Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Will We Do With Jesus?

Photo Credit: Daniel Y. Go
Each year around this time, I post the following words from Douglas McKelvey. This piece was written for the liner notes of the Jesus miniseries soundtrack in 2000 and offers one of the most insightful pictures of the Christ that I've ever seen written outside of Scripture. For those of us that consider ourselves to be followers of this Nazarene carpenter, I trust it serves as a reminder during this Holy Week:
"What do we do with this Jesus? This was the question on every one's mind at the swing-point of history 2000 years ago. The Jews, the Romans, Herod, Pilate, the High Priests, even Jesus' own disciples - they all found themselves wrestling with the same perplexing question: "What do we do with this man?"
For some reason he didn't seem to fit very conveniently into anyone's agenda - personal, national, religious or otherwise. The Jews wanted a warrior king to drive the occupying Roman army out of the promised land. The Romans wanted to maintain and expand their empire over the known world. Everyone else just wanted what people everywhere have always wanted: pleasure and prosperity and to be left alone.
Jesus came along and upset all of that. He refused power. He didn't seek fame. He treated the pleasures of this life as inconsequential. He humbled himself as a servant and his selflessness alone became a walking indictment of all human agendas - base and noble alike.  It's no wonder he made people nervous. He was like a splinter in the soul. Even those who despised him couldn't ignore him. They buzzed around him constantly, angry and perplexed.
In their defense, his presence must have been a bit overwhelming. The story of his life on earth are more than we seem eager to contend with today, but people then had no choice but to physically rub shoulders with him. They walked the same dusty roads and breathed the same air. There wasn't any getting away from it. He kept popping up at odd moments, infuriating people with his compassion, perplexing them with his gentle wisdom, and frightening them with his unbearable love. And then there was the whole business about claiming to be the Son of God.
Truth is, Jesus was an absolute scandal. He taught that the least were the greatest, the rejected were the blessed, the wise were the foolish, the weak were the strong, and the secure were the lost. He taught that people should selflessly love, not just their friends and families - which would have been difficult enough - but strangers and enemies as well. He called on those possessed by their possessions to leave their wealth behind to follow him into a life of uncertain suffering for the one promised consolation of his love.
His words grew so appalling one afternoon that many of his followers gave it up for good and returned home, muttering that his teaching was too hard. They had had enough. Those who stayed were apparently in too deep already. Most scandalous of all was the way Jesus publicly and persistently rejected the proud, self-righteous religious leaders of the day and instead drew prostitutes, half-breeds, political revolutionaries, smelly fisherman, and turncoat tax-collectors into his circle of friends - all of whom soon and somehow found themselves, by his very acceptance, transformed from what they had always thought they were into a new existence as children of God.
It's one of the eternal ironies surrounding Jesus that those who allowed the exposure of their own weakness, shame, and guilt were the very ones who were afterward able to drink with joy from the fountains of eternal forgiveness and love, while those who fought desperately to prop up their own crumbling facades of self-righteousness were in the end reduced to a ridiculous position, raging blindly against love and their own liberation. Jesus was always hard to take that way - an insult, even - because beneath it all, it seemed that everyone needed him whether they wanted to or not, prostitutes and Pharisees alike.
And that really was the crux of the problem. His very nature exposed the heart and forced the hand of everyone around him so that in the end, after the haze and baggage burned away, it was all laid out pretty simply. You were left with only two possible ways of answering the question "What do we do with this Jesus?" You could either follow him or you could crucify him. 2000 years of science, progress and religion don't seem to have changed things for us all that much. The human heart is still the human heart. Nuclear power, psychotherapy, and satellite television notwithstanding, most of us still find ourselves - in our more honest moments - faced with the same troubling question and the same simple options that perplexed Christ's contemporaries...
"What do we do with this Jesus?" It is something to think about..."
May you take some time in the coming days to reflect on the One who gave His life so that we could live.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Embracing Diversity Involves More Than Meets The Eye

Photo Credit: United Way of the Lower Mainland
Diversity is a bit of a buzzword these days but I wonder if most of us fully understand what diversity truly means. I fear that for many Christian organizations and churches, diversity simply means that a few people from cultures other than the majority culture are represented in a group.

But true diversity -- biblical diversity -- means much more than that.

For a Christian community to truly refer to itself as one that is Christ-honoring in its diversity, I believe that means that each person that is part of that community, no matter what their ethnic background or cultural experiences, is able to bring their FULL self in their pursuit of God's glory.

By Their Strange Fruit, a blog that I enjoy reading, offers some good thoughts on the topic of diversity. A highlight:
"Diversity cannot be the end goal, just like counting heads in pews isn't an end in itself. They're merely metrics. Diversity is simply a measure on the way to richer engagement and equality. Diversity is about quantity. As followers of Christ, we must also be interested in quality. 
We cannot pretend that getting many different faces in the room alters structural injustice. Going beyond diversity means setting aside our own agendas. It means asking how we may serve the priorities of those around us. We must share power, and set aside our privilege. Diversity itself does not assure these things. 
Too often white-dominated organizations (read: churches) seek people of color simply to validate their own structures and plans. They want diversity in their brochures and their stats. But they want 'just enough'--not too much. They don't want to be fundamentally changed from the dominant-culture organizations they are. If we believe our own way of running things should be the standard, then we are allowing our own hubris to get in the way of the Church that Jesus envisioned. 
We like diversity. We say we value it. We attend training events for it and put it in our mission statements. We like to pat ourselves on the back if we obtain a certain percentage. But have we served the purpose of creating a more just and equitable society? 
There is a place for diversity. It helps us be mindful of our group composition and avoid homogeneity. Sometimes we struggle even to attain nominal levels of diversity in our environments, so it remains one of our many goals toward racial justice. 
But diversity itself does nothing if unjust polices remain unchallenged. It is useless if voices remain silenced or certain opinions are not valued. It is pointless if we remain oblivious to crucial social issues outside of our cultural bubble. Diversity itself cannot change the deeply rooted inequalities at play in our society. For that, we need press further.
Embracing diversity involves much more than getting those of minority groups to adapt to and fit in with majority culture. Embracing diversity means to pursue a radical inclusiveness where justice is pursued, equality is valued and love reigns supreme.

To read the rest of the post from By Their Strange Fruit please click here.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Meaning Behind Mardi Gras, Lent and Fasting

Photo Credit: bhsher
An important season in the Christian calender is almost upon us but many of us might not realize it. Over the next couple of days, you'll probably hear the terms Lent and Mardi Gras but may not be familiar with what those terms actually mean.

Lent is a forty day season of focused prayer, repentance and fasting that takes place each year before Easter, the Sunday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These forty days represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness immediately preceding the start of His public ministry. Christians around the world have celebrated this season for a number of centuries and many continue to do so to this day.

For those of us in the West, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter. On Ash Wednesday, worshipers (most commonly, Catholics) have ashes rubbed on their forehead in the shape of a cross. This is to represent "repentance" -- or the turning from self to God -- during the Lenten season. During the season of Lent, Christians are expected to fast. It could be fasting from food completely or just meat or, in recent years, some have chosen other items like candy, caffeine or even forms of technology, like television or the Internet. (Technically, Lent lasts more than 40 days since Sundays were originally a day when one could indulge in whatever was being denied since it is the Lord's Day, a day of celebration.)

The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday or "Shrove" Tuesday (or in the French language, Mardi Gras). Carnivale (which means "away with meat") is an extended festival before Lent that is commonly found in Roman Catholic societies. These are times of celebration and feasting before the entrance into the fasting period. For 2014, the Lenten season begins this week with Fat Tuesday taking place on March 4th and Ash Wednesday falling on the following day, March 5th. Palm Sunday is April 13th and Easter Sunday falls on April 20th.

For those of us that are Protestant Christians, the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent is usually dismissed since many regard those as Catholic holy days. But I think that all Christians can appropriately recognize this season. For a number of years, I have participated in the Lenten season and have found it beneficial. It can be a time of dedicated Bible study, prayer, some sort of fasting and repentance and can be great preparation in leading up to the remembrance of the most significant event in world history, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Whatever you might choose to do or not do during this season, I trust that your focus will be on the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Entering into a time of self-denial and focus on Jesus can help in leading us to a place of maturity where we are more committed to Him throughout the year, whether it is a designated holiday or not. May God bless you richly as we anticipate the celebration of His victory over sin and death.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Both Social Justice & Evangelism On The Rise For Millennials

Photo Credit: Merrimack College
According to recent research from the Barna Group, the perception that Christian Millennials (those born in the early 1980's through the early 2000's) are big on social justice but wary of evangelism might not be accurate. Here is what Barna found:
"They've been called "the social justice generation," and for good reason—Millennials are actively taking up the cause of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. Yet the most common critique leveled at this surge in social compassion is that it comes at a great expense. Sure, skeptics argue, they might feed the hungry and free the captives in this life, but what about the next? According to this view, Millennials are elevating physical needs over spiritual needs and forgoing evangelism altogether. 
Yet the latest Barna research reveals this is not the case. 
In fact, in answer to the question of evangelism on the rise or in decline, Millennials are a rare case indeed. While the evangelistic practices of all other generations have either declined or remained static in the past few years, Millennials are the only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise. Their faith-sharing practices have escalated from 56% in 2010 to 65% in 2013. 
Not only that, but born again Millennials share their faith more than any other generation today. Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the Gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born again Christians. 
Since tracking began in 1996, the data show born again Busters, who are currently in their thirties and forties (63%), were evangelizing at an all-time high in 1998. However, evangelism practice among Busters is down to 48% today. Among the Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), nearly two-thirds of born again Boomers (65%) shared their faith in 2007, but today, this has dropped to less than half (49%). The outreach efforts of born again Elders (ages 68 and older), on the other hand, have remained fairly steady over the past several decades. Today, Elders (53%) share their faith just about as much as the average born again Christian (52%)."
I'm thankful that I have the privilege to invest in the lives of this generation of young people.

To read the rest of the findings please click here.