And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?’ Jesus asked the crowds who had swarmed out of the towns and villages to see John the Baptist, ‘A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces’
Jesus’ question suggests that people like John were not a common sight in Israel. So was it the novelty of his appearance, as much as the power of his message, that brought so many people out, like wasps round a pot of marmalade? John’s destiny drove him to an unusual and austere way of life – careless of propriety and stripped of all home comforts.
It has been suggested that John had taken a Nazirite vow. The New Testament does not say this. But his diet is interesting. Nazirites were forbidden to take alcoholic drinks, vinegar and raisins – all of which take time to mature. John’s food was locusts and wild honey – which could simply be gathered on the hoof, so to speak. He lived off the land, and was independent of the normal processes of provision.
Most of us would shrink from a life like John’s. We go for safe conformity rather than conspicuous originality. We care a lot what people think. We stick to the corporate culture. We may sometimes rationalise this conventionality by arguing that Christians shouldn’t be labelled as odd-balls or freaks.
John, however, was one of those people who rise above public opinion. And the essential simplicity of his life set him free to focus on his calling and more clearly listen to God.
Living courageously by our convictions and resisting compromise may make us stand out, but it doesn’t make us freaks. Indeed, it is often those who do things differently, who are willing to step out of line, to think outside the box, whose ideas and manner of life challenge the prevailing conventions. Perhaps the Lord wants more of us to join the odd-balls and eccentrics, and the rest of us to become more willing to learn from them.
Monopoly is banned in my family. We’re probably not alone in having to shelve the game for a while, as it has a way of bringing out our very worst characteristics. Not only does it take absolutely hours, meaning tensions run high and patience wears thin, but it also provides ample opportunity to cheat (anyone else have extensive family discussions about who is most trustworthy, and therefore gets to be banker?).
Although it’s ‘just a game’ (as my mother kept reminding us), Monopoly can often feel like the be-all and end-all, especially when your sibling is winning and seemingly taking great pleasure in bankrupting you – plus you’re convinced that they’re probably cheating. Despite this, there was always an admission of defeat and a (sometimes begrudged) congratulation to the winner.
The US Presidential Race has felt slightly like an extended game of monopoly. This became ever more apparent on Wednesday, when Trump said that he wouldn’t commit to accepting the election result if he loses, claiming that it’s ‘rigged’.
It’s an important question. How do we admit defeat graciously, even when we think we’re right? Many people would say that Trump was wrong not to commit to accept the election result, but what should we do in a situation where we think the system is rigged against us? There isn’t an obvious answer, and, no matter how much we might want a section on ‘how to lose well at Monopoly when you think your brother cheated’, the Bible doesn’t give us clear guidance.
And yet we find in God one who holds justice and mercy in perfect harmony, shown most clearly through Jesus’ death and resurrection as he chose to lay down his power for the sake of others. He was cheated, lied about, mocked and executed, despite being innocent. ‘He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7). Through this act of submission, mercy and grace, God enacted perfect justice on the cross, and ultimate victory in the resurrection.
This isn’t a political declaration, nor is it a solution for dealing with defeat and enacting justice. This isn’t an answer to the political and ethical questions we’re all currently facing. It is, instead, an invitation to behold the majesty and example of Jesus who, with humility and grace in apparent defeat, paved the way for the most perfect justice of all.
Nell is Culture Projects Leader at LICC
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.
Few people in the Bible were so clearly sent as John the Baptist. Born after an angelic vision to an elderly father and apparently barren mother, he was destined from birth to be ‘great in the sight of the Lord… filled with the Holy Spirit’, who would ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (Luke 1:15-17).
It would be presumptuous indeed for us to claim to be sent like John, or like Abraham, Moses or Isaiah – all of whom were specially commissioned to fulfil critical roles in the history of God’s people. Still less for us to claim to be sent like Jesus – whom God sent into the world to bring life to the dead.
And yet, didn’t Jesus say to his disciples, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21)? He had already warned them that he was sending them ‘like sheep among wolves’ (Matthew 10:16), but they would be going in his authority, to do the kinds of things that he did.
And that is one of the keys to what it means for us to be sent today. Since we are his body, we are ‘in Christ’, and we go into the world to do the kinds of things that he did: to acknowledge the marginalised, bring hope to those in despair, encourage the disheartened, witness to everyone of the love and grace of God – seeking to be channels for the mighty power of the Holy Spirit.
But there is a second key: God sent Jesus to take on himself the nature and limitations of physical humanity. As Eugene Peterson paraphrases John 1:14 in The Message, ‘the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’. He identified himself with us, bearing our grief and carrying our sorrows. And that, in turn, is what he sends us to do.
Perhaps we don’t feel sent when we leave the house in the morning, when we arrive at work, when we take the children to the playground, when we visit a lonely neighbour. But wherever we go – feeling often in a hostile or indifferent world like sheep among wolves – we may bring the sweet fragrance of Christ, like the sudden scent of a rose in a urban hedge.
If you could live out your deepest, darkest fantasies, what would you do? Who would you become?
That’s a question explored in Westworld, a TV reincarnation of Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie, in which rich customers visit a Western-styled theme park filled with humanoid androids. In the original film, Yul Brynner starred as a malfunctioning robot whose relentless pursuit of his victims made for compelling viewing. The TV show, which debuted this month, is equally enthralling and not simply because the updated CGI is breath-taking. The storyline has also been described as ‘sinister and spectacular’.
Against astonishingly beautiful backdrops, rich ‘guests’ fulfil their fantasies as they interact with androids, known as ‘hosts’. The producers’ take on this is that when humans are given this kind of freedom, they will stoop to the lowest forms of depravity. Not just sex, but rape. Not just murder, but torture.
From where do such urges originate?
As Christians, we naturally turn to Genesis 3 for an explanation of human behaviour.
Our ancestors rebelled against their Creator and chose a path which they believed would give them power to control their destinies. They were wrong. Their ‘power-grab’ led not to freedom but to bondage. And with it, a feeling of powerlessness which we still retain deep down today. It’s a mood often tapped into by politicians as they consistently talk about ‘ordinary working families’ who have been left behind. Whether we’re the victims of the free market or immigrants or immoral bankers, government intends to correct the balance. Government will empower us, we’re told. Forgive me if I remain somewhat sceptical about such promises.
Furthermore, it seems obvious that Westworld raises questions no politician can answer. They run far too deep. Why, for example, do these ‘guests’ engage in such horrific violence? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given that the Fall in Genesis 3 is followed immediately afterwards by the first murder in Genesis 4. We have ever been creatures whose feelings of powerlessness have led to outbreaks of violence.
The Christian response is to call attention to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who turned the world’s ideas upside down. He taught that true power is exhibited through walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek and giving to others. And though he had the power to step down from a Roman cross, instead he chose to give up his life for humankind.
This is a storyline worth following…
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples… I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
John 15: 5, 8, 11-12
Exhaustion and long hours at work are fast becoming status symbols. Which of us dares admit to not being busy? In a workplace culture where self-worth and productivity are strongly linked, the pressure to fill every minute is all-pervasive. Have we moved from worshiping a golden calf only to rely on a red bull?
Not only are we exhausted, but we are often also lonely – disconnected at a meaningful level from those around us at work, our families, ourselves and God. Sue Bourne, writing in The Guardian, notes: ‘The loneliness epidemic is affecting people of all ages’. Whilst there are societal reasons for loneliness with the changing nature of family and community, our exhaustion certainly has a part to play. Relationship requires vulnerability and vulnerability is easier when we feel worthy of love and belonging. Yet, if we draw our sense of worth from achievement and productivity we become caught in a vicious cycle – a cycle where we work long and hard to prove our worth and are then too tired to invest in relationships. We over-connect on social media and under-connect with ourselves, with others and with God.
The fact of our loneliness tells us that we were designed for connection and feel its loss. Our need for connection reflects the relational nature of our triune God in whose image we are made. And so postponing connection until we have more time is not viable.
Jesus, in our passage, makes it clear that we were designed for fruitfulness not productivity and fruit is the result of connection – of remaining in a loving vital union with God. A union where our belonging and worth are already established and our part is to remain joyfully in God’s love without the need to earn it. When Jesus instructs his disciples to remain connected to both God and each other, it is accompanied by a warning of the hardship and persecution ahead (John 15:18-20). Their resilience in the face of these trials will depend on their relationships.
On 17 October, we launch our next prayer journey: ‘Resilience’. Together we will seek to adopt simple spiritual practices that help us, throughout the day, to connect with ourselves, with others, with our work and with God. Be encouraged as we share answers to our prayers. Join us on this prayer journey!
HBev Shepherd is the PrayerWorks project leader and an LICC associate speaker. As a management trainer and coach she specialises in the areas of leadership, team dynamics and stress, and is the author of Insight into Stress published by CWR.
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