Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Wednesday Word: Pre-Easter Politics

Fearless readers, let me start today’s post with a confession: kids waving palm branches in churches on Palm Sunday (last Sunday) drives me crazy. Is it cute? Is it fun? Of course it is. But, it’s also a domestication of one of the strongest, and most significant socio-political actions that Jesus took in his ministry. And that we turn that statement into a feel good moment for ourselves and avoid the challenge of Jesus’ words and actions in the scripture drives me nuts.

So let’s take a peek at this story of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” and “cleansing the Temple” and try to avoid those warm and fuzzy feelings!

Matthew 21:1-17
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus at the Temple

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.


It’s dangerous to make a royal entry when there is already a king.
Make no mistake,  the final stages of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is meant to serve as a sign that he is the king, that is, the Messiah. Jesus and all of his traveling companions (coming to Jerusalem for Passover) and the crowds who are greeting them, were aware of the words of the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 9:9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Using the imagery of this text, Jesus comes in peace to Jerusalem to make peace for God’s people. BUT, he comes as the king. The irony here of course is that Jesus knows full well he will not be accepted as king. In fact, Jerusalem and Judea already had several “kings” who were not going to relinquish power to him, including the Roman Emperor Tiberius, the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, or the chief priests of the Temple, who served as the leaders of the Jewish people. So while Jesus may come in peace, he is performing an action that will undoubtedly lead to violence against him. And note that the crowds who are celebrating Jesus’ arrival are not in Jerusalem; they are outside of it. The people who live in the power center of Jerusalem are NOT excited about Jesus! They know the what the threat of a would-be messiah.

Jesus’ actions at the Temple are political.
Jesus’ immediate journey to the Temple fit his royal entrance. After all, the Temple was not just a “religious” space; it was the power-center of Jerusalem and Judea. It was essentially a fortress and was traditionally presided over (at least ceremonially- think Solomon) by the king. Therefore, it was in many ways an extension of the royal palace insofar as it represented the power that God had given to the monarch who He chose. Jesus, who is claiming to be this King, then does what kings do when they are establishing their rule: upon entering the capital city or a conquered city they go straight to the seat of power and claim it as their domain. This is what Jesus is doing here. This is a political and religious statement, and in fact the two are inseparable. To be king of Israel was to be chosen by God and was to have authority over the Temple. And control over the Temple meant control over worship.

It’s not about the money changers.
We make this story far less significant if we portray Jesus as just having a problem with the money changers or people selling animals. There are reasons to believe he thought the Temple courtyards were an inappropriate place to sell or trade money, but that’s not the core issue that he has with what’s going on at the Temple. Jesus’ reference to the Temple as a “den of robbers,” is a reference to Jeremiah 7, in which Jeremiah accuses both the Temple leaders and people of believing they can behave immorally (oppressing the weak, being violent, worshipping idols, etc.) and receive God’s special protection them because they have the Temple. And the word “robber” is misleading; the word Jesus, quoting Jeremiah, uses, is far closer to the word “brigand” or even “rebel.” In other words, the Temple, like a “robber’s den,” has become a place from which the wicked dominate others and consolidate their rule. The guys selling and changing money are just the tip of this iceberg. Ultimately the chief priests and Sadducees are behind this show, and are using the Temple as a tool to maintain their power instead of stewarding it as the holy place where God is known.

What false and true worship look like.
When Jesus arrives at the Temple there is a problem with worship: he is not recognized as the King by the Temple authorities. That means that God’s authority and rule is not recognized. So their worship does not actually aim to serve God or obey him. Their worship is self-motivated and self-serving. It is only natural then that their worship does not seek to care for those who are at the bottom of the power-base (blind, lame, children, Gentiles whose court they are using for commerce), since those people are of no use to them.

When Jesus arrives this changes. Space is made for outsiders, the non-Jews (Gentiles), to worship and pray to God. The blind and lame and children are invited into worship. Jesus is recognized as God’s anointed rulers. And the power of God is present to heal His people. It is helpful to recall at this point Jesus’ words to his disciples about being a “light to the world.” When worship is led by Jesus it looks like a “light to the world,” as opposed to the worship led by the chief priests, which simply followed the pattern of the world: keeping “enemies” away, over-looking the powerless, and consolidating power in God’s name.

Hard Reflections:

Do we see people using “Temples” in our society today as Jesus’ opponents did?
In other words, do we see people using religious structures to solidify a power-base or justify their self-serving actions? Yes, absolutely we do. And these people, similar to the chief priests in our scripture, would claim that they are acting on behalf of the people for their security, protection, and prosperity. These religious leaders today are not interested in recognizing God’s authority by following the example of Jesus: loving enemies, making room for the marginalized to worship, or seeking God’s healing for his people and the nations. Rather, they wave Christianity as a banner to be protected by worldly means and as a tool to rule others and justify their rule over others. In its most toxic American form, Christianity is used as a means to justify the rule of wealthy, white America and over society and much of the world. Yet it should be noted that this form of false worship is found in many places and societies (not just in America and among our ruling class), and functions in a similar manner: worship is used to justify the powerful and solidifies their place in that society or location.  

There are many self-serving Temples today.

If we step back even further, we realize that the Temple can simply be the “moral high ground” in any power struggle that one side uses to push its will. The Temple can be “fighting for democracy,” which results in a perpetual war benefiting the sector of society pushing it. It can also be “equality,” which then is used to attack whatever class is deemed the enemy of equality by the holders of power. In other words, both the right and left use their own “temples” to push their agenda and their right to rule over others. My guess is actually that we all have our own “temples” (I know I do), and if we are serious about following Jesus we should probably deal with this reality.

What ruler will we follow?
Ultimately, the manner in which Jesus enters Jerusalem and by his actions at the Temple, he forced people to make a choice: whose authority will they live under? Would they obey Jesus as their King, and recognize his authority over their lives, or will they live under the final authority of the way of the Romans and chief priests? Jesus wasn’t calling them to violent revolt, but he was calling for them to imitate him and reject the self-serving power structures of the world. We are faced with these same questions. Will we follow Jesus and dedicate our lives to imitating his practices and mission: loving enemies, reconciling outsiders to God, seeking to serve the powerless, and rejecting self-serving worship? Or will we follow the power structures of the world, and justify our actions in God’s name? Jesus’ actions leave no room for a middle ground; he forces us to declare whose authority is legitimate and whose authority we will bow down to.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Alex Drops the Mic

Hello faithful readers! I know it's tiring to hear the same voice over and over (even when it's yours truly), so today we have a special guest blogger, Alex DiRoma. Alex is a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University, and has been serving with Burning Bush Communities for the last several months. We love him a lot, and are very proud of his growth as a disciple and his heart for Jesus.

One of the things that Burning Bush Communities wants to be about is inspiring disciples of Jesus to pursue the ministry passions that we believe he gives to all his people. Our brother Alex has a passion for thinking through intellectual challenges to faith in Christ, and I asked him to share a little today about his journey towards this passion . . .

Hello everyone! My name is Alex. I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of BBC for the past few months and had the chance to join them in serving the community. Today, I want to share some of the ways that God has been at work in my life in the last couple years, particularly in drawing me back to Him and using the practice of Christian apologetics to revitalize my faith. To give you all a bit of context to my story, as early on as I can think of I remember growing up in church culture. I grew up in a Christian home, accepted Jesus at an early age, and attended a Christian church. Though there were the inevitable ebbs and flows of my faith, the background was most certainly there. Though there’s many different aspects I could focus on, I want to look at one in particular and hopefully give you all an idea of how the Lord has moved in my life. 

This portion of my story started off a few years ago- in a time when I wasn’t very close to God- I remember late one night I drove a friend home after work. Usually we talked about anything from friends, to football, to video games, etc. We were always able to talk about fun topics, but rarely anything too serious. Oddly enough, this night the conversation looked much different. He began talking about his life philosophy, his views on God and what he believed about the deep questions of life. Though he bordered on Agnosticism, he expressed his heartfelt thoughts and opinions and even barriers that kept him from taking Christianity seriously. In a state of mild shock, I listened for a good while and was deeply moved by his honest questions. He had some great inquiries and I could feel that he genuinely wanted to dive deeper into conversation. It was very frustrating for myself, though, because to that point in my life I’d never had to fully explain my faith in this manner and never really had to present a defense of my faith. 

Why should I trust in Jesus?

What makes him different than other gods?

Is there any real evidence of a resurrection?

How can a good God allow evil?

These were the types of questions I was confronted with that night. I tried my best to respond to them but still didn’t feel I answered them well nor did a particularly good job addressing his own worldview. This was only the start, though. It was the first of many instances during this period of time that this type of dialogue happened. Each time, I grew more and more anxious to learn how to address these questions. I knew in my heart that Jesus was the truth, but I didn’t know how to help others see that.

A few weeks later, during the middle of a sleepless night I was up surfing the internet for inspiration on how to re-spark my relationship with God. At one point I came across a number of Christian vs Atheist debates. Out of curiosity I clicked and watched. One video turned into two. Two turned into three. Three turned into four, and before I knew it I was glued to my computer screen for hours on end. I was amazed at how these people were able to defend their faith. I’d never seen someone engage another person like that and provide compelling reasons outside of scripture for believing. Looking back, I’m certain that God used that night to stir something in my heart. It was in the burning desire to answer the difficult questions of life for others and for myself that I began to reinvest in my faith. Now, normally the word “burden” has a negative connotation in our culture, but since that night I’ve felt a burden on my heart for sharing the truth with others. It’s been a driving force ever since then to speak the message of Jesus and the reasons for faith to others. 

Even to this day, that burden has stuck with me. Looking at our current culture, I see a need for it to be engaged with and for it to encounter authentic discussions of faith and truth. For most people it’s difficult to go directly from non belief to belief all in one sequence. This is where I believe apologetics can come in and play a vital role for others as it did for myself. Breaking down barriers, removing misconceptions and clarifying some of the complicated topics that keep people from truly understanding just who God is, is one of the many relevant things that apologetics can provide in our daily walks of life. I hope that through this story you can see some of the ways that God has worked in my life and how he can work through any of our weaknesses and imperfections.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wednesday Word: Perfect Practice

The beat goes on today, faithful reader, as we continue exploring Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew! Our key to understanding what Jesus is up to in our scripture today is to connect it to the passages that precede it. Jesus is still talking about what it looks like to live in alignment to the Kingdom. Today he’s zeroing in on what spiritual practices look like for people who are aligned with the Kingdom…

Matthew 6:1-18

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
10  Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12  And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


Spiritual practices do not make anyone a “light of the world!”

One of the biggest (repeated) mistakes that the church and Christians have made is believing that our devotional practices make us people who inspire others to follow Jesus. As Jesus has made clear, it is the character of our community (practicing enemy love, reconciliation, commitment, generosity, etc.) that makes us a "light," and not our devotional lives. Public, ostentatious devotional practices turn people away, as they are generally perceived as an attempt to show that we’re better (“holier”) than others. And if they’re not backed up by Christlike character they are exactly the type of hypocrisy (“play acting”) that Jesus rails against.

Spiritual practices are not to be used for self-advancement.
Up to this point Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount have been absolutely against self-interest. This holds true for devotional practices as well. In Jesus’ day public displays of devotion and piety gave social status and power to those who practiced them. Furthermore, public giving would place an obligation on the recipient of the gift to celebrate and support the gift giver. If our devotional practices serve our own ends then they are illegitimate in God’s eyes.

Spiritual practices are a given!
It is worth pointing out that Jesus takes it for granted that his disciples will give, pray and fast. Spiritual practices are an absolute necessity for disciples, but they are to be directed to God alone and not done for the sake of the disciple. It’s important not to throw out the baby with the bath water here. Just because spiritual practices are misused by some doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them!

The first practice is giving.
I was struck this week that the first spiritual practice mentioned by Jesus is giving. That’s probably worth paying attention to! Before even talking about praying he’s talking about giving. When we reflect on the sermon though, it makes sense. If the sermon is a call to God-likeness, that is, to live as a reflection of God (God’s image), then it follows that giving would be first, as God is above all the Giver in scripture. God gives creation life, gives us life, gives the necessities of life, gives mercy, forgiveness, etc. So if our practices follow his then giving is a good place to start.

Spiritual practices make us depend on God.
Giving, praying alone and fasting all have one thing (at least) in common: they make us weak. We give up money, time and physical strength when we practice them, and these things are necessities to make things happen in life. Yet by practicing them we allow God’s strength to be revealed, as we must depend on him and not on our own abilities to make things happen. Of course there are few things that characterized the life and ministry of Jesus more than his voluntary weakness. He left what little social security or power he had by leaving his family and hometown, he gave up his opportunity to make money and friends of status for the sake of his message, and finally gave up all his time and strength by going to the cross. And through this voluntary weakness the power of God was revealed in life, healing, hope and resurrection… may our spiritual practices follow his example!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Word: Standard Denial

There are few passages in the Bible which are more celebrated and less practiced than Matthew 5:21-48. Many modern, evangelical Christian interpreters (along with many others before them) seem to interpret the words of Jesus here with the goal of exempting their audience from obedience. The most common claim made in this attempted exemption is that Jesus here is just trying to show that everyone needs grace. He’s not actually thinking people should do what he (speaking for God) says, but rather, he is showing that it’s actually impossible to do what God wills and so we all just need to ask for forgiveness. This interpretation is ridiculous. Time and time again the words of Jesus here are reinforced by his own behavior, his demands on his disciples, and the call for obedience.

Now, that’s not to say that this passage is to be read literally or legalistically. It is full of hyperbole and is a work of rhetoric. It does need to be interpreted; it is not entirely self-explanatory. So, given that this is a brief blog post and not a book that could explore how to interpret these issues in depth, I want to propose that we read this passage with our eyes on the big patterns and themes. If we can do that, and if we can set aside any worries about “situational ethics” or “could this work?” we might stand a reasonable chance to begin obeying Jesus and not interpreting around him.   

Matthew 5:21-48
21“You heard that it was said to the ancient people, ‘You shall not murder’; and anyone who commits murder shall be liable to judgment. 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; anyone who uses foul and abusive language will be liable to the lawcourt; and anyone who says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to the fires of Gehenna. 23“So, if you are coming to the altar with your gift, and there you remember that your brother has a grievance against you, 24leave your gift right there in front of the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother. Then come back and offer your gift. 25Make friends with your opponent quickly, while you are with him in the street, in case your opponent hands you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you find yourself being thrown into jail. 26I’m telling you the truth: you won’t get out until you’ve paid every last copper coin.

27“You heard,” Jesus continued, “that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you: everyone who gazes at a woman in order to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye trips you up, tear it out and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than for the whole body to be thrown into Gehenna. 30And if your right hand trips you up, cut it off and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than for your whole body to go into Gehenna. 31“It was also said, ‘If someone divorces his wife, he should give her a legal document to prove it.’ 32But I say to you: everyone who divorces his wife, unless it’s in connection with immorality, makes her commit adultery; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33“Again, you heard that it was said to the people long ago: ‘You shall not swear falsely, but you shall give to the Lord what you promised under oath.’ 34But I say to you: don’t swear at all! Don’t swear by heaven (it’s God’s throne!); 35don’t swear by the earth (it’s God’s footstool!); don’t swear by Jerusalem (it’s the city of the great king!); 36don’t swear by your head (you can’t make one hair of it turn white or black!). 37When you’re talking, say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no. Anything more than that comes from the evil one.

38“You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil! Instead, when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one toward him. 40When someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your cloak, too. 41And when someone forces you to go one mile, go a second one with him. 42Give to anyone who asks you, and don’t refuse someone who wants to borrow from you. 43“You heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! 45That way, you’ll be children of your father in heaven! After all, he makes his sun rise on bad and good alike, and sends rain both on the upright and on the unjust. 46Look at it like this: if you love those who love you, do you expect a special reward? Even tax-collectors do that, don’t they? 47And if you only greet your own family, what’s so special about that? Even Gentiles do that, don’t they? 48Well then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.


There are no minimum standards.

In order to understand this passage, I like to take Jesus’ sentences that begin “You have heard it said…” and re-frame them with self-justifying words and a defensive tone of voice. For example, let’s take 5:31: “Yeah, okay, I divorced my wife. But at least I gave her a certificate!” Or perhaps 5:21. “Sure, that guy drives me crazy and I called him an idiot in front of the whole office, but it’s not like I punched him in the face or ruined his life.” Try 5:27-28, “I’m not like those guys; I’d never cheat on my wife! But it doesn’t hurt anyone for me to just take a few minutes and watch the college girls doing squats in the gym, if you know what I mean!”

Most of us compare ourselves to other people or to society or to “minimum standards” to make ourselves feel like we’re righteous. As long as our behavior is socially acceptable and stays away from the “really bad stuff” then we think we’re doing okay.

Not so for Jesus. Jesus destroys the idea of minimum standards here. Essentially Jesus is pointing to these laws or traditions and saying that they were never meant to be the goal. They were boundaries created to restrain the evil that was present, but they did not set the benchmark for righteousness.

God is the standard.

The benchmark for righteousness is God, and nothing else. Minimum standards are ultimately useless in Jesus' eyes, because if we are not striving to be like God (as God’s children and people made in His image) then the project is a failure. And of course this is where things get tough, because God is loving and blessing both good people and bad people; God gives his gifts (according to Jesus) indiscriminately to humankind. (Now, this does not eliminate judgment- this passage is full of it- but it places judgment in God’s hands alone and this judgment only comes at the end of all the gift-giving done by God.) So if God is the standard then the behaviors called for by Jesus- gentleness and kindness, reconciliation, purity, commitment, peacemaking, truthfulness, etc.- are simply a matter of course.

Self-denial in all areas of life marks the community of Jesus.
If Jesus’ words here are meant to describe what his community is to be like then perhaps we should say above all that his community is to practice self-denial. Every point in this sermon involves self-denial. We are called to leave behind self-protection, self-vindication, self-fulfillment, self-righteousness, self-dependence and just about every self-word you can come up with. And this self-denial is evident in the way we interact with neighbors, friends, spouses, enemies and even oppressors. Whatever the situation is- and this passage does not seek to outline rules for every situation- we must ask what it means to imitate God (revealed in Jesus) and then set aside our own self-interest and obey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Wednesday Word: Affliction

Well fearless readers, it’s been an eventful and difficult week for your friends at Burning Bush Communities. For the sake of privacy I won’t go into specifics, but several members of our community faced (or are facing) some real trials, including: bad accidents, bad medical news, and unforeseen life transitions. Truly, we have much to be grateful for in the midst of all this, as many of these events could have gone far worse. Yet this has been a week with plenty of grief, and it has served as a reminder of just how fragile and vulnerable our lives are.

As I have been praying and thinking about all these things over the last week my mind has rested upon 2 Corinthians 4, and the Apostle Paul’s words about the nature of suffering and affliction in the service of God’s mission…

2 Corinthians 4:1, 6-11
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart… 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.


There’s no avoiding affliction.

Life isn’t easy for clay jars. We break, we chip and someday we will cease to function. This was taken for granted in world of the Apostle Paul. To live was to face suffering. However, as modern people we often live with the goal of escaping suffering. We pursue this escape through medicine, drugs, eating, entertainment, sex and much more. And for many, faith itself is a means to escape suffering. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand our faith.

Our faith in Christ and our allegiance to Christ is not a means of avoiding affliction. Nor is it a pain-pill to forget affliction. Rather, our faith makes a way through affliction. It provides us with a Spirit-filled power and love that will not be conquered by affliction. It gives us a loyalty that spurs us on when affliction drains our strength and our ability. It is a community, a family, that holds together strongest when the affliction is most painful. And it is a Presence that endures with us and covers us when affliction tells us we are forgotten and alone. BUT, (and this is a big but!) this faith doesn’t make the journey less painful in the moment. We still feel weak, confused, hurt and afraid, but we are not defeated by these things.

Affliction does not define us.

If we belong to Jesus we are defined by Jesus. We are not defined by the struggles that we have in this life. We bear the scars of our affliction, but they don’t form the core of our identity or determine our destiny. Rather, we endure them for the sake of Jesus, we face them for the sake of Jesus, and we work to heal from them for the sake of Jesus, that we may continue on the path that He makes for us. The Apostle Paul was not defined by his poverty, or by the persecution he received, or by his suffering. He was defined by his commitment to Jesus his King. We walk a sort of middle ground here. We don’t run from affliction and try to escape, nor do we allow affliction to dictate the terms of our life. We accept it, we face it and we offer ourselves to God in the midst of it, trusting in Him to supply what is needed to give us life.

We move into affliction to make the life of Jesus visible.
The life of Christ is most obvious when we bear His blessing unto others in the midst of affliction. It is when we choose to move into another’s affliction (hello solidarity) or continue on our mission in the midst of affliction that Christ’s life becomes evident. The whole world knows that broken “clay jars” don’t hold water. So when the world sees a jar that by all appearances is cracked and broken and fit for the trash heap over-flowing with water and soaking all those nearby they take notice that something greater is at work. To “carry in our bodies the death of Jesus” is to crucify our self-will and self-protection and selfishness and to step willingly into affliction. And we do this so that the healing and empowering and re-creating presence of Jesus might be made available through us and our sharing in the affliction of this world. There is nothing easy or glamorous about this decision, but it’s the highest calling for clay jars like us, and the greatest gift we can offer others in this life.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Acts 3: Walk it Off

Today we are back (finally!) in Acts and ready to take on chapter three. This is actually the first “apostle-initiated” mission event in church history (at Pentecost the Spirit showed up and the apostles reacted, and of course before that Jesus was leading the way), and as such it creates a paradigm for future mission and outreach work. Enjoy!

Acts 3:1-10
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.


1. It starts with prayer and devotion.

My guess, along with many scholars, is that Peter and John followed the tradition of pious Jews in their day and prayed multiple times throughout the day, including the traditional “ninth hour” (that’s 3pm) trip to the temple. A key for us then, is that everything that follows in this story begins from their posture of seeking God’s presence. It is through their consistent devotion to God in prayer that they are brought into contact with this lame man. This is a paradigm! If we give ourselves consistently to God and to His purposes in the world in prayer we will find that God begins directing us to the work that He has for us. We might say that mission should be the natural outcome of prayer.

2. Mission requires vision.
Peter and John can only do the work that Jesus sent them to do (John 20:21, among other scriptures) if they can see the people who need Jesus. Imagine how many times people walked by this beggar without noticing him. My guess is that Peter and John themselves walked by him many times as well without raising an eyebrow. Yet here, in the wake of receiving the Spirit at Pentecost (after praying, remember?) they truly see this man and his need… Which brings us to our second paradigm of the passage: we can’t share the blessing we’ve received from God with others if we can’t see them! We often talk about vision in terms of leadership and charting a course for the future. But mission requires FIRST a vision for those in need in the present. If we can’t see them (or dare we say, if we don’t know them!) them we can’t do the work Jesus has for us.

3. There’s no avoiding the risk.
While we’re told in Acts 2:43 that many “signs and wonders” were done by the apostles, this is the first recorded healing for Peter after Jesus’ ascension. At the very least, it is probably Peter’s first healing away from the group and in front of an unbelieving and potentially hostile crowd. I can’t help but believe then that Peter might have been a little anxious as he proclaimed healing to this man! At the very least his heart rate is going up! But here’s the thing, in order for the healing to take place Peter had to take this risk. He couldn’t go and whisper in a corner to the guy, or just say a silent prayer and yank the guy’s arm, he had to speak in front of all the people passing by and be “that guy” who is willing to risk (at the very least) his reputation to see God’s work done. And, if you’re thinking this is a third paradigm, you’re right! Ultimately, all legitimate mission involves risk and the possibility of spectacular failure.

So… let’s now take these paradigms to a personal level:

How is your devotion to prayer and God’s presence fueling your sense of mission?
Who are you seeing with prayer-inspired vision as someone God is sending you to?
What risk will you take to share the blessing you’ve received from God with them?

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...