Jesus, Rush, and the Nature of True Humility

nerdGod made this world, and so long as you’re alive, you can’t escape the way He made it. You might have qualms with gravity, but I’m afraid you’re going to go on living with it.

And since at the center of the world is Jesus Christ, there is no life outside of Him. All things exist and cohere in Him. Therefore, all counterfeit forms of life have to borrow from Jesus. Jesus said that in order to find your life you have to lose it. The greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all. In other words, because the cross has become the center of all human history, everybody is forced to reckon with it. Everybody, even people with qualms, have to live with this fact. And this means there are really only two options. Some bow before it, in true humility, confessing their sins, receiving forgiveness and cleansing, and then they rise bearing that same cross as God works His life into and out of their lives, joyfully following their Savior. Everybody else, failing to actually bow before Christ, must pretend to have humbled themselves. They must pretend to bear a cross. They muster up some kind of limp. They wear it like a cheap toupee. Ever since Jesus came into the world, the old pagan mythos of arrogant strength has been fading away, and now all true power and strength is found in the cross, or else some kind of faux version made with aspartame and a bad aftertaste.

In other words, everybody likes the idea of humility. Ever since Jesus, humility is heroic. Everybody likes the idea of being humble, but nobody really wants to be humbled. In other words, the popular form of humility is a sort of aw-shucks-taint-nothing sort of demeanor. In the broader Christian world it consists of apologizing for everything as often as possible. It’s telling and a little more than ironic that people often describe being humbled at the very point at which they are receiving some kind of recognition, honors, praise. But this is faux humility. This is humility with a combover. Real humility means being humbled, taking on shame, being misunderstood, misjudged.

I wrote recently that we could use more people being mistaken for being *that* guy than we currently have. As was pointed out in the comments (and which I completely agree with), there is a way of being “that guy” that is not faithful to Jesus, not a good testimony, and not helpful. It really is obnoxious, rude, condescending, judgmental, self-righteous, and so on. And everybody knows somebody like that. They are obnoxious about courtship. They wave their Federal-Husband-Headship flag with their wife and children flinching and cowering behind them. They are obsessed with health fads and constantly posting stuff about the dangers of gluten. They are political gamers, addicted to their news feeds like some kind of porn problem. Maybe they’re even really in to Bible studies, evangelism, and outspoken about the gospel at work. But they are also unkind, sloppy, and poor workers. He’ll get written up by his boss, his wife will leave him, his children will rebel, and he’ll have no real evangelistic fruit over the years, and he’ll call it being persecuted for the sake of Jesus, but he deserves every bit of it. In so far as “that guy” really is rude and unkind, the dismissal he or she receives is completely warranted. As St. Peter says, if you suffer for doing wrong, what credit is that to you?

But the problem is, and what I was trying to get at, is the fact that far too many Christians are unfaithful in the other direction because what terrifies them more than sinning is the potential of being mistaken for one of those fruitcakes. They don’t want to be the nerdy courtship family, so they make a point of talking about “Christian dating.” You don’t want to be one of those chest thumping, red-bearded patriarchalists giving the egalitarians their blogging fodder, so you go soft on the headship language. When Paul talks about submission, he’s talking about mutual submission after all. And well, everybody’s known the eager-beaver in Bible studies who’s just a little too talkative, so everybody wants to be casual, not the evangelistic, psalm singing nerd. He was probably home schooled.

This is all related to a thought I tossed out the other day about Jesus laughing at Obama based on Psalm 2. There’s a lot here but suffice it to say that I stand by what I said, even though there’s nary a partisan bone in my body. I have to work up political opinions, and it’s generally the sensation of getting sick. I try to put it off for as long as possible, but eventually I realize I’ll feel better if I just get it over with. I think Obama represents us well, and so we have no one to blame but ourselves. Obama is slick and sexy, and that’s what sells in our country. I also don’t think his predecessors from either party were bastions of righteousness, and frankly, I suspect that Jesus has been laughing at our country for a good while. But when the president’s own prophets, Jon Stewart among them, erupt in laughter, we should realize that Jesus was laughing first. A ruler who has the audacity to call God’s blessing down on the organization responsible for spearheading the genocide of unborn children in our land and throughout the world, is a ruler who has taken counsel against the Lord and His Anointed. He who sits in the heavens laughs. But to make the statement is to run the risk of sounding like a partisan, sounding like a conservative screecher, looking like I think Obama is the anti-Christ or something.

One friend asked what that sentiment meant with regard to God’s compassion towards evil rulers, and I agreed that God’s laughter in judgment doesn’t preclude his mercy and patience, holding out for repentance and salvation. And it should be said that if Obama was actually converted and turned to Christ it would be glorious and very quickly an enormous and wonderful sort of mess in DC. But the point that I was actually quick to make was that even if pointing out the fact of Psalm 2 caused some to wonder if Jesus was anything like Rush Limbaugh – we shouldn’t be ashamed because Jesus is not ashamed to be mistaken for Rush.

Now truth be told, I don’t really know much about Rush other than the fact that he’s known for being an obnoxious conservative talk show host. Some of my friends talk/write about him in more messianic/prophetic terms, but I can’t say that I’ve listened to more than five minutes of the man in my life. But this was the point: Even though in many respects, I’m confident that Jesus isn’t anything like Rush, Jesus isn’t afraid of being mistaken for “that guy” – whoever that guy is. He is not ashamed to call us His brothers. He’s not ashamed to be associated with us, to be mistaken for us. He is not ashamed to humble Himself to take the form of a slave. He’s not ashamed to be thought worthless, obnoxious, revolutionary, blasphemous, whatever. He died the death of a convicted rebel, a heretic. If Jesus had more thought for His reputation, He would have spoken more clearly at His trial. But He didn’t because He had more thought for us than Himself. He didn’t because He truly humbled Himself, even to the point of death. He died accused falsely in order to take away all the accusations, all the lies, all our sin.

And this brings us back to the beginning of this post. Real humility confesses real sin and follows Jesus wherever He leads. False humility pretends to. False humility doesn’t really die, and you can tell because there are limits to it. It doesn’t mind smelling a little like death, but it doesn’t actually want to die. It wants the grave clothes and none of the rot. And everybody knows that there are certain orthodoxies in certain circles, certain shibboleths, certain passwords, certain uniforms, and everybody knows there are certain bad words, certain lines you don’t cross, certain associations you don’t make. But there are wheels within wheels. You can tell where the real currents of cool are by which geeks people are willing to be mistaken for. For many it’s hip and trendy to be into health food, farming fads, homeschooling, liturgy, sacraments, indie-hipster music and sensibilities, soft-liberal politics, mercy ministry, soft porn television shows, and casual cussing.

There are other ditches of course. There are nationalistic sins, conservative blind spots, Christian school arrogance, moralistic self-righteous legalisms, libertarian conspiracy obsessions, low church abominations, and militaristic romantics to name a few. But you can tell a lot by what someone is willing to be mistaken for. In a messy world full of sin and weakness and short attention spans, you will always be mistaken at some point for something you’re not. Jesus said that if they misunderstood Him, they will misunderstand you. Deal with it. Get ready. It’s coming.

So who are you willing to be mistaken for? Why? Would you be given a pass for it in the Huffington Post? Would you get a place at the table at the Food Coop? Would you get invited to the next Tea-Party meeting? What do your parents think?

And this gets us back to my previous post on being “that guy.” You shouldn’t actually be that guy, but if you’re faithful, you will be mistaken for that guy. If you actually call sin sin, if you tell the truth in love, if you honor your father and mother and elders, if you study issues in the light of God’s word and honestly come to conclusions and profess them and obey Jesus, you will be misunderstood. You will be mistaken for that guy.

Part of the trick is to keep your eye on multiple circles at once. Where is the wind blowing in the broader culture? Then zero into your own church and community. Where are you required to stand? Where does obedience require that you be the party crasher? But you have to connect the dots. Wisdom requires that you ask the Spirit to show you how your faithfulness is connected to the big picture. And you have to practice being brave. You have to practice being courageous. But practice on obvious things. Practice sharing your faith. Practice inviting your neighbors over for dinner. Practice where unbelievers might misunderstand. It’s not brave to do something that slightly bothers your mother. It’s not courageous to get your hair cut like Nate Ruess.

This isn’t an argument for obscurity or sloppiness or ignorance or apathy (or crankiness!). Christians should take care, love the brothers, watch their words, learn from mistakes, confess sin and repent, be bold and courageous and joyful, but – and this is the point – we should love Jesus most of all. We should keep our eyes fixed on Him. And if we do this, because we are human, it will look to some like we are blinkered, blind, not paying attention. We will be accused of not noticing when in fact we do notice, but we have concluded that faithfulness to Jesus is worth the sacrifice. We esteem the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of this world because we have already died and our lives are hid with God in Christ. And that’s true humility.

  1. John Unger May 20

    Well said, Toby. Reminds me of the last few lines of Mark Heard’s song. Lonely Road:
    “To go and enlighten the doomed and unwashed,
    Seized with the art of sacrifice,
    To carry the weight of a martyr-at-large,
    Is easier than giving your life.
    And it’s a lonely road, that the Son of Man walks down…”

    Keep up the good work – 1 Cor. 15:58

  2. Matthew N. Petersen May 29

    Yeah, sure Jesus isn’t afraid to be mistaken for Rush. But when he says things like “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” he isn’t afraid to be mistaken for some nutty liberal fruitcake.

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