Whether or not this happens at some point to every person brought up in the bible belt, I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that something pretty horrible happened to me, in my relationship with Christ.
I think I had fallen guilty of becoming a little numb towards Him.
It wasn’t that I ever stopped praying, stopped reading morning devotionals, or stopped trying to live my life through Him at all. I mean, I was raised in the church, you guys – I know the drill.
I can tell you all the bible stories, quote John 3:16 in my sleep, and as I’ve grown into a young woman have always tried to consider Proverbs 31. And while none of that has ever stopped, I do think I had grown a little numb.
By numb I mean this: in hard times over the past couple of years, I knew what scripture to fall on – but none of it really hit home for me. It was as if I’d read those passages too many times before that they had lost their meaning. And when friends would give me Godly advice in times of trial (although I knew their words were the exact ones I would have chosen in reversed roles), they didn’t really make me feel any better. Their words just resonated as mundane in my heart; both definitions of the word applying. And how sad is that?
My encounters with Jesus really started to space themselves out more so than ever before in my life – and I think it may have been because I stopped recognizing or looking for him as often as I should have.
Jesus never intended for our relationships with him to be this way at all, and I did recognize this was an issue. However, I would venture to say that I’m not the only person on the planet who has been in such a spiritual funk before. And at the end of the day, sometimes we never exactly know what to do about it. I sure didn’t.
Then, this summer I made a friend who told me about a book she had read; it helped her get to know the personality and character of Jesus a little bit better. I needed a good read, it sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give it a shot!
Well, I didn’t know it (and she couldn’t possibly have known it) but this book was about to be the cure to my funk. And friends, I’ve got to tell you all about it.
Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldrege is a must read. It is brilliant.
Eldrege writes that reading the Gospels without knowing the personality of Jesus is like watching television with the sound turned off. When I read this, the concept made sense, of course – but I thought I already knew the personality of Jesus. And, it’s not to say that I didn’t, but there was so much of Jesus’ personality that I was missing out on (and I’m sure there still is).
Getting to know Jesus in this light was illuminating. And getting to understand more of myself – who I am in Christ – was a total breath of fresh air.
In this book I read bible stories that I’ve heard a million times over: sermons, devotions, quiet time, bible study discussions, etc…but in Beautiful Outlaw I read them in a completely different way. I understood differently. For the first time in a long time, I felt something new. It’s like I’m getting to know Him on a level I never even knew existed.
Yes, Jesus is almighty, powerful, merciful, loving and all-knowing. I’ve been taught this since I can remember. But why have I never understood other personality traits of this man before? Personality traits that make me love, know and understand Him so much more. It’s mind blowing to me!
You guys, Jesus is playful. He jokes around with his friends and is hilariously witty; he’s got this dry humor that I can relate to on a personal level…and I had no clue until now! I was giggling to myself while reading as if I was watching The Office – that kind of funny.
He has a fierce intention with us. He has the most human face of all. He has extravagant generosity and is disruptively honest. His freedom is scandalous – our Lord is scandalous and cunning like an outlaw, but a beautiful one.
There is this one part of the book where Eldrege is digging into John chapter 2; when Jesus empties a temple because he is so furious to have found people making his Father’s house a marketplace. I’d read this story before, but I guess until reading Beautiful Outlaw I never took the time to fully understand it. Never before while reading a passage had I thought what I did about Jesus in that moment. I’m afraid to say it, so please excuse me as I am lacking a better word, but Jesus was a complete badas* in this scene.
Reading that chapter was so intense to me. I’d never seen Jesus this way before! He was so much more human and Godly at the same time than I’d ever seen him before. So much more powerful, relatable, furious and fierce. The man was like a bull in a China shop. This was not the Jesus I’ve ever understood before.
And at the same exact time, he has such humility. He is true. And beautiful. And this book dives way deeper than I will be able to in a blog post.
It took me a while to read Beautiful Outlaw even though it’s only 220 pages. But, you know when you’re watching a Netflix series that is so good that you savor every scene and really take your time finishing it? That’s what I felt from page one of this book.
I re-read chapters. I took notes. I highlighted and underlined. I really understood every last word. I went back to old passages when they were referenced in new ones – just because. I mean, I soaked it all in. I had to, the book is that good. It opened up my mind to both ideas I had thought before and had felt wary about and ideas that I had never considered before.
“You must understand an important distinction – there is Christianity, and then there is church culture. They are not the same. Often they are far from the same. The personality conveyed through much of Christian Culture is not the personality of Jesus but of the people in charge of that particular franchise. Tragically, the world looks at funny hats or big hair, gold thrones and purple curtains, stained glass or fog machines and assumes this is what Jesus must be like. When you are confronted with something from Christian Culture, ask yourself, Is this true of the personality of the God of the wind and the desert, the God of sunshine and the open sea?” (62)
“In a piece of advice that could have been lifted from a CIA training manual or the whispered meetings of a revolutionary cell, Jesus tells his little platoon, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). We like the innocent as doves part; that sounds nice. Very Sunday School. But that first bit — hold on now. Shrewd as snakes? When you hear someone say, “He’s such a snake,” do you think, Oh–what a fine Christian?
The things Jesus says.
Let’s get the religious drapery off this…” (93)
“”What people think of me” is a very powerful motivator. It is shaping us more than we’d like to admit. It shapes our theology, politics, our values. I spent time today with a young man in the music industry; why did I use the term “dude” more than I usually do? Before that, I was speaking with a woman in ministry; I never used the term “dude,” but I did talk about “the Lord” a good bit. […] Do any of us go through one entire day being utterly true no matter how many different environments we move through? Do you even know the true you? Is there a true you? […]
Only when you have taken an honest look inside yourself, and have seen what really fuels the things you do, will you appreciate how utterly remarkable it is to be true. And how utterly desirable.” (127)
“You will appreciate the mastery of Jesus only to the degree that you understand the minefield he walks. He is advancing against the prince of darkness in a bid for the human heart. The whole situation is booby-trapped. Satan already has the upper hand — he took our hearts captive when we fell, back in Eden. Some he has snared through abuse, some through seduction, others by means of religion. Oh, how hard it is to rescue the human heart, to dislodge people from their chosen means of survival without toppling them into resignation, despair, or defensiveness.” (103)
“The eternal Son of God, “Light of Light, Very God of Very God….one substance with the Father,” spent nine months developing in Mary’s uterus. Jesus passed through her birth canal. He had to learn to walk. The Word of God had to learn to walk. He who calls the stars by name had to learn the names of everything, just as you did.
“This is a cup. Can you say cup? Cuuuup.”
Or did you think baby Jesus came into the world with the vocabulary of Dictionary.com?
For ages upon ages, his generous hand fed every creature on earth; now it is he that has to be fed, spoon-fed, drooling most of it down his chin like any other toddler. The Son of God doesn’t even know how to tie his shoes. Someone had to teach him how to tie those sandals John The Baptist said none of us were worthy to untie. “The rabbit goes around the tree and down through the hole…like that. Now you try it.” Picture seven-year-old Jesus in the shop out back, learning from Joseph how to use a hammer and a saw. He who hung galaxies in such perfect poise, like a hundred billion mobiles, has to be shown how to nail two boards together.
I take my shoes off. The humility of this is beyond words.” (109)
I mean, I wish I could quote so many different things from the beginning chapters of this book – the ones spent truly getting to know Jesus’ characteristics and personality traits.
But then, after you’ve read through 12 chapters worth of getting to know Jesus, John Eldrege goes forward to help you love this guy that you just got to know on a whole new level. He guides you to let Jesus be himself with you. And then, he brings the heat.
Personally, this is my favorite part of the entire book; it’s when Eldrege clears away the religious fog. The author touches on this importance throughout the book, but he is only preparing your heart for a chapter that brings harsh truths to the table.
At this point in reading, I couldn’t stop. The Netflix series is nearing the season finale, it’s 2 AM and you’ve got to watch just three more episodes…
I don’t want to quote too much without anyone having read the book for themselves – Eldrege even walks you through a prayer to prepare you for this chapter before he begins. You have to experience it yourself.
As I read, I experienced Jesus encouraging me, patting me on the back and letting me know that I’ve been doing great in certain areas of my life. I also experienced Jesus telling me of other things I may be doing that cause me to be apart of the problem. Each of these experiences were something I needed to hear from Him equally.
“How cunning — have people claim something intimate, or powerful with Jesus, but let their lives be so unappealing it ends up having the effect of bad breath. Everybody moves back three paces. […] Bizarre people are probably the most effective tool of the enemy to turn people off to Jesus. Or, to a more intimate experience of Jesus. […]
Some of the most “spiritual” people I’ve met, who operate in many powerful gifts, are people I would never want to take on vacation. Would never call at 2 a.m. This is a problem, gang. People loved to be with Jesus, just be with him in normal life–walking down the road, having dinner, talking on the beach. If your spirituality doesn’t “fit” into normal life, it is religious. […]
Here’s the test — if you can’t take your church culture and language and drop it in the middle of a bar or a bus, and have it make winsome sense to the people there, then it’s not from Jesus. Because that is exactly what he could do. That’s what made him the real deal.” (171)
“You don’t meet a lot of people, frankly, who are given over to loving Jesus. But they live a clean life, attend church faithfully, and are considered to be “good Christians.” Good grief — smoking and swearing would draw much more concern than ignoring God in most Christian circles. Do you see the problem here? They’re failing at the first and most important command of all — loving Jesus. It’s as if we think you can be Christian, but being in love with God is optional. Sort of like extra credit.” (172)
“God is spoken of as a mystery so high and lifted up we cannot possibly be friends. […] Of course there are mysteries to God, but Jesus came to make God known. He wants to be known. He is known, by millions. This talk of distance and unknowing ushers in a great fog shrouding the way of those who do want to know him. It is harmful, not helpful.” (174)
This whole chapter is so, so powerful. You’ve got to read it for yourself.
After chapter 15, Eldrege wraps up the book beautifully; explaining and guiding readers how to let Jesus be Himself in his encounters with them and letting his life fill theirs. Just like I’d been missing for quite some time.
I simply cannot write the words to give the experience this book offers the justice it deserves; it surely gave life to my numb, was the cure to my spiritual funk, and this Jesus guy is truly the Beautiful Outlaw behind it all.