Tag Archives: Jesus

Pre-School Theology: Existential Christmas

This week was a big week for our family because the kids really love decorating the house for Christmas.  So me and the kids go to town and transform half of our house into Christmas central.

While we were doing some decorating my son, who just turned five, started asking questions. The wheels are turning. He’s on the verge of figuring out the truth about Santa.

He first started expressing skepticism about reindeer.

“They’re deer after all. And if they are still just deer – how can they fly? Are their reindeer that can really fly?”

But shortly thereafter I was blown away when he asked verbatim, with a very amount of emotion and earnestness,

“I don’t understand. To get presents from Santa, how good do you have to be? How does He know?  Is it true?  I don’t know how good I’m supposed to be to get presents.  How do I know how good I’ve been?

….or is it all a big joke?   What’s real?”

I thought to myself, “Wow. Isn’t that what most people have to wrestle with in life at one point or another?”  My son doesn’t jump out as the philosophical type if you experience our family, but he consistently blows me away with some of his questions and what he thinks about. This led to a good conversation about grace and works in achieving favor with God.

Life sooner or later will feel like a big joke when we try, without being anchored in Jesus Christ and the meaning he gives to our existence, to get a handle on the question about whether we are good enough or how to know how good we need to be.  I for one am thankful that God brought me to a point where I had to face the bold truth that I could never be good enough to be accepted and forgiven by God.  And that he had created me with dignity and with a purpose and that I could be good enough through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So it was a great conversation to break (or weaken at least) the bad theology of the naughty and nice list and present a more true and beautiful picture of how God sees those who are found in His son Jesus.   He hasn’t fully tossed the idea of Santa into the trash can yet, but it is fun seeing him not put as much at stake in the celebrated human and worldly tradition of performing for blessing  – whether the object is Santa or, on a much bigger level, God.

Ho, Ho, Ho 🙂   Love this time of year with young kids though.  Very fun.

MOTO Theology: Deny Thyself

Has it ever struck you that there are key points of truth in the Scriptures that at the core are quite obvious to the honest reader, yet somehow they get lost in the day to day practice of faith amidst the minutiae of life and the overwhelming scope of information and content offered?

Today it is all too easy to get lost.  When we recognize that we are lost, one of the practical and wise courses to take is a return to simplicity or as many like to say, “return to the basics.”

I don’t plan on offering new or profound insight in what I’m calling “Master Of The Obvious (MOTO) Theology” though I hope over time to work out some of those key things that are fairly simple and obvious, yet ignored or dismissed far too casually for a variety of reasons.   As I write I’m mindful that it is part of the spiritual warfare of the enemies of God to hide most obvious and central things behind a veil of other information and ideas, good though they might often be, to undermine our consistent reflection on that which is central and vital to living faithful and holy lives.  I don’t know how often I’ll post along these lines, but here’s the first post.

In my reading last week I was struck by the simplicity and obvious central commands in this teaching of Jesus to his followers in Luke 9:23,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

The more I reflect on this passage in the context of contemporary culture (in the west especially) and Christian culture in the west, the more I’m blown away by just how peripheral this truth and command has become,  routinely resting in the shadows of much religious activity or simple day to day living.

Whether it be in the area of finances, exercising influence from  position of power, relationships including marriage, cross-cultural tensions, or even personal habits – so much of the advice out there given in the name of Jesus doesn’t seem to call people to the kind of commitment of faith and sacrifice that rests at the foundation of a life of obedience.

We’re in a personal rights culture and that seems to be the case in the Church today as well – yet such an ethos is in direct conflict with the call of Jesus – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Denying all of our “rights” and embracing the suffering that comes with serving others in love, faith, and obedience is not an attractive message to many – yet it is the path to true beauty.

After reflecting on this theme I came across a poem called “The Cross” by John Donne (early 17th century) in Ben Witherington III and Christopher Mead Armitage’s The Poetry of Piety and this is what they offer in their reflection on “The Cross”:

“…Christians are called to be cross bearers, not merely cross wearers, and we must cross out the selfish and self indulgent tendencies that are antithetical to following Christ’s example.

…there is no gospel of self-indulgence or health and wealth or conspicuous consumption, despite what is being preached from some pulpits today.

Yet it is possible for us to willingly make sacrifices so that we see ourselves in true perspective and also imitate the one to whom all lesser cross patterns point. Paradoxically, only a self-confident person is able to step down as Christ did and make sacrifices for others, however humiliating the act may be.”

Denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily in faith is an obvious and central truth to what discipleship to Christ means.  It’s simple in some ways. Yet denial of self and cross-bearing are anything but simple. Willful suffering for the sake of Christ and others is not simple. Pain never is.  Yet nonetheless, that is the path of discipleship and fortunately we have a Savior who has shown us the way, lived this life in perfection, and given us a great power to live this life despite the calling of the world to make sure we get what we’re “owed.”

There’s so much I and so many others feel entitled to in this life.  It’s a hard truth indeed to digest as I try to put myself in the crowd when Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Have we forgotten that this is part of the core DNA of following Christ?

I know I forget this all too often and am so thankful for God’s mercy and grace as we persevere in the journey.

 

 

Brief Review: The Faces of Jesus

I just finished reading The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story by Frederick Buechner and wanted to pass on a few thoughts.  First, I really enjoyed this book.  I found it to be a great devotional supplement for reflection and meditation.

The book is fairly short – less than 100 pages and is divided into 7 chapters ranging from the Anunciation of the coming of Christ to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

The book for the most part I found to be very beautifully written and there were some sections that were just incredible I thought.  There are points where I think Buechner drifts a little bit into the poetic and abstract in his imagination of what was going on during the life of Christ. I think Jesus in the Scriptures has much more concreteness to him that what some paragraphs lend themselves to.  But nevertheless, I think the author successfully provides a road map of reflection of the journey of Christ and its implications for each person.  Very powerful.

Personally – I actually found the prologue or introduction to be my favorite part of the whole book. Not sure I have ever said that before.  But beautifully written and powerful.

So if you’re looking for something devotional or that will stimulate your reflection on Jesus and the life of Christ, this could be a great option for you – especially if you appreciate imaginative reflection as a literary style.

 

6 Things I’m Learning About Servant Leadership (Guest Post)

I’m pleased to have another guest post on servant leadership, this one from Devin Tressler who currently with his wife are the Destino Missional Team Leaders at Texas A&M University.  Devin is a participant right now in the Systems & Power Leadership Community and I thought this was too good to just be seen by a few people.

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It just occurred to me that “Servant Leadership” is an oxymoron.

I used to think it was pretty simple: servant leadership, so I thought, consisted of putting everyone else’s needs before my own, all the time. But that has gotten tricky because I’ve found myself unable to say no ever, to anything. That’s not leadership because the person who never says no to anything isn’t able to lead in a particular direction.

On the other hand, usually it’s usually the leader who has servants–people who follow the leader around and do what they are told. You could be a benevolent leader–one who looks out for the interests of the lowly, but a servant belongs to his leader, and is subject to his will.

In the past, people have called me a good servant leader when I’ve done background tasks, or lowly tasks, or when I’ve led by example…I think people sometimes mean “not a hypocrite” or “down to earth” when they say “servant leader”.

A leader who is also a servant, if I really think hard about it, is pretty difficult to imagine. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant…just as the Son of Man did not come to be serve but to serve.”

Maybe the best way to think of it is this: A leader who is also a servant is in the habit of giving away their power for the objective good of others. They aren’t subject to the will of every person around them, but instead are looking out for the real good, as God would define it, of other people. Here are a couple implications I can think of, in no particular order:

  1. Servant leaders need to give their power away because there is injustice. In this world, power is a limited resource and people fight for it. If powerless people can get power, there will be more justice.
  2. Servant Leaders are able to give their power away because, in light of their relationship with Christ, power is no longer a scarce resource. Christ has infinite power and that same power has given us life.
  3. Servant Leaders need to depend on Jesus, hear from him, and obey him. This is so vital because they are trying to look out for the real good of people as God defines it. It’s so easy to miss what God really wants and what justice really is, and to revert to the way the rest of the world works.
  4. If you’re listening to and obeying God, God’s will will certainly clash with what others want (not to mention what you, in your flesh, want). In order to be a Servant Leader, you need to develop the skill of caring first and foremost about God’s opinion, and shake off the grip of all the other opinions in your life. That’s super difficult!
  5. For me, this means I need to have my conceptions of leadership molded to Christ’s example. I also need to ask frequently whether this or that decision is a.) seeking the real good that God desires, b.) is just me trying to please the most people, or c.) is me trying to hold onto as much power as my cold dead fingers can grip.
  6. One really practical implication (and the only really practical thing on this list) is that I need to be much less afraid of not having control. If you give away power to others, you can’t control the outcome. But if you give away power to people who used to not have any, you give them a chance to grow. Recently I found out that if you just hand over the reigns to someone else, with very little direction or support, you’ll probably get into trouble. I’m trying to figure out practically how to support and give direction when I give away power and control, but just don’t know how to do that yet.

What do you think?  What are you learning about Servant Leadership?

 

Advent and the Most Pernicious Program of All

Here’s the third post in my Advent and Star Trek series where we actually get to the advent part! This was originally posted on December, 3, 2011
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So have you ever thought of Star Trek’s “Borg” and Advent in the same thought and discussion?  Probably not.  But here it goes.  Of course context helps as this is part three of a three part mini-blog series entitled “collective fusion” so you can get part one here (Collective Fusion: Resistance is Not Futile) and part two here (Self: The Most Pernicious Program of All). This won’t have the same meaning or coherence without that backdrop 🙂

In part two, I mentioned the quote from the Stark Trek episode I stumbled upon while hanging out late night with my infant daughter.  In response to a crisis about whether to return a lost Borg to its collective with its memory or erase it, the captain says, “Perhaps that’s the most pernicious program of all – the knowledge of self being spread throughout the collective in that brief moment might alter them forever.”

As I’ve been thinking about the incarnation of Christ now that it’s the beginning of Advent, I see some connections with the role Jesus played when he, to use The Message’s version of John 1, “moved into the neighborhood.”

Even a person without faith should marvel at the life of Christ – particularly as it relates to his ability from the age of 12 and during the course of his public ministry to live out of His true self and His true identity and conversely his capacity to not let others define him or co-opt him.

Jesus entered into a volatile political climate with a lot of intensity and anxiety about religion and the law as well as in local politics.  Much of what does not get discussed frequently about Jesus is just how many forces there were that consistently sought to hijack who Jesus was and what He was about for their own purposes.  The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Romans, and even the disciples and the masses all directed hopes and expectations at times towards him in an effort to get Him to conform to their agenda and paradigm of religion and spirituality.

Jesus never conformed or compromised.  For clarity – he was uncompromising as it relates to his identity and his values and vision of what God intended for people to live out and experience as opposed to being uncompromising related to doctrinal debates.

Jesus’ presence as a real human in real human community and social/political/economic life altered the entire system into which he was born.  Jesus didn’t alter, compromise, or surrender his identity or self for the many anxious folk around him.   And as a result, lives were transformed and the world was changed forever.

As you think about this holiday season – think about some of those moments in which Jesus was being tempted to surrender himself (His very self!) to others to eliminate their anxiety and fear.  How about when Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus decides it’s time to go to Jerusalem?  How about when Jesus is being questioned by Pontius Pilate?  How about even when Jesus is 12 and is questioned by his parents when they left Jerusalem without him?  How about when Jesus he is a target of political and religious scheming in many of the debates between the Pharisees and Sadducees?  How about when the demands of the poor and the sick never cease to come to him?  Or when he is being tortured and killed?

Jesus never conformed or forfeited his own self and identity.  And he ultimately was killed as a result.  But that was the plan wasn’t it?  To reveal in flesh the image of God and the will and heart of God?  He no doubt knew what was coming and the price that comes with such a revolution.  Yet he had the character and integrity of self to forge through the anxiety and the pain that stood between Him and fulfilling His calling.Never before or since has such a self transformed people’s lives and the world in which He lived.  It was the perfect execution of “the most pernicious program of all” and the power at work then is the same power at work today.

So this Advent season, you may not think of the Borg naturally, but at least think of Jesus as the one who’s presence and power can move into any “neighborhood” (family, community, workplace…) and change it forever.  But for any of us to see that happen, we first and foremost need that presence and power to change us – shaping and conforming us into the type of “self” that can engage in transformational and redemptive ways with those around us without getting co-opted for the sake of alleviating others’ anxiety, insecurity, or fear.

Where do you hope to embody that same power and presence that comes from God this Christmas season?

And with that I can say I’ll probably go another 700 posts before hitting anything Star Trek related again 🙂

Quick Thots on King Jesus Gospel

I just finished Scot McKnight’s most recent book King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited and wanted to share a few thoughts.  I’m not going to do a big review here.  I’ll redirect you to a review my friend Mike did on this book a month or so ago.  I’m not sure I would write much different than him.

A co-worker I serve with in the Theological Development world of my organization told me he thought it was both brilliant and frustrating.  I felt the same thing, but found it in general to be way more brilliant than frustrating.

This book is a really important book for Evangelicals especially to wrestle with given the long history of limiting the gospel to what McKnight calls “the plan of salvation.”  In particular, this book offers a pretty strong critique of some of the methods and traditions of my own ministry organization.  Internal debates about “the gospel” have been taking place outside and within my organization for a long time.  This book provides as good of a framework as I’ve seen for exploring what really is “the gospel” as the New Testament teaches it.

The best way to summarize the book is that the reason the church today has more of a “salvation culture” versus a robust “gospel culture” is anchored in the way we’re framing and teaching the “gospel.” He argues that stripping the “gospel” of the full story of Jesus in the context of the story of Israel has led to an incomplete and insufficient gospel for the church and the lost both.

I think this really would be one of the top books I would recommend to people as believers or as ministers.  It’s a significant book.  Check out my friend Mike’s review on it.  But I’ll add this.

One of the gems of this book is that there are multiple appendices.  I found it incredible to just read through some of them as they are organized by passages in the New Testament where the gospel is being framed and spoken.  Going through these gospel sermons in Acts and other books one after the other was one of the most devotional and transformational things I’ve done in a while.

So I’d encourage you to move this to the top of your reading list.  You may be bothered by it, you may be troubled, you may be inspired and find it to be refreshing and hopeful as you consider the future of your life and ministry.

 

 

My 3 Year Old’s Christology

My son has given us some great moments this past month, particularly on the spiritual front. It’s clear he has a Christology of his own right now regarding who Jesus is and what he does.  I’ll illustrate with three examples, all from the last few weeks.

He may not be too far off the mark 🙂

Jesus is the Creator of all things…including Gold Bond

I got a text from my wife one morning while at a staff meeting that my son was making an impassioned request for some gold bond after his morning shower.  He told my wife that he needed it and that she needed to get it for him because Jesus made Gold Bond.

Now I’ll confess I bought a 99 cent travel bottle of gold bond because I wanted to see what he would do experiencing it.  When asked if he likes Gold Bond he’ll say “Yes.” When asked why he’ll say, “Because it feels hot and cold at the same time!” Thank you Jesus for creating Gold Bond! 🙂

Jesus is Omnipotent and Strong…and is also Indestructible with big time Ninja Skills

One evening he comes up to me randomly doing all sorts of martial arts moves and flexing and making faces like he’s weightlifting or in a battle.  I ask him who he’s supposed to be, “Spiderman? Superman?”   He says, “No!  I’m Jesus. Jesus is Strong!”

I wasn’t prepared for that and I almost fell over I thought it was so funny.  Not sure how some of these things are coming together, but three year old’s are pretty concrete in their interpretations of what they hear.  And Jesus apparently has superhero status right now.

Jesus as the Re-Creator and Redeemer

One of my favorite stories was when my son was playing with some cars with my dad.  He gave my dad an older car and my dad said something like, “This car is a good one for me.  It’s old and I’m old.”  I walked in and caught this tail end of the conversation where Colin then says, “But no!  Jesus makes you brand new!”  All of us were I think taken a little aback by that one, but thought it was amazing.

Colin did express a prayer this summer asking Jesus to forgive him for the things he’s done wrong and disobeyed and asked Jesus to come into his life.  There was a conversation going on at the dinner table that led to that and he wanted to do that as he was hearing his 6 year old sister break down some of her own theology.  I won’t get bogged down by the questions about early childhood confessions of faith, but I’ll share with you his basic prayer this summer which was amazing.

His prayer was, “Jesus God, forgive me for the bad things I do and come into my heart….but I don’t want a new body.” The idea of a new body after this life was deeply disturbing to him 🙂

Kids are great.

 

 

Quick Review: Imaginary Jesus

I just finished Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos and wanted to do up a quick review.  A lot of people I know read this way before me as the author is a fellow staff member of my ministry organization.

I read it mostly because this book is being included in a lot of outreach materials on college campuses right now and also because my wife was roommates with the author’s sister for a while and we knew her pretty well. But that being said, I didn’t know much about the actual book until I read it.

The story is a fantasy, semi-autobiographical  journey as the author learns that the Jesus he follows is really a Jesus of his own making, “Imaginary Jesus.” The story is a pursuit to find the Imaginary Jesus and get rid of him so that he can find the real Jesus.  In the course of the journey he has a variety of conversations and experiences about faith and Jesus with many other Imaginary Jesuses as well as with other characters such as Peter, John, Mary, and talking donkeys.

Some of the expected Jesus projections were Legalist Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Social Justice Jesus, and Prosperity Jesus.

Some of the unexpected that quite enjoyed their inclusion even if it was short was Model Jesus, Broomstick Jesus (aka Harry Potter Jesus), and Testosterone (Men’s Retreat) Jesus.

It’s a humorous book, but it does lead the reader to some significant and honest places and appreciated how the climax of the book came together.

Reading it I thought it would actually be a pretty fun book to do in a small group setting with people because you can have a lot of conversations about how people see and experience Jesus in their lives – whether they are believers or not.  It could be a great catalyst for discussion I think.

So if you are looking for a resource for yourself or for your community/ministry that might serve to hold up a mirror to how you or they might be seeing Jesus, this may be worth checking out at some point. You can get at amazon above or go to imaginaryjesus.com

 

Developing Cross-Culturally on Mission

As I slowly build the Article and Resources section on my site, I’m releasing an updated and newly formatted version of an article I wrote a couple years ago focused on developing cross-culturally in the context of cross-cultural situations with an emphasis on cross-cultural missions.It’s a “tested” article in that I’ve used in for a couple years in a cross-cultural movement launching training course that we do within my ministry (Epic) for interns and new staff.  I haven’t released it publicly until now so if this is an arena that interests you I hope you find it helpful!