IN RECENT years, Jesus has been appearing to folks across the country in some very mysterious ways.
Most recently, a Jonesborough, Tenn., man, who offered that he's not particularly religious, said he'd been greeted by an image resembling Jesus on the window of his pickup each morning for about two weeks. The facial image appeared in the condensation on the driver's side window.
In 2006, an Ohio man claimed to have found the image of Jesus on his breakfast pancake. Instead of falling on his face and asking, "What must I do to be saved," he put the pancake on Ebay, garnered national coverage and received a high bid of $15,000 before his hoax was uncloaked.
Around the same time, a Texas man claimed he too had found Jesus - the savior's face was etched in a frying pan. And then there's "Shower Jesus": A Pittsburgh man found - and later peddled - a section of plaster wall that he said bore "the apparent face of the son of God."
Never miss a local story.
While many of these Jesus experiences were out-and-out hoaxes, there have been times when the people truly thought they were having a divine encounter. One of those occurred right here in the Palmetto State.
Not long before Christmas last year, a Spartanburg area woman and her boyfriend noticed that a slice of cheese toast the boyfriend had cooked bore a figure that looked like Jesus - a faint halo, shoulder length hair, a smile. The two felt this was a divine moment. Although they didn't rule out selling the toast, they said they saw it as a reminder that Jesus is real and always with us.
He is always with us, whether we see him in a piece of toast or a pancake or not.
I don't know what he looks like physically - and, quite frankly, neither does anyone else. It's interesting that what people see - or claim to see - is always the figment of some artist's imagination of what Jesus looks like, which most often ends up looking like the people of the dominant culture in a region. For many years, people in the Western world depicted Jesus with long brown hair, brown eyes, a beard and white skin or as blond and blue-eyed. Neither of those describe someone born near Jerusalem. Wouldn't that person be someone of color, with a Middle Eastern look?
We know Jesus was Jewish, but other descriptions are far from definitive. The fact that the Bible doesn't give us any real physical description by which to identify Jesus, in my mind, suggests what he looks like isn't where our focus should lie.
So what should be our focus? The relationship that comes from meeting Jesus.
I don't want to belittle any legitimate experience people had that might have brought them closer to Christ or strengthened their faith. But those who make up stories and attempt to sell their wares on Ebay are doing what they're doing for the love of money, not for the love of Jesus.
They're out to tap into people's emotions - and lack of knowledge - to get them to buy into their little ruse.
The fact is that anyone can meet Jesus - and you don't have to like flap jacks or cheese toast. The intent of the Bible is to help people search for - and find - Jesus.
While the Bible doesn't give us a detailed physical description by which to identify him, it goes into great detail about who he is, why he came and the life he lived. Jesus, God in the flesh, is Lord and savior, the path to salvation.
Those who receive him eventually come to act like him. If we act like him - one who reached out to every person of every origin and race and socio-economic background, one who went about doing good, one who sacrificed for others - then we begin to look like him spiritually.
And those who become like him become messengers through whom others can meet Christ. While an encounter with some likeness we deem to be Jesus in our frying pan or on our shower wall might get attention, the truest way to "see" him is to be introduced to him by a believer.
Those who meet Jesus won't have to wonder if it's really him. They'll know within themselves and by the change that comes in their lives. Second Corinthians 5:17 says: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
An encounter with Jesus results in an eventual and detectable change in a person's life. People ought to be able to behold - stop, look, listen, take note - the difference in how that person acts and reacts.
The day I met Christ, it completely changed my life and my perspective on life. It changed the way I see myself and the way I see others. More importantly, it changed the way I treat myself and the way I treat others.
When people genuinely meet him, their first thought isn't about how they can extract money from the encounter. They aren't likely to attempt to sell their experience on Ebay or auction it off in some other cheap fashion. Instead of being obsessed with a piece of change - dollar bills, y'all - coming into their pockets, they're caught up in the change that's come in their lives.
That's because Jesus is more interested in making an impression on the human heart than leaving one in a frying pan.