Face it- you really have an improper view of Jesus. You have turned the Almighty, Eternal, Ruler of Ages, Alpha and Omega into an abomination.

How do I know this?

Well, it is because we all have an image of Jesus which needs to be corrected. Our hearts and minds are idol factories (and often, idle factories too!) which are continually conforming our Lord and Savior into a palatable personal good luck omen — or a God who is too big and too concerned with the eternal gears hidden behind the veil of eternity that He simply doesn’t have time to be personally involved with our daily life.

We quickly deflate or over inflate Jesus to excuse our daily sins.

If we truly believed that Jesus walks with us and talks with us, would we walk how we walk and talk how we talk? If Jesus is always alongside us, then shouldn’t that have a bearing upon what we look at? If Jesus is truly in our hearts, then why do we think He is fine with what is often going on in there?

In the first decades after Christianity became an officially safe and protected religion in the Roman world, there was a lot of debate and discussion about what it meant to be a Christian. At the heart of these discussions was the question: Who is Jesus?

Or, to put it differently: How is Jesus revealed in Scripture?

This was the heart of the discussion in Nicaea in the year 325. The bishops and elders all got together and came up with this declaration. (Oh, and yes, this is when and where Santa Clause punched the heretic Arius in the face. Jesus was so incredibly glorious, perfect, holy, and majestic that St. Nicholas- Bishop of the Church in Myra, was moved into a burst of holy anger and assaulted someone else… or so the legend goes).

Following is the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

I know that that is mouth full, but think about this – do you find every detail about Jesus found in Scripture to be important? How does the account of the Passion Week alter you life? Have you meditated upon what it meant that He was a Nazarene? How does it challenge your soul to know that Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan? Have you thought deeply about the fact that Jesus will come again soon?

Two modern theologians have greatly continued to challenge my assumptions about Jesus Christ. The first one is a theologian unknown to many folks like me (white, male, politically conservative, from the midwest, and schooled in theologically conservative colleges). His name is the Reverend Dr. James Cone. The second is a musician who needs to be made famous: Heath McNease.

Dr. Cone has written many books, but I am currently about 1/3 of the way through his magnum opus: A Black Theology of  Liberation.

Many of you right now are saying “Ok… Ben’s lost it!”

Before you write both me off and Dr. Cone, let me tell you where this book has struck me so hard to the core that I have to digest his premise before I can even finish the book.

Dr. Cone says that when we look at where God shows up in Scripture it is among the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. This is seen in how He revealed Himself to the Israelite people in both testaments, and how the Church grew – not out of the rich and famous, but rather out of the ignoble (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). His premise is that if this is how God has revealed himself is to take on flesh and be amongst the weak and disenfranchised (John 1:46- go read it) that Jesus is not white.

In light of this, Dr. Cone declares that if Jesus were to come and walk among a people group today that He would be black.

Stop and think about how Dr. Cone allowed Scriptures which we usually gloss over and allowed them to inform his theological conviction (which flowed into a political conviction). Does your study of the reality of Jesus challenge how you view different ethnicities, cultures, and people groups? Does your study of Jesus challenge political structures and civil discourse?

You might not land in the same arena of thought as Dr. Cone after deep study and meditation upon Scripture (nor am I saying that you should or should not!), but reading this man’s work challenged me to truly ask if Jesus has confronted me. If the study of Scripture has not confronted my politics, my philosophies, my world views, my daily interactions with others, and how I view economic, civil, and religious structures then I am not studying Scripture correctly.

Now, Heath McNease comes and gives a theology which has a great reflection upon the redemptive nature of how we artistically reproduce Christ’s appearance. Or, in common speak- it is a song which talks about how every picture of Jesus is a false representation of Him, yet part of the incarnation is to meet us inside of our imperfections. Here are the lyrics to his song Thrift Store Jesus

[Hook]
I will settle for
Any type of remedy
Prayin’ to a thrift store Jesus
He looks a little like me
Same hair, same face
Painter took some liberties
Prayin’ to a thrift store Jesus
I really hope he’s here
I really hope he’s here with me

[Verse 1]
I got this painting of Jesus from a Goodwill
He look like Richard Marx, but kinda hood, still
And all my friends asked me, “What kind of good will this picture do for you?”
I said, “It cost me one bill.”
It’s kinda racist how they anglicize the faces
And ignore the basic demographics based on his location
But I took comfort in it, cause there was something in it
It wasn’t form or function, it was busted from a distance
Finished product look like how I’d painted it if I did it
Novice brushstrokes, can’t help but paint within our limits
It looks bad in the dark, it looks awful in light
Like, flip the switch, there’s Jesus
Singing “Hold On To The Night”
80’s Pop star, woo-the-ladies rock star
But who’s to say this newbie painter
Ain’t still moving God’s heart with pure intentions
I ain’t caused his heart to move an inch
As Jesus’s looking at me, talking like, “Whose room is this?”

[Hook]
I will settle for
Any type of remedy
Prayin’ to a thrift store Jesus
He looks a little like me
Same hair, same face
Painter took some liberties
Prayin’ to a thrift store Jesus
I really hope he’s here
I really hope he’s here with me

[Verse 2]
(Yeah, yeah)
It wasn’t really Jesus, it looked like Keith Green
Replacing Springsteen when he sings with E Street
He looked like Kenny Rogers
A younger Kenny Loggins, Sonny Crockett, Barry Gibb
Or one of Kenny’s fathers
He said “Whose room is this?”
Yeah, you know whose it is
Eyes was on some Mona Lisa-type of Louvre maneuver tricks
Follow my moves, saw pockets full, he saw those broken ties
Saw me tell those homeless types
“I’m broke,” and never broke my stride
Followed the shrewdest lies
In movement’s time
And who was I?
Colluded sigh
My suicide is foolish pride
Polluted mind
Blunderous each day
Under this cheap frame
Forgive my trespasses
Lead me not in greed’s way
It was my frame of reference
A crude subjective piece
The pictures of the great physician
I don’t get to see
And that’s what I need– a tiny mustard seed
That ever it’s fate that grows
And hope that shows what substance brings
He’s in the subtle things, he’s in the ugly things
Sometimes it’s what we see obstructing us from what we need

[Outro]
(Aaah aah aah aah) x14

It might take a few times listening (yes… listen to it), but you will start to see this growing theology of the incarnation and the present ministry of Jesus Christ in this song. It was subtle the first few times I heard it, but then in my first year of seminary as I was going through some very rough times, I started to see what this song was about.

You see, no matter how we artistically represent Jesus- it will be wrong. We need to take humor in the fact that a lot of our pictures of Jesus are just plain wrong in every manner. We have these long haired white guys in robes. But, as we look at these pictures we see the reality of Philippians 2- Jesus came and took on flesh. Jesus became human, warts, acne, body hair and all. He became a man so that He could exchange his righteousness for our sinfulness on the cross.

And we can never miss that Jesus lowered Himself and condescended Himself by putting on flesh. We don’t have to go searching high for God. We don’t have to look for beautiful places to finally get Him. We don’t have to go through a continual process of wondering: will God meet me or am I following his instructions wrong.

God met us in our weakness.

The picture purchase from the thrift store caused deep meditations upon the reconciliation brought about by the incarnation with God. It showed Heath McNease that no matter how low you are- how wrong you are- God will meet you. Do not allow your imperfections to cause you to lose sight of the grace of God. The grace so perfectly demonstrate by his incarnation.

-Pastor Ben

 

Post Script: You might be wondering about the picture that I attached as the Featured Image of this blog post. Some of you might remember it from one of my very first posts: Imago de Me where I discussed this same issue but from a little bit different perspective. The artist wanted to confront viewers with how we over inflate our view of self into thinking we are Jesus- the all important one. We do this in how we constantly live in an “I” culture. We take selfies, we blog, we pose, we flirt, we tweet, we Snap-Chat, we post on Instagram, and all that does is great this over inflated arrogant view of self. No one would worship Jesus if He was an arrogant selfie taker who posted pictures of himself in a towel. So why would we think it is an attractive trait for us to do so?

Art is an incredible thing. Pictures truly do tell a story of 1000 words.

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