Who Would Jesus Vote For, and What Would He Name His Yacht?

“It Looks Just As Stupid When You Do It.” That was the caption on an anti-tobacco refrigerator magnet I was given in junior high.

Whoever wrote the ad was either untrained in persuasion or was trying to subliminally create a positive association with cigarette smoking. One’s first thought at this ad is that, despite how silly the creatures look, they do at least look pretty cool. If nothing else, it created an indelible mental association between cute and innocent animals and cigarettes.

More importantly, people (especially young ones) do not care about whether or not they look stupid unless looking stupid makes them uncool. Studies prove that the addition of a cigarette in one’s hand often does make them appear cooler to the bystander. Albeit, it seems that there is a coolness threshold, wherein a nicotine-slave fiendishly sucking down a chain of cigarettes crosses the parabola into unsavory (uncool) territory. I’m not even going to address the blatant uncoolness of electronic cigarettes.

The point is, nobody cares about appearing stupid unless appearing stupid is a barrier to their social acceptance. If one is preoccupied with impressing others and must do so via means of stupidity, then they will not think twice. “Not thinking twice” is actually a pretty good definition of stupidity.

The other inherent silliness of the ad is that it presupposes a similarity of social roles between humans and non-humans. And this is my main point.

The animals don’t look silly because they somehow know better than to smoke cigarettes. They look silly, because their civilizations have not advanced to the level of establishing complex structures, such as a tobacco industry that generates three quarters of a trillion dollars annually, for instance. Animals, it turns out, enjoy cigarettes too. They just were never clever enough to invent them and skilled enough to make them, but that’s not to say they were never unwise enough to habitually smoke them.

Another slogan that was popular in my youth was “What Would Jesus Do?” People would wear bracelets with the slogan. It became a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon.

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And apparently Kanye West still sports one?

The original intent of the bracelets (other than financial profit) seemed innocent enough. They could be used as a reminder to “do the right thing” throughout the day. While it is asinine for someone to need a bracelet to remind them about what they should be meditating on already, sometimes infants need their milk. The bracelets became no more than a fad and an unoffensive context for a Christian subcultural foray into the mainstream.

“Would Would Jesus Do?” as a fad was pretty harmless, but as a theological principle it is incredibly unhelpful if taken to its logical conclusions. You see, the fad did not end with bracelets. After George W. Bush began sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 I started seeing bumper stickers on people’s cars that read “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Then in subsequent elections “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” started appearing. The trend continues.

I should make a bumper sticker that says “What Would Jesus Name His Yacht?” or “What Would Jesus Name His Firstborn Daughter?” Imagine contexts in which Jesus might be purchasing a yacht or being married and having children. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? Is it a sin to own a yacht? Some people probably think so, but no, not if you have the means. Is it a sin to bear offspring? On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us to “be fruitful and multiply.” So why is it a funny thought? Because Jesus had a different social role and function than other people do.

The anti-tobacco ad is silly because it unfairly associates human civilization and capacity with animal civilization and capacity. Jesus is fully man and fully God. As peers in Christ’s human nature, we are able to laterally relate our experience with His. Herein, Jesus refers to us as His “friends” (John 15). But as subjects unto His divine nature, our relation to Him is quite different.

Jesus came to earth with a very specific purpose and role. The example He has set before us and the lessons He has taught us provide us with the instruction for leading lives of holiness, but they do not define the nuances of our daily experience. Because of Christ’s Messianic role He lived in such a way that promoted His mission.  Although our Christian mission is to proliferate His, our earthly role is not materially the same. It is of the same Spirit, but of different functions. The body performs a different set of tasks from the Head (1 Corinthians 12).

With these things in mind, it is not helpful to constantly pose the question of what Jesus would or would not have done. It may be relevant to basic questions of morality, but it is useless in light of complex social scenarios. These questions are not helpful because they miss the point of the Gospel entirely. Christ’s Gospel is good news for condemned sinners. It’s chief aim is to save and internally transform a person (gradually) into the person God designed them to be.

To this end, we are given the instructions for daily living. In addition to being preoccupied with one’s conversion and spiritual growth, Christ’s instruction is also focused on the growth of His Kingdom as promoted through evangelism and discipleship. For that reason, the complex social structures in which we try to retrofit Jesus Christ do not boast the precedence that His Kingdom holds.

That is not to say that Christians are not tasked with engaging with the complex systems of our surrounding societies. At times, many of you have probably felt immense internal conflict regarding that engagement. I will address that at a future date. In the mean time I’m pretty sure I know who Jesus would be vote for, but I’ll address that in my next post.

 

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Invisible Oppressors

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“The scribes… were saying, “[Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.”

Mark 3:22-27

The wisdom of Jesus is remarkable. In this particular exchange He is, on the surface, defending the origin of His power. In doing so, He goes on to say a great deal more. A prominent lesson to be inferred here is that internal divisions disrupt unity and pave the way for inevitable defeat. There is strength in numbers acting in solidarity with one another, but when those numbers are broken off into factions there is vulnerability. Jesus teach us also that it takes the greater strength of one to overcome the great strength of another.

Throughout history, civilizations have always been vulnerable to external and internal forces  which have been represented as foreign governments or rulers, business corporations, and political or religious ideologies. Much is said these days regarding the individual person or group’s perceived experience of “oppression.” The blame for societal oppression is often placed on racial, gender, religious, or economic groups. While injustices do occur within these parameters, it seems to me that the majority of systemic injustices are rooted in issues of class and/or ideology.

The human brain likes shortcuts and will seek to ascribe a familiar face to a threat. It could be said that our greatest enemies are those that are invisible to us in our day-to-day. The class ruler or the ideologue makes use of this tendency of the human brain and so seeks to persuade the members of a society to cast blame unreservedly on their own peers (based on superficial identifiers) in an effort to divide them into factions. Once divided, they are more easily brought unto the heel.

The irony of this, of course, is that the members of a society will waste their time bickering or warring with one another all while unwittingly being subjected to shared injustices. There is strength in numbers, and we take on our enemies by “binding the strong man.” but we are so often weakened by division.

While we can draw these lessons from Christ and apply them to our experience of earthly injustices, Jesus is referring more directly to spiritual tormenters. Every human being is alienated from God because of their sin. This alienation renders us vulnerable to Satan and his kingdom- the enemies of our souls. This sinful nature is what drives humanity to act unjustly  in the first place.

Because our sins alienate us from God, they set us on a course to hell where we will forever remain alienated from Him. There is no earthy life or afterlife to be truly cherished unless the terms of this alienation are rectified. Jesus came to earth to do just that. When He died on the cross, He bore the punishment of our sins. He bore injustice that He might justify us before God. When He resurrected from the dead (for death is a curse for sin for which He was not worthy) He made it possible for us to be made spiritually alive- to be restored to our fellowship with God.

Even after this fellowship is restored Christians are still affected by the evil nature of these bodies in which we dwell. With God’s help we fight against this sinful nature all of our lives. The sin has influence in our lives, but it no longer has power to subdue us and to formally separate us from God. Because of that, it removes the power of Satan in our lives. Jesus Christ is greater than the “strong man,” and He gives us authority in Himself to oppose our (invisible) spiritual enemies and to subdue them. Our individual fellowship with God must emerge into corporate fellowship with other believers. God invites us into His kingdom and calls on us to spread His Gospel that others all the world over might know such freedom.

 

You Must Embarrass Yourself

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“…Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. …and said ‘How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!’ So David said, ‘It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler of the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate the LORD. I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes….”

2 Samuel 6:16b, 20b-22a NASB

King David was well-known for his charismatic and intense spirit. He was called a man after God’s own heart. We can learn a lot from his life, both in terms of what to do and what not to do. Not everyone is going to match the vigor of David’s spirit, as we are all gifted differently with varying temperaments. But there is one area in which we must all strive to be like him, and that is in our willingness to embarrass ourselves.

I’ve recently been sharing my thoughts on Christian evangelism. In my last post I discussed how evangelism is obligatory for Christians. I received some thoughtful feedback on the matter. One reader discussed his personal struggle with pursuing evangelism. In summation, he said that his reluctance to evangelize is informed by an avoidance of personal risk derived from the social intimidation that comes with the thought of being negatively associated with certain Christians.

The Scriptures have much to say regarding this matter. Jesus told His disciples that if others rejected them, it was actually Jesus who they were rejecting (Luke 10). He says also that the world will know they belong to Christ when they see the love that Christians have for one another (John 13). Jesus says also in His famous Sermon on the Mount:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16 NASB

In other words, if we love God we will be driven to love others and to good works. When the watching world sees the love we have and the righteous deeds we perform, they will know that we are of God. When we are pursuing and living for God, our lives become a window to nonbelievers into the person of Christ. Our love for God will motivate us to obedience and will stir in us a love and compassion toward others. Our love for others will draw us toward sharing the Gospel with others. Many will reject us! But is not us they reject, but Christ- provided we are living according to Christ’s teachings.

If nonbelievers reject the message, we need not be ashamed for sharing the message. It is God who, as the Psalmist says, “illumines [our] darkness” (18:28b). So long as they are in darkness, they will respond as those who are in darkness. We do not help them to see the light of Christ by covering it to avoid their (or our own) personal discomfort. The Gospel will change them. We must never change the Gospel.

Jesus also tells His disciples to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14). Being a disciple of Christ will require personal sacrifice, often in the form of personal discomfort. Fortunately, we have as our example One Who gave His body willingly to be tortured, stripped, and crucified for the sake of our salvation. There is no sacrifice too great to make on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds us of the suffering he endured for the Gospel. He counted as gain everything he lost for the sake of Christ. And everything he gained, he esteemed as dung (Philippians 3:8). He spoke of his evangelical pursuits as a race for which he exercised great discipline to win (1 Corinthians 9). His prize was to fulfill the work of Christ.

These Scriptures present to us a great personal challenge. Are we willing to esteem God above all others? Jesus says that to follow Him, we must proverbially hate everyone and everything else in comparison (Luke 14). It is only by this estimation that we can ever publicly shame ourselves to live a life of overt praise as David did. And it is only by this estimation that we be made willing to endure personal discomfort and any other more severe manner of sacrifice.

The call to evangelism is first a call to total love for and surrender to God. When He is the object of our affections, no earthly shame will matter. Do you love God this way? If not, ask Him to tune your heart to sing His grace. As the hymnist Robert Robinson writes:

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.”

 

 

Evangelism is Not an Elective

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….”

Matthew 28:19-20a NASB

As He ascended into Heaven, Christ parted with words that would set the tone for the entire future of Christendom. His disciples would go on to obey this edict and take the Gospel to the the whole of the known world. The Church of Jesus Christ continues to pursue this mission to this day. Some of them do, anyway.

In my last post I recalled a recent experience in which I totally disregarded an opportunity to evangelize a stranger. This experience was disappointing for me, despite the fact that I’ve not recently had a tendency to evangelize, probably due to distraction and self-centeredness.

In the preceding weeks, God had begun to stir up a passion in my heart toward these matters. This is always the origin of Christian evangelism. As the late Keith Green said, “You put this love in my heart.” Evangelism arrises from an overflow of love and gratitude for our Savior. It is mercifully driven by His work in us.

“…[The religious authorities] commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18b-20 NASB

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When confronted by opposing religious authorities, Peter and John expressed an INABILITY to stop preaching the Gospel. They were so wrapped up in their love for and thankfulness toward Christ that they couldn’t help but tell all about it to others. Their love for and fellowship with Christ led to a compassion for others, to see them become believers of His Gospel.

The day after my aforementioned experience, I had an experience of another sort. I work at a homeless shelter and have recently gotten to know a man who is staying there. Before I left for the day I struck up a conversation with him. He told me that he was moving out soon. As I was about to leave, I felt a compulsion to share Christ with Him. I almost ignored it entirely, but I was constrained by the Holy Spirit.

I began conversing with him, prayerfully seeking an opportunity to mention Christ. Finally he made mention of a local Christian ministry at which he had attended some services and performed some court-ordered community service hours. I abruptly asked him, “Are you a Christian?”

He pinched his fingers together as he informed me that he believed in the power of prayer and that he felt like he was “almost there”- almost ready to commit himself to God. I sat down and talked with him for a while, and he began to tell me his life story. He kept stopping and saying, “I’ve never told anyone this stuff before. I don’t know why I’m telling you.” I answered some questions he had and persistently shared the Gospel.

As we wrapped up, I asked if I could pray for him. He eagerly gave me his hands, and we prayed. As I left he kept remarking on how amazing it was that this conversation had occurred, as he has been on the fence with these matters. I gave him my number and went on my way, assuring him that I only spoke with him because I felt God leading me to do so.

Although circumstances like this have been normative in my life in times past, this entire episode was a unique experience for my life in recent years. My hope is that, through God’s help and courage, I begin to seek out evangelistic opportunities elsewhere. It has been natural for me and so many Christians to disregard this critical piece of Christian living.

We are not only called to lead righteous and holy lives, but to love God and to love one another. Jesus tells us in John’s gospel that if we “love Him, [we] will keep His commandments.” Therefore, if we love Him, we will obey the call to share the Gospel persistently with others.

Might I challenge you, as I am being challenged, to pursue a pure fellowship with Christ through the Spirit of God? Will you make specific requests of Him that He will surround you with His Spirit and keep you in His steps? That He will give you a love and a passion for Him that overflows into a deep love for others? That you will be granted wisdom, opportunity, and courage to share His Gospel to those you meet? He commands it! Evangelism is not an elective for the child of Jesus Christ!

 

Redeeming the Time

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Ephesians 5:15-16 KJV

The late Sam Simon, one of the founders of The Simpsons, gave an interview in the final months of his life. While walking his Cane Corso “Columbo,’ he remarked that walking one’s dog is one of life’s great pleasures. He said he never understood people who paid others to walk their dogs for them, that it was like paying another man to sleep with your wife. There really is nothing like walking your dog. This evening I was doing so late into the night. After my dog and I reached our destination, I began to walk briskly back home.

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I was suddenly stopped by a young man as he crossed over to my side of the road. I walk regularly through heavily-trafficked areas, and I am no stranger to panhandlers. Many times I strike up conversations them, but it’s rare that we develop a rapport. So many of them are deeply damaged psychologically and neurologically. They won’t remember you from one minute to the next. Nevertheless, I make inroads where I can. Very occasionally I’ll part with a dollar or two.

I am always automatically suspect when someone ostensibly appears out of nowhere, but sometimes I will entertain their questions before moving along. As the young man stopped me, I felt myself internally recoil and stand guard. Even in this posture, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. As it turned out, he had just gotten off work and only needed help shutting down his phone which had seized function. I showed him how to do a hard reset. He thanked me, and we wished each other well.

My sense of recoil was totally natural, and even called for given the unexpected nature of the circumstances, and I walked away with a sense of relief that the encounter was so harmless in nature. But then my conscious began to convict me, not for my recoil, but because I had not taken that seemingly random moment as an opportunity to share Christ with the young man. I was reminded of a story of the famed evangelist, D.L. Moody:

[One] night, Mr. Moody got home and had gone to bed before it occurred to him that he had not spoken to a soul that day about accepting Christ. “Well,” he said to himself, “it is no good getting up now; there will be nobody on the street at this hour of the night.” But he got up, dressed and went to the front door. It was pouring rain. “Oh,” he said, “there will be no one out in this pouring rain. Just then he heard the patter of a man’s feet as he came down the street, holding an umbrella over his head. Then Mr. Moody darted out and rushed up to the man and said: “May I share the shelter of your umbrella?” “Certainly,” the man replied. Then Mr. Moody said: “Have you any shelter in the time of storm?” and preached Jesus to him.

From Why God Used D.L. Moody by R. A. Torrey

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The Christian is called not only towards righteous and worshipful living, but also to evangelism. As Jesus ascended into heaven, He told his followers to go out into the world preaching the Gospel. These days we struggle so much as to steer a conversation this way- even in our own back yard. Not only must I be opportunistic in my evangelism, but I must always be careful to not allow a preoccupation with my own self-preservation hinder my calling to promote the salvation of those estranged from God.

It is circumspect to mind our surroundings and to be apprehensive in the face of human cunning, but we mustn’t let our protectionism become an end in itself. The only end is God Himself. It is He who ultimately protects us, loves us, saves us, and commands us to courageously share with others the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that pays for humanity’s sins and awakens in us the very purpose for which we were made.