In the midst of all the bad news in today’s news, I thought you might like to hear about something a little different this morning. As you’re making plans for next week’s Valentine’s Day, here’s an option you may not have considered: you can donate $10 to the San Antonio Zoo. For that amount, they will name a cockroach after anyone you designate and feed it to an animal. Their annual Valentine’s Day cockroach naming event, called “Cry Me a Cockroach,” is intended for “exes who just won’t bug off,” as CNN reports. The annual event received more than eight thousand donations last year from all fifty states and over thirty different countries.
This expression of animosity is relatively innocuous (unless someone names a cockroach for you, I suppose). Here’s a more dramatic example of the enmity pervading our culture: According to Pew, 77 percent of Americans say our country’s partisan divide is deeper now than it was before the pandemic, as compared with a median of 47 percent in thirteen other nations surveyed. Even worse, support for the use of political violence is rising in our society.
Gallup recently conducted a “confidence in institutions” survey. Their polling included the church or organized religion, the military, the Supreme Court, public schools, the police, the criminal justice system, small business, big business, large tech companies, banks, the medical system, newspapers, television news, Congress, and the presidency.
What do these fifteen institutions have in common?
Public confidence in every one of them fell last year.
“I know my own and my own know me”
James described his first-century world in terms that seem eerily accurate today: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:1–2).
By contrast, the creative brilliance and power of the One who made us is on display everywhere we turn, if only we have eyes to see. For example, a recent galactic photo shoot captured more than three billion stars and galaxies. Astoundingly, this is only .15 percent of the two trillion galaxies in the universe.
Your Lord made all of that and holds it in the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12).
From the transcendent to the immanent: according to National Geographic, your circulatory system is more than sixty thousand miles long (this is more than twice the equatorial circumference of our planet). Your heart beats one hundred thousand times a day, forty million times a year, up to three billion times in your lifetime.
Jesus made all of that when he made you: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16). What’s more, his omniscience and omnipotence are available to all who seek his wisdom and strength.
This is because, unlike every other figure of history, the living Lord Jesus can be known personally by any who make him their Savior and Lord.
Buddhists do not claim that they can know the Buddha; Muslims do not claim to know Muhammad. But Jesus assured us, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). We can “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul’s life purpose was to “know him” (Philippians 3:10).
“All the thrills of religion”
Here’s the problem: we all too often settle for knowing about Jesus when we can know Jesus. Consider an analogy.
I was taught algebra in the eighth grade, but I remember almost nothing of what I learned. So I turned today to a Wikipedia article on the subject. Here I discovered that the word algebra comes from the title of a book by the ninth-century Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. I learned that its roots can be traced to the ancient Babylonians and that at least twelve different areas of mathematics have “algebra” in their name.
The article taught me much about algebra, but it did not teach me how to do algebra. This is how many of our religious activities function: they teach us about Jesus, but do they lead us to experience Jesus?
If not, why not?
To be confessional, I know one answer: it is easier to tell you about Jesus than to know him and then make known what I know. When I seek to know him personally, I experience his presence in ways that can be more than uncomfortable. I see the stains of my sins in the light of his holiness. I hear him calling me to accountability and submission to his authority.
However, if I spend my time teaching people about Jesus, I can avoid all of this while maintaining the appearance of religiosity. I can teach a passage of Scripture without having to deal with the One who inspired it. I can engage in religious practices without risking the repentance that is likely to be required by relational intimacy with Christ.
To quote C. S. Lewis, “All the thrills of religion and none of the cost.” Except this: avoiding the cost of knowing Christ costs me everything that matters most to my soul.
“We are bound to be captured”
Br. Keith Nelson of the Society of St. John the Evangelist writes: “In the sea of this life, we are bound to be captured sooner or later. The waters are full of other nets, bristling with hooks. If we don’t give our consent to be caught by Christ, something else will encircle our freedom and determine our choices. We need our attention to be captured by the one who longs for our transformation and wholeness.”
To shift the analogy, Jesus testified: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). With regard to your present significance and eternal rewards, “much fruit” or “nothing” are your two options.
Which do you choose today?