Keeping Up with the Jones

Its the old cliche about keeping up with the cool kids, the neighbors across the street who just put in the swimming pool or parked a brand new vehicle of honor in their driveway, or the people at the club who just sent their most recent high school graduate to join siblings at that ivy league school, or the friend’s baby who already has four teeth and can crawl at two months of age.  When it is an after school special, it is easy to chuckle and see the vapid nature of such competition for self-justification and validation.  Yet, in real life, it just isn’t quite as obvious.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  1 Cor. 9:19-21

“Look, we’re cool just like you and now you can think Jesus is cool too!”  If I never actually said that out loud, it sure was my driving force in high school and college.  “No no, being a Christian is totally compatible with coolness and being fashionable and the best kind of humor and music.”   I very quickly interpreted these words about winning all types of people over to Jesus as winning them over to ME.  “Hey look, I know I don’t drink in college, but I love the same bands you do!”  And now, “Hey look, I know I’m (whisper: homeschooling) but I totally think its lame and used to have my kids at Westminster and your house is beautiful and one day mine might be but we’re in this neighborhood and are walking this tightrope between worlds but I totally know that your style is great and share it…”  I made myself the gatekeeper to Jesus, in essence.  I mean, if they don’t respect me or take me seriously, how can they ever take Jesus seriously?  How arrogant, yet how deeply true.  How much is my winning them over actually about being adored, respected, honored, “in” myself and barely about…who?…oh yeah, about JESUS at all?

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.  When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.   Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  John 1:45-49

I would have been hurt by Nathanael’s doubt of my word and my inability to win him over to my way of seeing and thinking just by my social and intellectual credibility.  Thankfully, unlike me, Philip was more concerned about Nathanael seeing Jesus than seeing Philip.  He didn’t waste time in attempts at eloquent persuasion or witty banter but instead, got Nathanael face to face with Jesus.  In the end, it really didn’t matter what Nathanael thought of Philip.  It only mattered that he saw Jesus.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matt. 25:37-40When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:16-17

Obviously, unlike Philip, I can’t take a friend or acquaintance to a hillside and find Jesus in the flesh and turn matters over to Him that way.  But He did let me know where to find Him…where there is need and brokenness, sin and sickness…that very unexpected place rather than the beauty, coolness and intellectual credibility I am so concerned with people seeing is where He can be encountered most clearly.  Eating with the despised scoundrel Zaccheus, having perfume poured over His feet by a woman of questionable moral character, and interacting with the lepers who would physically endanger the lives of any with whom they came in contact.  When do we see Him?  When I come face to face with “the least of these” not just “out there” but within my own heart, that is where I encounter the person and work of Jesus.  What needs to be made new in me, in others and in the world around us?  Where was life once in abundance and now slowly fading or maybe never abundant but longed for with hope?  This is the darkness into which the person and work of Jesus shines brightly.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.   There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.   The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:3-10

I want to impress with my own image or find myself distracted by the impressive image others have presented.  In neither scenario, is the person and work of Jesus either in consideration or recognizable.  What if Paul wasn’t endorsing a chameleon lifestyle or, in this political season, a political “say what they want they want to hear” marketing philosophy?  What if “keeping up with the Jones” or “being all things to all people” actually meant keeping up with those vulnerable places which reveal how much we all need a redeemer outside of ourselves, another One on the throne ruling and reigning rather than myself, hope, relief, assurance, life?  What if it isn’t so much about the architecture or interior design of the house as much as the tears, fear, bitterness or guilt within those walls?  What if it turns out, the person and work of Jesus are living and active in every setting I could possibly find myself, visible if I just looked past the outer appearance or allowed others to see past mine?  What if I stopped seeing people as either “haves” or “have nots” and began seeing us all “in need” and “encountering the One who meets that need”?

 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matt. 19:26

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