Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jumbo Shrimp

You have heard people say, "Love your neighbors and hate your enemies." But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.

-- Matthew 5:43-44

Reality Television
Steel Wool
Deafening Silence
Civil War

What do these figures of speech have in common? They’re all oxymorons – rhetorical devices that use contradictory terms for effect. If you think about them for a second, they really don’t make sense. But for whatever reason, the words mesh perfectly to communicate the idea.

The Bible reveals Jesus as One who always made His point with great effect – particularly to those willing to put His message into action. But instead of linking a few opposing words or phrases, God’s only Son turned entire concepts on their heads to reinterpret long-held notions about what has true value in life. Consider His admonition to those seeking greatness:

“Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down,” Jesus warned. “But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

This, of course, flies in the face of our society’s “Looking-Out-for-Number-One” perspective. After all, how can you make it to the top in this world if you let everyone walk all over you?

Through ordinary human eyes, pure selfishness and self-preservation appear to be logical approaches to getting ahead and staying there. But to Christ-followers viewing the world through the lens of the Gospel, it’s really a recipe for disaster. “What will you gain if you own the whole world but destroy yourself?” Jesus asks us. “What would you give to get back your soul?”

Jesus spent His brief ministry teaching from a Kingdom perspective. And it’s through the Bible that Christ explains to us how God means for things to be. Often this demands a totally new life perspective from those who would be His followers. Accepting Christ’s bold message is like a nearsighted child who sees the world anew through a pair of glasses. At first, it can be awkward and difficult – and sometimes even intimidating. That’s because Jesus calls for for total devotion. Half-heartedness and non-committal have no place as Christ establishes His Kingdom through every believer.

Jesus’ invitation to us is much more than wordplay conflicting with conventional wisdom. If we want to call ourselves true Christ-followers, He makes it clear that we must consider the cost in our lives. And that cost is high. But it’s all worth it through the positive differences we can make at home, where we work, in our neighborhood and even throughout the world. And that’s not to mention the personal transformation each believer experiences along the winding path of his or her life journey.

Maybe it’s only fitting that Jesus uses an oxymoron to drive this point home:

"I tell you the truth," He told Peter (one of His first disciples), "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

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