Monday, June 20, 2005

The Freedom to Be Weird (Getting to Know Jesus One Chapter at a Time, Part 4)

[Matthew, chapter 3]

Back when I was in seminary, I took a class on world evangelization and missions. I'll never forget a discussion that was triggered by something one of my earnest classmates said there one day.

"You know," he began, "one of the things I've noticed about Christians--really committed Christians--is that they're...weird. On the fringes. They don't act like everyone else."

As much as we all may have recoiled at such characterizations, as much as we would have preferred to blend in with our American culture, we all had to concede our classmate's point.

Now, I don't think that the weirdness of genuine Christians qualifies them for mental institutions. Nor do I thin that they're nerds in la-la land.

Weirdness, in this sense, is simply having the courage to be subversive, to march to heaven's drums, to be comfortable with themselves, no matter what the rest of the world thinks or is doing.

Picture Mother Teresa, willing to hold the wretched dying street people of Calcutta in her frail arms.

Picture Bono, battling the conventions of rock music, which encourages a kind of politically correct iconcoclasm, to advocate for the African continent's poor and to do it in the Name of Jesus.

Picture Rick Warren refusing to become wealthy from a best-selling book and instead, devoting himself to the cause of sharing Christ with the world.

Picture even a million other so-called ordinary people whose relationship with the God they know through Jesus causes them to volunteer at soup kitchens, play it straight on their tax forms, build a Habitat house, and stick with their marriages.

In a sense, all these believers in Jesus are weird by the standards of the world.

Christians tend to be weird in another way. They live in a freedom to live with their own unique, God-designed quirkiness.

"How do you do that?" someone asked me at my daughter's reception.

"Do what?" I asked.

"Get out there on the dance floor..."

"You mean, make an ass of myself?"

"No, I think it's wonderful. How do you do that?"

The answer is easy: When you know that you are forgiven and accepted as a child of God, you are less afraid to be yourself. To just go for it in the living of your life becomes a live option.

C.S. Lewis once observed that among the people he knew who had become followers of Jesus Christ, there was a marked proclivity not toward the sort of clone-like conformity that we often see in today's "Christian" circles, but a freedom to be the weird individual we were made to be.

There is yet another way in which Christians might be said to be weird. The New Testament word for holy can almost be aptly translated as weird. It literally means to be set apart, set aside for a purpose. Christians know that they've been set apart not because they're better than anyone.

Rather, they're set apart because as forgiven sinners, they've been given the freedom to live as their best selves, their God selves.

They're free to live for God and neighbor.

They're free to love the loveless.

They're free from getting caught up in proving themselves to a demanding world.

By God's charity, what the Bible calls grace, they know that they are already accepted by God Himself simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ. That's weird!

John the Baptizer was one of the first people to believe in Jesus, perhaps even before he fully realized that Jesus was the Savior-Messiah-King that he was deputized to prepare the world to receive. And believe me, John was one weird dude. He lived in complete freedom from concern about what others might say against him. He was intent on doing what God wanted him to do.

We're told:
John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem [into the surrounding desert wilderness], Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
He also excoriated the ruling circles of his Jewish faith when they came around to see and hear him. He reminded them that simply owning a particular religious heritage didn't mean that a person had a right relationship with God. (This is something which in utero Christians ought to remember. Just because we're on the rolls of a church doesn't mean that we're Christians. Only those who have surrendered to Christ are in this category.)

John told people to get ready for the coming of the Savior by turning from sin and turning to God for a fresh start on life. (This is what the Bible means when it speaks of repentance.)

Then, it happened: Jesus showed up. To John's amazement, Jesus wanted to be baptized! At first, knowing that Jesus was sinless, John refused. But Jesus insisted. Why? Jesus explained:
"God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism."
How does God make our lives right? By bridging the chasm between Him and us through Jesus Christ. God becomes a human being and goes through all that we go through so that He can incorporate all human experience into Himself, take it to the cross, and destroy all that prevents us from being the wonderfully weird people God made us to be.

[For the next installment, you might want to read Matthew, chapter 4.]

Here are the first three installments of this series:



Unknown said...

Thank you Mark, for sharing this with me. My own weirdness has taken me down many paths that others easily chose not to venture on in their journey. Now my road is rocky again and I'm glad, delighted, to be reminded that even the rocks are part of the great invitation to participate.
My heart fills with love, my eyes with tears, that you say things with such joy and that you time things so perfectly.

Mark Daniels said...

I'm sorry that you're on a rocky path at present. God bless and help you as you negotiate it!