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!

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.


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.