Friday, April 24, 2009

TGIF

TGIF is back. I had a good time at the beach last weekend. I was at Myrtle Beach and left about three days before the wildfire hit. If you think of it, pray for the people in that area. There are a lot of folks who have lost homes, and some have lost loved ones.

There was a lot of good stuff out there to read. Here's a sampling:

Dan Edelen writes another good post. Rich Wagner on God in school. Good poem from Josh. Is this funny or just wrong? iMonk meditates on morality. It's amazing what you can do with peeps (HT: Scot McKnight). There's some interesting discussions about women and the church here and here.

The Emmaus Road story retold. What does a post-Christian culture reject? Judgement begins with the house of God. Beautiful, and heartbreaking (HT: Bill at The Thinklings). Todd Hiestand on spiritual formation. 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus? Amy writes about quarrelsome Christians.

It's finally warming up here in the sunny South. In fact, it's a bit hot. :) Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Those Who Love Little

In chapter 7 of his gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus at a dinner party at the home of Simon the Pharisee. During the dinner, an immoral woman comes into the room and washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then anoints them with very expensive perfume. Of course Simon is appalled that this wicked women would dare to interrupt his event, and wonders why Jesus is allowing her to do this to him. Jesus then tells a parable of two men who were forgiven debts, and makes the point that the one who has been forgiven much will love much.

There are a couple of things that strike me about this account. The first is the attitude many who call themselves Christians show toward Jesus. In that time period, it was a common courtesy for a host to provide water to wash the feet of his guest, removing the dust of the journey. It also was customary to give a kiss of greeting and anoint the head of the guest with oil. By doing these things the host showed that he valued his guest and was glad for the visit. Simon did none of those things for Jesus, displaying an attitude of indifference, at best. Simon seems to think that Jesus is very fortunate to have been invited to a dinner at the home of an esteemed religious leader.

It seems that many, by their actions and attitudes, give the impression that Jesus is lucky to have them on his side. The statement by Jesus that we can do nothing without him is forgotten completely, or is explained away. I have heard folks talk about how great it would be if certain talented and famous individuals would become Christians and how much all their fame and talent could do for God. How many have given in to the idea that because I am doing all these things for God, he owes me? We wonder how God can let trouble into our lives when we have worked so hard and been so faithful.

This attitude also comes out in the way we treat others. We withhold forgiveness.We denigrate those who don't see eye to eye with us. We judge others who don't appear as spiritual as we try to. We place a premium on looking good in front of people, and spend a great deal of energy creating masks to hide our brokenness. So much of what we do is designed to put everyone, including Jesus at arms' length from who we really are. At some point we forget just how much we have been forgiven.

By contrast, the immoral women was not interested in hiding who she was. She knew she was a sinner. She knew that Jesus was the only one who could help her, and she was desperate to get to him, no matter what anyone thought. If she had any masks, she left them at home. She not only did for Jesus what Simon should have done, she lavished her attention on him. Many would probably say that she went a bit overboard with her worship. She not only sacrificed an expensive possession, but she also sacrificed any shred of dignity she may have had left. All because she realized how much she had been forgiven.

May we all be reminded of the great love God has shown us in Jesus and the great forgiveness he has given us. May we love greatly.

Friday, April 17, 2009

TGIF

I'm going out of town this weekend, so TGIF will also be on break. See you next week.

Monday, April 13, 2009

N.T. Wright on Easter

This appeared on Easter Sunday in the Times Online.

Private Eye ran a cartoon some years ago of St Peter standing in front of Jesus’ Cross and saying to the other disciples, "It’s time to put this behind us now and move on." It was a satire, not on Christian belief, but on politicians and counsellors, and their trivializing mantras. The satire depended on the fact that Jesus’ death is not just an odd, forgettable past event – and on the fact that it was his Resurrection, rather than a shoulder-shrugging desire to "move on", which got the early Christians going.
Easter was the pilot project. What God did for Jesus that explosive morning is what he’s intending to do for the whole of creation. We who live in the interval between Easter and that eventual hope are called to be new-creation people, here and now. That is the hidden meaning of the greatest festival Christians have.
This true meaning has remained hidden because the Church has trivialized it and the world has rubbished it – reactions which feed off one another. The Church has turned Jesus’ Resurrection into a "happy ending" after the dark and messy story of Good Friday, often scaling it down so that "Resurrection" becomes a fancy way of saying "he went to Heaven". Easter then means "there really is life after death". The world shrugs its shoulders. We may or may not believe in life after death, but we reach that conclusion independently of Jesus, of odd stories about risen bodies and empty tombs.
But "Resurrection", to first-century Jews and pagans alike, wasn’t about "going to heaven". That’s a different matter. The word "Resurrection" always referred to people who were physically dead being physically alive again. Some Jews (not all) believed that God would do this for all people in the end. No pagans we know of believed this. Language about a post-mortem life in Egyptian religions, for instance, isn’t the same kind of thing. Nobody, including Jesus’ followers, was expecting one person to be bodily raised from the dead in the middle of history. The stories of the resurrection are certainly not ‘wish-fulfilments’ of that kind, or the result of what a somewhat dodgy social science calls "cognitive dissonance". First century Jews who followed would-be prophets and Messiahs knew perfectly well that if your leader got killed by the authorities it meant you’d backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: either give up the revolution, or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying he’d been raised from the dead wasn’t an option.
Unless he really had been. Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers, and wouldn’t have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader, as they imagined him to be, to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were precisely not saying "I think he’s still with us in a spiritual sense" or "I think he’s gone to heaven" or "let’s continue his work anyway". All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical, and well as their theological, nerve.
The historian has to explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite his execution (he hadn’t defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape it did. The only explanation which will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians themselves insist upon: he really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just re-animated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.
Let’s be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything more so. When St Paul speaks of a "spiritual" resurrection body, he doesn’t mean "non-material", like a ghost. The word translated "spiritual" is the sort of Greek word which tells you, not what something’s made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God’s life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul; that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect – and in the whole world.
Now, suddenly, the real meaning of Easter comes into view, as well as the real reason why it has been trivialized and sidelined. Easter is about a new creation which has already begun. The creator God is remaking his world, challenging all the other powers that think that’s their job. The rich, wise order of creation on the one hand, and its glorious, abundant beauty on the other, are reaffirmed the other side of the thing which always threatens justice and beauty, namely death. Christianity’s critics, then and now, have always sneered that nothing has changed. But in fact everything has. The world is a different place.
And it’s up to those who follow Jesus to show that this is so. Easter gives Christians a double vocation. They are themselves to be part of that new creation, plunged into Jesus’ death and finding new life in his resurrection. But, second, they are to be agents of that justice and beauty, planting signposts in the Easter soil which point forwards to the renewal of all things. Conversion, symbolized in baptism (which the Church associates with Easter), isn’t just about "me being saved". It’s about all of us being given our various instructions as new-creation people.
Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn’t fit our prevailing worldview. For at least 200 years, the western world has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves. The split between God and the "real" world has produced a public life which has lurched to and fro between anarchy and tyranny, and an aesthetic which has swung dramatically between sentimentalism and brutalism. But we still want to do things our own way, even though we laugh at politicians who claim to be saving the world, and artists who claim "inspiration" when they put cows in formaldehyde.
The world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant, or for that matter the anarchist, and resurrection indicates that this weapon isn’t as powerful as it had seemed. When the Church begins to work with Easter energy on the twin tasks of justice and beauty, we may find that it can face down the sneers of today’s sceptics, and speak once more of Jesus in a way which will be heard.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Waiting

This is something I wrote for the Easter season last year.

"How could this happen? How could we have been so wrong?"

"We believed the kingdom was going to be restored and those pagan dogs sent back to Rome where they belong. But this 'messiah' turned out to be just like all the others."

"Now here we are hiding from the priests and the Romans."

"Why didn't we fight back? What kind of wimps are we?"

"Fight back? Did you see how many men they had? Besides, Peter tried and he told him to put the sword away!"

"Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but as soon as all this mess dies down, I'm going back up to Galilee."

"Me too. Back to the old life. When the only thing we had to worry about was catching fish and fixing nets."

"Yeah. It's been an interesting three years, but I'm through with messiahs and kingdoms. Just give me my boat out on the water. As soon as I can, I'm getting out of here."

And so, they waited.

TGIGF

This edition of TGIF is renamed TGIGF for Thank God It's Good Friday. Let's get right to the good stuff:

A Former Leader writes about discipline. Dr. Lewis discusses gardening. Church on Mission. Good thoughts from Dan Edelen. iMonk on embracing our brokenness. More proof that coffee is good stuff (HT: Scot McKnight). If you don't already check out Scot McKnight on a regular basis, you're missing some good, interesting writing. Brian McLaren on the six stages of the emerging church conversation (HT: Brother Maynard). A centurion's-eye view. Why did Jesus die?

Provocative thoughts from Jeff McQ. The patron saint of bloggers. Death on a Friday afternoon.

May the grace of the Father overwhelm you as you contemplate Jesus' death and then celebrate the Resurrection.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

Today is the day Christians commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was hailed as the King by the people along the road into the city. While the people did recognize Jesus as the promised King, they did not understand just what his kingdom was all about. They were looking for someone to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel back to its former glory. Even the disciples did not totally understand. By the end of the week, many who were hailing Jesus as King turned against him and saw him as just another in a line of failed would-be messiahs.

Many today also misunderstand Jesus and his kingdom. Some see the kingdom as something in the future. Today we depend on Jesus to save us, and take us to heaven when we die. The kingdom will happen when Jesus comes again. The idea that Jesus is the King, right now, does not enter into our minds.

This incorrect thinking has produced a church that is weak and ineffective. It has produced people who only see the Jesus as a ticket to heaven, as "fire insurance." It ignores or explains away much of the four Gospels. It has caused many to leave the church. I believe that fear is one reason many would rather see the kingdom as something off in the future. Fear that, if we take Jesus' teachings seriously, we will have to give up control. Fear that Jesus may ask us to give up the American Dream. Fear that our comfortable life will be no more.

So, while the first century church proclaimed the subversive message that Jesus was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, bringing down the wrath of the Roman Empire, the church today proclaims a message that is quite compatible with the powers that be. Either that, or a message that you can accept Jesus as "personal" Savior, live a moral life, and go to heaven and escape this world when you die.

The first century church turned the world upside down. The church today, well...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

TGIF

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day marking Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is also the beginning of Holy Week, leading up to Easter. For some, it's the last week of Lent, for others it's simply another week. Some go on vacation, while others make plans for their only appearance at a church gathering this year.

Now, for your reading pleasure, the links of the week:

Dan Kimball is a blender. Jared Wilson is on vacation, but he left some good thoughts on the Kingdom. How scholarship shields us from the Bible (HT: Brother Maynard). Speaking of Brother Maynard, he had a lot of us fooled with this post. Sometimes silence is the answer. Making judgments vs. being judgmental. Jonathan Brink is learning to love his neighbor.

JeffMcQ on using the Bible. Ritalin for the soul. The necessary ingredient for a genuine church. Unbind my feet. Round one of the Televangelist Knockout!

Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Twenty Centuries Later

It seems that the twenty first century American culture we are living in is similar to the first century. In Palestine, the Jewish religious culture was very comfortable and settled in their ways, much like the church in America. The Romans let them run their religious system, and for the most part they didn't make waves. While looking for the Messiah to come and rid their world of all the evildoers, they were content practicing their version of what had been passed down from Moses. The people at the top of the spiritual pecking order controlled who worshipped, how they worshipped, and where they worshipped. The Roman culture of the day was very religious. So religious in fact, that they were very accepting of the various gods being worshipped, as long as those who worshipped also accepted the idea that Caesar was lord. Pleasure and comfort was the ultimate, for those who could afford it.

Into this world stepped Jesus. During his time here on earth he proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was here, and that he was the King everyone had been waiting for. He was not recognized by the religious elite because he didn't fit the mold of what they thought the Messiah would be. They were scandalized that he invited the poor, the downcast, the "sinners" to join the Kingdom. They thought they were the gatekeepers. When the religious leaders took Jesus to Pilate, the only charge they could bring that affected Pilate at all was the charge that Jesus was claiming to be a king other than Caesar. What may have been the tipping point for Pilate was when they told him that he was not loyal to Caesar if he let Jesus go. Their statement, "We have no king but Caesar," indicates that they were willing to remain in bondage rather than accept God's rule.

As the church began to spread and carry out the command to make disciples, they ran into a culture that quickly became hostile when it was evident that these disciples of Jesus didn't fit into the mold. They didn't just go along to get along. When asked, or told, to sacrifice to the gods or to Caesar, they refused. Their response was that Jesus is Lord, and Jesus only. There was no sense of taking the message of Jesus and the Kingdom and simply adding it to the "Roman Dream." The message of the
early Christians was that the Kingdom of God had come and all the other kingdoms of this world were nothing. This message caused them to be ostracized, to be shut out from participating in the economic and political life of many towns. Eventually this message caused many of them to lose their lives. This message also turned the world upside down.

I look around at the cultural landscape in America and see many of the same things. I see a church that, in many ways, has become quite comfortable here. So much of what is proclaimed in churches across America is nothing more than a self-help gospel. Many, if not most of the titles in Christian bookstores deal with how to get what you want, how to be a better __________, how to have your best life now, or how to be a better you (what happened to being like Christ?). Much of the church has been co-opted by political parties on both sides, and we have come to equate Christianity with America. We have lost our ability to speak truth to power because we have lusted after power.

At the same time, those who follow Jesus face a wider culture that is increasingly hostile to the idea
that there is only one King, and one Kingdom over all. I have read commentators who write about the way America is becoming like Europe. I think that is true, but I also think that a culture where a clear line is drawn between those who are disciples of Jesus and those who aren't is preferable to one where the message of the Gospel is hidden in all the layers of institutionalization that have been added over the centuries.

Maybe we can, once again, turn the world upside down.

Second Week of Advent: Hope

This was first posted on December 9,2012. Taken from The Mosaic Bible: Advent is a time of hope; the spirit of eager anticipation pervad...