Jesus is SO Down With Marvin…

I’m journeying through Mark’s gospel with some friends, and we were talking this week about 2v13-22. Essentially, Jesus goes to this guy named Levi (no relation to my son) who is a despised and outcast member of his culture, and invites Levi to follow him.

Then, as if that’s not enough, Levi throws a part for a bunch of his friends and invites Jesus to it. His friends are, well, colorful. Scripture says they were “tax collectors and sinners.” Again, tax collectors were seen as corrupt and greedy, less than moral. The word “sinners” here is even more interesting. There were two different Hebrew words (and concepts) for our word here. The first word was ‘am ha’ aretz. This essentially meant “people of the land”. They were simple people, people who weren’t interested in the rigorous obedience of the Pharisees or the political change of the Essenes or Zealots, but they weren’t necessarily awful. 

The other possibility, however, is slightly more scandalous. The second word is resaim. This word means the wicked. It means people who aren’t even the slightest bit interested in being good, much less holy.

To be clear, we’re not sure which word is being used here, but one thing is clear:

Jesus is with them, either way.

And what’s more—what is really freaking people out—is what Jesus hasn’t asked of these tax collectors and sinners…

… He hasn’t asked them to get their lives straight first.

… He hasn’t shamed them.

… He hasn’t berated them for their lack of morals or for their “bad behavior.”

… He has a party.

So when people come up to Jesus immediately after this and ask, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast” (2v18), something very interesting is going on. You see, fasting itself was pretty common in Jewish culture; it’s actually common in many religious systems. There’s nothing wrong with fasting at all. But fasting typically has a specific connotation to it:

it’s associated with repentance. 

We’re told that John the Baptizer came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1v4), and the Pharisees were desperate to see God act on behalf of Israel, so they pursued a pretty vigorous program of fasting and righteous (not so they could be buzzkills, mind you, but so God would come to Israel and set them free and bring His peace and shalom to His people).

But when Jesus shows up, he neglects the repentance part and goes straight to the party (his “repentance” in 1v15 isn’t so much about repenting of your sins as it is about rearranging your mind and your life to see the Kingdom in a new way).

He’s saying, “You don’t have to arrange your life to invite God into it; He will come into it just as you are. I don’t want to leave you unchanged; no one wants to be wicked, after all, but I’m coming to the party and you’re invited.”

So, incidentally, when Jesus talks about “unshrunk cloth” and “new wine” in verses 21-22, this is what he’s talking about: the “old way” is not  a bad way, but it really doesn’t fit reality anymore.

Jesus is here, and he’s having a party.

Are we inviting people to a party?

Or are we beating them up?

Or are we selling them “get-out-of-hell” insurance?

A friend of mine sent me this article this week, and it made me think of this passage of Mark and this blog post of mine.

Go read it, please.



Shouldn’t we be singing a better song?


I can’t help but read the words of the Grantland article and think about the way we do evangelism. Just reading the words in light of Jesus desire to throw a compelling party for people makes my heart ache for the way we should living with our friends.

Marvin said, “I asked God that when I sang it, would He let it move men’s souls.” 

Do we ask God to let us move men’s souls when we sing the Gospel song?

Or do we just ask for a sale?

Also note: lots of folks hated it. They were outraged. Marvin was corrupting, destroying the National Anthem.

But there other folks there too.

… and they heard that song, heard it in a new way, in a way that they never even know that they needed. Something welled up inside them. Everything that was old and tired about that song now seemed new and refreshing.

They got it.

And they wanted IN.






Evangelism Training With Marvin

Part of this post appeared in a message I gave at my church in 2010. 

How do you view evangelism? How does your church view reaching out to the surrounding world to proclaim Jesus’ Lordship?

Ever thought of it as a song?

Ever thought of it as The National Anthem?

Here’s my thought process: Most of us live in a culture (USAmerica) where the gospel of Jesus is simultaneously so familiar that it can be ignored, and so unfamiliar that it can be confused and mocked (which is also probably our fault as the church, but that’s another post altogether).

The situation is not too different from the National Anthem: most of us have been hearing it since we were children, at countless sporting, graduations, and civic events. For the majority of us, it has lost its power. As the saying goes, “familiarity breads contempt.”

It’s not the song’s fault. It’s just that we’ve heard it so many times we’ve become almost immune to it, inoculated by uninspired and off-key versions.

Some of us would say the same thing about the gospel; we’ve heard it in so many uninspiring ways, so many bombastic and overblown ways, that we’ve begun to think, “What’s the point?”

I want to suggest three images—three songs, actually—of evangelism, and suggest that we have the ability to choose how we (and our churches) “sing” the gospel, to ourselves and to our friends. 

The Off-Key Gospel

(Note, there were a lot of candidates for this, including an iconic guitarist)

Sometimes we encounter people, churches and organizations that just miss the point entirely. If we look and listen hard enough, we may hear familiar words and notes, but they are so skewed and off that we can’t take the song seriously. Maybe the fruit of their lives—corporately or individually—betrays the message of the song. Maybe their utter lack of preparation says, “We don’t really care about singing to you.” Ultimately, they seem to lack sincerity. They sing because they know they’re supposed to, but their motives are suspect, even mocking what they are purportedly celebrating.

This is not about excellence. It’s about humility. It’s not that Rosanne didn’t have the capacity to sing (maybe she does; maybe she doesn’t; I don’t know); it’s that she didn’t care enough to prepare. The song of God doesn’t have to be sung perfectly, but it should be sung in a way that it’s understandable, and that says something about our willingness to prepare and bring our best.

The Beautiful, Bombastic Gospel

Demi can sing. Obviously. She sings loudly, skillfully, and forcefully. She’s obviously been trained and knows how to knock this out of the park. And let’s face it, she’s cute, a pop icon.

But for me at least, there’s a detachment in this performance. It lacks subtlety and dynamics, and most of all I don’t hear any vulnerability or humanity in it (which is ironic considering Demi’s journey after this).

There are so many churches that “sing this gospel” well—they are adept at phenomenal performances that know how to orchestrate just the right tones. But in the midst of the lights and sound and noise, a little humanity gets lost. The “beautiful gospel” can lose sight of the vulnerability and brokenness—the utter humanity—of Jesus and His work.

Our gospel song should not be addicted to triumphalism; it’s not “Easter All The Time.” The gospel embraces the full range of human emotion: from the struggle at Gethsemane to the mourning at the cross to the joy at the empty tomb.

Gospel “Soul”

Now we’re talking.

A few things stand out to me in Marvin Gaye’s version of the National Anthem.

  • It is familiar. Though there’s an unexpected drum groove underneath, Marvin keeps the melody the same, and it’s easily to recognize.
  • It is decidedly Marvin. He’s decided to approach the song with some originality and creativity. He puts something of himself into the song.
  • It’s soulful, but subtle. Marvin was a master, one of the icons of R&B. But he pretty much gets up there and sings the song. No crazy runs. No extended improvisations. His humanity and his feeling comes through.

To me, this is the way the church needs to approach evangelism—and the gospel—in our culture. Infused with humility and restraint, but individual (and organizational) creativity and inventiveness. Unafraid to be ourselves, but faithful to the message and melody of the gospel of Jesus.

What evangelism song are you—or your church—singing to your community?