Category Archives: Jesus

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds

This post is part of the August 2013 Synchroblog – Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas

“Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this approach. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dusty theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-course that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”  Peter Rollins in The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales 

I love the way a good parable surprises us and turns our thinking upside down.  Many good parables take a well-known story or situation and give it a twist here and a tweak there in order to cause the audience to think about something from a different perspective.  Jesus was a master at crafting and telling a good parable.

But I notice that Jesus parables don’t always seem to have the impact that they should have on me and I think that is because they have become too familiar.  Which is why I think I got such a kick out of the collection of parables that Peter Rollins wrote a few years ago.

If you haven’t read Rollins’ collection of parables you should pick up his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.  I think the 33 parables in his book might end up pushing you around a bit and that’s what a good parable should do.

Here’s one of the parables from the book to whet your appetite:

You sit in silence contemplating what has just taken place. Only moments ago you were alive and well, relaxing at home with friends. Then there was a deep, crushing pain in your chest that brought you crashing to the floor. The pain has now gone, but you are no longer in your home. Instead, you find yourself standing on the other side of death waiting to stand before the judgment seat and discover where you will spend eternity. As you reflect upon your life your name is called, and you are led down a long corridor into a majestic sanctuary with a throne located in its center. Sitting on this throne is a huge, breathtaking being who looks up at you and begins to speak.

“My name is Lucifer, and I am the angel of light.”

You are immediately filled with fear and trembling as you realize that you are face to face with the enemy of all that is true and good. Then the angel continues: “I have cast God down from his throne and banished Christ to the realm of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to the kingdom. It is I who am the gatekeeper of paradise, and it is for me alone to decide who shall enter eternal joy and who shall be forsaken.”

After saying these words, he sits up and stretches out his vast arms. “In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left hand eternal death. Those who would bow down and acknowledge me as their god shall pass through the gates of paradise and experience an eternity of bliss, but all those who refuse will be vanquished to the second death with their Christ.”

After a long pause he bends toward you and speaks, “Which will you choose?”

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Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jesus’ Parables are Confusing? Good! – Jeremy Myers

Parabolic Living – Tim Nichols

Seed Parables:Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol

Parables – Be Like the Ant or the Grasshopper – Paul Meier

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today’s Sermons – Jessica

Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager

Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer

Young Son, Old Son, a Father on the Run – Jerry Wirtley

The Woman Forgiven For Adultery (Guest Post by Susan Cottrell)

Note from Liz:

I know a lot of people say “the internet” isolates people from real life and real relationships but my experience continues to prove that wrong. I have made so many wonderful connections and friends online and it continues to happen.

I recently connected with Linda Mueller Robertson after I read her heartbreaking and inspirational piece Learning To Truly Love Our Gay Son in The Huffington Post  and she invited me to join a group she started and that is where I connected with Susan Cottrell. 

Susan is a writer and speaker who also blogs at Freed Hearts. Her and I are both passionate about making the world a better, kinder, gentler and more loving place for lgbt people.  We both live in Texas (a few hours apart) and will be meeting in person later this month (I can’t wait).

Here is a piece that Susan wrote and posted on her blog recently in which she challenges us to look closer at the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman.

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Remember the story of “Jesus Scattering Townspeople and Self-Righteous Men in the Name of Mercy and Justice”? Oh right, you may know it as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” I love that Jesus instantly knew the hearts of everyone involved. I love how Jesus never falls for any of it. I love that He lets her go!

It seems we rarely marvel at the whole picture of what is going on here. Instead – out of the entire story – many focus on Jesus’ parting words, translated, “Go and sin no more.” It’s also been translated to the softer, “Go and leave your life of sin,” but that doesn’t quite get it either. Instead, the translation I learned as a young Christian captures the heart of the situation and Jesus’ heart for people.

Jesus was not admonishing her to go do better, but inviting her to life, to His life. His message to this woman is, in essence: “You don’t have to live this way.” That is, “I offer you so much more than anything you’ve ever known.” This is true for several reasons.

First, let’s take a look at the setting: this woman had just been caught in adultery – most likely by the men who set it up to entrap Jesus (notice the man involved was not also caught). This is certainly not the first time they put their heads together to concoct a plan to bring Him down.

She is dragged out to the public square as an adulteress. Before Jesus. Before the crowd. Naked. Can you simply imagine the shame? I shudder to think of it. She knew that the consequence was to immediately be stoned to death.

Jesus then does the remarkable. Obviously stuck, obviously backed into a corner by these clever men who have succeeded in entrapping Him, Jesus has absolutely no way out. No way. Until He opens His mouth.

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd is stunned. Flummoxed. This is not the way these situations were dealt with… ever. It takes a minute, but slowly the older men and then the younger ones drop their stones and turn away (most likely with guilt of their intended entrapment ringing in their ears, in addition to who-knows-what other skeletons they had hidden away). Only Jesus could have given such a mind-boggling response. Time and again in Scripture, Jesus circumvents their yes-or-no questions and gives an answer they never thought possible.

Then He turns to the woman. “Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Sir.” “Neither do I condemn you.” What?? You don’t? Why not? You have every right to condemn me under the law. Isn’t that what You do? Apparently not. But why not? That is part of the key to the puzzle of His following remark.

If Jesus used “Go and sin no more” as a mandate to go and rid her life of any sinful thought of action, He would have implied some condition, even though it came after her release. Like the policeman who lets you off with a warning might say, “Now, keep your speed down.” (Not that I have personal experience with this one…) The implication is, “I’m going to let you off this time, but don’t push your luck – and get out of here before I change my mind.” (That’s often the feel of, “Go and sin no more.”)

The trouble is, nobody goes and sins no more. Everybody sins and sins and sins. If she had the power to meet her own needs, or rid herself of her own sins, she would not have been tricked into this in the first place. Forget the heart, this interpretation would say. Forget dependence on God and just change your own behavior. But this is a fragmented concept, as if real change comes from the outside in, instead of inside out. Jesus always starts with the inside.

Further, if we think Jesus had to warn the woman in adultery not to do it again, we don’t grasp the situation. I’m pretty sure she got the message right then and there that if by some miracle she did not die on the spot from embarrassment, or from stoning, she would never, ever, no never, get caught in this situation, ever, again. The trouble is not voluntarily choosing to be in that situation again; the question is, how? How do I constantly find myself on the raw end of the deal? Why do I keep letting men like this take advantage of me? Why do I do this over and over again? How in the world do I find a way out from my broken and wounded heart? Anybody so shamed and humiliated would be searching for a way out, vowing never to let this happen again. That was the question Jesus answered! He always answers our real need! For Him to say, “You don’t have to live this way,” was astounding news for this woman! I don’t? She had to ask herself.No, Jesus was telling her, you don’t.

Jesus here makes an offer of deep healing. Jesus offers to make us a new creation, to break the bond of sin and death! He would not reduce his earth-shattering offer of life to a silly throwaway line that simply gives her more of the Pharisee’s lifeless medicine. That sounds more like exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for, rather than reflecting the true, heart-focused Jesus.

“You don’t have to live this way” is consistent with Jesus’ offer to the woman at the well, whom He did not tell to stop living with her boyfriend, but instead offered her so much more than the scraps she was receiving. Likewise, He offers the woman caught in adultery freedom from the likes of these men who set up and expected her execution.

Jesus had compassion on the tenderhearted and showed them their need for Him. He never, ever shamed or humiliated people but instead gave them hope! Jesus soundly chastised only one group in His earthly life: the self-righteous religious leaders. This is the mode throughout His interactions.Come to Me for rest and peace and life – I will give you life. Rules don’t give life; rules produce death. To say, “Stop doing this,” would only heap death upon her shame and humiliation. But Jesus never did that! On the contrary, He heals the brokenhearted, He lifts our head, He offers hope and life.

To reduce Jesus’ words to “Go and sin no more” is to reduce the gravity of sin. It reduces Jesus’ work as some kind of moral cleanup instead of life from death! The only way to convince ourselves we’re able to “go and sin no more” is to reduce sin to something manageable. But Jesus said the very thought of sin is sin. He showed us that our sin is so large, so deeply rooted, and so unmanageable, that the only solution is to recognize that we desperately need Him!

The next time this interpretation is thrown at you as evidence of the seriousness of sin, as if you are not taking sin seriously enough because you don’t tell somebody to stop sinning, I entreat you to pause. Ask Jesus what to say. As hard as it is for humans to grasp a free-and-clear pardon, that is what Jesus offers. Don’t set that down and take up self-reform. Instead, let Him shape you personally, from the inside out, so that the sin areas fall away, replaced by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other attributes only the Spirit can bring. That is what He does!

 

 

Give Up Your Good Christian Life and Follow Jesus

This post is part of the August Synchroblog.  The theme is  “Follow” and bloggers are invited to share their thoughts and ideas about following Jesus.  The Synchroblog is once again partnering with Provoketive Magazine and all the contributions will be published on the Provoketive Magazine site throughout the month of August.  Go here for a list of all the August Synchroblog posts.

My journey of following Jesus led me to a point where I had to completely start over. Some real life stuff came along and made me take a closer look at what I believed about God, following Jesus, Christianity, the Bible, the church etc. and I realized that most of the stuff that I had been so devoted to … attending church, listening to sermons, reading the bible, witnessing, maintaining the church building, adding to church membership … didn’t seem to have much to do with following Jesus.

In recent years I have come to think that following Jesus is more about justice and love than about church and believing – more about community than about me getting into heaven – more about people than about institutions or buildings.

Starting over hasn’t been easy. It has often meant enduring criticism, rejection and loneliness. But from where I sit I can’t see that there was another way for me.  I had to let go of all the preconceived ideas, religious dogma and conventional wisdom in order to get a fresh look at Jesus, his mission and his message.

These days following Jesus for me is about accepting the call to follow Jesus into the world as an agent of the Kingdom of Heaven – working to bring the way of heaven to earth.

Sometimes that is as simple as sharing a meal with someone and sometimes it is as complex as working to dismantle an unjust system.

In the beginning of my journey of following Jesus I thought the main questions were “who is going to heaven and who is going to hell?” but now I think the main questions are “how can I bring heaven to earth and how can I participate with God to bring restoration to the world?”

The humorist Garrison Keillor said “give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus” and that is what I feel like I have had to do.

These days I am more committed to following Jesus than any other time in my life and yet I’m not a member of a church and I don’t often read the bible. My worship of God usually comes in the form of working for justice, and serving and loving others rather than singing songs in church while clapping or raising my hands. I don’t care about converting people to Christianity but I do want to influence people to live in a loving and generous way. I am interested in cultivating my faith to be a bridge that connects me to others rather than a barrier that separates me from those who don’t profess to be followers of Jesus.

I certainly do not think that I have arrived anywhere and on any given day I would be hard pressed to even tell you where I am going … but for now I am trying to follow Jesus where he leads me even if that means giving up my good Christian life.

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The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In

This post is part of the April Synchroblog: The Resurrection Hoax.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

Few really believe.  The most only believe that they believe or even make believe.  ~John Lancaster Spalding

I had to chuckle a little when I read the description of this month’s synchroblog because it said “we” (we being the synchroblog organizing team which I am a part of) firmly believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I chuckled because that isn’t true for me.  I don’t like to say it out loud because I don’t want to deal with the outrage of Christians who believe that makes me a heretic or who claim if I don’t believe in a literal resurrection then I should not call myself a Christian (I don’t use the label much but it still bothers me for someone to tell me I’m not a “real” Christian).

I don’t have a problem with those who do “firmly” believe in the physical resurrection of Christ.  I’m not even one of those people who would think it is an irrational belief because I do believe miraculous things sometimes take place.  I just can’t say I “firmly believe in the historical reality of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus”.

I don’t want people trying to “prove” to me the resurrection of Jesus really happened.  I could make all of the same arguments they will make (maybe even better than they will make them) and I probably did at some point to someone.  But, the truth is no one can prove the physical resurrection of Jesus really happened.  If you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ you must believe it even though it cannot be proven to be true.

For years I did believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but during my journey of faith I was duped (in my opinion) by the church about some things and so these days I don’t place my belief in things so easily.  These days I am more careful about what I claim to believe.  I pray, I study, I examine, I think, I listen, I talk about something (a lot) before I claim it as a belief.  If it cannot be proven then I try and decide if it is necessary for me to believe one way or the other about whatever it is.  If not, I just let it be and settle in with “I don’t know”.  I’m okay with “I don’t know” when it comes to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So if you ask me if I believe the physical resurrection of Christ really happened my answer is “I don’t know.”  However, I do “firmly” believe in the deeper truth the resurrection of Christ symbolizes.  I believe that the work of God and the way of Jesus brings life out of death.  I’ve seen it too many times not to.

So, how has my lack of belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus affected me and my Christian faith??

Well, after a lot of time pondering the resurrection I am much more likely to take the time to listen to others – to love the unlovable – to bring joy and hope to situations – to forgive instead of holding a grudge – to love justice more than individual rights – to put other’s interests above my own – to be generous in all ways – to stand up for those who are oppressed and marginalized – to work to change unjust systems – to try and follow in the way of Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing is these days of not believing “firmly” in the physical resurrection of Jesus are actually proving to be days when I am much more likely to live as if I do believe in the resurrection – as if I do believe the tomb was empty – as if I do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Go figure!

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Check out the other contributions:

God’s Radical Hospitality Challenges The Status Quo

The following reflection was first written in honor of National Women’s Day in 2009 under the title “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality.”  I am reposting it today in response to Rachel Held Evans’ invitation to blog about scripture that celebrates women and their importance in the church.  Rachel issued the invitation as a reaction to John Piper declaring that God gave Christianity a masculine feel and urging us to work hard to maintain a masculine Christianity. 

The story of Mary and Martha that is told in Luke 10:38-42 has often been a problem for me.

The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions; and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (which, btw, seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me) And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do what?? What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant!

At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.

You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what I think Jesus was referring to.

I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was just about women’s rights. I believe it was bigger than that. It seems that through Mary, Jesus is denouncing social, political and religious structures that do not practice God’s radical hospitality – the sort of hospitality that overcomes injustice and is grounded in love and mercy and compassion. I think Jesus was saying Mary had boldly chosen to take hold of this justice he had offered to her by allowing her to join him and his disciples, the justice was hers now and he would not take it away from her. I would even go so far as to say Martha saw what was going on and wasn’t being honest with Jesus about what was so upsetting to her – perhaps she wasn’t even aware of what was causing all the anxiety she was feeling. Of course Jesus obviously knew what was upsetting Martha and that explains why he answered her the way he did. He knew Martha was being the voice of the status quo that resists change, even “just” change.

The lesson in Luke 10:38-42 is not that reading the bible or praying is superior to cooking a meal or cleaning house. The lesson is that as followers of Jesus we are not only invited to partake of God’s radical hospitality but we are called to practice it by seeking justice for those in the margins, challenging discrimination wherever we see it and transforming our relationships and institutions so that they reflect the love of Christ.

What’s Your Relationship Status With Jesus and Religion?

First let me say that I thought some people were too harsh in their criticism of Jeff Bethke’s viral video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.  At the same time, I don’t have a problem with people stating and discussing what they don’t like or disagree with in the video/poem. (I think artists should expect the public to analyze and critique their work)

To be honest I didn’t like the video from the beginning.  In fact, the first time I saw it I only watched for about a minute before I shut it down.  My first impression was that it had been done before and better (I still think that to be the case although I can’t point to an example) but as more and more people began to criticize it I listened to it again (all the way through this time) and realized that I also had a problem with some of the theological statements Bethke was making.  My biggest complaint was that he was promoting the penal substitution atonement theory.  I believe that theory to be wrong and very damaging.  However, that doesn’t mean that I want to spend a lot of time or energy dumping on Bethke – that would be a waste of time and not something that would line up with my idea of what it means to be a Christ follower. But, I am interested in some of the conversations that are coming out of this. For instance this post, Jesus and Religion’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated, from my friend Michael William Morrell has some excellent “stuff” for us to ponder and discuss. What about you? What’s your relationship status with Jesus and religion?

A Beautiful Mess

This post is part of the October Synchroblog “Down We Go”.  This month’s theme explores the idea of Jesus calling us to go down into the low and messy places of life–intersecting with the lepers, the lonely, the outcasts, the marginalized – to live a life of humility, love, and interdependence.

There is a lot of talk these days about Christians getting their hands dirty – about how followers of Christ need to be willing to get down into the mess of life.  This kind of talk scares off some people as they begin to try and imagine what that means and what it would require.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t require that people take the drastic measures they usually imagine.

If you want to join in the mess of life just become a part of a community.

Yes, you heard me right.

I know a lot of people think that being involved in a community is one of the easier things that a follower of Christ has to do.

But the reality is that community is hard – community is messy.

Community is messy because people are messy.

Different opinions, different perspectives of right and wrong, different understandings of scripture, different ideas about how to do things, different backgrounds, different histories, different strengths and weaknesses, different personalities, different desires, different passions, different talents, different interests … I could go on but you get the idea.

All of our differences are what makes community so hard and messy.

But it is among the messiness and the challenges and the difficulties that we learn how to be like Christ.

The way to learn how to become like Jesus is to love. The only way we can learn how to love is to practice it in close relationship, and have our lives rub up against each other, including doing so with people who are different from us. Loving people just like us is not that difficult. Loving people who never change, who bug the hell out of us, who aren’t kind or thankful, who don’t pass on grace even though they’ve received heaps of it—that requires much more work. In other words, love is best practiced in the spaces that require it. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus challenges us to—to live into the spaces that only come through a path of descent?”    Kathy Escobar from “Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus”

Someone might wonder why in the world anyone would ever want to be a part of something so horrible as community.

Maybe it is because the sharing of life – the accomplishments, the milestones, the aha moments, the discoveries, the ideas, the experiences are all so much more meaningful and exhilarating and worthwhile when they are shared within a community.  The failures, the difficulties, the losses, the set-backs, the disappointments, the losses, the injustices, the wrongs of life are all so much more bearable when endured within a community.

The thing about community is that it is like washing down a bitter pill with a very sweet and delectable nectar … even though community is hard and messy, it is a beautiful mess.

For more on this idea pick up Kathy Escobar’s book “Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus” and check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog by following the links listed here: