“The Jesus You Know” series (post #7)
Johnny Paycheck was a country music star who had his biggest success in the 1970s. He was most famous for his hit Take This Job & Shove It, which went to #1 on the country charts in 1977. That song was such a commercial success that in 1981 it inspired a major Hollywood movie by the same name.
Paycheck will always be associated with that song, but he did have lesser hits, some of which were I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised), Me And the I.R.S., and D.O.A. (Drunk On Arrival). Can you spot a theme in all of these titles? Yes, Paycheck was a major player in the “outlaw country” movement of the 1970s. He was right up there with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. I remember all this because my dad and mom, uncle and aunt, and a whole lot of other people I knew listened to country music back then.
In 1979, Paycheck released the single The Outlaw’s Prayer. The first time I heard it was on a Country Music top 40 countdown when I was 12 or 13. The song told the story (perhaps autobiographical but more likely fiction) of a Sunday morning in Fort Worth, Texas, after Paycheck and his band had played a Saturday night show there. As the song’s story went, Paycheck had some time to kill that Sunday morning before catching a flight that afternoon. So he went for a walk around town and soon found himself standing right in front of a large downtown church. He could hear the singing and decided to step inside and enjoy the service. But he hardly got past the door before a young man walked over to him and said, “Excuse me, Sir, but I can’t let you in with that big black hat, those jeans, that beard, and that long hair.”
After leaving the church, Paycheck got down on his knees on the curb outside the church and prayed what the song calls “The Outlaw’s Prayer.” The “prayer” touches upon many of the common themes that “outlaw” types typically hold against churches: one stained glass window from the church could feed a poor wino’s family for years, some of the ladies in the choir had been drinking beer and dancing at Paycheck’s show the night before, John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcomed into such a church, people should be judged by what’s in their heart, etc. The closing words of the prayer/song are as follows:
Oh, by the way, Lord, right before they kicked me out, didn’t I see a picture of you with sandals and a beard? Believe you had long hair too. Well, this is Paycheck signing off. I’ll be seein’ you Lord, I hope.
Ah, there it is, Jesus the unkept hippie! He had long hair. He had a beard. He wore sandals. And since He didn’t worry about His own appearance, He didn’t care about anyone else’s either. All He was interested in was the heart.
Okay, let’s start with the sandals. Assuming that Jesus wore them, why did He do it? Well, surely it was simply because that was what EVERYBODY in that culture wore. I really don’t think that Jesus meant for sandals to be viewed as more spiritual than other shoes. If He had preached the Sermon on the Mount at an NBA basketball game, I figure He would worn sneakers.
And what about Jesus’ beard? Oh, there’s no doubt that He had one. The gospels don’t say anything about it, but Isaiah 50:6 is a Messianic verse that speaks of the Messiah (Jesus) having His beard plucked out. So, yes, Jesus had a beard. Most Jewish men of that day did. But that doesn’t mean that a beard is a mark of deeper spirituality.
Now let’s get to the hair. I have to assume that all those Renaissance artists who depicted Jesus in painting after painting had never read 1 Corinthians 11:14, where Paul asks the question, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” Frankly, that verse can be spun only so many ways. I’ll concede that we might debate just exactly what length constitutes “long” hair. For example, long hair in the Marines Corps is different than long hair in other settings. But let’s get real. It isn’t all that hard to discern whether or not a male’s hair is long enough to bring dishonor to him. Furthermore, if a man really wants to get it right he should err on the side of shorter rather than longer. This is not a hard concept.
But what about this business of God looking upon a person’s heart as opposed to the person’s appearance? Well, there’s no doubting the scriptural validity of that principle. Remember that God said to the prophet Samuel as Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). What I resent, though, is the implication that a right heart has such a difficult time producing acceptable attire, a neat beard, and a haircut worthy of a Christian. Does the old saying, “Come to Jesus and He’ll clean you up” apply only to thoughts, words, and deeds? Isn’t there some room in there for personal hygiene, appearance, and clothes?
Consider a couple of passages from the New Testament:
- I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2, N.K.J.V.). As I once heard Charles Stanley preach, presenting your body refers to what you do with your body, what you put in your body, and what you put on your body.
- And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17, N.K.J.V.) Surely those words “whatever” and “all” include the way you dress, the way you wear your hair, etc.
You see, before you start cultivating the “unkept hippie” look in honor of Jesus and tolerating everything in His name because your Jesus is so cool, laid back, and accepting, you’d do well to study the Bible. It just could be that those pictures you saw hanging on the walls of your local church were wrong. And even if they were right, you might still be reading far too much into Jesus’ appearance and clothing. What I mean is, just because He looked a certain way doesn’t mean that He thought a certain way. His looks could have been nothing more than the product of the culture in which He lived.
Johnny Paycheck’s career was seriously derailed in 1989 when, after several years of losing appeals, he was sentenced to a medium-security prison on the charge of aggravated assault. The charge stemmed from a 1985 bar fight in which Paycheck had shot a man, wounding the man’s ear. Paycheck ended up serving two years of a nine-year sentence before the rest of the sentence was commuted by Ohio governor Richard F. Celeste. Just prior to the beginning of his prison term, Paycheck became a born-again Christian and quit alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.
If Paycheck’s salvation was genuine — and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t — his soul went straight to heaven at the moment of his death on February, 19, 2003, at the age of 64. Paycheck may have been a rebel in life, but there are no rebels in heaven. So, if he’s there, he’s not rebelling any more.
If he could speak to us today, I wonder how he would rate The Outlaw’s Prayer. Would he stand by it? Would he change it up some? Would he discard it altogether? I don’t know, but what I do know is that thinking of Jesus as an unkept hippie, complete with a hippie’s lax attitudes and iffy standards, does a real disservice to the infinitely holy King of King and Lord of Lords.
There’s no doubt that some Christians really are too uptight and persnickety in their efforts to please Jesus. Unfortunately, these types tend to become the gatekeepers of the local church. On the other hand, though, there’s also no doubt that other Christians are far too laid back and hip when it comes to serving Jesus. Somewhere in it all there is a balance that we should strike, a balance of which the Lord approves. And all I can say is, here’s hoping that each of us find it.