August 20, 2007

The Stones Cry Out
by Pastor George Van Alstine

How do you measure the influence Jesus has had on the world? You might figure the percentage of people across the globe who identify themselves as Christians, although the majority of these are probably not true believers. Or you might calculate the number of copies of the Bible, the world’s number-one best-seller, purchased in one year.

I’ve just discovered a less direct, but more impressive measure. I call it the “Three C’s.â€? These Three C’s are particularly interesting because they’re the testimony of unwitting, even unwilling witnesses. In a sense, these Three C’s are a fulfilment of the prophecy Jesus himself made, when religious leaders asked him to stop his disciples from loudly praising him: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would cry outâ€? (Luke 19:40). Stones, inanimate objects, un-intentionally praising Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Some of the most powerful witnesses to the compelling Person of Jesus are people who may not even believe in him. Here are my Three C’s:

Crosses – I’m not talking about the crosses that are central to worship, in the front of a sanctuary, or on top of a steeple. I’m talking about crosses that are decorative or part of an unconscious habit. Many people from Catholic backgrounds cross themselves without any conscious awareness. Some baseball players from Latin American countries cross themselves, without fail, every time they come up to bat. They are thinking of the pitcher’s history, what pitch he’s likely to throw, whether or not to take the first pitch. They are not thinking about Jesus. They are like stones crying out in praise.

As a decoration, particularly on a necklace, a beautiful cross is part of every glamorous woman’s repertoire. Often the cross is made of gold, and it may be studded with diamonds. It’s not uncommon for a young, super-rich celebrity to wear a bold cross nestled in her over-exposed cleavage. TV cameras sometimes unintentionally reveal this while she’s being arrested for drunk driving.

Christmas – It’s ironic that the holiday commemorating Jesus’ birth can be so devoid of Jesus’ spirit in the way it is celebrated. Materialism dominates the way this holiday is experienced by just about all of us. The greed of manufacturers and retailers is matched by the grasping, self-centeredness of people making lists of what they want for Christmas. But it’s still Christmas, and every time a purchase is made or a present opened, there is an unconsciousness testimony to the powerful influence of the Birthday Boy over human history. For more than a month, the title “Christâ€? is in peoples’ faces over and over again.

Cursing – The final C is the one I find most revealing. You can’t escape it—in school, at work, all over the TV, in movies, in popular music. The name of Jesus is used in vain all the time, all around us: “Jesus,â€? “Christ,â€? “Jesus Christ,â€? “For Christ’s Sake,â€? “Christ Almighty.â€? People have even come up with “politeâ€? forms of the words so little ears aren’t so easily offended: “Gee,â€? “Gee Whiz,â€? and the wonderful Australian “Crikey!â€? Other Biblical curses add to the cacophony. “Oh My Godâ€? seems to slip from people’s lips quite easily, and “Damnâ€? and “Hellâ€? are used all the time by people who don’t believe in Hell and have no fear of damnation.

I’ve gotten over my instinct to chide people when they curse. Quite often, someone will blurt out “Jesus Christ!â€? then apologize when it dawns on them that I’m a minister. Instead of responding with shock or scolding, if I say anything at all, it’s, “No, you’ve got me confused with someone else; I’m George.â€? Recently it’s dawned on me that this constant use of Jesus’ name and title by people who don’t believe in him is a powerful witness to his inescapable Presence. Ever since he came into the world, he looms over the most secular situation, causing even atheists to blurt out his name.

In this Jesus is unique. We don’t hear Jewish people swear in the name of Moses; they use Jesus’ name. Isn’t that an interesting irony? People don’t take the name of Mohammed in vain—that’s not tolerated in Islam. And I don’t hear the names of Buddha or Krishna used in cursing (maybe that’s geographical). Jesus doesn’t seem to protest; he tolerates this misuse of his name. Maybe he even endorses it, in an ironic way. As he prophesied, the stones are crying out.

Paul recognized in his day that not all those who used Jesus’ name were pure in motive or respectful of the one who’s name they were using:
“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition. What does it matter? Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.â€? (Philippians 1:15-18)

Even the stones cry out! The witness of Crosses, Christians, and Cursing.