Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

What Are We Giving?

This week, my friend Michael Perkins wrote on consuming and contributing over at his blog Drip Jesus. Now let me be quick to assure you — as Michael himself does in his post — that this is not a post about tithing.

As we continue in this first week of the Lenten season, I’m struck by a couple of things that Michael writes. First is this:

We are a consumer driven society.

We consume, consume, and then consume some more.

  • We consume media. (Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter)
  • We consume art. (Books, Poetry, and other forms)
  • We consume church. (I just want to be fed. I don’t have time serve)

And we never give anything back. We never contribute.

  • We don’t add to the discussion.
  • We don’t create art.
  • We don’t pour ourselves into the lives of others.

I’ll be honest that my initial reaction to this was to think Michael was being unnecessarily harsh, but the more I reflected on this, the more I realized what he was getting at. If we call ourselves Christians, how can we possibly stand in a position in which we seek to be served rather than to serve others? To do so is to live life in opposition to the example and teachings of Christ, who was pretty clear on the subject.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So the standard is pretty clear: we’re created to give, not receive. And that’s where Michael hit several nails on the head with his post.

  • We’ve been created to give our lives. (To the One that created us)
  • We’ve been created to give our abilities. (To the One that created us and to help further the Kingdom)
  • We’ve been created to give our stories. (To others that they may be encouraged)

A few years ago Dr. Jesse Middendorf, a General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, issued a challenge at our annual district assembly. “How deep is your “yes” to God?” He wanted those who heard this challenge to consider if they were truly giving their all: all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their everything to the Kingdom of God.

In years past, as we entered the season of Lent, I’ve decided on one thing or another that I was going to give up for Lent, and while I don’t regret doing that, I wonder at this point in my spiritual life if I’m not doing that more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. I begin to wonder if isn’t better to start something instead of giving something up, if it wouldn’t be better for me to begin a new spiritual discipline that I take beyond the 40 days of Lent. I wonder what I am truly giving to the Kingdom, and if it’s really all that I can be giving to my Lord Jesus. J.B. Chapman once exhorted Nazarenes to be all out for souls, and that is the life I would lead and all too often am afraid that I am not leading in the least. So during Lent, I will be considering what it is that I am giving to the building of the Kingdom, and what further I can give of myself for His glory.

What are you giving?

The Post I Didn’t Want to Write

Here is the truth: I didn’t want to write this post. Yet when we truly strive to follow God and be guided by the Holy Spirit, sometimes we don’t really have a choice about certain things.

I know I am not the only person who is still struggling to make some sense of the events of December 14 in Newtown, CT. Until the last few days, I have been unable to look at the photos of 20 young boys and girls and 6 brave adults whose lives were taken from them by a sick, evil person. 20 children who might have done anything in life, stripped of dreams and possibilities. Six adults who will stand in my memory always as living examples of Jesus’ words in John 10: 11,  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I didn’t want to write this post because I have struggled so mightily with my emotions over the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary. At times I have felt like my whole inside has been nothing but a fountain of tears about to well forth. There have been voices out there whose words have helped. My friend Michael Perkins perhaps put it best here, saying,

My heart was wrecked. And if I can be completely honest, I think it should wreck all of our hearts.”

I cannot say exactly why this shooting has affected me more powerfully than others in recent memory, such as the Aurora, Colorado massacre this past summer. I only know that I continue to be heartsick, and keep mentally coming back to words that come from the Mourner’s Kaddish, a traditional piece of liturgy from the Judaism of my childhood.

“Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.”

For me — as I suspect for many other — that peace is difficult to grab hold of. As a nation, it seems we may have begun to have a much-needed conversation regarding not just guns, but the violent nature of our culture in general. It’s a violence set in numerous contexts, some of which Scot McKnight identifies thusly:

1. Movies and TV
2. Video games
3. Western movies, Comic books, Cartoon figures
4. Toys
5. Use of the hand as a gun
6. Sports, especially football (of the American kind) and ice hockey
7. Mixed martial arts
8. NASCAR
9. Paintball games
10. Hunting for Bambi

I have struggled for some time, as I’ve discussed previously, with the question of whether Jesus in fact calls Christians to lay down the sword and in the wake of Newtown, I’m forced to confess my own shame over participation in a culture which doesn’t just condone guns, but glorifies and deifies them. McKnight specifically addresses this topic of Christianity and Guns here and here, and a cursory reading of the comments attached to any of these posts will show how heated this discussion quickly becomes.

Here’s why I didn’t want to write this post: I grew up in a household full of guns, and I spent most of my childhood and early teen years hunting with my dad, who has been a freelance outdoor writer for most of my life. To his credit, my dad made certain that both of his sons understood that guns were not toys and that we understood the responsibility of using them carefully. The worst whipping I ever received came when he caught me playing with a neighbor child’s toy gun (something I was expressly forbidden from doing). When I went off to college and life on my own, when I got home on occasion, I still tried to spend time out hunting with my dad. I say all this so it will be understood that I grew up in an atmosphere that made me as ardent a defender of Second Amendment rights as you can imagine.

I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I’m still not sure of whether I can build the argument that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword completely, but I am fairly sure that when Christians show more zeal for defending their right to guns than they do to follow and disseminate the teachings of Jesus, there’s a word to describe it: idolatry. I can agree with Scot McKnight on this:

“The church should lead the way in exhibiting peaceful approaches to life and conflict, and Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?”

I didn’t want to write this post because I know what I am opening myself up to by doing so. I’m opening myself to an onslaught from angry Christians and non-Christians alike ready to tear me to pieces. I accept that may be a consequence of following my conscience in this. I don’t pretend that I have any answers yet. But how can any of us come to any answers — or make a safer world for children in other Newtowns — if we can’t stop being so convinced we’re right and just start talking to each other?

12 Days of Christmas Freebies

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas. How do I know? Because the time has come for WorshipHouse Media’s annual 12 Days of Christmas Freebies. Click the link to see the calendar of giveaway days and score some cool stuff. Last year, they gave away an assortment of videos, one of which I’ve used on several occasions to underscore the point that there are no unqualified people when it comes to Kingdom work. Today they’ve started things off with a very creative animated presentation of Matthew 5:13-16. Don’t delay — click the link and get some free Jesus swag right now!

Book Review: The Searchers

On a dusty road outside Jerusalem, two friends were walking together, discussing events  that had occurred recently. As they walked, they were joined by a seeming stranger who would turn out to be someone they knew quite well. They were about to have a startling encounter with God.

Thus begins Joseph Loconte’s The Searchers, an examination of faith in the midst of a world of doubts. Loconte frames Man’s search for answers with the story of two disciples who meet the risen Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, described in Luke 2:13-35. The story is used as a narrative resting point for an examination of the quest for truth, yet Loconte — a history professor at King’s College in New York City — hardly confines himself to solely the Biblical record as he plumbs the depths and meaning of the tale. Ranging widely through not only history but also literature, philosophy, politics, and film, The Searchers examines the reasons to believe.

Drawing its title from John Wayne’s 1956 film “The Searchers,” the tale of a Civil War veteran who spends years searching for his kidnapped niece, Loconte’s book pushes the reader to ask difficult questions about what our reactions should be when “a great crisis sweeps into our lives, when our dreams turn to powder.” He notes that there is something within humans, an impulse to connect with God — the same impulse that turns the frightened, disillusioned Cleopas and his unknown friend on their walk to Emmaus into bold, unfearing messengers who proclaim the risen Christ.

This impulse, Loconte tells us, seems irrestible in art, literature, and film. Citing such movie classics as Babette’s Feast and great  works of literature such Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the author unveils the parallels that connect us to the encounter on the road to Emmaus, and a God who is hidden yet desperate in His desire to reveal Himself and His Son to us. Perhaps the strongest material in the book is how Loconte grapples with the poison of religion, remarking,

By the poison of religion, I don’t mean the problem of Christians who live safe, middle-class, unremarkable lives. The real danger is the pretend factor, the haze of religiosity that tries to conceal the shallowness — and the deepening rot underneath.

The answer to this — and the target at which The Searchers points us toward — is our own authentic encounter with Jesus, causing our hearts to burn within us every bit as much as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

From the Archives: To Lay Down The Sword

The following post was originally published on September 20, 2010. As I am currently working on a second post on the subject, I thought I would revisit this one.

Carson T. Clark’s latest blog post has helped to crystallize some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while, particularly this portion:

“I specifically have in mind childhood conflict. (Isn’t this the reason Lord of the Flies  is so powerful?) A college friend of mine recently put up a facebook status about how  his kindergarten daughter defended herself by slugging a bully right in the eye on the playground. As a loving father, his gut response was to be delighted that she stood up for himself. “That’s my girl!” But he later got to thinking about whether or not it’s right to encourage that. He didn’t say it publicly, but I suspect he got to thinking about the incongruity of his response with his professed theological beliefs.”

These thoughts that I’ve had rolling around center on the idea that a devoted follower of Christ has received a call to lay down the sword. This can particularly be seen in Christ’s statement in Matthew 26:52,

“Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

As I work through some thoughts on pacifism, let me start by addressing several things.

1) I have nothing but the utmost of respect for those who serve our nation through military service. My father and uncle both served in the Navy, as did my brother-in-law.  My wife’s grandfather was a decorated Naval officer who dove into the water during the attack on Pearl Harbor to swim out to his ship, and didn’t see his family again for close to two years. One of my best friends currently serves in the Army. Whatever conclusions I may personally come to regarding war and Christians will in no way diminish the respect I have for the courage and convictions displayed by the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I am very mindful that they are risking their lives for my right to even write this blog post and that Jesus also said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

2) The Church, since the time of Augustine, has struggled with the concept of “just war.” The Church’s struggle has been to find a balance between the simple truth that Christians should not take part in a war that is obviously plainly wicked versus the fact that some wars are considered justified even by Christians in order to prevent greater evils.

3) In the United States, church denominations such as the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and (at least up until World War II) the Churches of Christ have historically maintained pacifist positions. The cost of their convictions for some members of these denominations should be troubling to all Christians. During World War I, around 2000 conscientious objectors from these denominations were imprisoned in Federal prisons, where they received solitary confinement, short rations, and in a couple of cases physical abuse severe enough to result in death. Conscientious objectors fared slightly better in World War II, when the Civilian Public Service was established as an alternative to military service (although the cost of the program was placed on the conscientious objectors and their congregations).

One of the difficulties I have personally had in sorting out my thoughts at what I see as Jesus’ command to lay down the sword is that defining pacifism can be a bit like nailing Jello to a tree. There are those who approve a nation going to war, but not participation by Christians. There are others who would approve participation in a war that resists invasion. Then there are those who call themselves pacifists who might agree to a non-combat support role in a war, but would refuse to kill an enemy soldier. Going even further than this are those who object to any violence, whether by police or military personnel. Still others might say they would agree to participate in a just war but not an unjust war. Traditional Christian thought holds that no Christian should participate in an unjust war, but it seems to me that this is something more honored in thought than practice.

As I share my thoughts, I’d love to get a dialogue going. What are your opinions and thoughts on this? Do you agree that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword?

Sowing Seeds, Sowing Hope

There’s been some exciting things happening in my life, ministry-wise, recently. The chief among these is that I took a position as an associate pastor at Madison Church of the Nazarene in Madison, TN. The church is located in a community with a lot of brokenness and a lot of needs, and both I and my wife are very excited about helping to grow the Kingdom and the church.

Other exciting things happening outside of ministry include a project I started. Anyone in my family can tell you that I am fairly vegetable crazy, especially when it comes to cucumbers and tomatoes. This year I decided I was going to have a good supply of both by growing my own. I turned for advice to my dad, Brook, who is an expert on gardening, especially when it comes to heirloom varieties. In fact, if you are traveling near or live close to Lexington, Kentucky, I encourage you stop at Fort Boonesborough State Park and say hello to him. He maintains the garden at the Fort — make sure you tell him I sent you!

Recently, as I was asking Dad some questions about the seeds I planted, he stunned me with something he said. Dad is not a person of great faith of any sort, so I took particular note when he said,

“Watching a seed sprout and grow is an affirmation of faith, because to plant a seed is to believe that tomorrow will come.”

There’s a whole world to be mined there, from the perspective of this pastor. Naturally, when we’re talking seeds, I think of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9.

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The application of the parable is pretty obvious when it comes to planting seeds of the Gospel into people’s lives. That is the job of every Christian to do, regardless of whether they are “in ministry” or not. And just as the parable says, when we plant seeds they will sometime take deep root in peoples’ lives and other times those seeds will wither away without the Gospel taking root. But when I consider Dad’s statement about believing that tomorrow will come, it leads to think about Hope, which gives me cause to remember one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

“I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Planting a seed is indeed the affirmation of faith my dad labels it as. To believe tomorrow will come is certainly to hope. But to believe that your future Hope lies in Jesus is to trust in the promises of God.

Question: Who has planted seeds in your life?

Book Review: 1000 Days – The Ministry of Christ

Jonathan Falwell is the senior pastor of a church and the vice-chancellor of spiritual affairs at Liberty University. He also happens to be the son of Jerry Falwell (yes, that Jerry Falwell),  but he’s certainly not riding his father’s coat-tails anywhere in 1000 Days. Falwell begins with the premise that almost universally, human beings have an inner restlessness that drives them. Some are driven by such restlessness, opines Falwell, to climb mountains, others to search for the perfect relationship, while others seek to quench their restlessness through eating. Yet the only answer to this, notes Falwell, is one that Augustine observed in his Confessions: “Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

1000 Days starts with Jesus as the solution to humanity’s restless heart. But Falwell observes that Jesus could have calmed the hearts of men and brought them salvation without doing anything else. However, for the course of three years — the titular 1,000 days — Jesus had a public ministry. And Falwell wants readers to know why that is important:

“He didn’t need to provide this ministry, yet He did anyway, and that is key for us … This intentionality of Jesus’ ministry implies that there is a lot of information in the Scriptures worth grappling with. We need to understand what Jesus said and did during his 1,000 day public ministry so that we can apply His teachings to our lives today.”

What follows is a well-written, easy to engage study of the high points of Jesus’ ministry. It’s obvious that Falwell did his research and scholarship, not being afraid to occasionally discuss the meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word, yet the book goes nowhere near the lofty heights of academic writing that might scare off a reader who is just learning more about Jesus and the Scriptures. Falwell illustrates his points by sharing how he has seen the applications of Jesus’ teachings in his own life — particularly in his role as a father to his children.

One of the most useful parts of 1000 Days is at the end of each chapter. Each chapter ends with three to five questions for individual reflection or small group discussion. These are not shallow questions by any means, not when they are asking for reflection on items such as: “In your most honest moments, where are you spiritually right now, and where do you want to be?” The true goldmine of this book is in the appendix; Falwell provides a Bible Study Guide with Leader’s Helps that makes this ideal as a small group or Sunday school study (particularly, I would think, for a group that may not have a deep foundation the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry). There is also a breakdown of 100 main events in Jesus’ life, making 1000 Days a very practical resource.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

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