I have been reading Ken Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I am slowly being changed by the book. Bailey does a bang-up job giving the reader a birds-eye view of the religious and political culture in which Jesus inaugurated his Father's redemptive Kingdom.
Most impacting is how his examination of the ministry of Jesus has opened me afresh to the confrontive nature of his brief 3 years of ministry, and the how the Kingdom is designed actually to operate in the world. Jesus and the Kingdom are far more gritty and demanding than I think many churches teach.
Redemption is not nice or polite. It is a flesh and blood confrontation of life against death in all its insidious manifestations. It is not pretty, or politically correct. It fiercely crosses boundaries, exposes sacred cows and vigorously upends dead traditions. It flies in the face of prejudices and undermines cherished conventions that insulate people from getting into the mess of making things right in people's lives.
And it confronts leaders who help people stay in soul-smothering safety and security.
So, I'm having my butt kicked by the Jesus I am seeing in the book. It has been revealing that the cross he fitted for me to carry often stays in the closet, out of sight and less threatening. Bonhoeffer's dictum that Jesus and the cross bid "a man (and woman), to come and die has never translated into radical steadfastness in my life. For me, it have been more like, " I'll really pick it up one of these days. And I'll know where to find it."
I hedge. I procrastinate.
I distract. I get fascinated with trifles.
I hesitate and hide: "Tomorrow, Lord . . . no, really, tomorrow. Yup."
Through Bailey's keen cultural examination of the life and words of Jesus I am continually exposed and confronted with how much fear and wanting to be likable infect me. I'm a proud son of a gun. But sadly, I am of little use to God if I will not be graciously (not politely) bold and assertive in confronting the death and blindness enslaving so many in Northampton and in the world. Merely going about and being nice just sucks. Ugh!
You see there is an "in your face" urgency to the ministry of Jesus, Peter and Paul. What crushed/stole life from the poor, defenseless, voiceless and powerless required truth-telling which offended the Roman occupying Empire, and religious establishment of the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. It wasn't about being obnoxious or rude. It was not full of fleshly pride or lust for dominance. It was about the Kingdom truth that looses chains and leads people toward forgiveness and freedom. It was about confronting the powers that be and throwing them down. The virile, loving truth they all lived subverted and overturned the dominion of death, and began the Reign of God through the Church . . . then and now.
Last night, I caught the last half hour of CNN's special Homegrown Terror. While deeply troubling on a number of levels, I was struck by the depth of dedication - maniacal and evil though it is - of the young men (some only teenagers), willing to give everything for their beliefs: single-minded dedication, even fanaticism. They follow their leaders as if these men are speaking the very words of God. They know the teachings under which they have been indoctrinated, and are completely about the business of violently changing the world according to them.
Their misguided example summoned me to think: "Shouldn't the Kingdom of God and the example and teaching of Jesus compel me(us) to the same degree of loyalty?" Isn't the urgency of the hour worth me speaking boldly with people about the truth no matter? Shouldn't my love be uncompromising and changing the world on my heart all the time? Shouldn't fearless serving be what I spend most my days doing, especially toward people far from the Kingdom, even antagonistic to it? Shouldn't I be willing to suffer whenever asked by my Lord for this most precious Treasure?
It is the normal, biblical Christian life. Anything less is counterfeit ersatz, and pointless no matter how good it feels or important it appears. Jesus-followers are to be about just this: constantly following Jesus, incarnating his values and example as he continues his redemptive work through you and me in our neighborhoods, workplaces, homes, towns, and cities.
I more and more want it to be so in me, and in the life of imagine/Northampton. Anything less is bilge-water compromise in my opinion.
So if you think about it when you finish this, pray for yourself and then pray that I would begin today to bold in Northampton. No compromise; only following.
Jesus give me the grace to should my cross with joy and affection. Let my life be characterized by love for you so strong that the cost does not matter. Grace me with single-hearted devotion to you, and for your Kingdom. Fill me with the joy set before me that I might endure whatever lies ahead in your service. Let people see you in me because I am emptied of me. Give a boldness that changes lives, gives sight to the blind, frees the captives and proclaims the Year of the Lord's favor in Northampton.
I have no idea how many days I have left, but make them be the most redemptively fruitful they have ever been.
Make it so as you desire.
Soli Deo Gloria!
And, oh, yeah . . . Maranatha!