Die on the Vine? Explode on the Vine!

exploding cucumber 1

Ever had one of those moments when your brain latches onto a new idea? Or a new course of action? Something new just grabs your attention and won’t let go. When I was a kid and first discovered windmills, I was obsessed. I wanted so badly to build my own small scale windmill to match the one on my grandparents’ farm. What would it take to actually make one? Where could I get some sheet metal? How could I cut it out, put it together and make it work?

Little by little, I stopped thinking about windmills. I stopped noticing them everywhere. Stopped scheming about building one of my very own. I moved on to airplanes. I never looked back.

die on vine

Highly addicting dictionary for word-nerds like me.

Sometimes however, that idea or plan just won’t leave you alone no matter how much you ignore it. Let me introduce you to Ecaballium Elaterium. Otherwise known as The Squirting Cucumber! Ever seen one? Far from dying on the vine, this weird plant has seed-pods that actually explode when they get bumped, pinched, plucked or chewed by an unsuspecting herbivore.

cucumber 2

The seeds erupt from their pod at speeds up to 60 miles per hour! Each pod spits out 20-40 seeds like a vegetarian machine-gun! Here’s the most fun, least worthy-of-your-time video you’ll encounter online. The squirting cucumber video – from Earth Unplugged. Before I completely lose my reader, why in the world am I talking about exploding cucumber seed pods? Here’s the back story…

Unconvinced

Two and a half years ago I was teaching a class while on staff at Christ Community Church. It was for seekers, skeptics and the unconvinced. The pilot for my idea was a series I designed for my crowd that paralleled a church-wide adventure in the book of Exodus. Our lead pastor was teaching through Exodus in the weekend messages. I was taking my tribe through what I called Exodus for the Unconvinced. Each week we presumed unbelief and explored all the critical problems we could find. This is about when the squirting cucumbers started sprouting in my garden!

After Exodus for the Unconvinced, I started writing material for a new study in the Gospels. What would happen if I took the same approach from Exodus and applied it to the book of Mark or John? What would a skeptic see looking at the public ministry and teaching of Jesus – if viewing the NT documents strictly on their narrative merit? I was surprised what people actually noticed. It was different than what the eyes of the already convinced typically see. Different. And better – for skeptics!

I had always felt the pressure to make sure people see the incredible healing miracles of Jesus. Skeptics need to get it – how someone claiming to wield that kind of power always used it in such selfless ways. People with great power today are far from selfless in its use. I was equally adamant that unconvinced seekers really need to hear what Jesus taught – the brilliance and uniqueness of his message.

Jesus got rejected… a lot!

People started noticing Jesus’ actual lack of popularity. He absolutely refuses to be slick – to the point of repeated rejection from audience after audience. I’d want people to notice how he chose to heal a man’s hand in the synagogue. Skeptics weren’t that impressed with the display of compassion. They were struck by Pharisees who were plotting Jesus’ death! And why would Jesus’ own hometown want to lynch him on his first day of public ministry among them? Why the intense rejection? If Jesus were sooooo powerful, why didn’t he use his power in ways that would guarantee belief? If the Gospels were mere legend, why put the hero at the mercy of people who didn’t care about miracles even when they witnessed them?

The idea that just won’t die is this: The believability of Jesus’ identity claims rests more on his suffering and rejection than on his crowd-making miracles and compassion. The miracles don’t need to be taken out of the story – they just don’t carry the whole weight of what Jesus was attempting to do. Taking the unconvinced by the hand and showing them the theme of Jesus’ rejection is actually more attractive than constantly showing them how Jesus met felt needs. Everything else in a consumer culture is trying to prove it can meet a felt need. Jesus has to be doing something more consequential than that in order to keep getting rejected like he does.

Commercial Church Jesus

The impression most get from commercial church today is that Jesus is the thing you need for what is hurting you most about life. Most “industry best-practice” evangelistic communication skilfully stages Jesus between a seeker and his or her felt needs. Felt-need consumerism. It works. All you have to do is throw in the right coercive emotional word-picture and people will respond right on cue!

The Jesus of the New Testament is larger and different than the specially formulated one branded for the unconvinced. There’s something freeing about helping seekers unhook from commercial Christianity and connect more directly with Jesus through simple bible reading. Jesus for the Unconvinced became a new channel to explore an unfiltered Jesus. Each week my hunch got stronger. “Stop pitching the therapeutic Jesus. Seekers need to see the Suffering Servant. Stop hiding the disconnect between the power of Jesus and the suffering of Jesus.” It wouldn’t leave me alone. Solving that disconnect with the help of my unconvinced friends was a challenge that wasn’t dying on the vine over time. It was exploding on the vine. Like a comical squirting cucumber! The rejection of Jesus is more compelling than what we would call a successful public ministry. A crucified Messiah has to be taught somehow without poisoning the well with consumerism.

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