Wednesday, April 24, 2013

JESUS, Part 5

Who then is this Jesus? That's a great question. One that, in actuality, is kind of difficult to answer. Afterall, we can't cram Jesus into a box. He fails to conform to any particular mold. And it's tough to represent him with any label. Even so, the following is my pathetic attempt to do so.

While there are many who would paint Jesus as a Mr. Roger's type, I don't have the same view (an idea I briefly discussed in another post). Reading through the accounts of his life, I get the idea Jesus is less like Mr. Rogers and more like Robin Hood. To begin with, I assume blue cardigans weren't very popular in Jesus' day. Then there's the fact that Mr. Rogers seems just a tad too politically correct. A little too nice. And to top it off, he lacks a certain passion and enthusiasm for real life. I don't really see those being the overarching qualities of Jesus. Let's not forget that Jesus is much more outspoken than Mr. Rogers. He's a bit too abrasive to live in Mr. Roger's neighborhood. That's why Jesus, to me, seems more like the Robin Hood type. He champions the cause of the 'least of these.' He comes to the rescue of the down-and-out, the less fortunate, the oppressed, the humble and the outcast. Jesus takes from the religiously rich and lavishes his grace upon the religiously poor.

You may have already realized I'm not painting a picture of Jesus we often see preached on Sunday mornings. However, that doesn't mean he isn't the one described in Scripture. The Jesus I have discovered has more to say to each of us than I ever imagined. This is the Jesus I wholeheartedly believe in. The one that has transformed--and continues to transform--my life. The one I have discovered is really worth dropping everything to follow! Furthermore, he is much more encompassing and empowering than I was ever taught growing up.

Whether you agree or not, know that my point isn't to coerce you to buy into the Jesus I am about to describe. The conclusions I have drawn here are the result of a journey of discovery I have been on over the last several years. While I hope you will have an open mind about what I have to say, I'm not so naive to think that a blog post will coerce you into changing your mind. If all the content to follow does only one thing, I hope that it drives you to see what Scripture actually has to say about Jesus as opposed to some church, denomination, political party, etc. In other words, let this serve as an encouragement to discover, for yourself, who Jesus is.

First, we have Jesus the man. While there is some debate as to whether or not Jesus was fully man, I have no debate. He lived and breathed just like you and me. He experienced everything we experience today. He walked this planet bound by the same limitations as the rest of us. But we must also address the fact he is fully God. Biblical evidence more than supports this claim, as do a vast majority of scholars. Feel free to disagree, but know this is where I stand.

Reading the Bible, we will also encounter Jesus the miracle worker. The Bible records 33 miracles of Jesus. You might say that 33 is not many. But to you I ask one question; how many miracles have you performed recently? None? Let me give you a broader time frame to work with. How many miracles have you performed in your life? Have you ever changed water to wine (not grape juice or Kool-aid; a monkey could do that)? Have you ever healed a man who had been lame most of his life? How about a man born blind? Better yet, have you ever raised anyone from the dead? I know I sure haven’t! And let me make it clear these were in fact miracles, not just coincidences. Nor was Jesus some mystic sorcerer. He was, in fact, a miracle worker! And let me remind you that these are only a few of the miracles the Bible recorded. John tells us that the Bible didn't even come close to recording the many things Jesus did. He goes so far as to say that "if they were all written down, the whole world could not contain the books that would be written."

Then there's Jesus the environmentalist. Granted, environmental degradation wasn't a pressing issue in Biblical times; but I sense Jesus had more to say about our treatment of this planet than we might realize. If we take a close look, there seem to be some assumptions we can make based on his teachings and actions. Often times we find Jesus secluding himself, living close to nature. Many of his parables, we will find, are drawn from the laws of nature and the environment. He even had power over nature itself--i.e. calming the storm! It is unlikely, to me, to believe that Christ, who loved God so deeply didn't love all that his father made. In my research, I have yet to hear Jesus say "It's perfectly acceptable to trash the planet!" Evey choice we make should contribute to sustain the environment--which in turn, sustains human life. Through our actions, we should make choices that contribute to the feeding, housing, and clothing of our fellow human being. Don't tell me Jesus wasn't concerned about our treatment of this world God entrusted us with. So, we don't have to guess what position Jesus would take when it comes to this planet we inhabit. It seems quite obvious he was for a much more committed stewardship of the earth. Exploitation--whether that be people or creation--is a sin.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a humanitarian. He regularly fought for the widows, the orphans and the outcast. Jesus contributed much to making individuals aware of their identity and their dignity. He fought for the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties. It only makes sense to me that his followers would do the same. They would take a stand against injustice, no matter who it offends. They would support the humanitarian cause by involving themselves through an active involvement in civic, economic and political life. Through the witness of their charity and faith they would offer a valuable contribution to bringing forth integral human development and the right ordering of human affairs. In all their actions they would make a conscious choice to pursue justice. If we are going to follow in the foot steps of Jesus, he establishes the fact that it must lead to a far greater respect for humanity.
Now we come to Jesus the rebel and political activist. Chances are, there have been few (if any) times you've heard him referred to in this manner. Truth be told, the message he proclaimed had major political overtones. On more than one occasion, Jesus directly opposed the Roman empire. Although Jesus did encourage his disciples to pay their taxes, he didn’t always agree with the Roman political system. It was not uncommon for the Caesar's of his day to proclaim themselves as divine. The title "divi filius," translated as "son of the divine one," along with the titles "savior" and "bringer of peace" were often associated with Augustus Caesar. For Jesus to stake claim to the same title--"the Son of God"--was clearly in direct opposition to their headship.  Knowing this, you understand why the Romans had it out for Jesus. And it makes a little more sense why the entire empire turned a blind eye to the crucifixion of the innocent Christ.

But it wasn't only Rome that had great disdain for Jesus' outspoken, rebellious demeanor. Jesus certainly had things to say about the established religious institution of the day. You can't read the Bible without taking notice of Jesus' rebuke and condemnation of many of the Jews religious practices. He had a blatant disregard for many of their rules and regulations. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, associated with sinners, touched the unclean and defended the cause of the non-religious. Jesus makes it clear the kingdom many of the Jews were trying to establish stood in opposition to his. Loud and clear, Jesus let them know that the ideas of equality, justice, mercy, etc. are key in his kingdom.

You see, to the Romans and the Jews, Jesus was no Mr. Rogers. Afterall, nobody would ever crucify Mr. Rogers. Through his confrontation, Jesus made it clear that political activism today is worthy of our time and effort. However, we must note that he demonstrated that power doesn’t have to corrupt. Because the power of the cross is more powerful than any lies and pride and cruelty. That’s something many of us could use to hear today.

Because Jesus was crucified, many would have you believe he was a pacifist. I have to admit, there is a plethora of evidence that lends itself to this idea. He demonstrated that by the way he lived. Jesus clearly lived a life of grace. He showed us the importance of forgiveness. He even made a somewhat cryptic statement about turning the other cheek. He emphasized humility and meekness. "Blessed are the peacemakers." he tells us. Jesus even pleads for us to "not resist him that is evil." And in the face of unjust accusations, Jesus laid down his life for the greater good. Which, I'm certain has something to do with the title Prince of Peace we attribute to him.

But I can't read through the New Testament and claim his life was solely one of peace. He came, in part, to serve as a catalyst that would begin to usher in heaven on earth. So that means when ungodly atrocities (war, hatred, violence, murder, etc.) are being done he took a stand and got involved. Jesus did things a true pacifist wouldn't dream of doing. He called out the pious and the religious on their BS. On numerous occasions, Jesus blatantly defied the Pharisees. Rather than turning a blind eye to the pending murder of an adulterous woman Jesus intervened and saved her life. There's also the scene he created in the temple--not only did he overthrow the tables, but he also made a whip of cords and drove the responsible parties out. That doesn't scream pacifist to me. As disciples, we are called by Jesus himself, to imitate this way of life--to do justly. Which goes hand in hand with humility, peace and mercy. Which means Jesus wouldn't be an advocate for arming every person. Nor does he justify violence begetting more violence. What he does advocate is treating others fairly and equally, all the while having respect for their humanity. 

All of this leads me to a few important conclusions. First, it is clear to me that our preconceived notions of Jesus need to be rethought. Second, it's obvious any labels we try to place upon him are inadequate at best. The problem is that we try to make Jesus fit neatly into our boxes and labels, but reality is he doesn't.

While Jesus is a friend, a comforter, a healer, a  provider and a judge--among other things. The fact remains that Jesus is so much more. He is something very different. He is something wholly other! Those who realize this understand that Jesus is a peacemaker that gets angry from time to time--only because he needs to. They understand that he respects every individual but still offends--because we need to change our thinking. They understand that while he has all the answers, he still responds with questions--because we need to decide in our own heart. They understand while he is all loving he may come across as sarcastic--because our attitudes are not right. The reason Jesus is this way is summed up quite well by Max Lucado "[Jesus] loves [us] just the way [we] are, but he refuses to leave [us] there." Jesus has a better offer for life than we are currently living.

I have a theory as to why we rarely see anyone paint these pictures of Jesus. These pictures are not easy or safe. To see them means we are accountable to much more than the eternal soul of the individual. With these pictures come a much wider range of responsibility. One that embraces not just eternity, but today. They prove our temporal actions have eternal implications--especially if we believe God will, in fact, make all things new.

Monday, April 15, 2013


"Quit trying!" is the advice my father gave me the other day. After opening up about the job hunt with the church--sharing my frustrations and disappointments--those were the last words I expected him to utter. Considering how supportive he has been over the years, even when he didn't understand or even disagreed with what I was doing, I was taken aback. If you knew the faith journey he has been on these last several years, you would likely be just as shocked. When I first left for college to pursue my ministerial studies, my father, who was not a Christian at the time, was the one who supported my decision. I remember him telling me "If God's calling you to do this, you better do it!" And it was this supportive, encouraging attitude I have heard from him, until now.

It's safe to assume "Quit trying!" was not the response I was looking for. As you likely know, that's not the type of advice most parents give. They tend to be more compassionate and encouraging. They push and challenge you to keep striving in order to reach your goals. "Keep pressing on!" "Give it time!" "Don't give up!" would have seemed more apropos. But, with an outsiders perspective, my father took a different approach.

After tossing around his advice most of the night, I decided it would be best to let it sink in and sleep on it. The next morning, with a clear head and a fresh perspective, I realized he has a valid point. Now, I understand "Quit trying!" doesn't sound like the best advice, but sometimes it's exactly what we need to hear. Not only can that be the best resolution to a certain situation, but it even has some Biblical undertones.

Read Acts 16:6-10 and you might see what I'm talking about.

"Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had told them not to go into the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed for the province of Bithynia, but again, the Spirit of Jesus did not let them go. So, instead, they went on through Mysia to the city of Troas. That night Paul had a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia in northern Greece, pleading with him, ‘Come over here and help us.’ So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, for we could only conclude that God was calling us to preach the Good News there."

This is, in a way, identical to the situation I had found myself in. On some level this story, more than likely, resonates with you as well. You have been seeking God in everything you do. Desperately you have been trying to follow His leading. But every step forward only seems to be followed by two steps back. Whenever you step out in faith, you encounter an impasse. Inevitably, every attempt to follow God leaves you more frustrated and confused than the last.

Although they keep pressing forward, this is exactly where I imagine Paul and Silas find themselves. Take a moment and attempt, with me, to put yourself in Paul’s shoes. Having been in direct opposition to the supposed Messiah, Jesus the Christ, the last thing you planned to do was proclaim his message of forgiveness and hope. Yet, after a surprising encounter with the risen Jesus, sharing the Good News becomes not only your passion, but your way of life. The Holy Spirit has overtaken you and at the risk of life and limb, you set out on a journey to take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. So engulfed with this new calling, you become almost oblivious to everything around you. Determined to stop at nothing to reach the finish line, from time-to-time you seem to misread the leading of the Spirit. For this reason, all these attempts to move the Gospel forward result in the intervention of 'the spirit of Jesus.' What that means or how that worked I'm not sure. But it seems God took a different approach than he had been with Paul. The subtle hints weren't getting through to Paul so God took a more direct approach and stopped him dead in his tracks. Only then was Paul able to press forward and continue with his calling to spread the hope of Jesus.

If you, like Paul, Silas and I, are continually trying to do something or go somewhere and nothing seems to work, perhaps it's time to quit trying. Now, I want you to understand that to quit trying is not to be misconstrued with giving up. While they seem similar, there is a fine line that differentiates the two. In this case, to quit trying means you purposefully relinquish control. You set aside your dreams, your agenda and your time table. You stop trying to force things or make anything happen. You make no more spur of the moment decisions. You quit trying so God can work. You wait for Him to direct your steps. To reveal your next move. To make things happen. To bring things to fruition. All on his time table. You haven't given up because you open yourself to the possibility God has something else to show you or somewhere else to take you--that you were unable to see because you had on blinders.

On that note, I pose some questions to ask yourself. Exhausted? Tired of trying to figure out God’s will for your life? For this week? For tomorrow? For today? That's exactly where I'm at. And chances are you will find yourself there soon. My advice then is to just quit trying and give God the control He desires. It's easier said than done, I know. But it usually yields the best results.