The other day my family and I were with some friends in Orange Beach, AL. It was a beautiful day in beachtown with sweltering temperatures over 100 degrees. Like any normal people who are exposed to such heat, my friend Dave and I grabbed a couple of beers and headed on down to the lazy river – because lazy works when you’re on vacation.
As we slowly moved down the river our conversation was quite diverse as we discussed our marriages, our kids, our dislike of Guinness, our love for reading and our disdain for pop Christianity.
It was this last topic that got me thinking about starting a blog series entitled American Jesus.
It seems that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, there are a whole lot of versions of this religion called Christianity. At the same time, a lot of people make a whole lot of money selling their version of Christianity. The interesting thing about this is that some of these versions of Christianity only work in countries that can afford it. It’s what I like to call the American Jesus mentality.
All around our great country, there are countless numbers of people who have somehow bought into this idea that God's single most desire for their life is that they would be healthy and wealthy. That god only has good things in store for those who have full faith in him and who trust him. If you’re single, have faith, because god has a good plan for a hope and a future (which we interpret to mean a spouse.) If you’re sick, have faith, because god has a good plan for a hope and a future (which we interpret to mean full health.) If you’re jobless, have faith, because god has a good plan for a hope and a future (which we interpret to mean a job, but not just any job! Instead, if you have enough faith, it will be a job that will provide more money than you know what to do with, because obviously God desires that all his children have lots of money, houses and boats.)
While floating along the lazy river, enjoying the last of my refreshing beverage, I had this thought. How did Jesus interpret this popular verse? And should we perhaps interpret it the same way. I sometimes think that Jesus would say to us, "You keep using that verse. I do not think that verse means what you think it means."
Here’s a thought: When John (the Baptist) was rotting in a dungeon beneath Herod’s palace, while Jesus hung out at parties, drank wine at weddings, feasted with all kinds of high class and ragamuffins– what was John thinking? Might he have been thinking, “Why am in Herod’s prison? I thought the Messiah was coming to do away with Herod!” And, “If this Jesus is really God’s son, then where’s the welfare and prospering?”
A better question might be, why didn’t Jesus head down to the prison and tell John, “Hey John, don’t worry. Remember what Jerry said, “I know the plans I have for you declares the me. Plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a hope and a future.”
Instead, Jesus sent some of John’s followers (Jesus didn’t even go!) to the prison to tell John….I am the guy. I am God…I’m just wearing these sandals. I am here to show people what the life of the future is all about. And John, whoever is not put off by me because of the way I do things –even if those things seem different than you thought they would be…well, that person will be happy they stuck with me.
A few days later, Herod had John’s head cut off.
Make no mistake about it. I believe in a God who loves the human race beyond measure. I believe that this God does heal people in the present, does bless people – some with stuff, some with brains, some with common sense and some people just get a cat. But the story that this God is telling is not about health and wealth this side of new heavens and new earth, but a story about people being invited to be reconciled to God here and now and to live the life of the future in the present. It’s about learning what it is to love God and actually love people, learning to forgive and show mercy and recognize beauty. It’s a story about God laying his life down so others could experience life and then God inviting us to lay our lives down so that still others can find life. The truth is, it’s a far cry from getting rich and living to be 120.
American Jesus is a pretty popular guy these days. The only problem is that he doesn’t look anything like the real Jesus that we read about in the Bible.
Where have you encountered American Jesus?
When has God not behaved the way you thought he should/would? Is there a chance that God is different than you thought? Are you open to that thought?
Join us next time for American Jesus: Jesus and the Prostitute