God in our playpen

rod artersIf you grew up in America, you have probably heard someone say at some point… “Jesus loves you.”

If you have watched any significant sporting event in this country, you have probably seen some Christian fanatic holding up a sign that reads “John 3:16” – the verse that proclaims, “God so loved the world…”

If you have watched the Oscars or Grammys or any television award show, you have heard our American idols thanking the Almighty for their gifts and successes.

If you have driven on nearly any road anywhere in our country (particularly the South) you have no doubt passed a Church with a sign that reads some sort of creative Christian message.

And if somehow you were insulated from such Christian landscape, you would certainly see a posting on some social media site thanking God, asking for prayer or sharing a meaningful Bible verse.  Such is the blessing of living in a country with so much “Light.”

In spite of all of this, however, it is still possible for someone to grow up in “Christian” America and not hear or understand certain biblical truths often taken for granted by those of us who grew up in Christian homes or attending Christian churches.

Our lack of Biblical literacy is stunning.   Though our country has been deeply influenced by Biblical language and references, many today are unaware when they are mentioned.

In Jay Leno’s popular segment “Jay-walking”, Leno asks average people on the street a variety of seemingly easy questions.  Their answers reveal their biblical ignorance.

  • Leno: “Can you name one of the 10 commandments?”
  • Girl: “Freedom of Speech?”
  • Leno: “What is the opening line of the Bible?”
  • Guy: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah” (recently re-done by Rufus Wainwright) is another example.  The lyrics contain clear biblical references to both King David and Samson, though those without a biblical knowledge would miss it.

Movie directors will occasionally highlight a biblical event (like the Flood in Genesis 6) but unfortunately those who see Hollywood’s recent version of Noah may not realize the gross inaccuracies unless they are familiar with the biblical account.   Click here for a trusted review.

Many cultural phrases find their root in the Bible.  Many have heard the phrase even as they are unaware of its biblical reference.

  • “My brother’s keeper” – Genesis 4:9
  • “Handwriting on the wall” – Daniel 5:5
  • “Eat, drink and be merry” – Ecclesiastes 8:15
  • “Go the extra mile” – Matthew 5:41
  • “Blind leading the blind” – Matthew 15:14
  •  “Good Samaritan” – Luke 10:25-37
  • “Thorn in the flesh” – II Corinthians 12:7
  • “Walk on water” – Mark 6:45-52

To our grandparents, “King James” would have been a reference to the Bible.  Today, it’s a clear reference to a professional basketball player.

The irony is that the Bible continues to be the greatest selling book of all time.  A Gallup study claims that 93% of Americans have at least one copy in their home.  YouVersion’s Bible App has well over 100 million downloads.  The implication is that over 100 million people are walking around with a Bible in their pocket.  We may possess a Bible but unfortunately, it clearly does not possess us.

I was reminded of this recently when I received a phone call from a man named “Sam” who I had met from my time in jail.   Sam was an interesting character.  Numerous times, he seemed on the verge of “snapping.”  Jail is a place where that is not entirely uncommon.  Sam spent a lot of time alone, walking “the yard” in endless circles.  One particular day, he seemed extremely unglued.   Realizing that he was hurting and spiraling out of control, I approached him and began a conversation.   That conversation led to a friendship and that friendship has, over the ensuing months, led to several conversations.  In our last one, he asked me an interesting question.

“Rod, I get that God loves me.  At least that’s I hear.  What I don’t get is why He had to die.   And how does His death have anything to do with me?”

On one hand, I was stunned.   Here is a man, in his early 50’s who grew up (of all places) in the South.  In fact, he was raised not only in the “Bible Belt” but pretty much on the buckle!   And he had no idea why Jesus died and what it had to do with him.  In my conversation I reviewed both the good and bad news about our spiritual situation and why Jesus’ death has profound significance on every human life; past, present and future.  It wasn’t until I shared the following illustration that the lights seemed to go on in his head.

IFSuppose a young child is wearing nothing but a diaper as he sits unsupervised in his playpen.  After awhile the child discovers how to remove his diaper and does so with great satisfaction.  Enjoying his newfound freedom, the child explores the boundaries of his playpen when he eventually discovers an interesting brown object on the playpen floor.  Unaware that the brown object is his most recent bowel movement, he picks it up.  By the time he realizes that this is not a toy or something he really wants to touch, it’s too late.  It is now on his hands and consequently everything else he touches is soon tainted with the disgusting substance.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the smell that accompanies his decision is a constant reminder of his situation.  In fact, the more the child tries to rid himself of the stinky substance, the worse his situation becomes.  Even if the child could ignore his plight, cover himself with perfume or perform a number of good works to make himself feel better, the reality remains – he is still hopelessly covered in a mess of his doing.  In a very little time, the child and his environment are completely covered in “sin” with no ability to clean himself or his world.   The longer he remains in it the worse it becomes.  The child is in need of a savior, someone outside his world who is pure, clean and able to save him.   Eventually, driven by his great need, the child does what anyone in his situation would do – cry for help.  The more frustrated he is with his predicament, the louder and longer he cries.  Fortunately, the child’s Father is nearby – just one prayer away – and not only willing but able to save His child from himself and his sinful mess.

And what is the Father’s motivation?  Duty?  Obligation?   Exhaustion from hearing him cry?   Money?  Future promises of change?   Praise?   Nah, this Father is not enticed by anything like that.

His motivation is much simpler.  In a word:

LOVE.

The truth is, we all live in the playpen.  We all have taken off the diaper and have touched things we shouldn’t have.  We all are hopelessly trying to deal with a mess we are incapable of fixing on our own.  As the Bible states, “we all like sheep have gone astray.”

Some have only strayed down the street.  Others of us have left the country for years.  Regardless, every one of us is spiritually homeless, morally bankrupt and longing to find our way home.  We are all in need of a Savior.  We desperately need someone to climb into our playpen and clean up our messy situation.

That’s what today, Good Friday, is about.

It’s about a God-Man who couldn’t stand to see His children sitting in the playpen alone.   It crushed His heart to see the crown of His creation hurting and helpless.  As a Heavenly Parent, He came to Earth, entered the playpen and took on our spiritual crap.

And what did He find in the playpen?   You, me and everyone else we know.   He found absolute physical, moral, spiritual, and relational filth – in every corner.   Murderers, rapists, disease, adulterers, blindness, tax cheats, prostitutes, corrupted priests, atheists, pornographers, deafness, child molesters, thieves, leprosy, pimps, death, human traffickers, liars, demon possessed, Pharisees, etc.  The list is as long as it is ugly.

And here is the best part.

He didn’t enter the playpen because of our cuteness.  He didn’t enter because of our promises or good works or religious track record.  (Titus 3:1-7)  He didn’t enter because our parents gave money or our Grandmother prays to dead saints.  Nope, He didn’t enter because of the relationship we had with Him.   Instead, He entered our playpen because of the relationship He wanted.

He so loved that miserable, wretched, messy, sinful child while I was still in that miserable, wretched, messy, sinful condition and loved me out of it in spite of myself.

That is what Good Friday is about.   A God who climbs in our disgusting playpen, cleans us up and gives us the ability to have not only a new life (II Corinthians 5:17) – but an abundant one as well. (John 10:10)

It IS a Good Friday indeed.