Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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Much has been made in recent times of the church’s need to understand embrace the strengths and ministry directions needed to include introverts. Much of Western church culture has been formed on the ideal of the extroverted pastor and church member. As an openly recognized and admitted introvert this has felt like welcome acceptance and vindication. All this being said though, I’ve been thinking lately if just the ecclesiology of the church being readjusted to include space for the quiet and thoughtful goes far enough. What if our very understanding of the gospel itself has become so culturally bound to an extroverted relational way of understanding that we need to re-evaluate that as well? Is there room in our understanding and explanation of the gospel to make it meaningful for those who are introverted and task oriented rather than naturally relational?

The common way of explaining and understanding the gospel in Western Christianity often sounds something like this:

God is love and the parts of the trinity began in perfect relationship with each other. Out of love and God’s relational nature, he created humans in his image to be included in this love relationship with him. Humans at some point broke off this relationship through sin and God sought to reconcile that relationship through covenant relationships. Humans continually failed God and lacked the ability to  reconcile things through their works, and as such God reached out to humanity in Jesus – coming in person to live amongst us. He came and lived out love and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation for creation with their creator. The greatest love of all was shown in Jesus willing death at the hands of those created in his image to in some way reconcile them with God. We now have hope for healed relationships with God and the rest of creation in this life and a life to come after death or when Jesus returns.
Now given this may not explain every denomination ‘s particulars and I’ve attempted to leave the details as broad as possible to include as many in the thoughts as possible, but I think this is a fair portrayal of the story. Relationship is good, tasks are insufficient at best and evil at worst.

Some of my thoughts and struggle with this came to a head a few months ago as I sat in church listening to a friend preaching and heard the message of, “Stop doing and stop trying to do anything to get God’s love. Just let yourself fall in love with the person of Jesus. (loosely quoted)” At that moment instead of feeling at peace and full of joy as the message was intended to do, I felt sad and helpless. I don’t disagree with the message in principle, but I wonder if there isn’t more to it than that. You see, I’m introverted and task oriented: I have little idea what to do with that message. Even in my most loving and intimate relationships everything is processed in the form of lists of things to do, to not do, and to work on getting better at. For me love does. There is always a next step to take, a plan to be made, a thing to do. Love is an action plan made with passion. To not work or seek towards doing something is to not love. This is the filter that everything has been processed through for me for as long as I can remember. Trying to conceive of relating to someone outside the context of task is confusing and borderline terrifying. When the task is clear the anxiety fades and life works. This doesn’t make the love any less real, it’s just a different frame of reference.

So, how can the gospel be explained in a way that is meaningful, and full of life, hope and love in this context?

I hope this gives you some things to ponder as you follow Jesus and share his gospel, and maybe even as you talk and think along with me. I have a number of more thoughts I plan on sharing and getting your input on hopefully in the weeks to come. I believe deeply in community hermeneutics, not just me figuring out alone with a bible in a broom closet. Is there a gospel for the task oriented?

apocalypseAs I’ve been preaching through Mark over the last while there are a few things that have become painfully obvious:

1. When Jesus made a point of something, it was important.
2. If Jesus didn’t make a big deal over something it probably wasn’t worth getting too worked up over, or was so inherently integral to Judeo values that it didn’t need mentioning.

Now fast forward to Mark 13 where I’m currently working from. It contains some of Jesus more cryptic and seemingly apocalyptic sayings from his time here on earth. Interestingly, not a single commentary I’ve read fully agreed on what Jesus meant or what we should do with it. There were a few themes that stuck out that I think we can really take to heart:

1. themes of temple destruction and he as its replacement
2. suffering as a part of being one of his followers
3. resurrection, restoration, and reconciliaiton

And that’s about it. He gave some warnings about events soon to come that they could prepare for, but the long term advice was just to wait and watch. No signs, no tips, just wait and watch.

So, if he didn’t think it mattered and didn’t even know himself when he’d return, why are we wasting our time on trying to figure it out? Whether it’s the bible code, deciphering metaphors Jack VanImpe style, calling despots the anti-christ, reading “Left Behind” novels, or any of these scenarios. Not knowing when the world is ending isn’t like it’s the end of the world or something is it?

I often say it doesn’t matter your theories so long as we serve, but why have theories at all when even Jesus didn’t know or care? Do we sometimes become so preoccupied with the end of the world that we are in fact a part of it’s demise because of our inaction as part of God’s kingdom work to save it?

So all the theologizing, reading, discussing, and name calling (not on my part) lately have got me wondering about some of the questions that are at the heart of the matter.  All these matters of who is saved, who gets saved, how they are saved, and saved to what are all fair questions worth consideration but in the end it boils down to us all trying to determine who is with whom and who is on who’s “team”.  I also realize that over the last decade or more it has become far more popular to talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of an “open set” as opposed to a “bound set” when discussing who is or is not a part of the Kingdom (a matter of direction of your life as opposed to a one time decision), but the matter still comes down to who’s on Jesus side in the end.  So these are the questions I have been wrestling with:

– What does it mean to be with Jesus?

– What are the bare minimums to be a part of his kingdom?

– How off do you have to be in belief and action before you are no longer “with him”?

– What beliefs would get God to look at you and say “Ya, thanks but no”?

I also realize that it is not up to me to determine ultimately the matter of final judgment – that is up to God thank God – but I think it is pretty disingenuous for us to act like we should not think about who we are actually working alongside of in this life in the name of Jesus.  Different matters of contention have risen and fallen over the years, some being smoothed over and some causing splits all over who is with Jesus or not.

If someone believes women can/should be pastors is that okay?

What if someone prays to Mary?

What if someone believes in evolution?

What if someone thinks and endorses same-sex sexual relationships?

What if someone verbally believes in the work of the Holy Spirit, but denies his power by the way they live and worship?

What if someone holds a different view of heaven and hell?

What if they only believe one of these?

What if they believe all of these?

How far off can we be and still be followers of Jesus?  I ask these questions not necessarily to say each of these are wrong or right so much as to point out the issues we tend to divide ourselves over and openly wonder: How different from you does someone have to be before you believe you can no longer serve Jesus together even if you both claim to follow Jesus?  Do we let ourselves be more influenced by Jesus words from Luke when he said, “49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.””, or do we look at Paul’s many admonitions to rebuke false teachers and prophets?

I do not have an answer to it all yet obviously or I would not be asking the questions, but I think this is one of those things you cannot just leave as a mystery because it affects your life and ministry opportunities from moment to moment.  Oh the things we unearth when we begin to wonder.

pointy.jpgSo, I’m preaching again on Sunday – I will be basically every second Sunday for the forseeable future – and I’m looking forward to having the chance to make people uncomfortable and angry.  I say this in the most loving and encouraging way.  I’m not looking forward to preaching because I want to make people angry, but I’m looking forward to preaching this message and I’m pretty sure that some people will likely wind up angry by the end of it.  Christians generally don’t like being confronted with the fact that they may not have everything right.  On a sidenote, for those of you who haven’t read the “Things White People Like” blog, I’ve been thinking it would be funny to write a blog about “Things Christians Like/Don’t Like”.  If you think it’s a good idea, you’re welcome to steal it so long as I get some creative control.

I’m looking at the passage from Luke about the two guys on the Emaus road.  Traditionally most people have looked at this passage and preached about how Jesus wanted to give hope to people that were distraught over his death.  I don’t doubt that he did, but I don’t think that’s really the point of Jesus whole interaction with the two guys on the road.  I think if I preached that message it wouldn’t upset anybody, but I also wouldn’t be doing my job.  No I’m pretty sure the point of the whole interaction is there were two guys (probably more like them but these are the only two we hear about) who were so convinced of what the Messiah was supposed to be (a liberating leader who would resurrect the Israelite empire) that after Jesus death they just couldn’t really believe he was the Messiah anymore.  They walked down the road pooling their ignorance and re-enforcing their own wrong shared view point with eachother.  Eventually Jesus came up to them – they didn’t recognize him – and they told him too how they hoped that Jesus was the Messiah but now they weren’t so sure because he died.  At this point Jesus essnetially called them stupid people and told them how they understood nothing and showed them how wrong they were.  After they realized it, their eyes were opened and they finally recognized Jesus for who he was, litterally and figuratively.  They had been missing the point.

This makes me think a lot of questions.  It’s easy for us to look back at the Jews in the Old Testament and laugh as we see them make the same mistakes over and over again.  It’s easy for us to look at the disciples and people in the gospels and shake our heads in disdain as we see them miss the point of what Jesus was trying to teach them about how to serve God and about what the Messiah was really supposed to do.  How often do we stop to think about what we’ve got wrong though?  I guarantee you we don’t have it all right.  Just like the two guys on the Emmaus road, what things are we so convinced we have right that we blind ourselves to what is really right?  What things will Christians a hundred years from now look back at and wonder how we could have been so wrong?  Sometimes we get so comfortable with getting things wrapped up in tight little theological packages that we stop looking for what the truth really is.  Sometimes we get so comfortable discussing our beliefs with people that see things exactly the same way we do that we never grow or learn new things or discover where we’re wrong because we only re-enforce our own view points.  What kind of things are keeping us from seeing God and his plans as they truly are?  The two men on the Emaus road were so sure that they knew what the Messiah was supposed to be that they couldn’t see what he really was.  It was so bad that God purposely blinded them to Jesus identity on the road until they would come to the realization of who Jesus really was as the Messiah and as God.  It was only after they realized what they had wrong that God opened their eyes to realize that Jesus was right there in their midst.  So I wonder, what kind of things are blinding us to who God really is and what he really wants to do?  What kinds of beliefs or practices have we wrongly accepted as right that are keeping us from seeing God as he is and his work as it stands?  I think these are really important questions because I don’t want to be the guy or part of the people that Christians will look back on with disdain one hundred years from now.  Where are we missing the point?  I’d certainly like to miss the point if being kicked with a boot like the one in the picture, but when it comes to serving God, that’s a point I don’t want to miss.

If you’re wondering what we could possibly have wrong, just look at what kinds of things Christianity accepted for so long that we look back on with disdain now like the acceptance of slavery or the oppression of women.  We look back now and wonder how Christians could have been so out of touch with reality and God’s values, but at the time those Christians were convinced they were right.  Will our issues be how we allowed women to minister in the church?  How we handle the homosexual issue?  How 20th century evangelicals viewed alcohol consumption?  How we treat people with tatoos or piercings?  How we present the good news as “fire insurance” with no strings attached?  How the church seems to constantly want to prove science wrong?  What are the issues that are keeping us from seeing God and his truth as they truly are?

I’ll be the first to admit that I likely don’t have it all right.  I think that someone who thinks they have it all right likely has never been farther from having it all right.  I realize I likely don’t have it all right, but I want to have it more right all the time.  I want to really look at what God thinks on issues and what the truth really is so that we can truly be the people of God.  Sunday could be interesting, but I’m finding it even more interesting getting there.