Tag Archives: Jesus

Jesus and the Illusion of Control

Nature has a funny way of reminding us that we aren’t in control as much as we think we are. We love the idea of control. We live in a world where we can control the thermostat in our house, the lights in our house, even the ice maker in the refrigerator in our house all from our smartphone. Through social media we can control the narrative of our lives that we project to the world. Some people take great control of what they eat and put into their bodies. Some people put in guardrails so that they remain in control their time. I don’t think any of us like the feeling of being out of control- either emotionally, physically, or financially. But what happens is that we build an illusion of control and we find it shocking when that illusion comes crashing down.

Nature has a tendency to be that thing that causes our illusions of control to come crashing down. Control didn’t matter when water from Hurricane Harvey starting rising. Right now Hurricane Irma is making it’s way across the Caribbean and where the storm goes and what damage it produces is outside of our control. We have to bend to the wind, not the other way around. We have to respect the ocean, and the rivers, and the mountains, they don’t have to respect us.

Unless you’re Jesus.

On multiple occasions Jesus took control over nature. He calmed storms. He silenced winds. He walked on water. He caused the fruitless tree to wither.

Why did he do those things? I think Jesus wanted to show us that he can control the things we can’t control. Jesus can control nature. Jesus can control disease. Jesus can control limited resources- like taking five loaves of bread and two fish and feeding 10,000+ people. Jesus can even control death.

Whatever is in your life that you can’t control, Jesus can. I know that sounds trivial. Especially to people who are dealing with the aftermath of those uncontrollable things, whether natural disaster, or addiction, or anger, or a disease. But it’s those weary people that Jesus promises to give rest. We just have to seek that rest in Jesus.

We all walk with our illusions of control but what do we do when they fall? Where do we turn?  If your life is out of control, if you are weary, Jesus is in control. There is nothing that stands outside of Jesus’ control. We can rest in that.

“Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” Luke 8:25

No Outsiders

I ran into this song last week and it’s a great reminder that no one is excluded from coming to God.

That is especially important to remember as we just celebrated Easter. We say, “Jesus died for everyone.” But sometimes we say it but we forget what that means. Jesus died for the homeless man, Jesus died for the terrorist, Jesus died for sex worker, Jesus died for the elite, Jesus died for the forgotten, Jesus died for the educated, Jesus died for the oppressed, Jesus died for you and Jesus died for me.

In Jesus, there are no outsiders.

The Sin of Texting While Driving

New-Braunfels-bus-crash_600You may have heard about the bus crash involving a group of senior adults from First Baptist Church, New Braunfels, TX. The crash killed 13 people and in the last few days it has come to light that the 20 year-old driver of the truck that struck the church bus was engaged in texting while he was driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that, in 2015 alone, almost 3,500 people were killed and another 391,000 people were injured in accident involving a distracted driver. I also read that an estimated 78% of accidents caused by a distracted driver occurred because the driver in question was texting.

You’ve seen people texting while they drive. You’ve probably done it yourself. I’m not throwing stones from a glass house; I admit that I’ve done it. Although, I’m made a conscious effort to stop. One reason for this it that for several years a major portion of my job consisted of driving from worksite to worksite and I was always shocked that while driving on one major highway, I typically saw more people texting on their phones than not texting on their phones. I could usually tell because the car was swerving or failing to maintain a constant speed and, more often than not, when I would pass them, they were on their phone.

Texting while driving has become an dangerous epidemic. You’ve probably noticed that there are more PSAs on texting while driving on television and radio. And while there are various laws, and sometimes no laws, regulating texting while driving, as Jesus followers we are to follow a ethic above the law.

Texting while driving is, not only potentially against the law, it is a sin.

Wait! There’s nothing in the Bible about texting while driving, how can I call it a sin? Let me explain.

Sin, in it’s most basic, is idolatry. Idolatry is when we place anything above God. We place pleasure above God. We place money above God. We place the desire to get our own way above God. We place ourselves above God.

Texting while driving is a form of placing ourselves first. It’s selfishness. It’s saying, “My conversation is more important than the risk to your life.” It’s careless, reckless and selfish and it’s saying that I am more important than anyone else who’s trying to go to work, pick their kids up from school, or go to the store. It’s saying that I want to do what I want, regardless of it’s potential effects on others. And that is sinful.

Jesus tells us to put ourselves last- take the last seat at the banquet- and be a servant- wash the feet of others. Jesus tells us to love those around us as ourselves. We may not go to banquets where we can take the last seat but we can put the cell phone away while we drive. We may not wash someone else’s feet but we can put the cell phone away while we drive. It’s one of the ways that we love those around us as we hold their life with more honor than we hold a text message.

Commit now, put others above yourself and put the phone away while you drive. Don’t trade someone’s life for a text.

North Korea and The Good Shepherd

I’m fascinated with pictures of North Korea. The dichotomy between the “public” life and the “private” life of the country is unsettling. It appears, from all accounts, that the picture of success, power and happiness that the country wants to show the world is nothing more than a charade. The reality is much different. It appears that life there is hard and the government gives the people just enough perks to keep them content. Censorship, control and fear keep the citizens of North Korea from knowing and experiencing the prosperity and freedom that exists just a few miles away in South Korea- which ranks in the top 50 countries in the world in per capita GDP. By comparison, North Korea ranks 210 out of 229 countries.

Why do the citizens of North Korea allow this?

They allow it because they don’t know any better. For most of them they cannot even imagine a life different than the one they live.

Doesn’t that sound like a lot of people you know? People who live their lives never knowing, never imagining that life could be anything more than what they are experiencing. Life can’t be anything more than stress- financial, emotional, or familial. Life can’t be anything more than counting the hours until 5 o’clock- day after day. Life can’t be anything more than rejection.

We may know people like that, but are you and I people like that? Can we fall into that same mindset? Absolutely we can.

In a very familiar verse, Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus says that in him, there is life and, more than just life, there is full life and in the following verses he says that it is an eternally safe life. Jesus is not saying that there won’t be stress- but that it cannot steal your life. Jesus is not saying that there won’t be days that are boring or numbing- but that they cannot kill your life. Jesus is not saying that you won’t experience rejection- but that it cannot destroy your life.

This isn’t “Joel Osteen” positive thinking Christianity, this is Christianity under the watch and care of Jesus, the good shepherd.

As sheep we either know the voice of Jesus and follow him or we follow the thief, the robber, or hired hand and when the wolf comes the thief, robber, and hired hand don’t protect the sheep, they exploit the sheep. The good shepherd, Jesus, stands in-between the sheep and wolf and lays down his life for the sheep. The sheep are the same and the wolf is the same but what’s different is the shepherd.

Is your life full? Who is your shepherd?

 

Today’s World: One size fits all doesn’t apply

If there is one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that we can’t agree upon anything. Take hamburgers for example. How many ways can there be to put a patty of ground beef between two pieces of bread? Yet we have McDonalds, Burger King, Whataburger, Five Guys, In and Out, Carl Jrs and Wendy’s- just to name a few- and then there are the people who (for whatever reason) choose not to eat meat, so we have to include veggie-burgers too. Suddenly, a patty of ground beef (or soy) between two pieces of bread just got very complicated.

If hamburgers are a multi-layered, not to mention regionally influences issue (Whataburger in Texas, In and Out on the West coast), why do we think that issues effecting the nation and world have simple, black-and-white resolutions? Why do we think that “one size fits all” when it comes to complicated and far-reaching issues?

As a person who sees himself as a moderate on almost every spectrum (religiously, politically, socially), I find it extremely hard in today’s environment to boldly put my opinion into one single camp. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t listen, read and try to understand the issues- it’s because I have and I do. It seems to me that it is just as naive to not know anything about the issues we face as it is to believe that there is a simple, one-off solution to those issues. We simply cannot continue to believe that single solutions fix multi-faceted problems. However, it appears that the only solutions given are the two extremes on any issue (either everyone has to eat veggie-burgers or everyone has to eat Burger King). This only feeds into the divide. Everything has to be all one way or all another and those with an opinion different than our become the enemy. This is not to say that we don’t hold our preference, but we choose to understand why someone might hold the opposite preference. And we choose to engage in the art of…gasp…compromise.

Compromise has been beaten up and left for dead recently. To compromise, in our world, means that we have given up on our convictions. We have surrendered. We have given in. The response (and the anti-thesis) to compromise has become the “double-down.” When presented with an alternative opinion, view, perspective or preference, instead of intelligently debating the similarities and differences in order to come to a compromised solution, we simply repeat our previous position louder and with more ferocity.

On every spectrum the left goes further left and the right goes further right, what is going to happen to the vacuum created in the middle? It will either be filled by those displaced from the far left and the far right or the extremes will tear the whole continuum apart.

What makes me particularly concerned is that it also seems like the two pillars of Christian social-gospel (for lack of a better phrase) are equally susceptible to the current climate of providing simple solutions to multi-faceted problems. For centuries Christians have held on to love and life as nonnegotiable when it comes to the social-gospel (social-gospel meaning the way that the message of Jesus interacts with social issues, economic issues, government issues, justice issues, etc).

These two pillars, love and life, are both firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and the second is like (equal) to it, love your neighbor as yourself. Then the story that Jesus tells immediately following that statement (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus links love and life together. In the story, love of neighbor takes the form of protecting life. Couple that with the Bible’s repeated calls to care for widows, orphans and strangers- it is a natural next step to see early Christians, as well as modern Christians, caring for the sick, opening hospitals, opening schools and building  orphanages.

Yet these pillars are susceptible to the same “simple solution to multi-faceted problems” issue that we have been talking about. Is it inconsistent to be pro-life (in the anti-abortion sense) and be pro death penalty, military expansion and involvement in the world, refugee ban and at the same time being anti poverty -reducing initiatives, access to birth control, paid maternity leave? Is it inconsistent to proclaim that Jesus loved me and gave himself to die for me (while I was a sinner separated from God) and then put qualifiers on those that I love?

There are those that say there is no inconsistency, that these are apples and oranges and that justice or security demand tough choices to be made. There are those who say these examples are the very definition of hypocrisy, that pro-life means supporting all life, in all forms and love, if it’s a reflection of the love of Jesus, means loving all people. Christians fall on both sides. But again, the way that love and life apply to current issues is multi-faceted. What promotes love and life: closing abortion clinics or/and combating poverty? Using military strength to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable around the world or/and promoting the sanctity of all human life? Is there a continuum where we can fall between responsible love and reckless love? Or a chart that shows which lives matter more than others? These may be uncomfortable conversations but having them forces us to think through our positions and evaluate if they conform to the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God that Jesus announced. And if we discover that something is out of step with either, it us our application of love and life that needs to change not the definition of the gospel or the meaning of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

I guess what I’m saying comes down to this: we must begin to see and understand that these issues are large, complicated and ever changing (solutions that might have worked a decade ago, may not work today). And the way that we approach issues must be large, multi-tiered, and ever changing. Most of all we, as Christians, must have the hard conversations of how love and life (shown and enacted in Jesus Christ) interact with these issues. To believe that there are single solutions to these problems and continuing to practice “double-down” debates won’t provide long term solutions, in fact they are just as likely to create further problems.

 

Addicted to Conflict

unknownI feel that we, as a society, are addicted to conflict. Everything from our sporting events to our television shows to our political system is predicated on conflict. One team beating another team. One television show character in conflict with another character (think of every “reality” tv show). One political party using words, press releases, legislation and speeches to create conflict with the other. Sometimes I feel we haven’t come very far from the Roman citizens shouting for blood in the Coliseum.

Conflict gives us purpose. It gives us authority. It gives us a side to be on and a group to belong to. Or at least it gives us the illusion of those things. And perhaps like the Roman citizens in the Coliseum, all of our conflicts, or illusions of conflicts, keep us distracted and preoccupied from seeing the real conflicts that fester right under the surface.

It’s the conflicts that we find festering under the surface, however, that really impact the world. In the scope of the eighty-something years we live on the earth, the fact that our team won the game pales in comparison to the struggle against poverty. Ending the use of child soldiers in global conflicts ranks just a little higher than whether this reality star is going to get into a shouting match with that other reality star. And yet SportsCenter grabs our attention and the talk shows grab our attention. I wonder what it would take of the real conflicts to grab our attention.

Especially at Advent, as we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we should be drawn to see the world with big eyes. The Messiah- the one who would set the world right again, the one who would defeat evil, the one who would establish justice and righteousness, the one who would be placed on the throne of David forever- is the one who would bring peace into the conflicts.


As we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we should be drawn to see the world with big eyes.


Yet Christmas brings the temptation to draw us further into the world of decorations, presents and parties. It brings the temptation to make our eyes smaller and turned in on ourselves instead making them bigger and turning them outward to celebrate the Messiah that has come, to see what the Messiah has done in the world, grieve that there are still conflicts in the world and anticipate the Messiah’s return when Jesus, the King-elect, will be coronated to reign forever.

Today, take a few minutes and turn your eyes to the world. Look at:

  • Syria and the violence to children and civilians
  • Nigeria, the persecution of Christians and the 2.1 million people displaced by conflict there
  • Refugees
  • The 45 million people in the US living at the poverty line
  • The 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US

What else in the world do we need to see? Let us know in the comment section.

A Must Read: A Review

9781101906422A must read!

There have been few books that have challenged me more than Tom Krattenmaker’s Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe (Convergent, 2016). Krattenmaker currently works as the communications director at Yale Divinity School and is a columnist for USA Today where he writes about religion in public life. He is not a Christian. Yet he tries to live by the teachings of Jesus. He professes the sentiment of many in today’s culture: “One can sense a respect for Jesus, even a fascination with him, despite the decline of institutionalized Christianity” (13-14).

Krattenmaker is a self-proclaimed secularist. He confesses, “I do not believe Jesus died for the forgiveness of my sins…nor do I believe that it is literally and factually true that Jesus was, and is, God- which is not surprising when you realize I am not convinced of the existence of God either” (9). What he is, is a man who wants to “engage Jesus without being Christian” and wants to create a space where “interested nonreligious people [can] do something that society and the religious affiliation categories would apparently forbid [them] to do: seriously follow Jesus. That is to say, to attempt, as much as it’s possible, to act as he did, to treat other people as he did, to understand life as he did” (11).

In the book, Krattenmaker takes current issues- religious polarization, sexuality, worry, over-incarceration, racial tensions- and tries to show how Jesus speaks into each of these issues. If we follow the teachings of Jesus, he argues, then we will begin to examine these issues from a new perspective and hopefully discover a better way of being human.

What makes this book challenging is that I’ve read “Christian” books that failed to do what Krattenmaker successfully does- let the words of Jesus speak into contemporary issues. He is able to convincingly argue that Jesus’ words and actions still matter in the 21st century. He’s completely right when he says, “there is something in this figure of Jesus that is challenging, compelling and worth taking to heart” (206).

Now, being a person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to defeat sin and evil in his death and resurrection, I believe that Krattenmaker stands one or two steps short of fully understanding the message of Jesus. That being said, I believe he understands the message better than (sadly) many Christians. If others, through this book, discover the message of Jesus (even in a “secular” way), I am hopeful that as people try to live by the teachings of Jesus, and as they engage with the Bible (the place where those teachings are found) they will find themselves drawn to the God that Jesus represents.

Two weaknesses of the the book. First, there is some mild language throughout- somewhere between a PG and PG-13 rating. Second, Krattenmaker doesn’t fully answer the why question. Why would someone want to care about the plight of the incarcerated, love those unlike them, or care about what their sex life is doing to themselves and others? If this life is all there is, there is really no incentive for me to look out for anyone other than myself. Appealing to an altruistic side of humanity doesn’t work in the long term because there will always be those who will use it to gain power for themselves. Human beings are not inherently good, we are inherently selfish, greedy and violent. When left to ourselves, the result is always more Lord of the Flies than Shangri-La. But that reality is the message of Jesus. Jesus, God with us to do for us what we could not do for ourselves- namely, to save us from the sin and evil that are inside of us.

In the end, I’m glad that I read the book and if you are a pastor, minister, lay church leader then it is a must read. It will give you great insight into the mind of  the many people who are interested in Jesus but simply cannot understand the contradictions that appear to lay between Jesus and the Christian church. I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

The Church Can’t be a Scapegoat Anymore

For too long the Church has been a scapegoat. I’ve been guilty of this as much as anyone. Everything that has been or is wrong with Jesus followers is the Church’s fault. Writers and researchers tell us that people outside the Christian faith like the teachings and message of Jesus but they don’t like the teachings and message of the Church. Jesus teaches love, grace, forgiveness and countercultural ideals. The Church, on the other hand, teaches discrimination, guilt, fear and Christian- imperialistic ideals. They can get behind Jesus, but the Church- no so much.

And so we get categories like “spiritual but not religious” or “Jesus-follower” instead of Christian. There are even people like USA Today columnist Tom Krattenmaker who call themselves secular Jesus followers. I am currently reading Krattenmaker’s new book, Confession of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe (Convergent, 2016) and I’ll write a full review next week, but his main point is that “Jesus and Christianity are not one and the same” and that “one can sense a respect for Jesus, even a fascination with him, despite the decline of institutionalized Christianity” (13-14). It’s hard to argue that he’s wrong. Taking an objective look at the message of Jesus and (in too many cases) the message of the Church that bears Jesus’ name, it’s easy to see one is not a good reflection of the other.

What are we to do? Our M.O. has been to make the Church the scapegoat: the Church needs to change, the Church needs to reform, the Church needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.

Here’s where we have to reframe the conversation because the Church (and we know this) isn’t an organization or an organism within itself. We can’t go and find “the Church.” The Church is constructed of people. And the people that construct the Church are you and me. The harsh reality is that when people have a problem with the Church, they have a problem with you and me and the way we live out the message of Jesus that we claim to believe.


When people have a problem with the Church, they have a problem with you and me.


No longer can we make the Church the scapegoat for our laziness, for our spiritual immaturity, for our the way we have coopted the message of Jesus for our own gain or for our pure disobedience. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, we are all guilty of it. And we all need to change.

The Church can no longer be the scapegoat for our sins. Individually we need to refocus our lives on what Jesus said, what Jesus did, what Jesus taught and believing when Jesus said that those who love him will do what he’s said and live the way he lived. When we individually refocus then the Church and our local churches will naturally refocus. If we take Jesus seriously there shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to express the sentiment of Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. You’re Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Are we ready to stop passing the blame and get serious about following Jesus?

Lots of Good, If Not Much New: Review of “The Great Spiritual Migration”

9781601427915When I saw that Brian McLaren had come out with another book, I immediately put it on my Amazon wish list. Naturally I was excited when I saw the opportunity to read and review the book for Blogging for Books. (I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.) I’ve read a good number of McLaren’s books over the years and I enjoy them- even if I don’t agree with everything he proposes. The great thing about McLaren is, however, that I don’t think he would want that anyway.

Perhaps it is because I have read a number of his books, that I found The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian to be full of good thoughts and ideas while not being particularly novel or new. In the book, McLaren proposes that Christianity needs to change (migrate) in three areas: 1. from being centered on correct belief to being center in love 2. from seeing God as a God of exclusion to a God of reconciliation and multi-ethnic expression 3. from the church being an organized institution to an organizing movement of change. These are all good observations but not unique to McLaren alone.

The negative first. In the opening section, McLaren argues that Christianity needs to migrate from being centered on correct belief to being centered in love. The reason for this re-centering on love is because God is love (1 John 4:8) and that central focus on love should be announced and ritualized (61-62). While I agree with his argument, what McLaren is actually doing is declaring that love is the correct belief of Christianity. “God is love” is a belief and by saying that it should be central is effectively arguing that it is the correct belief. He simply trades “correct” doctrines on God, salvation, ecclesiology, or whatever for a “correct” doctrine of love. I’m not saying he’s wrong (I think he’s right) but we need to be aware of what he’s actually proposing. What Christians do need to focus on is how their beliefs (doctrines) organized in creed, confessions or statements work in practice. For example, if we believe in God, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, how do I live that out on a day to day basis?

To the positive. McLaren is right when he sites that our world is faced with a four-fold crisis: ecological, economic, sociopolitical and spiritual and religious (166). What is amazing is that the Christian message speaks to all four of them. The main takeaway that I got from the book is that, as Christians, we need to step back from our local church problems and from our denominational problems and see that “the problems we need to solve are bigger that Lutheranism, Orthodoxy, Presbyterianism, or Catholicism. We have Christian problems…[and] ultimately, the problems we face are not just Christian problems, they are human problems” (145). And if the problems we face are human problems, ecological, economic, sociopolitical and religious, then Christians need to show how faith in the crucified and risen Jesus speaks to each of those problems. And how do we do that? McLaren rightly says it’s by doing to small things, the individual things and trusting that “God can get done through all of us what none of us can do alone” (198). When I do this, I’m not (and I love this line) “playing God, I’m playing with God, at play in God’s good world, where everything is holy” (198).

Overall I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to someone who was beginning to think about these issues for the first time. If you’re familiar with McLaren’s other books, The Great Spiritual Migration may not hold the wealth of new ideas that you hoped for.

A Beautiful Gospel

The message of the gospel is beautiful. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. Especially for those of us who are ministry and church insiders, by that I mean pastors, ministers, teachers and volunteer leaders, we need to be reminded that the message of the gospel is the most beautiful message there is. Often we get too busy to see its beauty. Or maybe we get too close and, like zooming in on a human face, we see the unevenness, the pours, the oil and the imperfections. Sometimes we need to zoom back out and see the full picture once again. And in seeing the full picture again, we can re-see, reconnect and re-appreciate the beauty of the gospel.

This song and video have done that for me. It has allowed me to once again see and hear the beauty of the gospel. As you watch it, I think that it will do the same thing for you.