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The Jesus No One Wants to Talk About

Lonely JesusWe like Jesus. For some that’s too mild of a statement. We love Jesus. We especially love the Jesus who steps in on time, the One who comes to our rescue. We love that Jesus so much we even write songs about Him. Jesus on the main line tell Him what you want…

Nothing compares to the hope one can derive from knowing that Jesus cares. Through the deepest night of despair there is always the confidence that comes from believing that Jesus is with us and will see us through. We want that Jesus.

We also want the Jesus who will fight our battles for us. The text “vengeance is mine” has kept the sanity of many a believer. As we navigate through life we need a shield before us and behind us and no one can do that better than Jesus. We want that Jesus.

We especially want the Jesus that brings forgiveness to our guilty consciences. Lifting the burden of guilt that crushes our souls is a miracle in itself. Regardless of our past we have the promise of forgiveness to those who ask for it. We want that Jesus.

But there is a Jesus we don’t want. We never talk about this Jesus. He’s like that embarrassing relative we want no one to know of. It’s the Jesus that walks the narrow road and who goes against the grain of our lives and against the currents of society. We’re not the first to disown this Jesus but we may be of the generation who ignore Him at the greatest peril.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38

This Jesus showed Himself most clearly during a difficult time in history. The chosen nation, through myriad moral failures, was now in bondage to another nation. The tensions between the government and the people, especially the Jews, were volatile and ongoing.

Appearing on the scene came a man named John the Baptist. He was a unique man who had a calling in life that put him at odds with many who were in power. Whether religious rulers or members of the government, John called out to all the need to repent.

So powerful were his words that people came from all around to hear him. His words were driven home by the power of God and many were convicted and made right with God through his preaching. John was so highly regarded that even Jesus came to him to be baptized. The humble John was actually a legend in his own time.

As the Bible records, John was eventually arrested. As he languished in captivity John sent word to Jesus via his trusted disciples. Without doubt it had to be suggested to John that certainly, if Jesus was who everyone claimed He was, He would make it possible for John to be released from prison. If He was indeed the Messiah, the soon to be King of Israel, surely He could rectify this injustice.

The gospel records the unexpected response Jesus gave to the inquiring disciples.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Matthew 11:4-6

Tell John that the work I am doing to lift fallen humanity and to restore man back to a proper relationship with God is the greatest evidence of who I am that one could be given.

No attempt was made by Jesus to free John from prison. This was not because he did not value John. As a matter of fact you will find more words of affirmation given about John by Jesus than for anyone else. He valued John, but to engage and correct the government of the land, which was full of abuse and injustice, was not the mission of Jesus. This is the Jesus we don’t want.

To make the situation even worse, John the Baptist was eventually murdered by King Herod. I can only imagine that it had the impact upon the masses as the martyrdom of the significant individuals of our respective societies. For my generation this would be like the late Dr. Martin Luther King being murdered while in custody by the government and no excuse or apology given. This was huge.

As a natural reaction, all eyes turned to Jesus. What would He say or do about this blatant injustice? Would he speak against the lengthy record of travesties performed by the governing body? Would He rally the people together to pressure a change in the methodologies and practices of the government? No, He did not.

This is where we begin to part ways with this Jesus. Without any effort on our part we can recall a list of brave individuals who, at the peril of their own lives, effected change in government that has bettered society. That is indisputable. Men and women have been called to play roles in history that paved the way for the freedoms many of us enjoy today.

That fact alone makes it hard for us to embrace this non-activist Jesus. We have a difficult time understanding how on one hand we are to do for the least of these and the other hand find an example in Jesus on how to deal with social injustices that lay at the feet of the government.

We would find it hard to defend Jesus non-involvement in civil reforms relating to government abuses were it not for His relentless labor doing His Father’s work. From rising early to pray with God to healing entire villages of their sick, Jesus worked. He raised the dead, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He brought hope and courage to the downtrodden and forgotten. He forgave sins and lifted the heavy burdens of guilt and shame. Jesus changed lives every day. Not some days or on occasion, but each and every day He worked to reclaim man back to God.

As a defender of the scorned and disenfranchised, Jesus was the ultimate champion. Man-made barriers of race, social standing and religious dogma were shattered by Jesus. Hypocrisy dressed in the garb of religious piety was exposed for what it really was – graves full of dead men’s bones. He related and responded to the real needs of the people. There was a valid reason why the Bible records “the common people heard him gladly.” Mark 12:37

But what about the murdered John. The answer is best given by using the actual words of Jesus. He is now standing before Pilate after enduring a kangaroo court by His own people. Pilate knows this is no ordinary man and he asked Jesus if He was King of the Jews. Jesus’ answer is profound and worth our serious contemplation.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36

That’s not the Jesus we want. That’s not the Jesus we embrace in times of social outrage and shock. That’s not the Jesus who leads us when the injustices of government weigh down upon the masses. We don’t want that Jesus.

We want a Jesus that leads the charge against social injustice committed by those who govern. We want a Jesus that will give voice to our justified outrage. We want a Jesus who demands justice and leaves no stone unturned in holding the guilty accountable.

But maybe the argument can be made that in this particular case, Jesus does not have to serve as our example. Perhaps there is a uniqueness about the mission of Jesus that singularly prevented Him from engaging in civil reforms. Maybe we should look a little lower for our example.

Paul, the most prolific writer of the New Testament, offers godly advice in many areas of life. He launched church after church and traveled extensively throughout the region. His mission to the Gentiles put him into close proximity with those who had a different life experience than those of the Jewish nation.

As we search through his writings the theme that rises to the top is something he said while in Athens. This great city was the center of heathendom. Along with a population of highly intelligent people, idolatry was a way of life. We would be correct in our assumption that there were injustices and crimes committed by those in power.

Yet Paul, with his gift of oratory and his keen intellect fails to ever mention social injustices committed by those in power, particularly the need for civil reforms. Even while on his own journey to his ultimate demise, we find Paul silent regarding the corrupt system of government that existed. What He did talk about was the saving of the lost and the revealing of the redeeming Christ to those hopelessly lost in sin.

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Like Christ, Paul had a laser focus on his mission in life. His efforts were all put towards that end. His life was completely dedicated to the Savior he met on the Road to Damascus. And Paul too leaves us an example of our priorities in life.

Neither Christ nor Paul’s example discounts the validity of the grievances many have against those in power. There are absolutely unconscionable injustices perpetrated on the powerless by those in power today just as there were during the days of Christ and Paul. This is not a matter of burying one’s head in the sand.

Nor does their example suggest that the people should not take advantage of all rights and privileges afforded to them including the ballot box. But their example does point us to the real cure for the evilness of man – the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

This world, as it is today, is not our final home. Like Abraham of old, we must look beyond today.

For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10

 

My questions:

How applicable are the examples of Jesus and Paul when confronted with injustice and the lack of accountability by those in power?

What should our conversation be during times of crisis and controversy, especially related to the racial divide that plagues our land?

No Inmates Beyond This Point!

PrisonNO INMATES BEYOND THIS POINT!

This was the sign that warned us each time we departed the prison grounds at the women’s federal prison in Texas. As we crossed the boldly red striped line each day we understood what a privilege we have to be free and able to leave the grounds knowing that those who watched us walk away could only dream of the day they could do the same. 

For three days Shelley and I have been conducting a series of workshops to the inmates on job readiness skills once they would transition back into society. For some, the departure date would be decades from now but they were none-the-less engaged as if their freedom was in the near future.

The group of women we served covered a broad spectrum. We had young women all the way to grandmothers that were in the years when most are planning retirement. We had multiple races and ethnicities.

During our time together we learned a little of each woman’s history. Some had been millionaires (not wanna bees), others had never really held a job. We had skilled artisans of a wide variety and even someone who had broken a racehorse in her previous life in the Midwest.

We were struck with how normal many of the ladies were yet through bad decisions they chose to make, they were now convicted felons. We shared useful job readiness information on how to move forward in life once they would be released. But even more important than that we were also able to share example after example of how Jesus had a habit of meeting people at their worst and changing their lives in ways they could have never dreamed.

Meeting people at their worst…, I might have to write something else along those lines.  

5 Resolutions that Don’t Include Dieting

New YearIt’s that time of the year for the annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. Heading the most popular resolutions will be losing weight and improving your health. Although those are great goals, they are not on my list of five.

Another frequently cited resolution is becoming debt free. I am all for that and it’s certainly the best way to live. “Owe no man anything” was written for a good reason. But that’s not in my five.

Did You Keep YOUR Word?

PromiseDisclaimer and Notice: This article is addressed only to those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ; aka Christians.

Over and over ad nauseam is the (feigned) outrage over the President’s (alleged) not keeping of his word regarding insurance policies for a segment of our insured population. If one didn’t know better, judging by the news and social media armchair journalist, this is the height of moral failure. There is disgust and vilification about this lapse in consistency regarding this very complex situation.

Never mind that he kept his word in making health care available to millions who just a short while ago, had none. Never mind that as of today, those with these unfortunate cancellation notices, still have insurance and I am optimistic that they will continue to have coverage. But that fact seems to be conveniently ignored.

I am Trayvon Martin… and George Zimmerman

ShadowI am Trayvon Martin… and George Zimmerman

I know you’re wondering how that’s even possible. Two people, so diametrically opposed to each other. One a man, the other a boy. Different races and different backgrounds. One married, the other not. One dead, the other alive. From different places in life yet they are both me.

As a young man who grew up in the inner city with my formative years as a public housing resident, I have walked the streets as Trayvon Martin. My daily life, though lived in another century, was not dis-similar. The color of my skin was a distinct liability for future aspirations beyond the cement patches that I called home.

My sons, nephews and cousins of today are Trayvon Martin lookalikes. It runs in our blood. Being young and viewed by default as less than honorable solely based on stereotypes and prejudices is a never-ending sad reality. Trayvon Martin’s physical description alone, without knowing the name, could have been the son, brother, nephew of many of my closest friends and family members.

The Power of Freshly Popped Popcorn

popcornI was reminded recently that many times it the littlest things that can have the biggest impact. I just arrived as a guest presenter at a religious convocation being held in Texas. After greeting friends that I had not seen in some time, I went inside the registration hall to get my visitor materials. On my way out, my friend who had picked me up from the airport, pointed out that standing nearby was the regional conference secretary (VP). He asked if I knew him and while his face looked familiar I didn’t readily place it.

We went over and I was reintroduced. As we reminisced the secretary reminded me with a smile that he was the one who was responsible for my initial invitation to present to this conference a few years ago. As I tried to remember how we met, he went on to fill in the gaps in my memory. He told me “it was the popcorn”.

The popcorn! I remembered then exactly what he was referring to. Three years ago at our denomination’s world-wide convocation I had a simple trade booth at one of the venues setup for the occasion. Along with a nice back drop advertising my ministry, I knew I needed to do everything I could to catch the attention of the many decision makers in attendance.

My wife that previous Christmas season bought me a really nice mini replica popcorn popper. It stood about four feet tall and through the glass case you could see and smell the popcorn as it was being freshly popped. I was fortunate to gain permission from the venue manager that as long as I did not charge for the popcorn and only gave away small samples, I could set it up at my booth.

Needless to say fresh popped popcorn was a hit. We passed out countless small cups of popcorn. It was a great conversation starter. Unbeknownst to me at that time, this conference secretary had the occasion to come by my booth. As a lover of popcorn he was drawn to my booth and during a brief conversation he took my information directly to the particular conference director who my ministry correlated with.

Well, as they say, the rest is history. I have received more invitations to this part of the country than any other. As a presenter at conference wide initiatives and as an invited trainer at many individual churches, that simple cup of free popcorn has opened more doors that I could have ever dreamed of.

The Prodigal Son is in Good and Regular Standing in the Church

 

Pews

Before you jump to conclusions let me clarify a few things. Whenever the subject of the prodigal son comes up we naturally are accustomed to picturing a young person who has lost their way. We use this story, and rightly so, to show the dangers of a life of aimless, godless living. For many mothers and fathers this story gives hope to the day that their own “prodigal” child returns home. It if could happen for the subject of this biblical account, surely it could happen for us. Amen somebody.

 While all of the above is true I want to point us in another direction for the application of this story. I would like us to consider that the prodigal son is in good and regular standing in the church. I’m not suggesting a person living a dual life; one where they are one way in church settings but an entire different, less spiritual way throughout the week.  That’s a fair use of the story but not for the purpose of this discussion.

The 6 Million Dollar Man (or Woman)

“We can rebuild him — we have the technology”6-million-dollar-man

That’s the catch phrase from the 1970’s hit show named the 6 Million Dollar Man. (I’m dating myself :) ) The show was built around the bionic improvements made to a man who suffered severe injuries in an aircraft wreck. With 6 million dollars they were able to replace both of his legs, his right arm and left eye with bionic improvements of the same.

The character of the TV show, post surgery, could run at superhuman speeds, had super human strength and super human vision. In essence, he was an improved man with a greater ability to do good for mankind.

Improving on what one has is no less needed today. My lists for improvements for the New 6 Million Dollar Man (or Woman) are as follows:

An Open Love Letter…to you

Dear xxxxxx,

On this symbolic day of love I am writing this letter to say thank you for all that you do. I know that many times your efforts seem to go unnoticed but I want to assure you that they are not. Many of us notice and highly value what you do on a regular basis and it would be a great loss if you were not involved in the ways that you are.

One thing I love about you is how you continue to do what you do even though the odds seem stacked against you. If one were to focus on the outward appearances, the environment for success appears dismal. All around you are the voices of negativity, dissension, distrust and anger and yet, you stay positive and encouraging through it all. Your smiles and warmth seem to offset the frowns and worries of those you encounter. I love your kindness.

I Go a Fishing

Sitting in a swaying boat on a moon-lit night, seven men of destiny talked the hours away. The events of the last few years had been nothing less than stupendous. They were first-hand witnesses to the most incredible events in the history of man. They had experienced the highest of highs as everyday was an adventure. They were living in the middle of a best-seller.