Archives for posts with tag: Jesus

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The story of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at the core of Christianity. We believe this story is the great climax of history; it is the hinge point of all things because it is through Jesus that God brings new creation.

Easter speaks a better word than any other. Easter declares life, not death is God’s future, the reign of God is here. Easter proclaims that God is faithful to creation, and all of creation will be put right as the waters cover the sea. Easter sits at the center of the Christian story because we believe Easter is the salvation all of things.

But the logic of the Christian story does not begin and end at Easter. Ours is a story that follows the way of suffering. Holy week takes us to places we would not expect. We will follow Jesus to the upper room with a betrayer and the garden where the mob finally gets their man. The crowds will crowds cry, “Crucify Him,” and the crown of thorns will sink into Jesus’s head. Holy week leads us to cross, and demands that we look upon the tomb.

And the cross of Christ is a big deal. Jesus’ death was for us. On the cross, Jesus took our iniquities and atoned for our sins, but that is not all.

The writer of Hebrews reflects on the suffering and death of Jesus,

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Holy week reminds us that we are not called out of this earth; instead, we are called to follow Jesus outside the camp.

Douglas John Hall says, “Unlike religions that draw their converts away from the world, a faith informed by a theology of the cross constrains the community of discipleship to enter into its historical situation with a new kind of openness, attentiveness, and compassion.”

We are called right into the midst of the world, to be part of it. The crucifixion of Jesus was not simply a transaction for us; it is the heartbeat of our movement. We are to follow the way of crucified Messiah.

I am not sure what this looks like for everyone. It might mean standing with a friend against cyber-bullying. Or it might be volunteering your free time at a food pantry. This way of life might call you to full time ministry or maybe you will teach in an underperforming school. There are a million ways to move this into your life, but the logic of the Christian story runs this path. It demands that we suffer with those who find themselves outside of the camp. We can go here because we believe ours is a city that is to come.

This is faith. It is when you know deep in your bones that life is found outside the city with the outcast and the lame and the poor and the broken and the war tore and the homeless and the dirty and whoever has been pushed out by society. As Jurgen Moltmann says, “The theologian of the cross is led by the visible nature of God on the cross. He is freed to love that which is different and other.”

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I am not a hopeless romantic, to confuse me for such would be like confusing a color for a square. Proof of this fact is not in short order, but one story will suffice. Last week, we got into a conversation with friends about our first dates. I turned to Jill and asked if she remembered what we did on our first date. She quickly answered, “Yes, we ordered carry out pizza and watched the World Series.” Admittedly, I might need to sign up for a romance tutor, but I have also learned relationships are less about that stuff than we imagine.

One of things Jill and I have often done together is go to concerts. I have two favorites, Death Cab for Cutie during the Plans tour and the Avett Brothers this year. It is great to gather with other lyric-singing fans and spend an evening listening to live music. The thing is, concerts are not the height of music for me. The beauty of music is in the bonds it creates and the memory it holds. A particular song has the power to transport. The brevity of a concert is nothing to a consistent sound track to life.

I think often about the incarnation, the coming of Jesus into our world. This decision as Phillipians tells was a decision to leave glory and become a servant. God became flesh and dwelled in our neighborhood.  God notices and is attentive to the deep human quandary in such a way that God becomes man. This is the ultimate act of listening and being present with creation. In Exodus, we read about a God who turns his ear towards the Israelites. These cries for liberation compelled God to action, just as the groans and cries of all of creation compelled the sending of Jesus.

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, in The Wisdom of Stability writes, “Marred though it may be, our world has not been abandoned but rather embraced by a God who saved us by refusing to leave the place where we are—by drawing closer, even, to our self-inflicted violence and suffering on the cross. . .The incarnation is the ultimate testimony to the revolutionary power of stability.”

The Creeds say very little about the life of Jesus. It is birth, death, and resurrection, but this leaves us in the high moments. The life of Jesus cannot fall off the page nor can it be turned into a moral slogan where we use Jesus as an archetype for our daily quandaries. The incarnation shows us God’s consistent decision to love us year by year, day by day, moment by moment. It is the vulnerable way of a God who comes near.

This kind of decision is not the way I am formed. It is much easier for me to work in short bursts of love and kindness. These moments allow me to care for and take care of another person on my terms. It holds the other at an even arms length. We are allowed to foster a sense of relationship, but no one is asked to be vulnerable or to make real space for the other.

The decision to a consistent love requires a full incarnation. It demands that we make ourselves open and vulnerable to the other and it invites us to stability. As green as the grass looks on the other side, we are called to embrace a people and a place. Any serious relationship is based in this kind of commitment.

The teachings of Jesus centered around this way of life. Around forgiveness, hospitality, patience, peace, and the love of enemies. In a world of rights and individuality this way of life makes no sense. It is weakness and foolishness, but in the Kingdom of God it is the power of God. These kinds of practices offer us to relate to the other in the highs and lows of relationships.

In college, I read Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity. The book developed how the Christian movement grew from a small sect to a world religion. One of the key themes was the consistent decision of the early Christians to love and care for those around them.

Stark tells of the early Christians who gain the reputation as those who took care of people, even their enemies. He describes an epidemic early in the 3rd Century. Contagious disease tore through the community and at times the area doctors would run to the hills to escape the certain death sentence. The Christians, however, stayed and helped those who were ill, They would gather up the bed ridden and hold them in their arms. These acts were part of the particular way of the early Christians. Their consistent decision to love the world sparked something.

The embrace of a community of people in the ordinary space of human life is the call of the Kingdom. We are to inhabit the ordinary spaces of life with others, so they can find in us a consistent commitment. Just as God is known by steadfast love and kindness, we must be a people known for our faithful, commitment to all people.

They will know us by our love.

Stories can take many forms. Some are straightforward narrations of life and others are imaginative tales likely full of vampires or zombies. The powerful thing about a good story is it can work regardless of the material, yet a good story must know the core of its being. Breaking Bad played well because Vince Gilligan and his team of writers knew what they had and they were faithful to the story. It made sense and was compelling from the first to the final frame.

I think this is an issue for the church today. We are unsure what kind of story we are a part of. It is easy to lose sense of the ongoing narrative in day to day, but it is the most important task of the church. We must be drawn into God’s past, present, and future to ground ourselves for life.

As I thought about this today, I came across a short blog post on Richard Beck’s blog. The simple post is a reflection on the Pope’s embrace of a man with severely disfigured man. Above his reflection is a picture of Pope Francis as he hugs the man. This is no small action; it is reminiscent of the way of Jesus. Prior to this, a little boy made national news when he ran on stage to greet Pope Francis during a speech, and it was with great care that he welcomed the little boy. Pope Francis is a man who understands the story he is a part of. The life of the Crucified Messiah is in his imagination.

A good storyteller must have an imagination. They must be so immersed in the thickness of their narrative world that they are able to transport the listener or reader into the new reality.

Last night, I read an article about Stephen Colbert’s writing team. The 15-person team works hard every night to hold to the shows vision. The success of every bit and each joke is weighed against the backdrop of the world of Colbert. They must have a working imagination of life on the Colbert Report. If their writing falls outside of the arc, the show and its narrative disappears. The show does not work if the writer draws on something outside of the narrative’s core.

This is what I think we are. We are a collection of writers in the ongoing, unfolding story of God. It is God’s activity that sets the vision and shape. Our task is to be so drawn into the imagination of the unfolding Christian story that we are able to speak and perform the story. We must know the sweeping moves or we will get lost in the minutia or worse “jump the shark” all together. It will be like a narrative that spends far too long describing the bookshelf in the main characters home office. The description might set the room nicely, but will likely be lost on the reader.

I like what Doug Foster says in Seeking a Lasting City. “Our story is the story of Christ. If anything has to be kept straight, it’s who Christ is and therefore who and what the church is. Christ’s identity and nature define his church as redeemed people who, like Christ give themselves for others.”

The Church is a collection of people who are at their best are constantly reminded of the story in which God has called us into. We need to always be reminded this story is about a God with a jealous love for the world and plans to put all things back to right.

Although the credits rolled on the brillant show Breaking Bad last week, I cannot seem to get it off of my mind. Its final episode ran to the high praise most directors hope, but few execute. Vince Gilligan and his team of writers told a fantastic story. For the darkness of its content, it was a shining light of storytelling. Everything from acting to directing to writing came together to be an instant classic.

[This post does not reveal any major spoilers, but some of the show content is discussed, so stop reading if you intend to watch the show and you are concerned about possible spoilers.]

The story of a high school teacher and family man turned meth cook and eventually drug lord forced us to deal with serious themes. The pilot episode brings us into the lives of Walt and his family as things are difficult. Mounting debt combined with a pregnancy and a cancer prognosis that is less than optimistic spells a seemingly insurmountable situation. In Walt’s mind, he cannot leave his family in this horrible situation. He must provide for them. He must leave his namesake and the child on the way a better life.

Family. It gets prime billing in our lives. We work to protect our loved ones, to provide for them, to defend them . . . No one faults Mr. White for this drive to provide and protect his family. The illegal and immoral activity is shaded by a noble and moral drive. The means might not be the best, but they are grounded in the right place. So if you are like me, Walter White gets my favor and is my rooting interest.

As Walt continues to transform, the weight of his rationale rests on its original impetus. Towards the end of the series, Walter and his wife Skyler have a conversation. She has found her way into Walt’s dark world, and she has tried her hand at manipulating outcomes. Unlike Walter, the magic man, whose plans always seem to work out, hers has gone terribly wrong. Left to deal with damage Walt assures her, “You did what you did to protect this family and no one can fault you for that.” Notice the power of rationalization. He has taken a noble and moral pattern and turned it into dangerous ground.

Family was a foil for his actions. He worked hard to stand on the moral high ground, but that ground was gone. The family was a simple justification for his ego, a rationale for power and control.

The truth is all of us fall prey to this kind of thinking. Do not get me wrong, Gilligan’s anti-hero is an exaggerated story, but we are pushed and pulled on all sides to rationalize our actions. Maybe ours lies under the guise of family or holiness or helping others or a number of other moral grounds. All of these noble pursuits can tilt toward our ego.

Ethics, morality, justice, and truth are slippery things. Our ego can find its way into the most legitimate of pursuits. I think Jesus was getting after some of this when he said, do not let mother or brother or sister or wife stand in the way of the kingdom of God. This kind of weird teaching does not necessarily mean we are to withdraw familial relatedness. Just as a statement like “The poor will always be with you,” does not invite us to withdraw our acts of charity. Instead Jesus calls us to rethink how we have put our life together. Jesus demands we learn what it means to live as he lived. The way of Jesus is the way of giving up his will for the sake of others and the world.

and Geoff Holsclaw. You should check out the first five reviews herehereherehere, and here. But do not just stop with the reviews, read this book.

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Words matter. As any poet or song writer will tell you, it is worth the labor to come up with the right word. A particular word or phrase can go a long way to creating an imagination for action in the world. At the heart of Christian faith is an important word, gospel. It is interesting the Bible authors used gospel, which means news. The very choice of the term gospel gives us  insight into the nature and character of the faith that gave birth to the New Testament. The authors landed on this word not by accident because there were other words at their disposal. They could have adopted other words to denote such ideas as illustration or knowledge or mystery, but the New Testament authors needed a word to pinpoint something more.

The question is what makes the gospel of God newsworthy? A group of men and women, confronted with the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus was invited to understand how Jesus’ activity was good news. They began to say “Jesus is Lord” and live a particular way because of what they had witnessed. Later, Martin Luther, struggling with guilt, read Romans and understood how the good news of God was newsworthy in his context. This practice continues in our context today.


The beauty of the gospel of God is that it continues to be newsworthy, but to keep it in the mode of good news we have to understand the fullness of the gospel of God. Geoff Holsclaw and David Finch’s sixth signpost describes a robust gospel that is good news for all.

They begin their chapter describing a conversation at Starbucks. One friend shared about some difficulties in her life. Everything in her life seems to be a disaster. The question is how is the gospel of God is newsworthy in this situation? Like a story of a cat stuck in a tree, making its way through tragic breaking news, the plan of salvation does not seem newsworthy in this conversation. The problem is this has been the main way we have described the gospel. We need a more robust gospel that allows us to proclaim and perform the gospel as good news in all situations.

The way forward demands a gospel that holds both the kingdom and the cross together because the gospel is good news for all people. 

The authors draw on the great work of Scot McKnight and NT Wright to describe how the good news is related to God’s saving work throughout the whole of scripture. The gospel is not simply the plan of salvation, but it is the story of salvation. Now this might seem like a slight difference, but it helps bring the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into God’s full story of salvation. Instead of the Old Testament and the story of Israel getting little to no treatment in the plan of salvation, the story of salvation helps bring the whole canon into view.

The authors invite us to take a second look at Romans to bring the Gospel story into view. This is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, they do an excellent job of following Paul’s argument, but it is also wise to deal with Romans because Luther’s reading of Romans gave rise to the salvation by faith gospel. Romans is instead a process by which Paul reveals how the kingdom and cross fit together.

Through Paul’s movement in Romans 1-5 we learn God is faithful to the promises to Israel through the faithfulness of Jesus. This faithfulness speaks new life into a people who lacked faith. In this activity of Jesus, “God’s righteousness is unveiled through Jesus the Messiah on the one hand and for the benefit of all who believe on the other.” Something new is afoot; God has become king in Jesus. Even though humanity was sinful, starting with Adam (Romans 5), God’s new kingdom has become through the faithfulness of Jesus. And this is not only for the Jews, but it is through anyone who is a descendant of Abraham (Romans 4), those who have faith.

This is more than a plan of salvation, it is more than a message, new knowledge or truth. The good news of God is that “Where ever God’s reign is extended, the world is reordered and restored. In Christ, the promised blessings through Israel are not making their way to all nations and in this way God is making all things right.”

So what? Does this make any difference? It makes a huge difference because a larger understanding opens us up to a new imagination. The proclamation and performance of the gospel looks much different. It is not simply driven by the question, “Have you been saved?” Evangelism takes on a new life. The authors describe four “on-ramps” into the Kingdom.

The first on-ramp notices God is reconciling you in all your relationships. Christians are described in 1 Corinthians as ambassadors of reconciliation. This means “gospeling” works to encourage, develop, and proclaim the power of reconciled relationships. They say, “We must proclaim into people’s lives, when the occasion arises and the Spirit prompts, that God is at work reconciling all relationships, including our relationships, in Jesus Christ (Kindle location 2948).”

Second, we are people who point to God’s work making all things new. This kind of proclamation happens as we pay attention, listen, and point to the places where by the Spirit we see God working. God is not simply involved in the saving of your soul, but God is at work in all parts of our lives. God is taking us somewhere. Our lives are not simply meaningless moments until we die. God is up to something in our midst and this on-ramp calls people to faith and obedience to what God is doing.

The third on ramp acknowledges that ours is a culture of sin and death. All over the place we are confronted with people who find themselves powerless, trapped, and overwhelmed. The gospel tells a different story. God has put the power of sin to death and is calling you into life. We are called to participate in the faith of Jesus and put to death desires of the first Adam.

The fourth on ramp draws us into God’s mission. The story of salvation tells of “God’s great mission to bring the whole world to God’s own righteousness, justice, new creation, and reconciliation (location 2973).” Because God has become King in Jesus, we know God is already at work, so the gospel calls us to join God. We are called to invite people to discover God’s mission with us. We fight injustice, poverty, sin, and evil not because it is a fine thing to do, but because God is working to redeem the whole world.

Prodigal Christianity is a thick description of God’s story of salvation. It connects the cross and the kingdom together, so people are able to imagine a new way to proclaim and perform the good news of God.