“I Quit Being A Christian To Follow Jesus”
Still working on my book, “I Quit Being A Christian To Follow Jesus.”
This is the 3rd draft of my final chapter (of 13).
I would love feedback…
Glow Sticks In The Blender
14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
At a recent gathering of our church’s elders, I reluctantly pulled my glasses out to read a distributed document. Even with my age amplifying spectacles, I had to hold the paper at arm’s length from my straining pupils. It had been a couple years since I had seen my optometrist for an updated prescription. One of our smart-alec elders jokingly said, “Do you want me to hold it for you?” Jon Franz, an elder and supposedly Godly man, asked if I wanted to use his glasses. In reality he was asking if I was ready to stop denying my 50-ness. Jon had one of those cheapo pair of magnifying glasses you can score for five bucks at Walgreens. I told Jon and the guys that an off the rack pair of glasses would never work for my sensitive and aging eyes. Jon pushed them under my nose and pressed me to give them a try. I comically put them on, but then suddenly… boom, I could see. It was amazing. Right there in a holy elder’s meeting, the gang busted out laughing directly at my squinting face. I’m fairly sure they’re going to answer to God for their total disrespect of the pastor. After all, why would they laugh at someone going blind right before their potentially cursed eyes? Truth be told, I was laughing right alongside my four-eyed, leader friends.
Eyesight and vision, in all seriousness, can be a very difficult problem. Do you know what amblyopia is? It’s commonly called “lazy eye.” One eye is just a little bit lazier and works less than the other. Color blindness is a real condition which keeps a lot of people out of the military. Dry eye syndrome is where your eyes don’t lubricate themselves. You can’t form tears and cry. That would come in handy at my daughter’s wedding. Hyperopia is farsightedness. Myopia is nearsightedness. Presbyopia is the fear of seeing Presbyterians. No, actually it’s the difficulty to see very close up especially if you’re over 40.
This eye stuff can be serious trouble for many of us, especially those of us with “elder” attached in some shape or form to our title. Beyond all the above listed “opias,” there is the non-physiological condition of not being able to see things differently than we’re used to. I call it churchyopia. It happens a lot within the confines of a church. Not seeing things differently, creatively, or freshly is a large reason why many want to quit being a stereotypical Christian and simply pursue Jesus. Churchyopia.
As a pastor, I want people to see things differently. I want to keep a culture of change and relevance constantly in motion in order to keep God out of our preconceived boxes. One Sunday morning I blended glow sticks in a 10-speed, 800 watt blender. I had seen this done on Youtube, but was betting nobody had ever seen this done in church. Those attending that Sunday definitely saw something different. With the auditorium pitch black, blending glow sticks was a great way to wake people up, and encourage minds to see things differently. I also killed my blender.
I want you to see something differently than your past or eyesight has allowed. Perhaps you’ve seen the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 before: “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.” Wow. That’s some lofty stuff, isn’t it? What do those words really mean? What do you see? Let’s drop these words into Dr. Luke’s 800 watt blender and see if they will glow brilliantly and differently than maybe we would expect.
Throughout the New Testament book of Luke, we see Jesus doing the incredible. Miracles, healing, raising people from the dead, casting out demons, calming tsunamis, and feeding the hungry is a part of normal life for Jesus. I look at the resume’ of Jesus and say, “Oh snap.” It’s quite impressive when you begin seeing it all. However, before these really cool accomplishments were unfolding, there’s something for us to consider… to see differently.
Jesus is at the Jordan River getting baptized. Yep, He’s dunked just like many of us have been. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, and He’s sent into the desert to wrestle with Satan himself. Jesus did some serious whooping up on the Devil’s behind with very practical application of the Bible. It is written. It is written. It is written. Satan has no defense against Jesus or us when the Bible is used as an offensive weapon.
The Bible says after the desert battle, Jesus returned to Galilee. Galilee was the region and home stompin’ ground where Jesus did life. Jesus walked and moved being powered by the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Spirit he fought Satan, traveled, spoke, taught, and popularity began to spread. He was plugged into His God source.
Now watch this. See something differently. Jesus taught in synagogues and people were asking for autographs. Hmmm. Interesting. Synagogues would be synonymous to our corporate church gatherings. The Jewish people would gather in a synagogue for lots of reasons: weddings, funerals, and any excuse for a meal. Think potluck dinner. A synagogue was very much a Jewish community center. On a Sabbath, on a Saturday, the Jewish people would congregate for worship and teaching. The commoners would sit in the floor in the middle of the synagogue rather informally. The common people would sit on the floor or sit on mats. There were stone benches around the outskirts of the inside of the synagogue, and the important, pious, religious people would sit on the envied stone benches. There was one special seat in the stone benches called the Moses seat. You were really important if you sat there. Like a celebrity sitting courtside in their sunglasses at an NBA game, the person nailing down the Moses seat was noticeably distinctive.
A worship service in a synagogue would start with the Shamah… the Old Testament Jewish prayer. “”Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” For hundreds upon hundreds of years, the Shamah was recited. The Eighteen Benediction prayer would follow. What we know as the Lord’s Prayer comes from a portion of the Eighteen Benediction prayer. Then somebody would read out of Torah. Torah is the law. Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy make up Torah. The Jewish people loved Torah. They celebrated, danced with, kissed, memorized, and lived by their much-loved Torah.
After an anticipated and satisfying drink from Torah, another person would read an assigned portion of scripture from one of the Old Testament prophets… like Isaiah. What the prophet’s reader would read was planned months in advance like a lectionary reading. This reader of the prophets would also be the one to sit in the Moses seat. Can you imagine the pressure attached to that assignment? All eyes would be on the prophet’s reader who sat prominently in the hallowed Moses seat. You know this guy would be sweating bullets. Do you think anyone who sat in the Moses seat scratched their initials in the stone bench, or wrote: “Fred wuz here?” Nah, probably not.
All of this is a small slice of what happened in a Jewish synagogue on any given ancient Saturday. Like religious clock work, this was what most traditional Jewish people would do on a Saturday. With these details in mind, open up your eyes and see… differently… what happened.
Jesus goes into Nazareth on a Sabbath and walks into a synagogue. Nazareth is the town Jesus grew up in. Nazareth is a village that carried a few nicknames like: Messiah-town or Messiah-ville. Everyone in Nazareth is Messiah crazy. This burgeoning city is a hot bed of people who actively believe and articulate, “The Messiah’s coming, The Messiah’s coming!” The Jewish people had been waiting for hundreds of years for the Messiah. If you are a good, married Jewish girl and you’re pregnant, you could be having the Messiah. People get very excited about your special glow. That is the prevalent thinking. A palpable anxiousness permeates the streets and conversations in Nazareth. If you are a bad Jewish girl, and you’ve come up pregnant, and you’re not married, you are a threat to the Messiah. Extremely harsh treatment follows any woman who is carrying an illegitimate baby. That baby, the Jewish people say, is a “mamzer.” A mamzer is the equivalent of our very crude word, “bastard.” A mamzer is not allowed to go into the synagogue. A mamzer is not allowed to play with the other Jewish kids. A mamzer is openly ostracized. The mother of a mamzer is also shunned like an Amish car dealer.
Are you seeing things differently yet? Mary is the mother of a mamzer, which is why when Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem there was no room in the inn. You remember that whole story, don’t you? Does this give you a bit different perspective? Mary and Joseph knock on the door of a motel, so we think, but all they get is a neon flashing sign that says “no vacancy.” The hard truth points away from an idealized motel, but instead to a family dwelling where many relatives of Mary and Joseph were staying.
Jewish people never turn anybody away; especially not family. Jewish folks are the most hospitable people on planet earth. Jewish people to this day pride themselves on their relentless hospitality. Why would Joseph and a teenage pregnant Mary get the cold shoulder from their Jewish family? Mary wasn’t married. She was carrying a bastard… a mamzer. Mary and the baby were a threat and an embarrassment to the hopes of a Messiah.
Jesus, as a labeled mamzer, would not have been able to attend the funeral of His earthly father Joseph. Funerals happened in the synagogue. He was barred from going into the synagogue where much of Jewish life was celebrated. We read in the New Testament where Jesus prays, “Abba, Abba, Abba, Abba.” Abba means Daddy in Aramaic. We pray lofty prayers that often include a formal, “O Lord our heavenly Father.” Jesus prayed “Daddy.” Have you ever wondered why He prayed this way? If you were ostracized from life, turned away at your own father’s funeral, and whispered about at every turn, wouldn’t you need a daddy? Wouldn’t your loneliness necessitate a heavenly Father as more of a daddy than an enshrined God? Isn’t this your experience as well?
So Jesus grows up, and He comes back to His hometown of Nazareth. See differently the tension that fills the synagogue as Jesus enters. Wow. Can’t you see the elbows flying and whispers about the bastard who’s not supposed to be here?. Now look at the tension that’s there as He walks into the synagogue. “Isn’t that the mamzer? Isn’t that Mary’s son? He’s never been inside a synagogue. He can’t come in here!” Perhaps the whispering turns into vocal complaining. Not only does Jesus stroll into the synagogue, but He stood up and read. Do you SEE this? What did He read? He reads the planned section of scripture from one of the prophets. It’s the prophet Isaiah. A messianic prophecy. You gotta admit, that’s a pretty wild coincidence considering the passage Jesus reads on this particular day. Where did He sit then? In the Moses seat! A mamzer can’t sit in the Moses seat. Are you kidding me? Like Snoop Dogg sitting at the head of the table and saying grace at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner in southern Indiana, this would be scandalous. At the very least, it would make the local paper. Whoa.
The ancient Jewish people believed that there were two very important people, Moses and Elijah. The only person more important was the Messiah. Hmmm. Jesus is sitting in the seat of Moses. He stands up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to Him, already marked and readied with a bulletin from last Saturday’s service.
Now watch this… see this whole thing unfold differently than perhaps you’ve seen before. Like other studious Jewish boys, Jesus probably had the entire Old Testament memorized by about the age of 14. The question becomes, did He merely read the prepared scroll, or did He stand up and recite it with great passion and confidence from memory? You want my opinion? I think Jesus presents the planned text and recites it without looking down at the scriptural notes. He’s piercing the crowd with His blazing eyes as He speaks the words of Isaiah 61:1-2. It’s as if Jesus is dramatically personalizing the text… “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
At this point, the Jewish people sitting in that fateful synagogue stop their murmuring in order to wipe their drool and suck their own tongues back into their pale faces. This passage from Isaiah is pointing to the Messiah. In a town nicknamed Messiah-ville, Jesus is announcing that He is it.
Jesus hands the prophecy scroll back to the synagogue attendant and sits down. You know where He sits, right? In the coveted Moses seat. How dare a mamzer do such a thing. How cool that Jesus does. The eyes of the gossip-bent worshipers are stunned and glued on Jesus. He just said that He is it… the Messiah… and sat in the Moses seat. That would make anyone from Nazareth… Messiah Town… take a second look.
There’s something else to adjust your bifocals on. Twenty-five years earlier in a little town called Sephoras (a stone’s throw Nazareth), there was a guy who rose up and said, “I’m the Messiah.” He and a band of idiots attempted a revolt against Rome. Rome swooped down and crushed the entire city of Sephoras. Do you suppose any of these gasping folks sitting in the synagogue were saying, “Oh shoot. Here we go again. Rome is going to kick our butts.”
No wonder their eyes fasten on Jesus. Just to make things really interesting Jesus informs the reeling crowd that the prophecy from Isaiah has now been fulfilled. He’s leaving no doubt. He’s the Messiah. Additionally, not only does Jesus clearly communicate who He is, He also establishes the parameters of His mission. Jesus is the self-proclaimed Messiah, and He’s beginning His mission of preaching things like: good news, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, and the year of the Lords favor or Jubilee (we’ll get to that one in a sec).
Was Jesus’s way of seeing things affected by His mission? Is our ability to see somehow related to our mission? Again, take a look at the mission of Jesus. Preaching salvation and freedom are top priority. The Greek word Jesus uses for “freedom” deals specifically with the debt and weight of sin. Sight for the blind, as Jesus proposes, goes beyond physical blindness. Relief and release for the oppressed points to original Greek language meaning “broken to pieces.” Jesus mission is to focus on broken people. Finally, Jubilee was something attached to Jesus’s mission as well (again, we’ll get to that in just a sec).
Once you understand Jesus’s self proclaimed mission, you begin to understand how He could view people the way He did. For instance, there is this one gal who flat out lied to Jesus — the living embodiment of truth. Oh the audacity. Here’s a real piece of work who’s had five husbands, and she’s sleeping with the next guy in line. Where does Jesus’s patience, grace, and love come from when dealing with such capital “L” losers? What keeps Jesus from just slapping a bit of sense into her? One holy whack seems appropriate. There’s another sleezy woman literally caught in the act of adultery. Yeah, think about that nifty scenario. How DID that happen? Jewish laws dictated that such a low life be quickly destined for a pile of rocks to land on her head. A public and painful stoning is about all this trouble maker has to look forward to. Why doesn’t Jesus throw a rock or two Himself? Where does His restraint come from? Beyond composure, how does love, mercy, and grace flow when it’s obvious to everyone what’s really needed? Then there’s the injustice of the crucifixion. Jesus experiences excruciating pain, and somehow manages to a offer a surprising, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” How could He say that?
Jesus knew His mission, and His mission affected His vision of other people. How’s your vision these days? How do you see things… people? I’m wondering how other people describe my vision of other people? I wonder about those people I work with. What would they say about Alan’s viewpoint and perspective of other people?
What’s your opinion of faces flashing across our Yahoo News Groups these days? What words come to mind as you scan the infamous list of characters like Osama Bin Laden, Lindsey Lohan, Amy Winehouse, Tiger Woods, and the whole Kardashian family? Do words like evil, troubled, sick, and hopeless idiots come to mind?
What thoughts do we attached to nightly news flashes of convicted sex offenders? We see the pictures often; they’re sickos who prey on our kids. Demented is the adjective of my choice. Who parented such animals? Maybe they should be locked up too!
How does Jesus view such people? How does He see the folks we quickly write off? Remember, His mission was about good news, salvation, prisoners, the weight of sin, the debt of sin, blindness, and brokenness.
Here is your glow stick blender moment. Turn the blender on high and see things… people… differently. Wildly, the Bible urges us to have the same attitude as that of Jesus. * We’re supposed to have the same eyesight and vision for people that Jesus had. Even the messed up people. Especially the messed up people. Jesus tells us that we are sent in the exact same way His Father sent Him. * You, me, and Jesus have the same mission. If His mission is our mission, than we would also see the way He sees. THAT is 202/20 vision. Perfect. Holy.
I really like what Leonard Sweet wrote in his book, The Gospel According to Starbucks. Sweet struck nerves and beautiful chords when he insisted, “The goal of Christianity is not to make us into better people.” Initially, like me, you may be a bit confused by that. Give this a little soak time. The goal of Christianity is not to make a better version of you and me. Sweet continues, “The goal of Christianity is not for us to become Christ-like. The goal is for us to be little Christs.” That’s really good, isn’t it? Plant that little gem of a quote on your Facebook status. You feel like a better person if you do. Wait, the goal is not for you to become a better person unless that better person is Jesus! Write that on your status update. Jesus is the better person. The touch of Jesus should be my touch. The listening of Jesus should be the way I listen. The voice of Jesus should be the way I speak. And the eyesight and vision of Jesus is the way I’m supposed to see other people.
My two youngest chips off the block afforded me a very rich and funny experience recently at their elementary school. Sherry and I love the kids’ school. It’s a very culturally challenging and ethnically diverse school. We went to a PTA meeting, and there were a lot of Hispanic parents as a part of this great school. In the chaos of a packed out PTA meeting, one unwitting, very white, very middle-class, extremely suburban female walked to the microphone and announced, “If anybody needs Hispanic translation, just raise your hand.” I about busted a cafetorium gut right there in the PTA meeting. My wife was sure there was going to be one less P to go with the rest of the TA if I didn’t cut it out. Sherry couldn’t make sense of my squelched laughter. I told her, “If anybody DID need Hispanic translation, how on earth would they understand that ridiculous announcement?” I thought it was very funny. I tend to crack myself up, especially when a PTA meeting demands some form of childish entertainment.
A couple days later I was pointing a good friend to my obvious PTA humor. My friend went off on me. In a breathless rant I was blasted with a, “I’m so tired of these illegal immigrants, and why do we have to learn Spanish? They should learn English. And we’re paying for their health care…” It just went on and on and off in a torrential down pour of hate. I was stunned. It also made me question the last time I just lost it on someone who didn’t fit my definition of likeable. When that happens, I’ve forgotten the mission of Jesus and my vision requires a new prescription.
One last point to blend and let glow. Remember that whole year of the Lord’s favor, Jubilee thing? What was this? It was a part of Jesus’s mission too. When Jesus talked about proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, most believe He was pointing to the Old Testament concept of Jubilee. The word “jubilee” in the Hebrew means, “sound the horn.” Here’s the deal. The Jewish people took a Sabbath and rested every seventh day, and didn’t do even a semblance of work. Every seventh year they let their fields rest and didn’t plant. Every seventh, seventh year, which is year 49 turning year 50 (did you follow that?) there was a glorious year of Jubilee. That was definitely a time to don a cone-shaped hat and blow a party horn.
The concept of Jubilee can be found in Leviticus 25, starting with verse eight. Go ahead and look it up. I’ll wait. It’s actually very cool stuff. “Count off seven Sabbaths of years, seven times seven years, so that the seven Sabbaths of years amount to a period of 49 years.” (Tell your kids multiplication works even in the Bible!) “Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month on the Day of Atonement, have the trumpet sounded throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee – sound the horn – for you. Each one of you is to return to his family property and to each his own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee for you. Do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines for it is a Jubilee and it is to be holy for you. Eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.”
In the year of Jubilee you got your land back. If you had sold your land… your inheritance… you got it all back on Jubilee. Can you imagine this? Thirty years ago I sold my baseball card collection to make some financial ends meet. It was a smokin’ collection of about 3,000 cards. I possessed a coveted Topps 1967 Brooks Robinson. In my rubber-banded stacks were a Johnny Bench rookie card, and classic duplicates of Mays, Seaver, and McCovey. Now that I’m collecting baseball cards with my eight year old son, I think often about the cards I used to have. What if twenty more years passed, and suddenly my collection of cards were all given back. Oh man.
In the ancient of days, if you were a poor person and you sold yourself into slavery, you got your freedom back at Jubilee. Oh man. Every fifty years Jubilee started on the Jewish holiday of the Day of Atonement — where you go before the Lord and say, “forgive me, wipe out all of my sins.” Jubilee set sin, losses, and everything right. Wouldn’t you like a Jubilee? Oh man.
The average American credit card debt is $9900. Seems most could use a good Jubliee. Jubilee could be the stuff Presidents get elected for, except you’d have to wait a stinkin’ fifty years. Oh man.
Often times ancient kings would come into office, and would garner great loyalty by declaring a year of Jubilee. Kings would set all of the social and economic injustices right. The Jewish people believed that when the Messiah came and sat on his throne, he would usher in a year of Jubilee.
Watch this. Jesus read from the prophets and sat in the Moses seat. He declared His mission to all about Jubilee. Yep. He’s definitely pointing to Himself as the long awaited Messiah. But wait, look closer. From Luke chapter 4, Jesus seems to have forgotten something. If Jesus is reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, He seems to have left off that very last phrase of what the prophet was saying… “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Why did Jesus drop the fire and brimstone thing of vengeance when He spoke in the synagogue?
Here’s my best take on this. I believe Jesus is telling us He came the first time to set everything straight. Period. He came the first time to take care of the debt and the weight of sin. Jesus came the first time to take care of spiritual blindness. Jesus was, in essence, saying, “I’m coming this first time to take care of people who are shattered and broken.” The first coming of Jesus was to take care of His mission. BUT, the second time He comes, Jesus says, “Vengeance will be unmistakably Mine.”
If that is true, Jesus did not come to usher in a year of Jubilee; He came and ushered in an Age of Jubilee. The age of Jubilee will last until He returns with a vengeance. This is a Billy Graham, amen, the-blender-is-glowing moment. Do you SEE this? You thought Jubilee was a cool idea, but waiting fifty years was a bummer, right? What if we lived in an age of Jubilee — constant and ongoing with every breath you breathe? An age of Jubilee would constantly and continually set captives free. People who deal with the weight and the depth of sin, addictions and pornography, and lying and cheating — would be made right. Everything would be made right by the One sitting in the Moses seat. Whatever imprisons you can be made right. Blow the party horn.
It’s the age of Jubilee, and you should have eyes of Jubilee. You and I should see things differently. What if you viewed your spouse through eyes of Jubilee? Your spouse needs good news. Maybe they feel imprisoned, blind, shattered, or broken. I wonder what freedom might do for them? Maybe things just need to be made right. With Jesus this becomes totally possible.
How many parents need to consider offering Jubilee to their teenager? I know I certainly do. Why don’t I view my ear bud clad kids as needing good news from me instead of incessant harping, barking, and flexing of parental muscles. Blind, shattered, broken teens are desperate for things to be made right. Jesus can do that as He lives through me. It’s His mission. His mission changes how I view things… people… and my kids.
Got a boss whom you wish wasn’t? You are so done with that guy… or lady (and that ain’t no lady!). Is there anyway you could see them with eyes of Jubilee? That’s the way Jesus did it. What if we actually saw people through eyes of amazing grace? We love to sing about it, but do we actually offer grace through eyes of Jubilee?
You might be frustrated that my concern here seems to be so much about others. Someone, rightfully, may be thinking, “There’s no way I can focus on someone else when I’m so screwed up myself.” Maybe you need to grab onto some Jubilee. Maybe you prayed a prayer years ago to make Jesus your Savior, but the idea of Lord has never taken root. That’s one of the problems with our anemic title of Christian. There’s a bunch who want to get to heaven, but letting Jesus bring heaven to earth by living fully through us is a whole other story, brutha. Now that you know His heart, and that He just wants to give you good news, that He doesn’t want you to be a prisoner, that He doesn’t want you to be blind — why wouldn’t you want Him as Lord? He knows you’re shattered and broken and He wants to release you from all that. Jesus wants to set everything right for YOU. Why don’t you grab onto some Jubilee?
Are you seeing things differently? Jesus followers do. Christians need to. Let the blenders everywhere begin to glow! Can you imagine if our vision and eyesight was impacted by the mission of Jesus? Can you imagine if Jubilee was offered because Jubilee has also set us free? Wow. If Jesus made things right through us, our PR problem as Christians would be over. To that end, may our mission and attitudes be exactly the same as Jesus’s exactly because we no longer live but He lives in us. I can SEE it.