman but they certainly do. She’s secretly a good woman, which Jesus can see but no one else in the room can. We are ready for him to reveal her true self to Simon and put him in his place.

But Simon was right about the woman. In fact, he had her nature pegged. The person he was wrong about was Jesus.

Jesus does know the sinfulness of the woman weeping at his feet. He knows you and he knows me. The real me, the one that I don’t even always know. But by knowing me more than I realize he loves me more than I realize. Simon did not know himself as he should have. That is why Jesus turns his remark back on him in order to show him his heart of pride. While the Pharisees were right about our need for holiness before God they were wrong about the means of holiness. Jesus said to the woman in this account that it was her faith that saved her and she could now go in peace.

You will be mistaken about others and even about yourself until you are no longer mistaken about Jesus.

One Thing We Can All Agree On

You most likely saw social media publicity of the Kony 2012 video campaign. One of the main posters to promote the campaign has an overlapping republican elephant and a democratic donkey with an olive branch between them and the phrase “ONE THING WE CAN ALL AGREE ON” at the bottom.

The matter of Joseph Kony and the child soldiers and other atrocities in Africa and around the world are not really a particularly political issue. The poster works so well precisely because the elephant and donkey do not really belong on it. We feel that we can breath so much more easily when there is finally something on which we can all agree. Certainly you have had the experience of talking with someone whose political, religious, or philosophical views are starkly different from your own. When the topic of conversation becomes too divisive we are quick to use the pressure valve of the weather or sports or anything innocuous. But we might also try to have a conversation about things of great meaning by finding a common moral ground talking about vague things such as love or functional society or something without any real definition. We might dissolve a politically nuanced matter with a statement like, “I just think we should help the poor,” and thus erase all real substance of a conversation by thinking we have arrived safely at the heart of the matter.

The Kony 2012 poster taps into this mentality. It upholds an issue and takes it as a matter of course that we can all agree that Kony is doing wrong and must be stopped. The young people today are hungry to feel that they have fought for social justice and pushed the 21st century world toward the inevitable progress we have promised ourselves. Western youth yearn for harmony and peace in the social discourse and feel that while there are so many divisive issues it is so refreshing to settle on one which everyone would find agreeable. We feel no qualms about posting things about the Kony video; in fact we feel excellent.

A team interviewed young adults for the book Lost in Transition: the dark side of emerging adulthood (Oxford, 2011) and asked them questions about their moral reasoning. They found that 40% said that they primarily decide on what to do morally based on what will make them happy and one in ten would do what would help them get ahead (p. 51).

In his book Terror in the Mind of God (University of California Press, 2000) Mark Juergensmeyer wrote of his interview with convicted terrorist Mahmud Abouhalima in the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc, California. Juergensmeyer said that Abouhalima “challenged our dedication to the virtue of tolerance when we have been unwilling to tolerate religious enthusiasts such as himself” (p. 245). Mr. Abouhalima is exactly correct.

Joseph Kony and his ilk may not think that what they are doing is wrong at all. It might make them rather happy. It might be their best means of surviving and “getting ahead”. In fact those who would say that morality is based on such things or that it is all really just relative in the end have no basis to call what Kony is doing wrong, yet they are the same young adults who feel so reassured that nobody would disagree with stopping him. There really may not be something on which we can all agree, after all. To the moral relativist who says that the right thing to do is what you desire to do, Kony ought to hold a place of honor as one of the few men brave enough to actually take that idea and run with it.

The Christian community has an enormous opportunity with the young adults today. Somewhere in them they know something of what is right and they hunger to be a part of establishing justice for the oppressed. As Christians we can offer them someone in whom they find their place: one of submission to a law of love and of value imparted by the lover. We offer a fixed standard, a person to whom we can belong both in obedient service to the one who defines justice and in a fixed and committed relationship with the one who invented faithfulness. We can offer the one who makes people valuable and who values them alongside his own son. Let us look to meet the needs not only of the oppressed but also of the groaning hearts of those who seek to rescue them.

One Million Animals

As the world begins again to notice the need for just working conditions for workers we must all ask the key question: “Why?”

It has recently come to light that a subcontracting company producing products for Apple has been grossly overworking its factory laborers in China. In a speech at a year-end party Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou made a comment that startled many across the world. Hon Hai is the parent company of Foxconn, the company that is actually producing Apple products in Chinese factories. Gou made his remark at the Taipei zoo, a place that apparently reminded him of his own company. His statement was: “Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.”

At first glance this comment struck many as terribly insensitive, overbearing, and a sign of the mentality that is required to subjugate a company’s workers. But this begs an important question: if we generally believe people to be animals why does someone calling them animals bother us? Although many believe in theory that humans are an animal species they still recoil when someone actually refers to them as animals.

We seem to understand that there is a difference between animals and man. What many don’t seem to understand is that what they claim to believe often does not match up with the rest of what they believe and is not really lived out in their actual lives (how many people really wonder why their dogs aren’t good conversationalists or if fish have discussions about what it is to be a fish or what the whales ever did to save us?).

Perhaps there is something of value in humans. Perhaps they truly are different from the animal world. Perhaps there is a reason that we should be concerned about the welfare of people. If there is a value to people there must be something good by which to measure value and from which it is imparted to people. May I humbly suggest a fixed, inherently valuable person is needed to impart value to humans and that the difference between humans and animals is evidence that they are made in a higher image.

The evolutionary system of thought has philosophical implications. It raises the issue of whether or not humans are morally superior, equal to, or inferior to other animals. Of course there are many who believe each of these. The first step for each of us is to decide where we stand because the implications of humans being just another mammal species and the implications of them being something more are of no small significance.  But if we truly are animals then for pity’s sake let poor Mr. Gou be… or fight him and refuse him mating rights in the herd but please make up your mind.

Begging His Pardon

Although my former college campus was open the public and the area was rather poor I never once saw anyone there begging. What was all too common was people asking for money for various organizations and causes. No one ever asked them to leave or seemed to feel that they shouldn’t be there, but I felt that it was a rather safe assumption that the reaction would have been quite different to a person begging in their own behalf. There were no signs posted but it seemed to be an unwritten cultural rule. But when someone would approach me asking for money for their organization it begged the question of what the difference was between the two situations. Why does it make us uncomfortable when someone comes up to us and asks us for money but we don’t feel the same way when someone asks on behalf of someone else?

I believe it is because when someone asks us to help a third party they are trying to identify with us. They are implying that they are economically equal with us and we find this less unnerving. For whatever reason, when we are with someone clearly below our economic level we feel uncomfortable, perhaps guilty or disconnected. Perhaps we are embarrassed on their behalf. But when it is an organization asking that element is not there, and yet there is essentially no difference between the two: someone is asking for our help.

No wonder it makes us uncomfortable to be faced with a God who stooped to our level. In Philippians 2:7 Paul writes that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus came down from the glories of the divine throne room to be born in a manger on earth and live a life like our own. This is so incredible as to be scandalous. But it goes further.

The fuse of Christ’s humility lit in Philippians continues in II Corinthians 5:21 where Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Here in black and white we are told that Jesus Christ took on our sin, becoming sin on our behalf. Jesus became revolting, unholy, and accursed.

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said that when anyone serves the least of his brothers he is serving Christ Himself. He puts Himself in the place of the lowly in His life, death, and kingdom to come. The beauty in Christ’s humility is that he came the first time as one at our level, a thing no charitable organization seeks to do, and when He welcomes the believers into His future kingdom He still puts Himself in the place of the destitute. How humble His love.

Read Before Signing

Have you said that you want to follow Jesus? You have made quite a statement. Have you said that you will go where He leads? You have committed yourself to a difficult road. When you commit yourself in marriage to a person you give yourself to a sinner. When you commit yourself to Christ as lord you give yourself to someone who is perfect and following Him is not so easy for you, a sinner.

What does it really mean to follow the Messiah? You must die and then continue to struggle on in life. Your death provides no escape except from your sin that was killing you. Having accepted liberation from the sin and death you consign yourself to live standing in grace. You renounce all efforts to earn His grace, all belief that you are worthy of His love and you must live with the discomfort of being faced with your moral paralysis in the presence of His holiness. You agree to have your very nature of pride and attempts at righteousness starved and suffocated. It will not be comfortable.

Do you understand that you are committing suicide? Realize that if you agree to this you are giving up on what you want to do and living a life bound to servitude to those who have hurt you and whom you have hurt.

Know that if you agree to follow Christ your problems will not go away or diminish. You are guaranteed trouble.

People will abandon you and mock you to your face and behind your back. You will be lonely. It will cost time, money, effort, relationships, sleep, and glory.

Understand that you will still sin and this will be confusing and very discouraging. You will feel increasingly guilty for the wrongs you do.

You will walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ Himself, experiencing the life He lived and who He was, tapping into His mind and heart. You will begin to see the world as He saw it and it will disgust and grieve you. You will begin to truly love people. You will hear and see things very differently, in ways that would have made no sense before. At times the smallest things in life will give you a pleasure like never before. Music will be more beautiful and food will taste better. But you will find that what seemed once to be the largest things in life have lost their promise. You are giving up the pursuit of the things you love and all that they may have provided you. Prestige, power, money, acceptance, and that bittersweet feeling of self-pity you indulge in often.

You agree to trust, obey, and follow the Lord no matter what that might mean. No matter what that might mean. No matter where it takes you and no matter who it compels you to love.

You are agreeing to take this offer to others who have not heard it. You are agreeing to teach it to your children, not omitting any part, and to obeying it for them to see. You are agreeing to admit it when you fail in this. Their lives are in your hands. You will answer to the Heavenly Father for the way you raised the children He gave you. You will answer to him for your words and actions in your life.

You are agreeing to follow a poor carpenter’s son who lived the life of a vagabond and whom the holiest men on earth despised for His rebelliousness. You are about to follow someone whose closest friends abandoned him to his death.

You are about to start following the only person who truly loved truly. You are agreeing to follow the one who could not be beaten by death. He made promises to you. Those promises stand. By calling him Lord you are accepting all the promises: forgiveness, rescue from hell, suffering, companionship, belonging, love, and eternity with Him.

Will you accept without reserve the one who accepted you without reserve?

So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

When the Lights go out in Pyongyang

 

This week the U.S. and North Korean governments entered an agreement which says that the North Koreans will put a moratorium on all development of nuclear weapons. The U.S. is cautiously optimistic since similar deals have been broken in the past when the North Koreans asked for more from the U.S. or claimed that the Americans had not held up their end of the bargain, according to the New York Times online.

In Daniel Gordon’s 2004 documentary A State of Mind there is a scene in which a family’s power goes out in their Pyongyang home. One family member says that it is all the Americans’ fault. One must wonder how the current heads of the North Korean government will explain to the people where the food aid is coming from. What is interesting is the picture of a people suffering under the effects of their own government and blaming another country which is trying to offer them help. The North Korean government has put itself in its current position by its extreme isolationism and the foreign sanctions that have come as a result of its aggressive actions.

This is quite an accurate picture of us and God. We find ourselves in a predicament as a result of our own mistakes and then blame the one who is trying to help us out of that predicament. And even when we repeatedly reach out for that help we lose it by breaking the rules God has set. Further, we blame him saying that He broke the promise or did not give us enough.

I am the person whose lights went out in Pyongyang. We all are. In 1981 the band Oingo Boingo released a song called “Only a Lad” part of which says: “The lady down the block/ She had a radio that Johnny wanted oh so bad/ So he took it the first chance he had/ Then he shot her in the leg/ And this is what she said/ Only a lad/ You really can’t blame him/ Only a lad/ Society made him/ Only a lad/ He’s our responsibility/ Only a lad/ He really couldn’t help it/ Only a lad/ He didn’t want to do it/ Only a lad/ He’s underprivileged and abused/ Perhaps a little bit confused”. Similarly, in part of a satirical work called “Creed” Steve Turner writes: “We believe that man is essentially good. It’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.” This is the current wisdom: that all people are essentially good but if one seems bad it is because of “society”. Thus, all people are good but when you lump them together they are bad. A simple mathematical analogy ought to help: If we add many positive numbers together we never get a negative number and when we put many negative numbers together we do not get a positive number. People are the same.

When we look at the desolation of the world we will either persist in stubbornly placing our trust in men or else choose to place it in God. If we continue, however, to look out on the wicked world with fear we have not actually put our trust in God. Trust in Him means that we do not fear the system of sin in our world but rather we come to hate sin. By way of personal illustration I despise snakes. I have said that I am afraid of them but that is not entirely the case. If it were I would not go to many of the places I do and I never really fear that I may inadvertently run into a snake there. Rather I have a very extreme revulsion to snakes. I find them revolting and unnatural. It should be this way with sin. We need not cower before it but also cannot allow it to look insubordinately up at us without making it cower.

This can be difficult when we see ourselves as “sinful” and the world as “evil”. The word “sinful” can almost suggest a hint of an excuse while “evil” sounds far more sinister. What happens when we reverse the terms and say that we are “evil” and the world is “sinful”? We see the darkness of our hearts and the true cause behind the world’s ills.

Whether we believe at our core that I am good and God is evil; I am good and the world is evil; I am good and the world is good; or that I am evil and the world is good; we must follow the truth and when we find our own evil as part of the world’s evil we will find our need for Someone to overcome ourselves.