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Friday, April 5, 2013

"Mud and the Masterpiece" (John Burke)

TITLE: Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others through the Eyes of Jesus
AUTHOR: John Burke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (304 pages).

The essence of this book lies in learning to see the world from the eyes of Jesus, and to live in the world through the grace of God. Starting with a lament about the hugely negative perceptions of Christians in the modern West, Burke begins with asking why. Why are Christians perceived as intolerant, bigots, hypocrites, homophobics, and so on? Sometimes, these labels are given without even allowing believers to offer any defense. It is like many parts of society have already made a judgment. A Christian is one who is guilty until proven guilty.

Before we go on arguing about the rights and wrongs of such perceptions, Burke takes the humble approach to ask why. Perhaps, Christians have themselves failed to see from Jesus' perspective. They have failed to practice what Jesus had taught. They have failed to demonstrate grace and love. They have unwittingly focused on the mud of people's sins instead of seeing the masterpiece of the person. Burke gives this powerful metaphor of an old British coin covered in layers of mud. After cleaning with acid to dissolve away the mud, one sees the shiny metal beaming with clarity. Such is the nature of man, muddied by sin. Such is also the nature of how people see each other. Do we prefer to see the superficial mud at the expense of cherishing the beautiful person the mud is covering? Burke gives us the steps to distinguish the difference, and to do something about it all.

Part One goes into examining how Jesus mingles naturally with sinners, the marginalized, and the outcasts in early Jewish society. He relates more than condemns. He restores rather than destroy. He sees the good in people instead of being distracted by the ills of human nature. He knows that all people are created in the image of God, and the real enemy is the devil who is trying to make a mess of it all. He teaches that it is important to speak the truth, but equally important to speak the truth in love. Never forcing his way through, he lets people exercise their freedom of belief, senses the needs of people, sharing the pain of the ordinary, and most importantly, offering the gospel of salvation and God's love. It is important to remember that Christians are not to be quick fixers but empathetic friends; seeking truth and also loving people. When the choice needs to be made, decide on the basis of God's love and truth. Both have to be affirmed together.

Part Two puts it all into practice. Build relationships. Create community. Serve our neighbours. Help people grow. Develop leaders. Multiply for impact. Live and cultivate missional communities. Start with a small core of disciples. Understand and appreciate the contexts we are in. Then through prayer and wisdom, discern the clarity of the mission and the concrete steps to build bridges. Burke diagrams the trajectory of "people flow" from small to large, from inside to outside, and from Christ to all. Beginning with a core group of 4-35, start connecting with a larger community of 10-75. This larger community will be a powerful influence of a crowd (25-100) whose contacts (75-300) and beyond will form the circle of impact in the city. Network with people of peace. Be restored and bring restoration to broken relationships. These and many more about ordinary people doing extraordinary things comes about with a focus on Christ, to see from the perspective of Christ, and to live Christlike in the communities we are in.

My Thoughts

Burke hits the mark in his description of negative perceptions of Christians. In fact, I will even say that negative perceptions are not new. For all the good and right things Jesus had done, people still persecute and murder Jesus. It is a stark reminder that even when Christians are doing all the right things, they can still be accused of all kinds of things. You do good works? Why not do more? You are truthful? So are the non-Christians, they say. You preach Christ? Why are you not more like Christ? With sarcasm and skepticism, the Christian in the West has an uphill task to climb. It is not easy. If Jesus did not find it easy, neither should disciples then and now. That said, I have four thoughts about this book.

First, we may not be able to control the perceptions out there now, but we sure can do something about our own testimonies and lifestyles now. We do not need to go tell the world about all the good we have done, or become defensive about things that are wrongly perceived. Through our actions of grace and love, regardless of what kinds of mudslinging thrown at us, we can still live with grace and peace. Jesus has even said that those of us who are persecuted in the name of Christ, are blessed.

Second, it is the gospel that changes the world, not our defending of the gospel or any negativity surrounding the faith. There are genuine as well as unfair accusations. That does not make the gospel any less valid or potent. The gospel is for all, sinners, slaves, and the worldly. All of us are sinners. All of us need the gospel. Christians must remind themselves that they are not to behave as if they have the right to shove the gospel down the throats of people. Instead, Christians are to learn from Jesus, just like the way he offers to drink of living water to the Samaritan woman.

Third, the mud is sinfulness. Everyone of us is a masterpiece that is muddied by sin. The blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins. Be careful not to win the arguments but lose the person. Just like the folly of winning the battle and losing the war, we cannot insist on our own rightness, and make everybody else look silly and dumb. I admit there are Christians who have been way too insensitive with non-believers. There is no use to be right, when one's behavior and actions are not Christlike. Learn of Jesus on how he manages to speak the truth in love. Christ has said that greater love has no man than one who willingly lays down his life for his friends. Yet, Christ has gone way beyond this. He lays down his life also for his enemies! That is love extended to all people.

Finally, remember that each of us is created in the image of God. Christ wants to reveal the masterpiece in each of us. Let him.

This book is powerful antidote for believers feeling lost about how to engage the world. Take heart. As Christ has overcome the world, we too shall overcome. Not with bullets, guns, or weapons of mass destruction, but with gentleness, love, and bridges of mass re-conciliation. Most of all, this book is for all of us to learn to differentiate the mud and the superficial, in order to see the masterpiece and the essential. This book shows us a practical way to do just that.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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