Three Ways I Fake It With Jesus

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As a pastor, I want it to look like I have it all together; like authentic, for me, looks like a perfected relationship with God. As if during ordination, fairy dust was actually sprinkled on me and I had it made in the shade with the J Man.

Unfortunately, the truth is messier.
Here are three ways, three traps, where I find myself faking it with Jesus.

I read about the Bible more than I read the Bible

I’m always tempted to want to be thought of as Intelligent more than Transformed. It’s easy for me to spend a stretch reading what Dale Bruner thinks about Matthew, than reading Matthew learning what Jesus thinks about me. We live in a culture that is so suspect of the Bible (the Church included) that it seems like you have to know what people say about the Bible more than what the Bible says.

I’m prone to fall into the trap of knowing about someone, rather than knowing them. I’ll spend all kinds of time learning about them, and very little time getting to know them. And there’s a big difference. Several times in Scripture, God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” That’s an invitation. Notice that God doesn’t say, Be still and know about God. The offer is unbelievable, “Rest in my presence and know me personally. Get to know what it looks like to live each moment in grace. Feel the difference mercy makes. Let love become what motivates you. Follow after Jesus, you are his prototype.”

Why I would rather find out about somebody else’s experience with that rather than steep in the vastness of it myself? I don’t know.

I think about praying more than I pray

I have this journal where I keep all my prayer requests. I’ll spend a good deal of time writing my list out, like a Christmas wish list, without bothering to put the book down and actually spend time in the company of Jesus handing all this stuff over to his power and ability to do something in the world.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Writing prayers down sort of alleviates my anxiety, but it’s different than taking five minutes to say, “Jesus, you know all about the things I’ve written down. You take my burdens which sting like bee and you give me yours, which float like a butterfly.”

I’m not saying that there aren’t a number of ways to pray, and that writing prayers isn’t praying, but I catch myself writing and not praying. Staying outside the ballpark, instead of joining God in the Skybox.

I rely on my strength more than I rely on Jesus

There were two movies that were really similar in theme and I loved them both: The Mighty and Simon Birch. Both films involve a small person that relies on the size and strength of a big person. The Mighty is more obvious.

I’m a small person, limited in scope and ability. Jesus is completely competent, strong and capable; unlimited. Like the Mighty, Jesus offers to ride me on his shoulders, to walk alongside me in my everyday, but I’m too prideful, too intent on proving that I can do everything by myself; the same thing that drives me crazy about my four year old.

It’s kind of living with a functional belief that Jesus isn’t God, that I am ultimately more powerful and capable than he is, which is insanity for somebody who claims that he is God. I just have this deep need to prove myself, to prove how Great I Am, rather than How Great Thou Art!

But that’s the Christian life: slowly kneading out the bumps in the bread, getting rid of pride bubbles and selfish spaces. That’s what transformation is, a life a discovering ways that we fake it with Jesus and getting more and more real about it. I’ve got work to do, but I’m pretty sure that in doing it, I’m doing something right.

How about you? How do you fake it Jesus?

HT: Francis Chan

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Blurred Lines: Miley Cyrus and Jesus

With the world abuzz about Miley Cyrus, her tongue and her twerking, I’ve been thinking about all the Blurred Lines between who she is, what she does and what people are saying about both.

Miley Cyrus

By this point, I could start linking pieces in response to her VMA performance (about 515 million results on Google) and it would go on and on and on and on and on and on — for just about ever.

If the saying is true, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,”
then Miley has excellent PR.

She is the toast and roast of the nation, the topic on every radio station and any day now, the cover of every magazine at the check out counter. Suffice it to say, we’re going to see a whole lot more of her bootie. This one’s come a long way from Butterfly Fly Away, from Break Out to her upcoming BANGERS.

I’m having a hard time getting upset with her, though.

Sure, her stage show offends and repulses and all that, but entertainment is a consumer driven business. We have kind of created this new Miley Cyrus.

We adored her when she was Hannah Montana, that pre-pubescent do-gooder who was so popular, she nearly became a Billionaire. The problem is that Hannah Montana grew up. She isn’t a pre-pubescent do-gooder anymore. Remember when that happened to you?

The point is, Miley is a young woman growing up in a really strange, almost artificial, world where her feedback loop includes us. Standing around being a twenty year old isn’t going to keep her on top in the business that you and I have created. Let’s face it, in 2013, a girl’s gotta twerk.

I think that Miley is doing what young adults do, exploring the blurred lines between who they used to be and who they are going to be. Since I write from a “churched” perspective, I feel that it’s alright for me to say:

Now is the time for the Churched to shut up and draw close.

No one is confused as to the content of her material. We don’t need to comment. We need to do what Jesus would do and draw close. The woman at the well lived life in the blurred lines between who the culture demanded a woman be and who she was, broken down by multiple failed relationships, probably at the hand of some loser men that used her and kicked her to the curb. Jesus drew close. Yeah, he told her who she was, but that was only so that she could move on and become who she was going to be. He got all up in her blurred lines.

Blaming an entertainer for being entertaining (even over the top) is like the Romans blaming gladiators for the Coliseum. To do so is to misunderstand entertainment as a completely consumer driven model.

Miley is growing up with her fans.

This should tell us something. I think she’s brilliantly keeping pace with her fan base. They are growing up, too. They are asking the same questions, surfing the same waters. Miley is staying relevant with them.

Are we?

One of the really unfortunate and debilitating modernist hold outs is our need to make people stay the way they were when we first started to appreciate them. How many times in the church do we get angry with the youth because they aren’t acting like the children they used to be when they were in our Sunday School classes? As children grow up, be honest, we stuff them into smaller and smaller boxes – in an effort to make them…what? More like us.

And so we lose the twenty year olds, because you can’t become twenty in a box.

We have some things to learn from Miley.

1. When people grow up it’s messy, complicated and uncomfortable. It can even be unattractive. We can worry and sigh. We can blog and talk about it on our Youtube channels. But at the end of the day, we miss everything that way. I thought that grace was the art of drawing close to the unattractive things. What happened to that?

Jesus is the Kahuna of Blurred Lines. Not Robin Thicke’s version, but real gray areas where grace can make a real difference. Jesus was not afraid of blurry, he walked into it, he created it. The story of Levi is a case study on Jesus blurring the line so that someone could become who they were meant to be.

When young people have questions about who they are, somebody has to answer them, to lead them. In this case it’s the machine behind Miley, telling her that a foam finger is good idea.

I think that if Jesus was at the VMAs he would have run it down like this:

Jesus: ‘Sup Miley?

Miley: ‘Sup?

Jesus: That was really interesting. What was your favorite part?

Miley: I don’t know. My swim suit was too tight and the guy in the Teddy Bear is a real perv. What was yours?

Jesus: I liked the part when you were the most yourself.

Miley: When was that?

Jesus: Exactly.

Miley: Are you mad at me?

Jesus: I’m crazy about you. Not so much about the foam finger, though.

Miley: I know, but they gave it to me and I thought that if I didn’t use it being all crazy, it would just look stupid.

Jesus: (smiles)

Miley: It was stupid.

Jesus: Hey! Want to go grab a $500 latte and talk about the dreams that make your guts twist all up? Hope that keeps you awake at night?

Miley: I can’t, I have this…thing.

Jesus: Cool. I’ll be here tomorrow and the day after that. Just remember, the person you are tonight, that’s who you are closest to becoming.

Miley: Everybody expects me to be somebody…

Jesus: Exactly.

2. The Gospel used to be shocking and offensive. Every so often, maybe it’s good to be shocked and offended, so that we remember that the meaning of the message we submit our lives to needs to twerk the soul, more than a little bit.

Like all of us, Miley is on a journey. She needs encouragement and love that is safe and intelligent. And that makes her no different than the girl her age that lives next door. Or the one you work with. Or the one you sit next to on the bus. Or your waitress. Or your students.

Jesus raced into blurred lines. Not to affirm them, or condemn them for that matter, but to provoke a move toward a grace filled, redeemed and restored future.

I think we ought to do the same.

After all, we know everything there is to know about standing on the sidelines and criticizing.

How’s that been working for ya?

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Does The Church Need New Wineskins?

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Two.
One to turn the bulb and Wait! Change? Who said anything about change?

WhenYourChurchNeedsNewWineskins

It’s 2013 and fair to say that there are somethings that are yearning to be made new.

Jesus said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” [Lk 5:38-39]

You can’t get aged, mature and delicious wine, without making new wine first. And in the ancient world, when new wine was made, it had to be poured into a wine skin that was was freshly made. During the fermentation process, the gases that are produced push against the wineskin. An old wine skin, brittle and dry, would burst apart spilling the wine and destroying the skin. A new skin, in contrast, is pliable enough to expand and strong enough to resist stretching too much.

The Church needs to embrace new wineskins, new paradigms.

In your opinion, what are the paradigms that need to be retired? What are the new paradigms that need to be embraced? What new life does the Church need poured into it?

Give me a list, there’s a sermon that needs your input!

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Rachel Held Evans and Sinning No More

Yesterday on Rachel Held Evan’s blog, she published a very endearing narrative on The Woman Caught In Adultery and Sinning No More. If you are not familiar with the Bible story you can read it here.



Hopelessly Hopeless I Hope So by Jack Batchelor on 500px.com




Hopelessly Hopeless I Hope So by
Jack Batchelor

At the heart of her post is a pushback against Christians who weaponize the Gospel, it’s intentions and it’s passages. We need to do this. Christians have to embody the Gospel and that’s really difficult to do if it’s a bullet. Scripture isn’t a bullet, but it is a sword.

With really sharp exegesis, Evans kind of blunts a very important moment in the ministry of Jesus. Here is where she lands (according to her post):

It’s one of just two times in his recorded ministry that Jesus said this—“go and sin no more”—and I don’t believe for a second he expected this woman to do such a thing…at least not forever, at least not for good.

We all wrestle with Jesus’ words here because all of us wrestle with sin. I believe that Jesus certainly didn’t believe that the woman would never sin again, “at least not for good”, but I’m not confident that it wasn’t his expectation.

I love it when preachers (like me) talk about sin and bring up the Greek word for it, ἁμαρτία. When we say something in Greek, it means that we know what we are talking about. And what I love even more is the follow through we tend to add, “The greek word hamartia is an archery term that means ‘missed the mark.’ It means we are aiming for the bullseye, but we miss it. We don’t hit what we are aiming for.”

This way of explaining sin makes it sound like sin ‘just happens,’ like it’s an ‘accidental occurrence.’ If that were the case, we wouldn’t know what shame and guilt were. Sin is not an accident, though, at least not with me. I know when I do it. I know when I choose to do it.

We get it wrong when we use the ‘archery’ term so loosely. It sounds too, “Oops, I was aiming for the bulls-eye, but I missed the mark and shot the neighbor’s cow through the eye.” When we miss the mark, it’s because we meant to. We hated that cow! That’s the trauma of sin. We could have made another choice, but we chose not to.

I know when I choose to say the thing I shouldn’t.
I know when I choose to keep secret something that needs to be brought into the light.
I know when I click the mouse button and it’s not to a Bible website.
I know when my tongue has a choice to pray or curse, and I choose the latter.
I know when I can build someone up, but I choose not to.
I know when I can tear someone down, so I go right on ahead.
I know when I can honor my God, my family or my church and instead I choose a more selfish option.

The thing is…sin is never an accident.

Since it’s a choice, I don’t believe that Jesus is ‘missing the mark’ by expecting that she wouldn’t choose it. I don’t think Jesus is out of line using an imperative, expecting her to make a different choice from now on. That’s what it means to follow the Christ, to “change your hearts and your lives and trust this good news.” The letters ask us to practice self-control…kind of like it was expected. Kind of like in a way that produces holiness. I recently ran across an old interview with Eugene Peterson in which he hits on this and how it relates another Evans blog topic, the problems with the Church (of which, of course, there are many).

Holiness is the Christian life mature. It’s gathering all the parts and pieces of your life into obedience and response to God, and living with some energy. Holiness is a blazing thing, it’s an energetic thing. Part of the reason the modern church has lost its taste for holiness is that it was engineered. Although we were really firm about the fact that justification is by faith; holiness was by disciplines, work, arranging. So it became hedging around the rules, hints, regulations, and technology. Therefore, it became very boring and claustrophobic.

If Jesus meant something else when he said, “Go and sin more,” he sure has a funny way of saying what he’s not saying when he says it.

Looking at the story as a whole, Evans arrives somewhere really clever, and probably very accurate:

“She would sin, no doubt. But perhaps she would think twice before casting those stones. Perhaps she would stop for a moment to consider the irony of becoming just like her accusers.”

That’s a great point. Let this passage show that we are always in danger of becoming like our enemy. We are one relationship removed from doing to others what has been done to us.

To stop there, I’m afraid, makes the story too two-dimensional. In essence, you can continue to sin, to stay the victim, just don’t be like the people who call you out — however wrong heartedly or heavy handedly they do it. That doesn’t seem consistent with Scripture’s larger narrative, which C.S. Lewis talks about as a call to become ‘little Christs.’

I think that Jesus is once again laying out a Kingdom ideal. He’s providing a picture of what life in and through him can be like: without sin. Is this possible? Only through him. If this woman were to have followed him, to have walked in his footsteps, to sleep when he slept, to eat where he ate, to pray when he prayed, “go and sin no more,” would have been a lifestyle, albeit really challenging. And maybe she did just that. Maybe she actually doesn’t need us to use her story to make excuses for ourselves.

It’s an ideal.

How’s that working out for you?
The “go and sin no more” thing?
Because it’s not going so well for me.

Me neither, Rachel, but I have to look somewhere, to someone, don’t I?

And more and more, we don’t know where to look. Recently, I read an article about the flopability of Summer Blockbusters. The author noted that typically men drive blockbusters both in content and revenue, but this summer, men didn’t really glam on to any one particular film. They weren’t drawn into the identity politics of any particular hero. At the end of the article, the writer drew the conclusion that men don’t know who they want to be like anymore. †

I agree. We don’t know who we want to be anymore and a Jesus that just doesn’t want us to be bullies isn’t that appealing either. If he came out with a movie this summer, I don’t think I would have seen it.

But a Jesus that believes I can be more than I believe I can be, who asks more from me than I think I have to give, who isn’t afraid to lay an impossible task in front of me…I can get into that. A Lord who has the grace to forgive and does, that’s a Jesus that can expect things from me.

We can’t weaponize the Gospel, for sure, but let’s be careful not to neuter it either. It’s a sword, not gun. It’s got heart, but it also has teeth (“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Really?)

In the end, Rachel’s mostly right, we have to be careful that we don’t become like our accusers, but we also have a Savior who has shown us how to do that and it begins lovingly and demandingly, with a grace-filled invitation:

“Go, and sin no more.”

How do you feel about this story? Do you think Rachel is right?

† if I were Rachel, I’d link the source for this article. I’m not Rachel. I thought I favorited it, but I guess I didn’t. When I find it, I’ll link it!

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Reza Aslan’s Zealot: A Review/Rant Thing

Over the last few days, I’ve read the new Jesus was a violent revolutionary book du jour, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In part, I picked it up because as a pastor I’m committed to reading Christian exposés that blip huge on the cultural radar and in part, because the botched Fox News interview between the author, Reza Aslan, and Fox interviewer, Lauren Green, was to good to be true…I had to read it. While impossible to imagine, this interview has been called the “Most embarrassing interview Fox has ever done.” You can judge for yourself.

Most embarrassing or no, the interview pushed sales of the book to number one on Amazon, dethroning the (JK Rowling) hardboil The Cuckoo’s Calling. Interestingly, both parties kind of blow it here. Green, because she apparently lacks some interviewing fundamentals and Aslan, because he backs himself intoma corner defending his right to write. Well, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, huh?

So far, quite a bit has been written on this book. CNN Belief Blog lists seven points that Aslan makes that stir the waters of faith, but really don’t make a new point. To this, Anthony Le Dunne reviews the book pointing out that the real weakness lies (not in Aslan’s absent theology), but in his unequipped Second Temple history (which, truthfully, I thought was the real value of the book). Of course, I have no way of knowing good Second Temple scholarship, because I’m no Second Temple Scholar. However, Le Dunne says that Simon Joseph is. The Christian Post offers a variety of commentary. And Stephen Prothero reviews the book for the Washington Post, quoted below.

In the end, “Zealot” offers readers not the historical Jesus but a Jesus for our place and time — an American Jesus for the 21st century, and more specifically for a post-Sept ’11 society struggling to make sense of Christianity’s ongoing rivalry with Islam.

Before I chime in, it’s worthy of note that in the FOX interview, Aslan might have overstated his qualifications a bit. This post is ridiculously long and not even a review of the book. I’m addressing some of the attacks on Scripture that this kind of writing usually delivers, Zealot notwithstanding.

I feel very defensive of the Biblical Jesus. I’m not going to lie. It’s not that I feel I have to defend him by any stretch. He’s God! He can do a fine job of that on his own. However, when an author tries to take him out of the pages of Scripture and drop him into the annuls of history-belongs-to-the-victor History, I want to step in and make a comment or two. Aslan’s book is fodder for that. Early on in his book, when he referred to the “brilliant Bertrand Russell” I knew we were in for a ride, and one that we’ve been on before. The Journey to find the Historical Jesus in 2013 is going to be a retread regardless who writes it. Russell may have been brilliant, but he was no Christian theologian.

At the root of “Zealot, the Life and Times…” lies distinction between those who read divinity in Jesus and those who read divinity into Jesus. Aslan is in pursuit of the “historical Jesus,” the Jesus that is completely separate from the Bible, into whom divinity must be read. His thesis is, like so many others, that Jesus’ God-hood is a later addition to the narrative of a Galilean wonder-working militant. I’ll address this below.

As a Muslim scholar, Reza Aslan is not going to believe in Jesus’ divinity.

There is no mystery about his perspective and it is to be commended academically. You can’t produce scholarship that is genuinely unbiased unless you examine your subject from all sides. You can even focus on one aspect and publish. However, you have to be honest about your delimitations. To a Muslim, Jesus is nothing more than a prophet. The second place prophet, but he is certainly not the Son of God. That’s why Green asks the repetitive question, “As a Muslim, why would you write a book about Jesu?”. It’s a good one, and one you have to keep in mind as you read this book. Within Christianity, Jesus is God. If he’s not, it’s not Christianity. You can’t have a Christian that believes Christ was human and not God.
Simple distinction.
Has to be made.

Humanism never builds lasting movements

If Jesus is not God, then he was a humanist leader, albeit a Jewish one. Humanism requires societies to improve based upon the goodness inherent in evolving human nature.
The more we learn and improve, the better the world gets. While I accept this in its ideal, I fail to see that it has actually made anything better. Aslan’s Christianity is nothing more, nothing less than humanism. The problem is that the Jesus movement has lasted 2,000 years. Goodness is relative, God-ness is not. The Kantian-Hegelian worldview has not produced the fruit of righteousness that humanism promises to deliver. While we have been witness to atrocity, the is no comparison to Jesus’ positive impact on both the world and it’s history. To catch the lasting goodness of what Jesus began read John Ortberg’s Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Nothing in history is comparable to the movement Jesus began.

What to do with Mark & Miracles

In order for Aslan (which feels ironic by this point thinking of the great feline Jesus in the Narnia stories) to have a book, you have to buy into a late date for the authorship of Mark, which is a necessity for a “militant human Jesus” perspective. Dating the Gospels is difficult and they are all up for grabs where this is concerned. In all likelihood, they weren’t written in one sitting. It took time. Almost like…writing a book about Jesus. Mark has adherents to an early 39-40CE date. There also exists the realistic possibility of a mid 60′s date. And then, the later date, which Historic Jesus scholars have to go with, is also an option and it hinges upon verse 13:2, “Jesus responded, ‘Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.’”

What this verse suggests is that Jesus is taking a prophetic glance at the future. For the believer, there is no problem here. It’s miraculous, which has no place what so ever in the pantheon of humanism. There is no supernature attributable to a human zealot Jesus, remember? So, the “logical” explanation is that Mark put these words into Jesus’ mouth after the final destruction of the Temple in 70CE at the hand of Romans. The other dates are certainly possible and would definitely explain how Matthew and Luke could get a hold of the Gospel of Mark, if you are able to maintain that Jesus was God and had insight into future events, which Historic Jesus adherents do not.

If Jesus was a human, there are no miracles. Late Mark = No Miracles. Maybe.

The Resurrection and The Witnesses

AssangeSince Resurrection is out of the question for Aslan, he spends little time or scholarship on it and instead moves onto Paul and his construction of a post-Jesus religion. As a result, I will spend little time here. We have to step out from behind out computer desks and recognize that there were witnesses to the Resurrection. To have any of this written down and having your name attached; someone at some point would have called “BS.” Right? If none of it were true, why attach your name to it and then stick with the story for the rest of your life? Even if it were going to be cut short by the blade of a saw. There are Julien Assange’s in every era. Christianity, especially in the first two centuries of the Church, cries out for scores of them. When the going got violent, the truth would have been spilled.

The Bible As A Source Document

Interlude. I always find it funny that Scripture is never handled as a source document. It’s always on trial as though nothing in it was factual, representative of fact, historical or representative of history. Jesus, the God-Man, doesn’t seem to bear out. I know, I know, I can hear the chorus of “well, the burden of proof is on him,” but hasn’t the historical timeline born that burden? How long can something remain so consistent and so doubted? Yes, there are written inconsistencies, but nothing that changes the 99% represented truth. Held up against documents of which we possess fewer and were written a thousand years after the fact, the bible holds up pretty well:

Jesus vs Universalism table

There would have been no martyrs

I realize that much has been written about the cult of martyrdom that surrounded Jesus. I’m not so versed in that subject that I feel qualified or organized around how many people actually gave up their lives for the sake of Jesus. However, it happened. My contention is that if Jesus were merely a historical zealot, as it appeared he was in the post-crucifixion Gospel narratives, then the whole house of cards would have just crumbled. The Disciples gathered in real fear, fear that what had happened to every other zealot crusader while Rome had been top dog would happen to them. They were waiting to face the same horror that Jesus had.

To his credit, Aslan does a great job chronicling the failed ‘messiah’ figures, then he points to Richard Horsely as his muse. Read Horsely. I’ve read him a ton and find him fabulously interesting, even if he’s not a raging evangelical.

Can you imagine dying a gruesome death, say…being eaten by lions, for a lie? Would you allow yourself to be burnt alive for a name that passed by like so many others before? A name that wasn’t above all names afterall? The Disciples weren’t theologians, but they weren’t ignorant cattle either. Which brings me to my next point.

The People That Were There Were Actually There

Historians that cow tow to this historical Jesus tend to treat the first century people a bit like they weren’t there, like they weren’t aware of the things that are so clear now thanks to modern scholarship. Aslan doesn’t end the book with Jesus, really. He winds up highlighting a very possible power struggle between Paul and James. In doing so, he sets up this dual church system: That of James the Just and that of Paul The Rogue. As if no one would have been aware had there been two Churches, Alsan assets that Paul could not overcome James and yet went around his back all over the Mediterranean world. My question is, since the people who began to canonize the scriptures early, being unofficially codified as early as the end of the second century, why would James and Paul have ended up in the same canon? Why didn’t two separate Scriptures develop, even beyond the Council of Rome in 382? If Paul was so outside the true faith, why didn’t he end up top man on his own campus?

Aslan is fitting pieces together that will always stand as kind of conjectural. It’s cool how he interlaces the two men’s passion and fury, but depending on the extant 4th century Pseudo-Clementines for his dominant narrative. That would be like arguing against the Synoptics based upon the Gospel of Judas. And just for fun, Aslan uses Josephus as a source, however uncritically. Josephus stands up to no scrutiny from the author.

The men and women surrounding the Jesus event, the Paul event and the early church were actually there. They would have noted a similarly violent tradition between the Bishop of all Bishops and Paul. So Why didn’t they?

Because Christianity survives as a result of Conspiracy

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If Aslan is correct and there is no historicity to the NT, then it’s only cleverly manicured narrative woven into the tapestry of history by the hyperactive scribes of the Christian conspiracy. Each detail would have to have been redacted throughout the ages to maintain a certain status quo, which would inevitably have to evolve. But not worry, the “scribes” could alter every existing document as necessary – they would have to. One thing we don’t tend to lend credence to is that “there are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament. If we were to compare the number of New Testament manuscripts to other ancient writings, we find that the New Testament manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity.” via

That’s ALOT of white out.

I know that Aslan would roll his eyes at this, but at a certain point, the Bible has to stand up for itself. No one is as stupid as the historical Jesus argument lays claim they would have to be. Are there difficulties with the Bible? Yes. Are there parts that are hard to reconcile? Absolutely. Does this mean, then that it’s claims are false, wholesale? Definitely not.

Perhaps, one day I’ll actually review the book instead of just mouth off against the rhetorical approach that a book of this type relies on. But for now that is all.

In Islam, the historical Jesus truly is a Jesus worth believing in, as Aslan concludes. However in Christianity, Aslan’s words go down like alcohol and gluten free beer. Instead we have to turn to a voice like C.S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.” Mere Christianity

Have you read anything about Reza Aslan and his new book? What are your thoughts?

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How To Drum Like Jesus

“But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ…” Rom 8:17

huge pearl drum set

I have a step brother, Cameron. While it always seemed like his was a lot older than me, the difference between us is only three years. When I was a child, Cameron was the coolest living person in the Universe. To say that I idolized him does a disservice to the word, “idol.”

Sometimes he would walk by me and the awesomeness that was in his shadow cast itself upon me and in that moment I knew what it was to feel like I was cool.

He was a drummer, which really meant he was cooler than cool. He was good, too. He was one of those drummers that could have different limbs doing different things at the same time and I wanted to be just like him.

So I bought a drum set and began to practice. I didn’t play because I wanted to be a great drummer. I played because I wanted to be like him. Then I learned to fall in love with music. In my wanting to be like him, I became a musician. I did switch to guitar…you didn’t have to lug so much to gigs.

Because I played guitar, I was invited to lead worship music in a church. Because of that, I began to feel called to full time ministry. Because of that, I finished seminary. Because of that, I am now a pastor in SoCal.

His example set a path for me. Strange when you think about it.

When Paul mentions that we are fellow heirs with Jesus, what he is saying is that Jesus is the big brother. Paul’s gospel (Romans) is an invitation to do what the big brother does; to learn how to become like him. The more we practice being like the big brother, the more we learn to love what we are doing.

There is a path, a way forward in life in all of this: a really uncomplicated, normal, ordinary explanation.

If your big brother is cool, and you want to be like him…there’s a life in that somewhere.

Who are the people you looked up to as a kid?
How did they help to shape who you are?
What do you look up to now?
How are they helping you become more of who you want to be?

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Jude: Liar Liar

Jude liar liar

In the first Jude post, I mentioned the fact that, like Jude, I have brothers. While none of them are Jesus, it helps me to accept the authorship of the Jude’s letter and the authority of Jesus.

Remember, Jude called himself a slave of his brother. No self respecting brother would do that. Unless…the brother was actually the Master.

The truth is, we are going to be a slave to something or someone: tastes, desires, soccer, alcohol, pornography, career, self-esteem, self-loathing, fear, money, etc…

Choosing a master is an important job.

If you had to take stock of your life, to whom or what would you say your were a slave to? Is it to things that have to be done in secret? Is it to the things that cause you the most fear and anxiety? Is it to possessions that you think will complete you? Satisfy you? Sex? Cash? Cars? More? Bigger? Better?

Everybody has the tendency to fixate on material, spiritual, emotional and intellectual “stuff” that we think will rescue us from whatever it is that we need to be saved from: boredom, irrelevance, fear, frustration, disaster, anger, pick your poison. The question is: Does it work? And we, of course, know that the answer is “No.” I imagine a life in service of a Porsche loses its luster right about the time the new car smell goes away.
So…now for the hard part.

A slave in the ancient world had no status and even worse, they had no rights. Slaves were property like tables are property, with the slight exception that masters were bothered when tables got scratched. Slaves were at the mercy of their masters.

Well, masters command. They can be cruel and shaming, benign and unsatisfying, or they can be awesome, forgiving, empowering and encouraging.

That latter is Jesus.

To call yourself a slave of Christ is to say that you belong to him. That your only hope for freedom comes through him. You your life, words and actions, are his to command.

It reminds me of this Jim Carrey film, Liar Liar. Carrey plays a lawyer who finds himself unable to lie. Despite his ability to bend the truth par excellence, he has to tell the truth. There’s an invisible force at work in him, battling his truthless nature.

To be a slave is to battle your nature and submit it to the master, hopefully with slightly less caricature than Carrey has in Liar Liar. If Jesus is the master, then it stands to reason that we have to do what he says. So…that means we need to know what he says, right.

Jude walks us through a life in Christ’s command, that is, how to be a slave to the only master worth serving.

Jesus calls us to follow him and serve him. What makes that difficult for you?

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Oklahoma: The Gods Must Be Angry

twister shot

We have really been through it as a nation lately. Last month, Boston. Last week, a massive twister set down in Texas, and yesterday, the brute force of nature devastated the people of Oklahoma. To be honest, this is destruction like I’ve never seen.

When things like this happen, it’s natural to jump to, “If God were real and good then things like this wouldn’t happen.” Again, we ask, “Where is God?” but to that we add, “If God is in control of all things, why would he do this?” Any minute, I’m expecting to hear some half-witted statement about about sin that God sent his personal whirlwind to punish.

Already, I’ve seen some perplexing tweets. Earlier I saw that Jay Bakker tweeted this:

Actually, while I think I understand his meaning, I believe that it’s far tougher to have faith in nothing when we witness natural disasters like the one in Oklahoma today.

The Gods Must Be Angry

In ancient cultures, many gods were worshipped. These gods were ornery characters that prayed upon the weaker humans. When something like an earthquake or a tornado happened, “The gods must be angry,” was the immediate assumption. In order to appease the gods, blood was spilt. Things and people were sacrificed. Any and everything was offered to make the gods feel better. It’s like they were a collective of toddlers in need of blood pacifiers and fear blankets.

But Jesus is not that God. God is not angry. Tornadoes do not fly from his hand. One of the prophets, Nahum, who was quite a poet, described God’s power like this: “The LORD is very patient but great in power; the LORD punishes. His way is in whirlwind and storm; clouds are the dust of his feet.” Out of context, some take this and twist it to mean that God uses weather to punish whoever he wants to punish. The terribly harmful theology that comes out of this can be aimed at things like what we witnessed yesterday, and probably will.

But this is wrong on two counts: first, Nahum is speaking to Nineveh, the capitol city of Babylon; the nation that enslaved Israel. The degree of their injustice was incalculable, and Nahum describes what a future event would be like. Second, a prophetic word like this one describes God’s power, not his attitude. “His way is in the whirlwind,” the force of it, the power. It doesn’t say anything like, “He sends tornadoes to kill people he doesn’t like.”

The Danger of Darkening Counsel

When something like this happens, I am reminded of Job, the persistent sufferer. I am also, and quite unfortunately, reminded of his three friends and Elihu, the stranger, who say the most ridiculous of things with intensity, conviction and sincerity. Their words are so sincere, in fact, that they are almost believable.

Toward the end of Job, Elihu appears as the consummate “know-it-all:”

“Wait a little while so I can demonstrate for you that there is still something more to say about God. I will draw from my broad knowledge, attribute justice to my maker. My words are certainly truthful; one with total knowledge is present with you. [36:2-4]“

Everyone likes to feel important, even if they don’t know what to say. If only they would stay silent.
Elihu tells Job, “He overturns the circling clouds [tornadoes]; by his guidance they do their work, doing everything he commands over the entire earth. Whether for punishment, for his world, or for kindness, God makes it all happen. [37:12-13]”

OK, Elihu has a point, God makes it all happen. But how? We don’t really know. However, Elihu claims he does. He’s sure and makes a strong case that when someone goes through what Job has, God has done it. Now, we as the reader know that it was Satan, and not God, that caused Job’s suffering (which I’ll come back to).

Regardless, God (who, ironically, is approaching in a whirlwind to restore Job) responds to Elihu’s words. Elihu who has sounded so intelligent, so knowledgable he tells us so himself, receives this from the Lord, “Who is this darkening counsel [idiot] with words lacking knowledge [and what is this idiot talking about]?” I’m sorry, what? But Elihu told Job all the stuff I would have told him: You’re all powerful. You’re strong. You make the BIG decisions. What did we miss?

Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

Paul addressed moments like yesterday. Like us, he was aware that things that happened in the world, in nature, didn’t add up to our over-idealized imaginations. I’m sure he worked his way through earthquake rubble and twister damage. He saw the savagery of nature first hand. His experience would have confirmed the mystery of God, the theology of nature.

“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.” [Romans 8:18, 20-22]

We live in a fallen world, a world that doesn’t act as God created it to. The natural world exists like humanity exists: in a state of rebellion against God, contrary to the way we were created. The whole creation groans. All of it. When a tornado destroys, creation groans. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. When a hurricane drowns, creation cries out. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. When children lie beneath fallen structures, creation cries out. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. The world is broken. It’s not how it’s supposed to be; not how it’s going to be. That day is coming, but until then…

Beware Of Darkness

Years ago, I feel in love with this cover of a George Harrison classic. The lyrics are fearsome and the melody is mesmerizing.

“Watch out now, take care,
Beware of the thoughts that linger,
Winding up inside your head,
The hopelessness around you,
In the dead of night”

This song reminds us that there is darkness that is beyond us, darkness that we cannot control. Like Peter warns in his letter, “Satan prowls like a roaring lion, seeking whom he will devour,” there is darkness that leave us hopeless in the dead of night. That’s what today is: Darkness.

We have to be careful not to give credit to God that is due Satan. Like Elihu, we jump to God’s power to control, without thinking about Satan’s lust to destroy. We don’t stop to consider that death, chaos and destruction is not God’s plan for the “world that he so loved that he gave his only Son.” In the Job story, it’s clear who the instigator, who the villain is: the one who subjected creation to frustration. Redemption is God’s plan for creation. The death part, that’s something else entirely. That’s darkness.

But as Harrison reminds us in the chorus, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Light is coming! Or as he puts it:

“Beware of Sadness,
It can hit you,
It can hurt you,
Make you sore and what is more,
That is not what you are here for.”

We Are Meant For More

A few minutes ago, my wife posted this on her facebook page:

Rebecca's fb status tornado

We were meant for that reality. The reality in which, God doesn’t throw tornadoes, but enters into their devastation. The reality in which God doesn’t punish the innocent, but upholds them, comforts them, heals and restores them. The reality in which light has defeated darkness, life has defeated death and peace has calmed the whirlwind.

That’s the reality we wait for.
That’s the reality we hope for.
That’s the reality that is on the way.
That is the reality that is already here.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [Rev 21:3-4]

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Jude: Three Brothers

Jude Header Three Brothers

Last summer I started writing a devotional commentary on the Letter of Jude and I’m almost finished with the rough draft. Yeah, it’s taken a while. Spending a year with Jude has been awesome, so I plan to share the awesomeness with you on Tuesdays until I can make it available.

I have three brothers.

I’m not near as close to them as I’d like, but they are mine none the less. One of the many privileges of brothers is that we see through each others stuff. We don’t let each other get away with things. We’re not afraid to say hard things, cause like what are you going to do? Divorce me? Being Family is trickier than being friends for this reason. You can’t escape. You can try and trick, you can try and fool, but brothers see through everything.

Jude Cover ImageThe way that Jude begins his letter is not a mystery to those of us with a sibling. He let two things be known. First, he is the slave of Jesus. Second, he is the brother of James, the most powerful man in the Church (save Peter). That’s a pretty awesome resume. Except it’s not. It’s a list of three brother. When I had been a “Christian” for just a few days, I read this letter and trusted this letter.

See, James, the brother of Jesus, was also the brother of Jude. Therefore, Jesus is the real deal. Jesus is who he says he is. I love my brothers, but I’m not about to say that I’m their slave, or what is worse, that they are my master. I know who they are. They’d make me do embarrassing stuff. I’d have to clean disgusting things and sleep outside occasionally. I’d have to buy a lot of beer and they would call me names the way brothers can.

For Jude to say that he was a slave of his brother, the older brother that used him as a tackling dummy, the older brother that didn’t let him hang out with his older friends, the older brother that left the house first, Jude must have been really clear about who Jesus was. I doubt he simply lost a bet.

Interestingly, Jude doesn’t say he’s Jesus’ brother, though. He leaves that for us to put together. He does tell us that James is his brother, though. James was a celebrity. James was big time.

Jude reminds me of Fred Claus.

Can you imagine Jude in that recovery circle?

Everything that Jude says beyond this point is built upon his knowledge of his brother Jesus. If Jesus was a fake, Jude would know it. If Jesus was a sham, Jude would have broadcast it. Brothers know these things. If he thinks that Jesus is the Messiah, I’m inclined to believe him.

Have you ever read Jude’s Letter? What questions come to mind that you’d like to have answered?

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Jesus Christ: Church Planter

Did you know that Jesus actually did plant a church?
Yeah, it met outdoors and then found a house to meet in.

church plantingThere was an awesome ratio of men to women, they all shared common experience and each of them had a personal relationship with Jesus. It sounds legit. It sounds Hipster. It sounds like a revolution and the way things should be done if you want to do church the way Jesus “intended”. I mean Jesus was the lead pastor, right?

Sometimes, I get the feeling that the church is trying too hard to be cool. The music is cool. The location is relevant. The preaching is authentic and the clergy collar has been replaced by the soul patch (or goteé). But that’s not how Jesus planted his church. Jesus built a church around who was there. Jesus modeled it in all of its inglorious beauty, which was actually cool.

Jesus’ house church was planted while he was on the cross.

Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “ Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “ Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27

A beautiful and sad church gathered at the foot of the cross. I don’t know if it would have been very popular, though. It’s probably not the church that many church planters are trying to start. It’s debatable whether many people would attend a second time.

The congregation was made up of a grieving mother, her married sister, an ex-demon possessed woman and an out of work disciple.

One dude. Three women. Every one of them not in a very good head space.

This was not a pretty church, not a controlled church. This was not the church that young people would want to raise their kids in. This church wasn’t going to have big buildings. The cool cats weren’t going to be the worship band.

It was a church that was built upon two competing realities:

One, that the church began with a murder,
was fueled by the suffering and sorrow of everyday anxiety and fear;
and Two, that this church was going to be the hope of the world.

If any of these people showed up on a Sunday would you feel comfortable? It’s a tough question to answer honestly. We know we are supposed to love our neighbor and all that stuff, but do we really want to worship with them? I mean, won’t their problems overshadow mine? Won’t they get all the attention? Won’t they bogart the positive vibes?

But that’s Church: Messy. Dangerous. Suffering.

I find the church that Jesus planted pretty exciting.
We are a part of it when we are at our worst.
It includes everybody.
Broken and Bent.
It includes…us.
And, well…that’s cool.

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