September 27, 2020

Jesus Looks Different Than We Think: Five Things I’ve Learned in 55 Years

On the recent celebration of my 55th birthday, my wife asked me to share five (and a half) things I’ve learned in my half-century (+5) of life. Since five is the number of grace and wisdom I thought it might be appropriate to consider. So here we go: Five Important Things I’ve Learned in Fifty-Five Years of Life.

(1) If you want to be “Christ-like” you must know what Christ is like

The word “Christian” means “follower of Christ” or, more literally, “little Christ.” Yet it seems American Christians prefer the blue-eyed, patriotic, gun-toting Jesus that we invented, rather than the suffering servant of the Bible who constantly scolded well-to-do, religious, law-and-order people.

In biblical days, when presented with the choice of Jesus or Barabbas, the zealot who wanted to foment rebellious overturn of the government, the religious leaders stirred up the people to choose Barabbas. It very much seems today’s religious leaders would stir up people to the same choice.

The “American Jesus” we likewise choose today simply isn’t the Jesus we’re told by the Bible to follow.

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(2) Jesus is not coming soon: “morning or night or noon.”

“Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon” was a catchy ditty from a song we sang often in the church of my youth. As catchy as that tune may have been, it’s actual meaning of “if you went to a movie theater or were listening to rock music there’s a great chance, at any moment, you were going to be “left behind” and have “666” slapped on your forehead to mark you forever doomed to hell.

The trauma of twelve-year-old me believing my family had been taken and I had been judged unworthy to go is bad enough, but the real damage of these end times beliefs has been much more far-reaching.

The “rapture” belief that Jesus would soon appear and take all the “good” people out the world and blow up all the rest has caused us to neglect the environment, to feel free from any concern of people who we judge will not be going with us, and generally feel unobligated to provide for any future generations through infrastructure or preservation. It’s also the genesis of much conspiracy theory thinking as this belief causes us not only to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for evil, but to celebrate it, even if it is invented in our own minds.

The command of the Bible, however, is to treat the world as a bride preparing for the imminent return of a groom for a wedding. Nobody allows their wedding venue to be trashed and neglected. They prepare it to be the most beautiful it can be for the moment that lay ahead. Christians need to know this is their job and everyone else needs to know you’re not going to be “left behind.”

(3) If we don’t know who we really are how will We live the way we’re supposed to live

In my work as an executive coach I often deal with people struggling with their self-worth. Christians find this particularly difficult as they’ve been consistently taught to see themselves as “dirt” – terrible creatures who are fortunate God doesn’t zap them right now. This view of a harsh God causes harshness to flow from them.

The whole of the Bible story, however, is of a creator passionately pursuing those that were created to affirm their value, That each human was declared “good” even before they existed. Taking that story to heart causes us to want to know this benevolent creator more and thus, that benevolence can flow from us, as well.

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(4) God is OK if you change your mind. In fact, he commands you to.

The idea that we have to defend our beliefs at all cost and use a label like “fake news” or “liberal” to discount any idea or person that disagrees with us goes against the command of the Bible to not be “conformed to this age” (to your own ‘bubble.’) The passage says we’re to be transformed by the ongoing renewal of our minds.

To often Christians say “I live by scripture” when, actually they are living by their preferred interpretation of the Bible. They rarely consider the existence of other Christians who read the text differently. In fact, our churches have created a fear of “being deceived” that implores followers to resist such consideration.

Jesus scolded the religious leaders of his day for “taking away the keys to knowledge.” There’s a proverb in the Bible that says “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” In other words, God created wisdom, science, debate, learning – if we understand our true identity as valuable (as ‘kings’), we’ll accept our duty and privilege to search out deeper understanding of matters.

A person shouldn’t be afraid to learn. All that can be lost in such consideration is bondage to an old mindset.

(5) Things might get ugly, but it’s going to be OK

Much of Christian political thought today is based upon fear – “If we don’t elect the “right” candidate, our religion will be taken away. Or we loudly scream “socialism” or some other scary word about boogeymen coming to get us.

There’s no doubt in my mind we are in tumultuous times and deeper troubles likely lay ahead, but in the story of the Bible, those times of “shaking” were important for causing a people to remember what’s really important and turning their faces and hearts back to God.

Yes, our culture might be in some peril now, but let’s not assume some purifying heat is the worst thing to happen. Perhaps these times are exposing heart issues to the light – particularly those of our Christian belief system – that need to be changed.

Yes, the coming weeks and months might be difficult, but I’m convinced something better is on the other side. It might take the transition of a generation, but a new and better ‘us” is ahead. 

(5 -and a half) -at my wife’s request: It’s awesome to have a son born on your birthday

I’ve shared 18 birthdays now with my son, and it is awesome – well, half awesome. It does mean my birthday is now relegated second string to his. I assure you, that is a small sacrifice to make to have this amazing boy in my life!

If I feel that way as a father, how much more must God be willing to sacrifice his pure theology and right to judge us, in order to have relationship with us? Do you think humans are worth it to him?

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