July 2008


Whenever we encounter Jesus, He says so much more than we comprehend. We ask questions for which we listen for the answer. He answers our questions and so much more.

The Pharisees set up a political situation in which they asked a political question with which they hoped to catch Jesus in a trap.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22, ESV)

Their thought was to catch the Master in a dilemma which would either estrange Him from the crowds where He had developed a massive following, or to tie Him to a controversial statement that could be used as fodder in a treason charge against Him. They had Him in a no-win situation and He turned the tables on them. His response could be taken as neither blasphemous nor treasonous. He spoke the truth in such a way that it confounded their question.

Simply they asked, “Do we have to pay taxes?” Simply, He answered, “Yes.” And this is the way that preachers (including this one) have addressed this passage time and again—as an answer to whether it is lawful for God’s people to participate in the tax system or not.

Often preachers will expand that we are to give to God our hearts as well, but we neglect to see the main point of what Christ is saying. Look again at the passage—what is His focus? If this statement of Christ is anything like many of His recorded sayings (especially in the book of Matthew), then He is centering on God and His Kingdom. On the surface, Jesus takes the object lesson of a coin and points out that Caesar’s image is etched into the coin, implying that it belongs to Caesar. With this in mind, Jesus tacitly suggests that we look at what God has burned His image into, and that we surrender that to God.

For those who need a hint, here’s what all of the Pharisees would be familiar with: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:26-27, ESV)

The emphasis is not so much on the political message that we (and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) see, and what made them walk away bewildered—what is much more important—is what we give over to God. And according to the Lord that should be our very selves.

It’s eerie sometimes how the flow of things manages to curl in on itself. While I often enjoy surfing the ‘Net, I’m not a surfer in the true sense of the word, but I have watched many hours of Hawaii 5-O and plenty of Gidget movies. What I’ve observed about the incoming tide is that sometimes it comes so fast that it curls in on itself—then the expert daddy-o can ride the pipeline. Well today, I’ve been riding a pipeline in conversation. While I was enjoying my weekly visit with other preacher-types over a local McCoffee, we started talking about brands and brand loyalty. Then I saw this guest post over at Ken Hall’s Buckner Prez. It’s well worth your time.

I’ve been noticing over some great amount of time that branding and brand loyalty are not what they used to be.

For instance, during my seminary days I heard the story from one of our faithful church members how he had given A&P almost thirty years of his life. He’d built a career. He’d been faithful to his company. Then, just as his stability seemed to be with him, the company began selling out (this was the early 80s). He lost his job at a time when getting another would be difficult to impossible. When he thought he had been loyal to the company that would be loyal to him, he was disappointed.

I’ve watched as professional athletes went from being part of the team to developing a free-agent society, as record labels moved from being the house for an artist to picking new voices and bidding for winners, as actors signed on for a movie because of the box-office prospect instead of signing onto a studio contract for the long-haul. Businesses have begun to think only of the business and not of the employees or the people the business is supposed to serve. The new business centered around the “head hunter” has developed as a big business—finding the best and brightest and stealing them away from one company to another. Our society has become a free-agent society right in step with the sports, music, movie, and business arena.

This is not to say that branding is either good or bad, but there is a question as to whether or not there is something to be loyal to. Fifty years ago we could characterize the typical family or teenager. Then 25 years ago as I began serving churches in the capacity of Youth Minister, we were told by the experts that there was no “traditional” example of the teenager, but that the typical teenager was to rebel against typicality. The result was that all the teens looked the same without being the same: a same uniqueness or a unique sameness. Now we are told that the typical young person is one who questions anything and typically commits to no brand at all.

I wonder if the SBC will still be around in the years to come. My personal observation (as I made it this morning) is that the convention will be here 100 years from now, but will bear a strong resemblance to the churches that have plateaued or died over recent years. Partly because of the lack of brand loyalty, partly because newer generations will examine the genuineness of Christ in the practice of the people and will move to where they see more reality in the people.

I wonder also, if other “brands” of Christianity are seeing the same trends, making non-tradition the new tradition.

What do you see?