Bait, Switch. 

I am just coming off of a season where I’ve focused personally an awful lot on Jesus’ death and resurrection (technically, we’re still in the church season of Easter, but you get the point).

However, there’s this thing about Jesus: He’s always one step ahead of you, and just when you think that you have him figured out, there’s another aspect to him and his ministry, and you’re back at the start again, filled with wonder and shaking your head in humility and amazement (ideally, anyway).

Brennan Manning once wrote (more or less, anyway), “The signature of Jesus is the cross”, and I wholeheartedly believe this. It opens up heaven, defeats evil, frees all of us, and continually challenges and motivates me. Additionally, the resurrection breaks the power of death and sin, and unleashes a whole new power into the world (and, by definition, my life).

But Jesus says there’s still even more

If you take Jesus’ words seriously (and, well, I do), then you have to acknowledge the fact that repeatedly Jesus tell people that you have to pay attention to his teaching—the things he says and does during his minitry.

Over and over again, he flat out tells people, “Look the reason I have come is to teach and preach.” (Check Mark 1:38), John 8:31, and especially John 6:63 and 12:47-48.)

We have a tendancy to focus so much attention on the cross and empty tomb, and then his miracles that we can sometimes tend to lose sight or downplay his teaching agenda.

And he taught a lot: 

  • In “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7, Luke 6) he lays out a vision for life that far transcends any “normal” human life (and I fully believe he expects us to be able to live it).
  • In John’s gospel Jesus says things like, “The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life“ (John 4). He also refers to the fact that “Whoever wants to do God’s will can tell whenter my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own” (7:17).

These are challenging teachings because (a) they often don’t fit into the neat little boxes we draw for ourselves regarding faith and (b) they actually challenge the way most of us look at and live in the world.

I think it’s pretty odd that we ignore Jesus’ own words to focus on his teachings.

Sometimes I think it’s because—as crazy as it seems—we get uncomfortable because his teachings expect too much of us. For those of us who grew up in church, it’s sometimes actually “easy” to focus on Good Friday and Easter, possibly because of the “paid for” and “finished” aspect to them (and I believe that).

But when you look at what Jesus taught, you realize that he actually expects more of you.

It’s like—if we were to actually take him at his word(s)—he actually expects transformation.

And that makes us uncomfortable.

We want to go to heaven, but often we don’t want to actually change beforehand. We are just as content to remain angry, pride-filled, self-focused, and addicted and compulsive.

I think Jesus’ ministry was a continual call to transformation that culminated in the cross and then the resurrection, but it’s not like that call ended with the four gospels.

The call is still going on.

What do you need to change?

Footsteps :: Intro

I was talking with some folks the other day about Jesus, and I had a curious thought: if we are Jesus’ disciples, what exactly are we supposed to do

At our most pure state, it seems that we are supposed to be Jesus’ disciples. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus makes it (almost troublingly) clear that being a disciple means doing what he did.

In Mark chapter 6, we’re told that Jesus called the Twelve, and subsequently, “sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits… So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them” (vv7, 13).

The curious thing about this statement is that the things that Jesus sends the disciples out to do are the very things that he has been doing in Mark’s gospel. In Jesus’ mind, there’s no difference between the things that he does and his expectations for the Twelve.

This is pretty amazing when you think about their track record at this point. Rather than being the star pupils, at this point in the story of God the disciples are a little bit more like the odd kid in the back of the class who may or may not have been eating paste. They’re not exactly hitting it out of the park…

… And yet Jesus does not hesitate to send them out to…

  • have authority over unclean spirits
  • proclaim repentance
  • cast out demons
  • heal people.

The profound implication for this story is simply this:

Being a disciple of Jesus means doing the things that he does…

Whether or not you think you’re good enough… 

These things constitute the short list of what Jesus expects us to do.

But then I got to thinking: what else did Jesus do? Maybe he expects us to do those things too.

So I took a brief survey of the gospels and just tried to look at the things that Jesus did. Some things he did in order to serve people; some thing he did in order to stay connected with his Father.

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to lay out some of those things, and see what we can learn from the way our master arranged his life.

When Good News Is Really Good Pt 1 (or “It’s Okay With God if You Don’t Join the Choir”)

Mark’s Gospel

I confess: I’m passionate about the Bible. Maybe it’s too reflective of my status as a (decidedly not young) grad student, but I am determined to see it taught well, and “used” accurately.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were talking about how there can be a difference between the historical meaning and significance of Scripture and the individual/devotional meaning and significance.

I land decidedly on the historical/contextual side: Jesus meant what he said, not what we in the 21st century wish he would have said.

I’d like to suggest this: the overwhelming agenda of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is to prove that God’s story was coming to an epic resolution and fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Everything that we read in the gospels flows into and out of that. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to separate Jesus sayings (and actions) from this agenda. 

For the next few weeks, I’d like to spend some time pushing back on some (what I believe) are misreadings of the gospels, and try to recover some of the (sometimes even more explosive) things that Jesus actually may have been saying.

Let’s start with a story out of Matthew. Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man (generally understood to be God) who goes on a long journey. He entrusts  different sums of money to his servants, and when he returns he asks what they did with the amounts. Two of the three double his money, while one buries it.

The two that gained money get praise from the master, but the one who buried it (safely) gets some harsh words: “‘You wicked and lazy servant… To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Just in case you were wondering, historically, the “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” is just as bad as it sounds.

… and cue awkward silence.

Is God really that way?

Divorced form the agenda of the gospels, this can be (and has been) taught as a story about stewardship and giftedness.

Again, is God really that way? 

If you don’t play in the church band, are you going to be thrown into outer darkness?

If you don’t risk investment (in people or things or whatever), is what you have going to be taken from you?

Gnash teeth much?

Ugh.

But once you understand the agenda of Jesus—and the gospel writers—things begin to fall into place a bit more…

  • if the sums of money represent God’s mission and message in the world…
  • if the servants—including Israel—are people with whom God has entrusted His mission…
  • if (by extension) the “wicked and lazy servant” is the religious establishment in Israel…

then we begin to see what Jesus (and Matthew) might be saying here:

  • God has entrusted his mission to people, specifically Israel
  • Israel believes that God has left on a long journey—His presence has not returned to the Temple
  • God has come back to find (a) that unexpected people have valued His mission/message, and (b) Israel (or rather their leaders) have buried His message
  • God is taking His message away from Israel and entrusting it—through Jesus and his ministry—to others (the Gentiles; that’s us)

Is God still stern? Yes, because His mission is at stake. When you read the parable this way, this is why Jesus uses such strong language.

Good news is really good: God isn’t concerned so much with how much risk you take in life, or whether or not you serve in the nursery (though you should!); He’s concerned with how faithful His church is to His message and agenda in the world.

-e

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