Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Old Testament Wrath or New Testament Mercy? What is God Really Like

what-is-god-like-570x320

In Hong Kong we have two official languages; Chinese and English. Because of this it is quite common to see information in the city displayed in both languages.  Many times however legal documentation will have a clause that reads something like; When a discrepancy between the English & Chinese translation occurs, the Chinese (or English) translation will take precedent.

In principal the legal documentation should say the same thing but in reality sometimes the nuances of language makes what should be the same appear different.  In cases like that the proper lens for interpretation must be applied.

The Old Testament and the New Testament operate in a very similar manner.   God is portrayed in both but sometimes in vastly different ways.  In the Old Testament he can be seen as merciful one minute and wrathful the next. Confusingly showing forgiveness for large crimes but dealing out wrath and death for far smaller.

In the New Testament however, Jesus displays God in a much more consistent way.  He confirms the merciful acts and compassion of God we see in the Old Testament but seemingly shuns the violence and  judgement.

For this reason there is sometimes a huge gulf in understanding God whereby he can seem to order the wholesale slaughter of children in one testament but proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of ones such as these in the next.

So people have been rightly asking for thousands of years,

What is God Really like?

And so God answered…

He is like Jesus

No human eye has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom–He has made Him known.

John 1:18

Or

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,

Hebrews 1

Basically before Christ came, many prophets explained God to humanity in many different ways…some good, some not so good.

Sometimes they got what God is like right

Sometimes they got what God is like wrong

So God clears away the confusion…

…He sends his Son!

The exact representation of who God is and what God is like!

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father  ”Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.…

John 14: 9

So now like the legal example earlier,  when a discrepancy exists in the understanding of God between the Old & New Testament the Jesus interpretation will take precedent.

jesus_puzzle___m

Jesus as the Lens

There is a great story in Luke 9 that illustrates why Jesus MUST to be the lens by which we understand God.  In the story Jesus is not well received at a particular village and his disciples want to bring out some good ol’ Testament wrath and judgement!

And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him (Jesus).  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.  And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

James and John knew what God was like…or they thought they did.  They had read the scriptures and now wanted to do what what the great prophets of old like Elijah did when they were representing God.

“Let’s kill these unbelievers”

But Jesus is appalled at this suggestion

 But He turned and rebuked them (translation, “Are you two crazy or something?”), and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

Jesus says that James and John don’t even know what they are talking about.  They had viewed the scriptures (The Bible) through the wrong lens and thought they understood God and what he would want..

but by viewing God through Elijah and the prophets instead of Jesus they got Him all wrong!

Jesus confirms he is here to SAVE people, not destroy them!  If someone doesn’t want to receive us, we simply move on to the next group who does…

…and no one has to die in a fireball from heaven!

Everytime Jesus has the opportunity to clarify whether God is compassionate and merciful OR wrathful and judgmental he ALWAYS comes down on the side of compassion and mercy.

Everytime!

The Old Testament and New Testament have the SAME God but where there is a discrepancy between the two versions, the Jesus language will take precedent! 

As my oft mentioned Brian Zahnd quote states:

God is like Jesus.  God has ALWAYS been like Jesus!  There has NEVER been a time when God was not like Jesus.  We haven’t always known that…

…but now we do!

Peace,

Steve

 

Interstellar: My Top 5 Movies That Explore Wonder, Awe, Mystery…and Science

interstellar_movie-wide

After much anticipation, speculation, and yes even salivation, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar premiered last week.   The film is Nolan’s brave attempt to mimic Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and create a “hard science” film that also inspires wonder, awe, and a new perspective on our own humanity.

So does he deliver?

Yes…um, mostly I’d say.

Even as the film was finishing I had already slotted in Intersteller at # 5 in the Steve’s Top 5 Sci-fi movies that inspire awe, wonder, and a fresh optimistic view of humanity’s place in the universe.

So what comprises the Top 5?

# 5 Interstellar 

Ok, this movie is so fresh I won’t give any serious spoilers.  I had hoped going into the film that this would end up higher on this list.  Sadly, that’s not the case. Nolan delivers a good film with Interstellar, Heck I would even say a great film. (It made this list after all)  But it seems every moment of wonder which blows our mind is balanced with a movie convention that brings us crashing back to Earth.  All I’ll say is where would 2001: A Space Odyssey be if Kubrick had added a fist fight, Matt Damon, and a high speed rescue?

But hey, I’m focusing on the negatives.  Interstellar’s underlying message that love and hope can transcend time and space…all while exploring black holes, other dimensions, and theories of relativity?

Pretty cool!

Top it off with a pot shot at the current “dumbing down” of the government towards science and you have the makings of a great movie.

# 4 Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

Steven Speilberg was one of the first to imagine advanced aliens coming to Earth not to conquer, invade, or eat us…but as friends.  Richard Dreyfuss plays a father who, along with others, feels compelled to travel to the Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming where the aliens eventually make contact.  (In American movies the aliens always choose to land in America).

close-encounters-3

The only critique I have in this movie is the family relationship and breakdown of Dreyfuss’ family.  They don’t trust him, the wife thinks he’s crazy, and Dreyfuss doesn’t seem to care that much.  Speilberg admits that he wrote Close Encounters as a much younger man and probably would not write family dynamics in the same way today.

Makes me wonder what a remake of the movie might look like.

#3  2001: A Space Odyssey

This would top most people’s list in this category but for me its # 3.  Kubrick’s masterpiece couldn’t be more ambitious taking us from the dawn of humanity to “beyond the infinite” and suggesting that through the process an unseen hand is guiding us.  Throw in a battle of wits between man and machine and you see why its a classic.

I wanted to tell Christopher Nolan you don’t have to have fist fights when you have dialogue like this.

 

# 2  2010: Odyssey 2

Purists will hate me for putting Peter Hyams sequel above Kubrick’s original. Ok, I get that. I’m not saying 2010 a better film, I’m just suggesting for me it inspires an even greater feeling of awe, wonder, and hope.

In 2010 a joint U.S.- Russian mission goes out to Jupiter to figure out what happened in the first movie.  I love this film so much!  The “hard science” is put front and center (hey how many movies will spend 10 minutes on showing you how “air-breaking” can slow you into an orbit around Jupiter) but through the whole film you are told “something wonderful” is about to happen.

And it does!

#1  Contact

I must watch this Carl Sagan penned film at least every six months.  There is hardly a movie that puts more of a “spring in my step” than this one.  In it Jodie Foster plays a scientist who is searching for extraterrestrial life.  She is written off as crazy until one day, she gets a transmission.

What follows is a wonderful examination of the ballet between “science” and “faith” and how we know what we know!  We see government paranoia, religious zealots, narcissistic scientists, and even a capitalist with compulsive disorder.  Yet through it all we are given the message we are not insignificant and …

… we are not alone!

Honorable Mention: Blade Runner

While arguably not a movie revealing the wonder and mystery of the universe I felt compelled to mention it for highlighting what it means to be human.  The final scene with Rutger Hauer saving Harrision Ford rather than killing him after explaining “all that his eyes have seen”

Classic!

Ok, those are my 5.  What have I missed?

In “Jesus Christ Superstar” Judas Asks All The Right Questions

Curiosity…JCS-Poster

Doubt…

Questions…

Themes raised in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar which has been playing from Broadway to school auditoriums since 1970.

Full disclosure: JCS is the first musical theater I ever saw when my parents took me to see it at the tender age of seven.  I still remember the lights going down as the electric guitar notes of the Overture echoed through the theater.

I was hooked… and subsequently wore out the double LP album on our turntable over the years.

Just this week I found myself listening and watching Youtube clips from the show and stumbled upon one from the 2012 Broadway revival where the cast performed the song Superstar at the Tony awards.

Jesus Christ
Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

For those unfamiliar with the show, Superstar is sung by the actor playing Judas Iscariot as Jesus is being crucified at the end of the show.  In the song Judas is asking questions…

…questions every honest person would ask.

* Jesus, are you really what you say you are?

* Jesus, why did you let the things happen the way they did?

* Jesus, did you really plan your death this way?

* Jesus, who are you? And what did you sacrifice?

He begs Jesus “not to get him wrong, he only wants to know

Just like us…

As “Judas” sang at the Tony Awards suddenly the large screen behind him filled with the person of Jesus as he spoke from the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven:

Matthew 5: 43-45

At the end of the song Jesus emerges from behind the screen with the cast representing a lot of humanity that we would probably NOT first associate as being religious.  Across the giant screen behind them the words appear:

To The Ends Of The Earth

Most of the church culture today would have little time for the Tony Awards or the people and culture that swirls around it and yet I couldn’t help but feel the audience there wants  Jesus to be who he says he is and wants the Good News that he brings.

I rather suspect the crowds around Jesus when he delivered his Sermon on the Mount 2000 years ago were a lot like the audience at the Tony awards. Despised by the religious leaders of the day…  not particularly good at the spiritual stuff …full of questions and full of doubt.  Wondering if this Jesus is who he says he is…

…is he the real deal?

The crowd probably had a lot dirt in their lives but they were drawn to a man and his message that proclaimed to the them:

“Cheer up, because for those of you not so good at being spiritual, the Kingdom of Heaven is for you too!”

 

Mick Mooney’s Huffington Post Piece Is Way To “Liberal”

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAApparently Mick Mooney’s recent HuffPost piece, WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Do You Really Want to Know?  has caused a bit of a stir in certain circles.  In the post Mooney has a bit of fun imagining a modern day parable where a mother gives one of those WWJD bracelets to her son.

The boy promptly begins acting like Jesus much to the chagrin of his religious mother who gave him the bracelet in the first place.

she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with prostitutes, was hanging out with ‘sinners’ — even buying people who were already drunk yet another round of beers!

Worse still, he had walked into their church the previous Sunday and tore down the book store, overturned the tables and threw the cash register through the window, he then made a whip and chased the pastor out of the building, declaring he was turning God’s house into a den of thieves.

Most shocking was what happened when his mother went to picket the local abortion clinic. To her embarrassment, her son was also there, but he was standing with the women who just had an abortion, and yelled at the protesters: “You who are without sin, throw the first stone!”

The mother promptly gets the boy a “What Would A Pharisee Do?”  bracelet replacing his “WWJD”  and all is returned to normal as the son begins doing all the traditional things he was expected to do in the first place:

he has become a dedicated tither, a public prayer warrior, an active condemner of ‘sinners,’ a passionate defender of the Old Covenant law, and has a great reputation as a godly young man amongst other religious people.

Understandably Mooney’s parable has it’s critics.  Dr. Joel McDurmon from The American Vision writes in a response piece What Would Jesus Do? Not what this liberal says He would do

So what would Jesus do? Not what this liberal (Mooney) says (dreams) He would do. Jesus would “do” Old Covenant ethics. Anything else is more like what a Pharisee would do.

See, in American politico-Christian culture the worst thing a Christian teacher can accuse another Christian teacher of being is not “erroneous”, “heretical”, or even an “unbeliever”.

No…it’s being called a “liberal”. 

pavlov_conditioning_dogs

Many Americans have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to respond to someone labeled with the dread moniker with a responding gnashing of teeth. So it’s interesting to note McDurmon’s …um, liberal use of the word liberal throughout the response.

  • A great example of this appears in a recent column on HuffPost, by a liberal religious writer Mick Mooney.
  • Usually, the liberal intellectual elite are a bit more subtle and sophisticated.
  • These and other questions need to be qualified before undertaking such a liberal crusade.
  • The overwrought analogies are bad enough, but with the twist of the alleged “Pharisee,” the liberal becomes more transparent than he wishes.
  • Jesus in Mooney’s story looks doesn’t look very much like the law and promises; He looks a whole lot like a modern liberal.
  • Why it just so happens that this Jesus’ values line up exactly with those we would expect of a liberal writer like Mick Mooney.
  • Despite the derisive parable of our subject liberal, Jesus Himself was a passionate defender of Old Covenant law,
  • conservatives are often quite Pharisaic in their personal and political ethics. That hardly means liberals, humanists, have the solution.
  • So what would Jesus do? Not what this liberal  says (dreams) He would do

If nothing else McDurmon knows his American audience.  Label your opponent as one of “them” liberals and then pile on.

Unfortunately for McDurmon, Mick Mooney isn’t American.  I don’t know Mick personally (although I have friends who do) and I’m pretty sure he’s from Australia. (My apologies if he’s actually Kiwi).  As such, he’s immune from the political – religious chatter that conditions American Christians to respond in predetermined ways.

That’s what has been a relief for me living outside America for so many years.

God just becomes so much bigger and better!

He becomes a God who is no longer invoked in an attempt to get others to join or defend their “side” but a God who is calling all creation to instead come join him on his.

Mick Mooney is declaring who that God is to the world while Dr. McDurmon steadfastly stands guard over a sheep pen whose sheep are increasingly slipping through the cracks.  Slipping through to find fresh water and pasture from their true Shepherd.

Oh, and ironically, in Australia the Liberal Party is the party for the conservatives and the liberals are in the Labor Party.

Just saying…

 

 

Betrayal & Grace: When Doctor Who Gets All “Jesus-ee”

God I love Doctor Who!  Doctor Who Series 8

And admittedly I love Doctor Who even more in the episodes where the Doctor gets all…well…um

Jesus-ee

Yes, like Aslan (and Willy Wonka) our beloved Time Lord Doctor Who tends to often say, do, and act in ways most associated with a certain Son of God I tend to write about a lot.

No more so than last week’s episode Dark Water which spoke unconditional love and grace as beautifully as I’ve ever seen it done on TV.

If you are not a Doctor Who fan (you should be) stick with me a moment. In the following scene the Doctor’s companion Clara is grief stricken over the senseless death of her finance Danny in a car accident.  In her mind she feels she is owed help by the Doctor and concocts a plan that involves threatening to destroy the TARDIS (the police box the Doctor travels in) if he doesn’t help her alter time to bring him back.

After one of the most tense scenes in Doctor Who history in which the Doctor reveals again he has everything under control he lets Clara know that despite her betrayal of his trust, he’s still going to help her find Danny :

Clara: Well, what do we do now?  You and me, what happens now? (Pause) Doctor?

The Doctor: (Calmly) Go to Hell

Clara: (Clearly hurting) Fair enough…absolutely fair enough…

Clara begins to walk towards the TARDIS exit.  The Doctor looks at her confused

The Doctor: Clara (Clara turns)  You asked me what we’re going to do.  I told you.  We’re going to hell or wherever it is people go when they die…if there is anywhere.  Wherever it is we are going to go there and find Danny.

Clara: (In disbelief) What?

Clara receiving grace!

Clara receiving grace!

The Doctor: And if it is anyway possible, we’re going to bring him home.

Clara: (Beginning to cry) You’re going to help me?

The Doctor: Well why wouldn’t I help you?

Clara: Because of what I just did because...

The Doctor: You betrayed me.  You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. (Angry) You let me down!

Clara: Then why are you helping me?

The Doctor: (In disbelief) Why?  (Walks toward Clara) Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

(It was about here where my eyes welled up)

______________________________________________________

Grace!

It’s why Jesus could still called Judas friend at the Last Supper despite his betrayal

It’s why Jesus could still commission Peter for ministry despite his denial

It’s why God can still consider us his children despite our (often) rejection of him

And of course the Doctor is willing to go even to hell to rescue Danny.  Isn’t Jesus all about descending even into the depths of hell itself in order to bring his loved ones home?

Interestingly after Clara’s betrayal she is insecure about her relationship with The Doctor.

She expects rejection and judgement

Instead The Doctor gives her unconditional acceptance and friendship.

As Christians we often ask the question Clara did after her betrayal.  ”What now Lord?  What about us?  Where do we go from here?”

Do we think the Maker of Heaven will be less gracious than a fictional character on TV?

I think not…

PS: Here is a link if you want to watch the scene for yourself at 14:56 (but watch the whole scene in its context from 8:26)

A Texas School, Christian Plaques, And How Fox News Gets It Wrong…Again!

In Midlothian, Texas a school is under fire for displaying a dedication plaque stating the following:

Dedicated in the Year of our Lord

1997

to the Education of God’s Children

and to their Faithful Teachers

in the name of the Holy Christian Church

Soli Deo Gloria

Yes, you read that right.  This wasn’t laid in “1697″ or “1797″ which the Christendom - like vernacular would suggest.

No…

This plaque is less than 20 years old…

plaque

Simply put, the ceremonial plaque is dedicated not to God but to staking out territory. To marking where the frontier of Christendom borders with the heathen hinterland.

It’s the equivalent of a dog peeing in the corner to mark his spot.

Let me put it another way…

As a member of the aforementioned Holy Christian Church I find this plaque positively offensive and a stumbling block to the Good News that Christ truly came to bring.

Apparently though the Freedom from Religion Foundation also found it offensive (for other reasons) … as well as unconstitutional and has initiated legal action to have the school remove the plaque.

Of course Fox News, being Fair & Balanced, jumped on the bandwagon sensing bloody meat they could toss in the culture war waters and work the piranha up into a frenzy.  Nothing gets the Religious Right riled up faster than cranky northern atheists up in Wisconsin sticking their nose into good ol’ Southern Jesus Culture and telling them what they can and can’t do.

As the pastor in the Fox News interviews admits

“We want to see the cause of Christ go further, we want to see the Cause of Christ in more public arenas.”

See, this dedication plaque is not really a dedication plaque.

No…

It’s a tool… a proxy for an ongoing cultural war between Christendom and the heathen.

Unfortunantly the Cause of Christ the pastor speaks of is the same cause that

* fueled the Crusades

* burned witches in Salem

* displaced the native peoples in America

It’s the Cause Jesus rejected a number of times when the people sought to make him king (John 6:15).  It’s the Cause that he rejected when tempted by the devil (Matt 4: 8-9) and it’s the Cause he rejected when he went to the cross rather than calling on 12 legions of angels to kill his enemies. (Matt 26:53)

It’s a Cause that uses the power structures of this present world system to shape history and manipulate people to prop up “us” at the expense of “them”!

It’s the Way of the World which Jesus came to deliver us from, not to champion!

In many ways the Freedom of Religion Foundation is no different.  They are using the weapons at their disposal to get “their way”.  Both sides of this issue are using power re-enforced with threats and intimidation.  Fortunately in America we have progressed to the point where these skirmishes are usually fought in the courts and not on the battlefield but don’t be fooled…

…the same spirit both sides of this argument advocate would be killing each other not that long ago.

And once you peel away all the legal jargon, religious posturing, and civic wrangling you discover what the real root of the issue is…Fear!

Fear that “them” will get a foothold in “us” territory.  Fear that the barbarians are at the gate.  Fear that sin will enter the camp!

The temptation then is to Make a Stand But the Good News of Jesus is not about making a stand!

It’s about telling people they are free…

…and they don’t have to be afraid.

Christ didn’t come for a Cause…he came for a Kingdom.

And it’s a Kingdom that won’t be advanced by religious plaques!

The Problem I Have With “My Pastor”

i_love_my_pastor_bumper_bumper_sticker

“Who’s your pastor?”

It’s a question you have probably heard more than a few times if you tend to hang out in church circles.  As a pastor myself I know the challenges that can come from people who look to you as “my pastor.”

But in the New Testament things looked a little different…

In the early church you don’t really see the early Christians referring to a “pastor” in the possessive.  In fact when Paul heard that people were identifying with single individual leaders (1 Cor. 1:10-14) he called it out even to the point of refraining from baptizing people so people couldn’t boast, “Well Paul baptized me”

These days church congregations tend to be singularly identified with a single pastor or pastor couple but it wasn’t so for those churches first mentioned in the New Testament.  Interesting enough Paul the Apostle was able to write 2 letters, 29 chapters, to the church in Corinth and we still have no idea who the senior pastor was!

Incredible!  How was any Christian in Corinth to know who was “my pastor”?

In fact none of Paul’s church letters would help anyone in those congregations figure out who “my pastor” was.

As a mental exercise could you write a chapters long letter to your church without mentioning your senior pastor a single time?

I didn’t think so…

That’s not to say there are not leaders in the church.  Ephesians 4:11 notes that Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Evangelists, and Pastors are given to the church to help teach and encourage it’s people.

But then who is your Apostle?  Prophet? Teacher?

I remember a wonderful lady Tammy and I knew in Colorado telling us how blessed she was by “my apostle”.  When she said that phrase, “my apostle” a jolt went up my spine as I instantly pictured some weird, cult like relationship. Later though I wondered why “my apostle” was any more or less weird sounding than, “my pastor.”

Was it only because “my pastor” was the accepted vernacular of the modern church structure and “my apostle” wasn’t?

Was pastoring and leadership in the early church just a bit more pluralistic and diverse?

Just asking…

Pastors

Pastor Burnout

There is a meme making it’s way around Facebook showing some frightfully shocking statistics associated with pastors:

* 70% of pastors battle depression

* 1,500 pastors quit each month

* only 10% of pastors will retire as a pastor

* 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of ministry

* 78% of pastors have no close friends

* 97% have been falsely accused or betrayed by a trusted friend

Although I don’t have proof  for the statistics of this meme, my years in church leadership circles would convince me these numbers wouldn’t be far off.

A few years ago I was invited to play cards with an ex-pastor friend of mine.  As I looked around the table and got to know some of the guys I came to realize they were all former pastors who had either folded their churches or moved on to other professional fields.  I leaned over to my friend,

“What is this, an ex-pastor rehab group?”

He smiled.

The commonality for many former pastors is a desire to just be themselves.  To have friends not followers.  For their families to be real, flaws and all, and not held up as ornamental examples.  To not run themselves ragged in order to prove to the congregation they were worth the salary they were being paid.

I once asked a pastor at a leaders gathering who had just rattled his heavy church schedule responsibilities off to me what he had as a hobby, something he just enjoyed doing besides his job.  He shook his head and and said he wished he had time for a hobby.

Sounded like a future candidate for the card game…

Most former pastors I meet didn’t mind the leadership and teaching elements associated with pastoring. No…

What eventually wore them down was the sheer weight associated with being “My Pastor”!

The expectations of being spiritually owned by someone other than Christ.

The meme going around Facebook quotes these statistics and then appeals for people to pray for “your pastor”. 

Let’s pray yes!  But then let’s also work to change the church system which produces these shocking statistics to begin with.

 

Can Someone Who Is Not A Christian Be More “Christian” Than A Christian?

A-Christian-300x211

Can someone who is not a Christian be more “Christian” than a Christian?

In my last post I noted that recent Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s “way” imitated that of Christ.  A friend commented though that she wasn’t a “Christian” and was, in fact, a “Muslim”.

True…

This is obviously something that I have been thinking long and hard on for the last couple years or so…

What does it really mean to believe in Jesus?

I recently taught at a Sunday service where I asked by a show of hands who had friends, co-workers, or family that were not Christian but acted more in a way that Jesus taught than Christians they knew.

Pretty much every hand went up…

Which begs the question, “Can following “the Way”  Jesus taught us be separate from being a Christian?

 

“Christian” as a tribal identity 

The term “Christian” was first used in the book of Acts to denote followers of “The Way”.  It was meant to suggest someone who is imitating Christ.  Through the centuries though politics and religion mixed with history to transform the term “Christian” into a type of tribal identity.

It was used to help separate “us” from “them”.

Today when someone says they are a Christian I can guess within a certain spectrum what beliefs they affirm (but may not practice), the language they speak, and the religious culture they occupy.  I can assume certain rituals, norms, and practices but the one thing I realize I can not be sure of.

I can no longer assume a “Christian” is a follower of Jesus!

followme1

As Benjamin Corey states in his book Undiluted:

When we look at the undiluted radical message of Jesus, we see that it was never about wearing a theological label, subscribing to a particular theological structure, or even about becoming a Christian.  The undiluted message of Jesus is, and always has been, a straightforward invitation to follow him, and to learn to be like him.

Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus pg 33

When Jesus gives the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, those who are approved by the king were surprised to hear the king counted their good works as done for him.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 34-40

Wait a minute!  Is Jesus really suggesting that people could be following in his “Way” and don’t even fully realise who is really on the receiving end of those acts of goodness and life?

Seems to be…

That notion really offends and irritates a lot of people because it means that some of “us” could really be part of “them”…and some of “them” could really be part of “us”.

And many Christians don’t even want to contemplate that.

UsvsThem

But Jesus said there are a couple ways of identifying who are his disciples, or followers of “the Way”…

* the bearing of fruit: (John 15:8) People who are following Jesus are eating from the Tree of Life.   If they are they will produce fruit after that kind.  Life giving fruit!  Life that can be given to others for strength and nourishment.  When we see people bringing life, grace, and peace to their environment we can guess they are about the Father’s business.

* the love a person has for people in general: (John 13:35) Jesus said himself if you want to know who is “with me” look at the way they treat people in general.  Do they love others?

When Jesus returns it will be interesting (and probably terrifying) to see who he points to and says, “That one is from my Father’s Kingdom, now enter into His house prepared for you”

I think we will be VERY surprised indeed!

Weekend Distractions: Nobel Peace Prize Winner Demonstrates Christ’s “Way”


Malala-Yousafzai1
Yesterday Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace prize recipient by winning the award at the age of 16.

As early as the age of 12 Malala was blogging about the need for girls to have access to education and being critical of the Taliban, who were closing schools for females in regions of Pakistan they controlled.

She finally became so vocal that the Taliban sent a group of assassins to kill her. On Oct 9, 2012 the Taliban group stopped the bus she was riding on and shot her 3 times in the head and neck.  After many painful life saving and reconstructive surgeries she miraculously survived and has since become a rallying cry for the dignity and rights of females in the region.

Malala’s “way” follows the pattern of Christ.  A message of liberty and freedom is announced.  The “powers” in control don’t like the thought of control being lost and attempt to silence the messenger even to the point of killing them. Then the “return” of the messenger becomes the spark that opens up society to a new and better way of  living.  And the messengers commitment to non-violence “exposes” the “powers” in charge for what they really are; weak and fearful.

So kudos to Malala Yousafzai on her Nobel Peace prize but even more so, for following in “the Way”!

“The Romance of Grace” by Jim McNeely

romancegrace

As the message of grace spreads through the church it goes without saying that grace authors face an increasingly difficult challenge; distinguishing their grace book from the plethora of others that have recently hit the market. In The Romance of Grace Jim McNeely does just that. His Romance transcends the feeling of intimacy a grace book naturally generates and takes it to the next level…

God doesn’t just love you.

No indeed.

God is in love with you!

McNeely sets the tone for this passion at the beginning of The Romance Of Grace by invoking an iconic movie about true love, The Princess Bride. Highlighting the scene where Princess Buttercup is being chastised by an old woman, the Ancient Booer, for treating true love like garbage and settling for a love much less true, McNeely ties this cinematic exchange to the real life misery most Christians find themselves in.

We walk with the voice of the Ancient Booer in our ears accusing us of settling for misery – and for no good reason. We have romance in our hands knowing that our true love lives, and we give that up for nothing but petty fears, useless obligations, and secret shames. Truly our great sin is not stealing or adultery, or anger, or false oaths – our greatest sin is that we give up true love. We fall short not of our obligations, but of glory (Rom 3:23). (p.12)

Despite Buttercup’s condescending and flippant attitude toward Wesley’s unconditional love, Wesley pursues Buttercup with a singular passion. He overcomes swordsmen, giants, con men, and death itself to win his True Love! And the church’s “Wesley” is even better…

Boo Meme

Morality vs. romance

All grace books address the works vs grace dichotomy. Most followers of Jesus struggle with the weight of performance as an aspect of their faith at some point, and the rest that comes with grace is a welcome message. McNeely, though, addresses the issue with the passion of Solomon writing of his Beloved:

Picture God as a man who is ravaged by his love for a beautiful woman. Such a man’s first thought is not, “How can I get this woman to be more practical and virtuous?” His main thought is, “How can I get this woman to fall in love with me?”… Morals were important enough to send Jesus to the cross, but we are the joy for which he endured the shame. (pp.17-18)

The thought of God being ravaged in his love for us is a message which doesn’t get delivered in the standard sermon. Instead the church, as if it were a grown woman at an orphanage, is told that if we clean ourselves up and patch a couple of holes in our dress, we just may find a suitor who will overlook our obvious shortcomings.

Moral good vs. aesthetic good

Jim McNeely offers a compelling insight into a dilemma that has driven Christians crazy since Paul the Apostle; “Why do I want to do bad things and sometimes not want to do good things?” In Romance he argues that our will is consistently at odds with our heart, acting as a moral bellwether of what we know we should or shouldn’t be doing. Essentially our will is needed to keep our desires in check. In the Garden, because all desire before the fall was life giving, the will was not essential.However:

once the desire for the forbidden entered, at the suggestion of the serpent, the moral and aesthetic good were split. Then our conscience was born and we entered the prison of the ought. (p.22)

Christians then fall into the trap of attempting to strengthen their will to shore up their morality and make themselves attractive to God. In Romance McNeely demonstrates that that mode of thinking – what Paul described as “the flesh” – is something that God seeks not to remodel but to bulldoze. His desire is not for a will so strong it always trumps our desire, but for our desire (the aesthetic good) to once again be for what is life giving (the moral good).

The romance of Grace

The book suggests that the main question for God is not how he can make us good but rather, “How can I get them to respond to my love?” The strength of McNeely’s The Romance of Grace rests in his ability to suggest the notion of God as our lover without the corruption of that notion that a broken culture would produce. Instead McNeely intertwines grace and romance effortlessly and suggests:

He (God) gave us absolute favour and acceptance first, and lets us work out how we live with that afterward. He is looking for a perfection of love, for virtue chosen freely from desire. (p.97)

Yes, we are indeed Princess Buttercup, and our “Wesley” will not stop in the pursuit of his True Love!