Thursday, September 22, 2005

Good grief, guys, I AM the way.

Read John 14:1-11

Even though I did indeed teach it yesterday to the inmates at the county jail where I teach every week, this passage is for the believer. Christ has promising and encouraging words, words meant to sustain his beloved. The disciples are the immediate first-hand receivers of the words, but they represent all disciples for all time.

Christ is about to enter into the period of betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Entering into perhaps the most intense moments any human has ever experienced, his words are profound: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” “Trust” may be used in place of “believe.” Christ’s words ring throughout the ages for all who are betrayed, persecuted, and facing death. The disciples who heard them first-hand must have relied on them in the future years of travel, persecution, and utterly painful death.

Then he speaks of a future hope – one in the Father’s house. His preparation on the cross makes way for our ability to dwell there. We will never have to worry about things we know little about, things probably necessary in the preparation for our being with the Father.

Christ simply yet profoundly describes how great this place will be: “that where I am, there you may be also.” The immediate hearers (the disciples) had seen Christ’s whole ministry on earth. They knew who he was. They desired to be like him, to know the Father like he does. They saw the satisfaction in Christ’s life, the authority that his words and ways had, and now his promise is that they too can be where he is. And he said that he has already shown them the way.

But the doubt in us (as personified by Thomas) quite often darkens the hope in Christ’s message – “Wait a second, how can we be sure we know the way? We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” If God is ever frustrated (which I believe he only can be after millennia of dealing with us), here is one instance. Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?” to which Jesus responds, “Thomas…I AM THE WAY! And the truth and the life. You come to the Father by knowing me!” And “knowing” Christ includes knowing his life, his ways, his motives, the very essence of who he is. Jokes are often made about “knowing someone”, an allusion to the intimate connection between two people. The analogy is exactly fitting here – “knowing” Christ is to be quite intimate with who he is. And to know him is to know the father.

In Christ’s statement that he is the way, the truth, and the life is the declaration that he is everything. Everything good that there is, he is. Truth and life represent the desires of man and he is the culmination of truth and life all in one. Though popularly known, we cannot ignore the fact anywhere that this is one of the predicate nominative statements in John where Christ declares that he is the I AM God (ego eimi) that Moses met in Exodus. It is a profound statement for the Jews who heard it. The power of the statement (and others like it in John) must not be lost in today’s English or any other translated language. It is easy to get lost in the predicate nominative and miss the power of the subject and verb – Jesus is God.

Yet again, our humanity and our inadequacies step in (this time personified by Philip): “Wait a second Lord, just show us the Father, then we will be satisfied.” Here, it is easy to chastise Philip. We can say, “Come on Philip, he just said that if we know him, we know the Father.” Perhaps our judgment would be pretty hasty, however.

And Jesus’ response is tenderer than any of ours would be, though it might hint at frustration: “Are you kidding me? I’ve been with you all this time and yet you still don’t know that when you see me, you see the Father?” Contemporary parallels are numerous – we often miss God when he’s staring right at us.

The end of Jesus’ response is interesting – “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” It is easy to imagine how the first “option” is harder for disciples today to live up to than the second. The immediate disciples of Jesus who were listening to his words were there to see his signs and hear his voice’s declaration that he was indeed the Son of God. We have simply their testimony of his declaration. But, we do have evidence of his works. Anyone who has accepted the teachings of Christ and has experienced his love, forgiveness, and leadership in life can attest to the work of Christ. It is from this work in our individual lives that we are most able to believe that he is the Son of God. Either way, we are to believe that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him.

- J

Friday, September 16, 2005

Problem Solving One At A Time

This post is partly in response to Hurricane Katrina aftereffects, partly in response to church growth techniques, and partly in response to ministry as a whole.

This is a personal response, meaning that this is how I view it. I do not necessarily offer this as prescriptive for everyone or the whole Church (though perhaps for the local church).

Part of the problem with followers of Christ in the United States is that we look at a problem in the world and wonder how it can be solved holistically and exhaustively. This is an admirable goal. But it's not pragmatic or realistic and since it is so, we get frustrated

So when we look at a situation, we need to try and see individuals and individual families. As overused as it may be and as hokey as the punchline may sound, the illustration from Chicken Soup for the Soul of the man saving the starfish serves my point well.

Now there are times that if we work together (the Church), we can accomplish great things. But when we bring it down to a local or personal level, we need to realize what we can do without being overwhelmed by the mass of the situation.

We can apply this to how we look at Hurricane Katrina. More regularly, we can apply this when we do ministry in the local church. Don't get caught up in the success of numbers. Don't get caught up just in the workings of a program.

Rather, make a difference one individual or one family at a time.

- J

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Christian "Apologetics"

If you have not yet been exposed to Fred Phelps and his followers, feel free to click on his name, but beware my warning of crude language, prejudiced judgment, and heretical conclusions wholly contrary to Christ. If you wish to not see the website, then just know that "Rev." Phelps and his church believe their role in God's kingdom is to be a prophetic voice against the homosexual lifestyle and anyone who offers any kind of positive response to it. They boast of picketing over 22,000 events in fulfillment of this "call." I myself have run into these guys a couple of times. They have picketed my seminary's graduation in the past. I saw five-year-old little girls holding graphic picket signs when I went to pastors' meetings last year in Kansas City. They picketed the high school in my mother's small-town school district because they have a club called the "Gay Straight Alliance" set out in the hope to create amiabililty. They even have plans to picket Billy Graham's funeral (he's not even dead yet).

We all should have known that it would come and it did, almost immediately. "Rev." Phelps has connected Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath with the wrath of God against the US (see "Thank God for Katrina!"). The point of my post is not necessarily to argue against his point. I'd hate to waste the bandwidth on that. It is hard for me to think that I even live in the same state as these guys.

But it's not just extremists like Phelps. Individuals in on-line Christian community in which I often participate have said close to the same - that because of things such as homosexuality and abortion, God has demonstrated his wrath.

Here's a question:
If God were going to demonstrate his wrath against a sinful people, would the earth not have been obliterated long ago?

Again, I don't want to argue against the point too much. People who have come to that conclusion are probably not going to be swayed from their position.

Rather, my point here is that I am sick of having to defend Christ and his message to my friends who do not follow him. It is no wonder that the gap between the Church and marginalized groups is so wide. How can I expect people to hear the message of Christ when we have extremists like Phelps and others who dogmatically point out what they see as the horridness of the sins of others. Where is the good news in that?

Here's the good news:
God does not demonstrate his wrath! In fact, au contraire! On the contrary, God has demonstrated again and again reconciliation for a sinful world (most notably through Christ). What does that mean? In other words, it means that rather than destroy a pathetically sinful world, God has chosen rather to redeem, reconcile, reverse, "repentify," and return the created world to his original intention - an image of his holy love.

Do we need prophetic voices?
"Absolutely. We need voices that call people back to God."
Do we need human judgement?
I tend to think, "Absolutely not."

- J

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


My son is over five months old now. Over the last few months, many have asked me how it is being a father. Or they'll ask, "How's fatherhood?" I have to admit, his arrival wasn't mind-bogglingly life-changing all at once the day he was born. First off, we'd been anticipating his arrival for eight months or so.

But the changes and joys have come gradually over the days and weeks. When he was first born, sure, it was amazing. But honestly, it's only the last couple of months during which I have really begun to enjoy him. To watch his personality, sounds, and body develop is incredible. God is quite creative in the life process. What a responsibility and privilege it is to be able to take a crucial role in it.

I'm in two intensive two-week seminary classes right now. I'm on campus 14 hours a day. Of course, Brayden Wesley is asleep when I get home. He wakes up after I do, and I only get a few minutes of awake-time with him. During this week and last it has been awesome to watch his developments. He's noticeably bigger and making new sounds. He is a whole lot more responsive to me and my face.

Meghan and I pray every night for better discernment and more love for Brayden. It's hard to imagine loving him more, but it seems to increase anyway.

- J

Americanology: Freedom

I've often said that American society and culture has had a hurtful impact on the Church. I'm not simply speaking of the separation from God and godlessness and godlilessness, though that has an impact on the Church as it has with any society in which she has found herself throughout history. Rather, I'm concerned with how American societal and cultural trends and methods have impacted those within the Church, including leadership.

For one, the way we speak about God and his ways are convoluded by "Americanology". I suppose I interject here to say that few are more intent than I am about making scripture and discussion of God understandable for everyone. Part of that includes using terminology that people understand to help them grasp who God is.

But sometimes, with our hope to impact the culture by using the culture, we ourselves are impacted. This can be good and often is bad.

One such instance is the use of the word "freedom."

I quite often (and indeed, just yesterday) hear or read the freedom that comes with Christ not only paralleled to, but equated to the freedom that the United States provides. Some more authoritative and more educated than I would label this "heresy." I try not to use that word (I just don't feel I have the authority, certainly not as an individual standing alone...yet another discussion for another day).

For example, I've heard that "We must fight for freedom by the grace of God." Or even some age-old statements like "Give me liberty or give me death." The freedom that the United States provides is not the freedom that we read of in scripture.

I realize that I can "worship freely" here in the United States. I realize that I have "freedom of religion." I thank God that I do not have to worry about walking into my church every Sunday. I really do. I thank God that I've never needed an armed escort to make it to the pulpit to preach. I thank God that the only persecution I've ever experienced has come from fellow students in elementary school (which really isn't persecution).

BUT...I am increasingly convinced that we (followers of Christ in the United States) and the message we carry have been negatively affected by American culture, politics, and "freedom." If this means you need to call me unpatriotic, traitorous, or a treasonous, then okay. Where I am missing anything of Christ, though, please point it out. Therein (Christ) lies my concern.

I feel as though I'm rambling. Perhaps my point would be clearer to again quote Stanley Hauerwas: "We must remember that their liberty is not the liberty of God, nor is their justice the justice that we have come to know through being a member of God's people. Our task is not to make these nations the church, but rather to remind them that they are but nations...For the idolatry most convenient to us all remains the presumed primacy of the nation-state." (A Community of Character)

I heard the story told recently of a church that had a southern gospel group come to sing in the Sunday morning service. Their last number was "Proud To Be An American." At the end of the song, at least one was on his/her knee with a hand raised to the American flag that was in the sanctuary. (No commentary needed.)

I would clarify my contention by saying that people of the United States are quite often striving to support a good cause. I am not necessarily trying to equate the United States with evil. But I am necessarily saying that the United States does not equal the cause of the Judeo-Christian God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. That may sound obvious to some, but it is not obvious in many practices of the American Church and the speech and hearts of many Americans who call themselves Christians.

- J

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Response to Katrina

I haven't posted in a while, but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about a lot. I quite often begin a post and then never publish it. Perhaps this is one that I should not post. But if you're reading this, apparently I did post it.

I have been in classes all this week both in the morning (8:00-12:15) and in the evening (5:30-9:45). In "down times," I have read a lot about Katrina, the wake of her destruction, and the response of people. There's a lot that I have thought and could write, but I'll try to keep this short.

As you may know, I pay attention quite a bit to discussion on Naznet. There has been much time spent on the hurricane Katrina there. It is incredible (though not necessarily surprising) that discussion very quickly went to talk of things such as oil and money, God's judgment on New Orleans and the area, and chastisement of looters. Some wanted to argue about the United States and how "generous" she is towards other countries, posing, "Will other countries respond as generously as we do for them?"

I am sick of followers of Christ judging, theorizing, justifying, and arguing on the basis of democratic (small "d"), financial, and other worldly bases.

One person said, "The USA does not give to get." Are you kidding me? If the statement read, "The American Church does not give to get", I might agree. But I'd rather say, "The Church does not give to get." However, contrary to popular holding, I don't equate the USA with the Church. The USA only gives to get.

Generosity is not measured by amount...but by heart.

I fear response to this post. I don't want to hear of "pragmatics."

Another person said, "With New Orleans being a city full of the false religions and worship brought over from other countries like Haiti and Jamaica, is this a judgement from God. and then there is Biloxi with all of the casinos?" (I'll grant that the original poster of this question said that it was not judgment, but the ensuing discussion went both ways.) It's a good thing God has all of us to delineate his judgment on the world. How else was New Orleans to know? (Read with cynicism.)

I just came from chapel at NTS (we're over halfway through the first week of two-week intensive "module" classes).

Rev. David Busic (pastor at OKC Bethany CotN) preached from II Samuel, the story of a crippled Mephibosheth and David's "kindness" (or as Rev. Busic preferred, "faithful love") to him. I'm not sure I've heard a better human vessel of God's word than Rev. Busic allows himself to be.

I wish I could transcribe the whole message to you here (and it will be on NTS's chapel website at somepoint in audio form), but I can't. Allow me to highlight some points:
- David made true on a promise made long before he became king
- David demonstrated faithful love when, by all human standards, he had no reason to do so.
- David demonstrated faithful love regardless of thought of
..."what's in it for me?"
...or "will it be returned in the future if I'm in the same situation?"
...or "does he deserve this love?"
...or "hmmm...let's see if he'll do the same for me later on." (which in fact, we never know if Mephibosheth did or did not show David faithfulness...but he had the chance to)
- Mephibosheth was indeed David's enemy

And lastly...Rev. Busic connected the story to Jesus himself.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

We ourselves were enemies of God...yet he demonstrated faithful love to us. (Romans 5:10)

Perhaps, in the wake of a crippling storm, I can forget gas prices, judgment, "they should have left" talk, and inconsiderate looters and live striving to be of a faithful love.

- J