Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Reversal of the 3 B's

Over the last 2-3 decades a reversal of sorts has taken place in the way many people join the Church. For years (centuries even) the Church's approach took the form of 3 B's. First, a person wanting to join the Church had to Believe. This generally took the form of either a private or public response to an altar call of one kind or another. After one Believed, she had to Behave. That is, she had to adjust her lifestyle to the culture of the church she wanted to join. Only then - after one's behavior aligned with her belief - could she Belong to the church.

As I've already mentioned, this process of Believe, Behave, and Belong has reversed itself in recent years and I think it's a good and necessary reversal for churches seeking to be obedient to the way of Jesus.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is found in Jesus' interaction with his first disciples. Notice that Jesus did not expect his disciples to believe who he was before he invited them into his circle. He simply invited them to journey with him and to start living his way of life. So the disciples hung around with Jesus for 3 years or so, and even at the end of that time one disciple in particular still did not believe until he could put his hand on the wounds of the resurrected Jesus. Sure, this disciple belonged. He may have even behaved like a disciple of Jesus. But the process was not complete until he Believed. Interesting isn't it? Jesus actually reverses the process we have become so accustomed to in Western Christianity... or maybe we have reversed HIS process.

So what adjustments do we need to make in our evangelistic efforts to help people follow Jesus more closely in their lives? How could the Belong, Behave, Believe approach be lived out in and through our churches?



Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A new economy


Came across this insightful message from theologian Walter Brueggemann that sweeps through the book of Isaiah and is particularly pertinent to the economic situation we find ourselves in. Give it a listen. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.

What would it look like for followers of Jesus to take up the huge task of developing a new economy using the principles found in Isaiah? What changes need to take place for Kingdom-economy to emerge in our neighborhoods and cities?

Download the July 13 message from http://www.marshill.org/teaching/index.php.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Embracing Weakness

If you're like me, you've done plenty of things in your life that you're ashamed of. Some of these things are humorous to us now because we were so ignorant back then. But what about the things we struggle with now, today? What about those habits we haven't been able to kick after all these years? If we're so wise, why aren't we able to stop doing the very things we don't want to do?

This was Paul's struggle, which he describes in a very confusing way in Romans 7:14f. Here in the middle of his letter to the church in Rome Paul enters into what I would call a time of confession. After writing about Jesus and the freedom found in him, it seems as if Paul comes to the realization that he's not experiencing the very freedom about which he is writing. And what's keeping Paul from experiencing the fullness of this freedom? Himself. He admits that he wills to do one thing but he ends up doing the very opposite. When it comes to living a holy, pure and righteous life, Paul keeps blocking himself, getting in his own way.




We don't know what Paul's struggle was...but that's not important. What's important is that he finds the courage to tell the people he's writing to that he doesn't have life figured out, that he still messes up, that he's not yet fully the person God created him to be. Paul admits to all who have read his letter (including us) that he's weak. This is the Apostle Paul for goodness sake. Aren't our leaders supposed to be strong and righteous and have it all together? Apparently not in God's kingdom. Rather than hiding his struggles and appearing to be someone he's not, Paul shines a spotlight on his struggles. He does not do this to boast about himself but to point to the hope he has in Jesus...which takes us to the cross.

What took place on that Roman execution stake nearly 200o years ago has many layers of meaning, one of which I'd like to explore for just a moment. Jesus, the Son of God, who has the power to raise people from the dead (Lazarus), is stripped down, beaten, and nailed to pieces of wood to be put on display for all to see. If anyone understood the power he had at his disposal, it was Jesus, yet he appears extremely weak on the cross. After hanging for a while, Jesus breathes his last breath and dies. It appears that weakness has won.


Friday...Jesus dies. Saturday...still dead. Sunday...what? You mean he's not in there? Have you talked to the gardener? Where did he go? Even the closest of Jesus' disciples are surprised by this demonstration of power. The resurrection, among many other things, reveals to us that on the other side of our weakness is the power of God to do the miraculous. Our weakness and God's strength are two sides of the same coin. I might even go so far as to say that in order to experience the power of God working in and through us, we must first experience weakness.

So in what ways are you experiencing weakness?

If you're in the midst of weakness, my simple word of encouragement is "DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE." If the Gospels are right that on the other side of death - the ultimate weakness - is resurrection, then your situation is not too big for God's involvement. Embrace your weakness. Talk to God about it: get mad, cry, shout at him - whatever you want. He can handle it. You may even want to name your weakness. But no matter what your weakness is, hang on! God's strength is not far away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Popularity

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway I'm reminded of how the presidential race is really a popularity contest. If a candidate can say enough of the right things to sway enough of the voters to his side, he wins! (whether or not he really means what he says is another matter). So over the span of a few months, two candidates bicker back and forth about petty issues and highlight slip ups in one another's speeches in attempts to make a headline or be the top story on the news--essentially to be noticed more than the other guy. As in the game of presidential campaigning, the popularity game can have only one winner.

As a public figure, being in front of people - having them hang on every word that comes out of your mouth - is a drug. For many, being on stage is an adrenaline rush. It feels good to have people follow you, look up to you, and actually DO the very things you suggest they do. Yet, that's not our calling as followers of Jesus.

In John 1:35-37 we find an outspoken prophet named John the Baptist who has a few followers of his own. His message is powerful and he looks a bit weird (camel hair?), so he's certain to attract a few people. Yet, when Jesus shows up on the scene, John has no problem surrendering his popularity. At the moment he sees Jesus John points him out to his followers and what do they do? They turn away from John and begin to follow Jesus!

To have someone stop following you and start following someone else is a blow to a politician's career. Yet John willingly gives up his popularity in order to make Jesus popular.

The Scriptures reiterate over and over how much Jesus is the only person we can truly trust with our devotion and our lives. And yet our experience is that many, even those who consider themselves Christians, call people to follow them instead of Jesus. Some pastors ask their congregations to follow them (almost blindly at times). Some sermons have very little to do with Jesus and much more to do with the pastor's agenda. It's as if people are engaged in a popularity contest with Jesus, yet as history demonstrates, it's always Jesus who comes out on top.

It's been said if there is one person who does not have a Messiah-complex it is the Messiah, Jesus. And yet it's Jesus who calls people from every corner of the world, from every stage of life, from every economic class to follow him. I would argue that Jesus does this because he knows that his life - the very life of God - is the best thing for us to enter into. It's the most real and authentic adventure anyone has ever gone on, and everyone's invited to go on it.

So as we seek to enter this life, we have to give up our desire for popularity. If we don't, we're only competing with the most popular person in the history of the world, and we all know how that will turn out.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Links

Here are some links I have come across the past two weeks and thought I'd share them with y'all.

http://www.seedsofcompassion.org - check out the webcasts of what was an amazing conference including influential leaders like The Dalai Lama and Rob Bell.

http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk - stories from the Church of England and their desire to see new ways of being church brought about.

Peace






Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pause Buttons

In the movie Click Adam Sandler's character possesses a remote with which he is able to pause time. Interestingly, whenever he hits the pause button time stops for everyone but himself, so he is able to maneuver around, changing his position (and the position of objects) while other people stand still.

Do you ever wish you could get your hands on such a remote? I know I do.

Thanks to Galileo and his then controversial heliocentric theory, we now know that the world never stands still; we as a planet are in constant motion around the sun. And yet there are times in my life when I wish the world would just stop orbiting, that the people around me would stop moving, that everything and everyone would just stop and take a collective break.

But life isn't like that, is it? There always seems to be people to talk to, projects to finish, shows to watch, emails to respond to, kids to take care of, theories to articulate, books to read, and goals to accomplish. As people in a capitalist society, we are constantly being pulled toward increased productivity and accomplishment--what some call the "rat race"--and so it comes as no surprise that so many people find their value in what they do.

I've wondered for a while how Jesus would function in our society. Would he too feel the constant pressure to perform more, to relate more, to know more? Would he ever give in to that pressure? How would he balance all of his responsibilities? We could speculate all day long and never come to a definite conclusion. Yet I think it's important for us to ask ourselves the following questions: If Jesus were in my shoes, how would my life change? Where would I want to invest my time and energy? What or who would be a priority in my life?

Despite of the endless movement of our world, we as human beings have the ability to pause and reflect on these kinds of questions. We have the ability to make changes, rearrange priorities, and say no to things we once said yes to. It's as if we all hold a remote, but instead of pausing those around us, we can only pause ourselves.

If life seems to be going in directions you would rather not go, then I invite you to pull out your remote, push pause in any way you find helpful (take a vacation, visit a retreat center, start a journal), and take some time reflecting on who God made you to be. What are your passions? What brings you joy? How has God gifted you to be his agent of love in the world?

So go on and push that pause button. It'll change your life.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Dream of the church

I've just begun reading a book by Wolfgang Simson titled "Houses That Change the World" which focuses on who the church is called to be. He begins by spelling out a vision of the church that is both challenging yet inspiring. He dreams of a church that is...

"as simple as One-Two-Three, yet is dynamic; an explosive thing, able to turn the world and a neighborhood upside-down. The church as a supernatural invention, endowed with God's gift of immortality; a means to disciple one another, and to make the life of Jesus rub off on each other. An experience of grace and grapes, love and laughter, joy and jellybeans, forgiveness and fun, power and -yes, why not?- paper.


A church, which does not need huge amounts of money, or rhetoric, control and manipulation, which can do without powerful and charismatic heroes, which is non-religious at heart, which can thrill people to the core, make them lose their tongues out of sheer joy and astonishment, and simply teach us The Way to live. A church which not only has a message, but is the message."


I hope Wolfgang's dream stirs something in you as it did in me.


Peace

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taking the Next Step

Easter has come and gone again...at least on the 2008 calendar. But in my encounters with people who find themselves intimately connected with what God is doing in the world I am discovering that Easter is happening every day of the year.

The hope that was established and is now offered by the resurrection of Jesus is increasingly prevalent in the lives of those who call themselves followers of Jesus. These are the people who are quite literally offering food and water to a hungry and thirsty world. These are the people who are adopting whole villages of kids for whom their parents have either died or are dying of AIDS. These are the people who are stepping into some of the most church-forsaken places on earth and proclaiming a message of hope with their words, but more importantly, with their lives. These are people who not only dream of a restored and redeemed world but are actually taking steps to see that come about.

And that's what faith is really about, isn't it? Isn't it about taking a step of action in partnership with God to see change come about in one's own life as well as in the lives of those we encounter? So we overcome addictions and leave behind a destructive part of our life, only to find ourselves wanting to help others do the same thing. In this way, I think we pray with more than our words, but with our lives to see heaven come to earth, which is the very thing Jesus prayed for (that the Father's will would "be done on earth as it is in heaven").

So what's the next step for you?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Identity theft

Have you ever had your identity stolen? I haven't, but I've heard enough stories from people who have to know that it's not a pleasant experience. In fact, it's quite horrible. I mean, imagine having to change all those numbers with which you are identified. Your Social Security number, your credit card number, your phone number. All these numbers hold the key to your identity. Think about it. If someone presses the right sequence of the numbers 1-9 on their phone, they could end up having a personal conversation with YOU!

I can't imagine having to change all those numbers, and then having to re-establish relationships with those people who connect with me using those numbers. It would be much easier just to continue using the same old numbers and let the thieves have their way, but it would probably be much more costly.

While the practice of identity theft is not something explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures, I think it is a concept Jesus introduces to those he encounters. In John 5:1-18, we find the story of Jesus healing a man who had been ill for 38 years. While that demonstration of the healing power of God would be enough for me, the point John wants to make is that Jesus healed the man on the sabbath, and the reaction of the Jewish religious leaders reveals that their identity has been stolen.

Now the sabbath was (and still is) incredibly important to the Jewish people. It was a sacred practice that identified them as God's redeemed people, so God commanded them to keep it (Deut. 5:12-15). The religious leaders of Jesus' day had analyzed this commandment "to keep the sabbath" to such a degree that they had developed over 30 different nuances of the commandment, essentially creating a list of things you could or could not do on the sabbath. The religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees, loved the law of Moses and they had given their lives to following the law down to the letter for it was in following the law that they found their identity.

So Jesus enters the scene and heals a man for whom death was not imminent on the sabbath--a BIG no-no in the Pharisees' book. And not only does Jesus heal this man on the sabbath, but then he goes on answer their criticism by saying that just as his Father is still working, so is he still working, essentially saying that he, himself was equal to God.

These two things--the healing of the man and the claim of Jesus to be equal to God--were what upset the Jewish leaders the most (John 5:18), and I think I partly understand why. Now if I were a Jewish leader, I too would be upset with Jesus because his actions and words are a threat to my identity. My zealous obedience to the law of Moses is the very thing that sets me apart as holy, as one who belongs to God, but then Jesus comes along claiming to be equal to the God of my people, the one who gave us the law in the first place. "Jesus, stop messing with my identity!" is something I would shout at Jesus. If I don't have my strict adherence to the law, then what do I have to identify myself?

If we believe Jesus to be the one who in fact IS equal to God, then his presence on the earth is a sign of the ushering in of the reign of God and with it, the true way of living. The Jewish religious leaders thought that true obedience to the law was performed one way--in continually discovering ways to separate themselves from others--but Jesus demonstrates that true obedience is in bringing salvation to the world--salvation in its most holistic sense. For Jesus, this means that instead of fighting and waging war, we love our enemies; instead of distancing ourselves from those who are "unclean", we get close enough to touch and heal them, even if it means breaking the rules established by community leaders.

Jesus healing this man on the sabbath confronts something deep within the Jewish leaders, namely the source of their identity. They had established a system of rules in which they found their worth and identity, and they didn't want to lose that because it meant losing themselves. And just as the identity of the Jewish leaders was confronted, so too are we today confronted by this act of Jesus.

I think this healing act of Jesus is particularly difficult for those of us in Western society where success and achievement are so highly valued. The primary mindset of Western society leads many to base their identities on what they do and how well they do it. Perhaps this explains why not getting through the first round of American Idol--i.e. not getting to go to Hollywood--is such a crushing experience for so many people. It isn't surprising then that when all the young aspiring singers are told their performance aren't that good (or as Simon would say, "it was rotten") they seem to go off the deep end because the three judges are not only commenting on their singing ability, but it feels as if they are evaluating the singer as a person!

But getting back to Jesus, I think the most challenging part of his healing is that he is essentially asking people to surrender those things on which we have established their identities and to embrace the simplest, yet most profound identity as a deeply loved child of God.

For so long I have based my identity on my accomplishments, but according to Jesus, having that as my source of identity will not lead to the true way of living. So in a sense my identity has been stolen by my accomplishments. This leads me to ask, by what or by whom has your identity been stolen? What consumes you? What things/people/tasks falsely give you value and worth?

My identity has been held ransom for a long time and I'm learning that the best thing I can do is to die to those things that really shouldn't determine who I am anyway. This means I have to first identify what or who it is that has stolen my identity, and then I have to spend time reflecting on why I allowed that thing/person to steal it in the first place. This includes moments of confession and repentance, which finally allow me to experience the grace and love of God, who calls me his kid.


Friday, February 29, 2008

Promoting Change

Here's a link I came across that will enliven your spirit and hopefully prompt you to join in the restoration of God's creation. It's a website committed to connecting those with resources (many Americans) with those who need those resources (many in the two-thirds world). Enjoy!

www.tradeasone.com

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Life of Suffering

Jesus never ceases to amaze me. About two-thirds of the way through his Gospel, John shares an interesting conversation between Jesus and his disciples; the topic of conversation is essentially about reaching God or being near to God, which I think is the deepest desire of humanity.

Anyway, after Thomas asks Jesus about how to get near to God, Jesus replies, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Now this verse has been taken out of context by much of Western Christianity and has basically been used as an evangelistic tool to convert others to Christianity. But I don't think this is Jesus' intention for two reasons. First, Jesus is speaking with his disciples, who already trust him and who are already following him. They have already been converted, so there's no need for them to be convinced again about who he is!

The second reason is a bit more academic, but I think it helps demonstrate my point. John, who we believe wrote this Gospel account, is writing from a post-resurrection/ascension vantage point. He already knows how the story ends up: Jesus gets arrested, is beaten, is eventually crucified, then is resurrected, appears again to his followers, and finally ascends to the right hand of the Father. John knows this is the path Jesus travels through the rest of his time on earth, which is a path of suffering, pain, and even death, eventually ending is his resurrection and heavenly fellowship with the Father. So John is writing his Gospel knowing that the life of Jesus ends this way--in fellowship with the Father.

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life" is an invitation to deeper discipleship.

Now let's jump back into the story. The greatest desire of the disciples--and of humanity's I would argue--is to be in fellowship with God, and Jesus essentially says that to enjoy fellowship with God is to place one foot in front of the other on a path that may not always be easy and free of pain. In fact, if what we see in Gospels is any indication, the path of Jesus toward fellowship with the Father will probably include more pain, more suffering, and even more death than we would like. This path may even cause us to doubt God at times. Yet, John insists that this, the suffering life of Jesus, is the path to God.

To be a disciple of Jesus then is to place ourselves on this path of suffering (not in a sadistic sort of way). To be a disciple of Jesus means that we expect suffering, pain, and death to be part of life's journey; it means that we embrace suffering and wrestle with it, not sliding it under the rug as a way to suppress it, all the while knowing that this path, this suffering, leads toward resurrection and fellowship with the Father--this is our hope.

"The last word, and the word after that" (thanks Brian McLaren) is that there is hope in the midst of suffering. There is "light" at the end of the tunnel, even if you cannot see it. Death, pain, and suffering do not win out in the end. So whatever junk you are going through right now in your life, know that you are not alone, because Jesus has traveled this path before, and he made it through to the Father.

Friday, February 8, 2008

"Follow Me"

Just a thought for y'all today:

In Jesus' calling of his first disciples (a counter-cultural event in itself), Jesus picks out Peter and Andrew and says to them, "follow me." Now some of you may think I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I think these two words are incredibly challenging for Christians today. In my experience, it seems that the Church has acknowledged Jesus only for his work accomplished on the cross and has forgotten that Jesus actually lived on the earth before that event. Beyond that, the Church's thinking and practice seems to be more in line with being followers of Paul than with being followers of Jesus. Sure, Paul was one of the first theologians to draw conclusions about the life of Jesus, but Paul in no way would want people to follow him instead of Jesus.

Think about this: when was the last time you heard a sermon preached out of the Gospels? Or in all your Sunday School days, how many of Jesus' words did you memorize compared to the number of words from Paul's letters?

Many in the Church often forget that our discipleship is about pursuing the life of Jesus. It is he who calls us to follow him. Being a Christian is not about adhering to a particular system of beliefs, and it's definitely not about following a pastor or one of the first disciples.

Being a Christian is about knowing and following Jesus. So if you're on a detour, following some religious figure or a religious agenda, I encourage you to stop, read through one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, and discover the One who calls you to follow him.

Peace

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Process of Change

I recently heard Jim Wallis of Sojourners speak at a nearby campus, and the thrust of his message was about the process of change, particularly political and cultural change. In all his travels and within all of his circles of influence, Jim said he has neither seen nor heard of anything as powerful as the small, grassroots movements initiated by people of faith. All around the world, people of faith are slowly but surely changing culture, and it all starts, according to Jim, at the neighborhood level.

I will say that the major social movements in America inspire me (anti-slavery, civil rights, etc.) but what really gets me excited are the often unheard stories of those who are following Jesus in amazing ways in their neighborhoods. If the mission of Jesus can be summed up in the Great Commandment to "love God and love our neighbors as ourselves", then the work of figuring out what we're supposed to be doing is already done; now we just have to act!

The lack of motivation to act (i.e. cynicism), Wallis said, is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the American people today, especially those people of faith. If a poll were taken, I'm almost certain most Americans would care or feel some sort of sympathy for people on the underside of power (the poor, oppressed, enslaved, abused) but very few would indeed be involved in any sort of action to change the situation. Feeling sympathy makes us feel like we're in the right, but by not doing anything, we're simply wrong. I feel that one of the most important roles Christians should play in the world is to be the agents of change, those people who not only call out the injustice in our neighborhoods and cities, but then do something to change it. As Mother Teresa often said, “We were not created to be successful but to be obedient."

I was recently convicted of this, and so tonight I'm attending the Pasadena City Council's meeting of the Youth Development and Violence Reduction Committee, which was just formed a few months ago in reaction to the increasing violence among the youth of our community. I'm not sure of my place in this yet, but my caring about the kids in our community has dug a deep enough root in me to where I now need to act.

So what are the stories of change going on in your neighborhood? What issues are there that you are concerned about but have yet to act on? Perhaps together we can inspire one another to change the world in the loving way of Jesus, one neighborhood at a time.

Peace

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Not good"

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." -Genesis 2:18

These words in Genesis happen to be some of the most challenging words in the Scriptures for me, which is perhaps why I enjoy studying them so much (I know, it's a bit weird). On the surface, I find it interesting that these words appear in chapter 2 of Genesis, which comes before the popular chapter 3 (2 before 3, my kindergarten teacher would be so proud!), and chapter 3 tells about how sin entered the picture. So before sin enters in (chapter 3), there's already something "not good" with creation (chapter 2), which is that man (literally "earth creature" or as I like to say, "dirt person") is alone in the garden. Apparently, God thinks it's not good for people to be alone, and yet I encounter people on a regular basis who are incredibly lonely and don't have anyone to journey through life with; they have no one who they can call their friend. Loneliness is an epidemic in the modern world.

This verse challenges me from two angles. First, it challenges me to be a friend to others. This, obviously, takes time and energy, some of which I have to dig deep for at times. Second, it challenges me to accept the befriending gestures of others toward me. In other words, I'm challenged to both offer friendship and receive it in order to avoid this situation God considers "not good" for humanity.

So this is my challenge to you: Be a good friend to those around you, but also be accepting of the friendship requests you are offered, because after all, it is "not good" for people to be alone.