Archive for the 'Jesus' Category
The pre-planting and planning phase of a church plant can almost be an incubator in the mind for an idolatrous messiah complex. Spending too much time playing over the future of what a plant might look like 5 years down the line can really begin to make you think that you’re going to save the world – or at least your suburb. It’s actually a deadly time, as I’m discovering, where visions of grandeur can build tons of little corrosive idols that can whip the carpet out from under the church plant. Maybe a little prayer is needed:
I can’t save the world – Jesus already did that. Please help me to put him up in the bright lights and not myself.
When I was small and you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have told you: Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an archaeologist with a whip, hat and the adventure to go along. Indy was my hero. I suppose most boys growing up have heroes that they envision themselves one day becoming. At a later stage I read a biography of South American liberator Simon Bolivar and became fascinated with the idea of being a hero on a national or even global scale. As a Christian as I read biographies of missionaries who really made a difference in this world it strikes a chord deep down – maybe its a masculinity thing, Wild at Heart if you like. To this day there’s something that grips me when I hear stories about great men achieving great things on a great scale – the kind of people who get their own wiki entry. In many ways I guess I’ve pursued that ideal – I’ve wanted to be that hero with the wiki entry. Most times my motivation is completely self-absorbed and full of pride. Yet something else has helped me recently to re-orientate myself regarding my understanding of the concept of a hero. Over the last few years I’ve had the chance to see and meet heroes face to face. I’ve been able to talk with them and hear their stories:
I once met a black man who, under the previous regime, was horribly beaten by white policemen when during a peaceful march he was chased into a barbed wire fence where he got stuck and was cruelly struck. Today he’s a pastor who works not only in a black community but also in gospel partnership with other white pastors and Christians – he welcomed me into his home and treated me as his closest brother. He’ll never have a wiki entry, but he is undoubtedly a hero.
I’ve met young people slavishly giving their lives over to rescuing homeless folk from a downward spiral into drunkenness despair and death. I see them daily put up with so much crap from so many of these homeless people, some of them even face threats on their very lives from the people they’re trying to help and yet day after day they come back and they love them. These people live on the front line of this broken world – they’ll never get a wiki-entry like Mother Teresa, but they are undoubtedly heroes.
I’ve also met a young man who confessed his struggle with homosexual desires to me. He is convinced above all things that gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for this world and so where others would council him to embrace his homosexuality he has instead shunned it and lived in opposition to it so that he might please Christ rather than man. Internally it must be a mammoth struggle – a war – but its a war that will never be covered in a wiki entry even though it produces a hero of heroes.
All along I’ve wanted to be a hero of the wiki variety and I’ve foolishly missed the stunning examples of heroism that are all around me. In one sense I shouldn’t be surprised because all of these people do follow a man, a suffering servant who was sinless and perfect yet the world chose to mock him, spit on him and crucify him in a horrible death. This death he died so that this broken world might be set free. In the process he has spawned an army of suffering servants, most of whom will never have wiki entries but all of whom will one day be crowned heroes because of him and his heroic work.
My brother, who got a much bigger share than me from the family gene pool when it comes to academic intelligence and skill, has a fascinating question about the sexuality of Jesus and the Gospels.
I went to cinema nouveau last night to watch Juno (I know I’m a bit behind the times), but what really caught my interest was this preview for Son of Man. Jesus is coming to Africa.
I’m fascinated by the amount of posts I read by people calling themselves followers of Jesus. As I scan through various blogs from all corners of the Christian tradition I’m increasingly finding people wanting to attribute such a title to themselves. It has a nice ring to it – ‘Follower of Jesus’ in fact I described myself the exact same way when I filled in the ‘religion’ category on my Facebook profile. Are you a Christian? No, I’m a follower of Jesus – it sounds awfully ecumenical, tolerant and free from so many tags and labels that so many of us as younger evangelicals wish to be rid of. Yet in many circles it seems to be taking on a life of its own – a life that may, in reality, be pointing away from the Jesus it claims allegiance too.
When I probe behind the phrase on so many blogs (yes I know I’m being mystical about which specific blogs and posts I’m referring to but I’d rather keep it that way because it has been a general impression of a number of blogs rather than one aimed at a specific post or blog) I discover something that is rather disturbing. It is disturbing by its omissions rather than by what it affirms. Usually these posts speak about Christ’s calls to uplift the poor, look after the marginalized, love one’s enemies, turn the other cheek etc. etc. And at this point I’m loving it and rejoicing in the supreme moral vision of our Lord Jesus that extends to so many of our current issues in this broken world. It’s affirmation and cheering on all the way from my point of view and one finishes such a post feeling convicted to go out into the world and tackle contemporary issues as a follower of Jesus. But step back and take a closer look – what’s missing? When I step back what I don’t often see is a cross, I don’t see nail pierced hands, I don’t see a thorn scraped brow. Ultimately I don’t see the glorious substitution of Christ in my place whereby I can truly call myself a follower of Jesus – because he has purchased me with his very own blood. Rather I see an ethical Jesus, a Jesus who knows right from wrong but has no way to deal with a problem that stretches so much deeper than right or wrong behaviour. I see a moral first century Rabbi inspiring people to be more moral – and it’s deeply disturbing.
A Jesus without a cross is a Jesus that will not transform or cause anyone to benefit from his amazing moral vision. My deepest fear is that people who pursue this type of Jesus will be found one day to not be a follower of Jesus at all – and that would be tragic.
I’m really enjoying Darrell Bock’s wisdom and insight into the gospels. Here’s a quotation about how, from the relevant gospel texts, he thinks Jesus sees the kingdom of God:
“He apparently foresees a long-running program that was declared and initiated in his teaching and work, but that one day will culminate in a comprehensive judgment. It is to this ultimate goal that the kingdom is headed…The sense of these texts as a whole is that Jesus works within this history and yet will reshape it one day” (Jesus According to Scriputre, p.572)
I think sometimes I get myself into some sort of internal conundrum trying to have a water-tight take on specific doctrines. I don’t think I’m trying to get all my important doctrines squared off into neat little boxes so that I can take the moral high-ground on everyone else and point fingers. That’s really not my intent. I think I quest more for neat formulas because I vest confidence in those formulas as I proceed in ministry and life.
So for example, at the moment I’m frantically scratching my head over the doctrine of the church. There are a number of loose ends that I’d love to see neatly tied up. Why? So that I can tell the world off because they’ve all got church wrong? No – simply so that I can do church properly myself. And herein lies the problem. It becomes a trust problem. My confidence in ministry and life becomes vested in how well I’m able to intellectually tie together my framework about specific doctrines. Now even though many of those doctrines might be closely tied to Christ, they are themselves not Christ and my pursuit of them can therefore become idolatrous.
I wonder if some of us truly believe that we can become idolatrous in our doctrinal quests and miss the Christ under whom all our doctrines should be subservient? I must quest for knowledge, I must quest for truth, I must quest for doctrinal clarity where possible, but I must quest with Christ as my master and nothing else. Anything less is religious idolatry and depreciates the very point of knowledge, truth and doctrine.
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matt. 1:21
Reading the story of Israel is one of endless frustration with the people of Israel. You have this amazing God who time and time again displays his faithfulness to Israel and yet they time and time again stumble and eventually spiral out of control into full blown idolatry. The announcement of Jesus then at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel as the one who will save these Jews from that endless cycle of sin is phenomenal statement by the angel. Jesus is viewed as the ultimate rescuer who will do what no judge, king or prophet could previously do: provide a solution to the sin of ‘his people’. As a gentile being ‘ingrafted’ into ‘his people’ makes that verse a phenomenal verse for me too because if I’m left to my own devices I too will spiral out of control into full blown idolatry. But Jesus has come to rescue! If I get to understand and experience one thing better this year then I hope its that rescue.
Its no secret that I’m often quite fed up with many contemporary expressions of the church. My big issue is authenticity or lack thereof. I want authenticity, I want to be involved in living breathing communities committed to the Gospel in a fresh but authentic manner.
I want to meet with Christians who ‘let it all hang out’ so to speak. I want to meet Christians who understand that they are rebellious sinners, who understand the broken nature of this world – but that also live with the tension of being instruments of proclamation and blessing. I want to meet Christians who want a real Jesus, not a soft sissy who loves everyone so much that he’s lost his moral compass and can’t judge sin for what it really is. At the same time I want to meet Christians who realize that Jesus isn’t just handing out ‘get out of hell free’ tickets but is actively teaching what it means to love and live like residents of the New Creation. I want to meet Christians who struggle to die to self everyday and acknowledge it. I want to meet Christians who know what God’s will is for this planet and don’t run around all day long chasing ‘peaces and fleeces’. I want to meet Christians who take what God has said in scripture both seriously and with humility and don’t use it as a power tool to make their own selfish and megalomaniac alterations on society. I want to meet Christians who love outside of church and home group meeting times. I want to meet Christians who think past guitars and drums when I mention the word ‘worship’. I want to meet Christians who fail but are big enough to run back to the Cross of Jesus and beg for real mercy. I want to meet Christians who know that if they don’t have Jesus then they have nothing – and this is worth fighting tooth and nail for.
I want to meet these people and live with them. I want to see others be transformed and become these people. I want to see myself transformed and become ‘these people’.
I’ve been working on the Sermon on the Mount as part of a post grad program and have found it wonderfully satisfying as well as troubling at the same time. Jesus’ words are both immensely encouraging and go right to the heart of hypocritical religion. As I study it more, His words seem to stick to me as I slowly begin to realise my own religious hypocrisy. One such text that has taken me aback is Matthew 7:1-6. Jesus begins simply enough:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
This is his guiding principle for the text; if one of his followers displays judgment then they will be judged. Before we go further, we need to realise that Jesus was critiquing the deficient righteousness of the Pharisees (cf. 5: 17-48) urging his followers to capture the true meaning of righteousness as putting Christ’s commands into practise. So we have Jesus warning the disciples that if they display the same kind of critical, harsh judgemental attitude that the Pharisees did by condemning others then they are in danger of the greater judgement (see v2). This he helpfully illustrates in v3-5 where he uses the word picture of a man trying to help his brother remove the speck from his eye. But Jesus condemns him as a hypocrite! Why? Because of the log in his own eye; this was the fault of the Pharisees who condemned others for their failings while not being able to see the greater problem of their own hearts, hearts hardened to God and others. And so Jesus warns his followers to not fall into that trap of hypocrisy; Christians do not have the right to condemn a man, which is God’s ultimate job. Ours is to love our neighbour and love God which is the sum of the Law (cf. 7:12).
But don’t we see Jesus judging others? The disciples are told to judge false teachers by their fruits so is this a contradiction? No, for the opposite extreme of being judgemental/condemning is just as bad a mistake. That extreme is to suspend all faculties of critical thought and action. This would mean to let sin go unpunished within a church community, this would mean allowing false teaching that wrecks faith to go unchallenged and that is why v6 is included in the context. It is puzzling and needs some research but the picture is that of a warning that Christians are not to give what is holy (the pearl) to what is unholy (the dogs and pigs) for they may turn and attack! The pearl I take it is that is the Gospel message (cf. Mat 13:44-45) which must at some point NOT be given to these “animals”. The animals come to represent those who are particularly opposed to the Gospel and its implications, who would at any opportunity seek to revile and mock Christ whenever they are given the message.
So Jesus would have his followers love others by helping them and challenging them in their serving of God and men by not judging and condemning them. Yet they must show some level of discrimination against serious opponents of the Gospel for the sake of the glory of God. So I take it that as we engage with non believers and believers we are to do so knowing our place, listening and loving. Yet we cannot accept all that we hear without a critical eye or ear and must be ready to engage and challenge false living and teaching but always be focussing that critical eye to our own lives first (v5). Loving others means challenging their beliefs and life if it does not come in line with Christ’s ethic, but it’s how we do this that is immensely important!
In Mark 12 Jesus is confronted by a teacher of the law who had evidently been sitting in and around the conversations that we’re going on between Jesus and the other religious authorities that day. He’d noticed how Jesus had skillfully avoided their theological traps and turned numerous questions around so that the other religious authorities scrambling desperately for answers. This teacher was impressed and so wanting to see what Jesus was really about at his core he asked, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
Jesus answers by quoting the ‘Shema’ from Deuteronomy 6 and outlines what he’s about by basically saying, ‘God alone is God, therefore love him with everything you have.’ What is striking is that he doesn’t leave it there, instead he adds another commandment, ‘love people as you love yourself’. The teacher only asked him for one but he gave two – why? Surely it must be because loving God is intricately wrapped up with loving people in this world. Whilst loving people is not all there is to loving God it is so closely connected that Jesus connects the two. Very simply, we cannot love God and not love people.
On Saturday I sat at a lunch table at a homeless shelter with a young guy from the Cape Flats, a Zimbabwean refugee and an elder Xhosa man far displaced from his home desperately looking for work. They were all very different from me, and to be honest conversation was hard and awkward, but Jesus says I have to love them, becuase I claim to love God. May we pray that God would give us the love for all his people that his Son so evidently displayed when he walked this earth.
When it comes to loving and caring for people the majority of the texts in the New Testament seem to be primarily concerned that God’s people be concerned with each other. Whilst many of Jesus’ statements can be taken more generally, there is precious little in the epistles regarding love and concern for those outside of God’s people, outside of the church. This is a bit of an intriguing phenomenon that begs further study. Here however is a starting thought which you’re welcome to agree with, disagree with or expand upon:
God’s kingdom is about the rule of Christ, that rule will only be consummated completely when Christ returns, is declared to be lord of all and every knee, willingly or unwillingly bows in submission to him. At the moment though Christ rules by his Spirit which is to say he rules by his church, the one place on this earth, where his Spirit dwells. His church then are to display the kingdom of God to a watching world who have rejected God’s dominion.
So when Christians love and care for one another with selflessness they display the kingdom to the outside. Hence the writers of the epistles are at pains to call Christians to love and care in community. Whatever the Christian’s call to social action, doing justice and showing love and mercy, it must begin with the church – that much is absolutely clear I think.
“I can’t believe in a God who will send people to hell just because they didn’t make a decision for Jesus.“
Ever heard argumentation along those lines? I think its perhaps one of the most common reasons that people cite for not embracing Christianity. Now previously my initial response would be to try and use some sort of philosophical approach to debunk the argument and show that God is perfectly just in sending people to hell because they didn’t accept Jesus.
I wouldn’t do that now for one simple reason: The Bible NEVER says that people are being sent to hell because they never made a decision for Jesus. I’ve heard pastors say that when you get to heaven God is not going to ask you whether you were good or bad but rather, ‘What did you do with my Son?’ Now whilst I understand their point its not really biblical. If any question at all, God would surely ask this question ‘Why have you made yourself king in my place?’ That, according to Romans 1-3 is the only reason why God is sending people to hell – Jesus hasn’t even entered the fray yet.
People are going to hell because they refuse to submit to the Lordship of their very own creator and sustainer. Jesus is the rescuer – by refusing his rescue we simply leave ourselves in that state of rebellion. Now I know this still leaves hard questions – like whether or not its fair on those people who never get a chance to hear the message of a rescuing Jesus, and that is a difficult question which needs a thoughtful, humble and gracious response. But, those questions aside, at least the biblical view of why people go to hell is clear. They have ignored God as King. So we can’t accuse God of sending us to hell because we didn’t ‘make a decision’ for Jesus when we ourselves refuse to submit to his Lordship.
In Mark 10:33-34 Jesus predicts his death. Up to this point though in the narrative of Mark he hasn’t mentioned that the Gentiles are going to ‘mock him and spit on him’ and ultimately kill him. The mocking and spitting seems to be drawing on Isaiah 50:6 and it seems that Jesus is marrying the two concepts of ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Suffering Servant’ (something I think that NT Wright fails to do in his overarching view of atonement, the christus victor view – but that’s another blog post altogether).
What I’m interested in though is the specific mention of the Gentiles – why the mention? My initial thoughts are that in the Old Testament Israel’s rebellion and sin was punished by the historical invasions of Gentile nations. I wonder if Mark wants us to pick up on this? Previously in redemptive history Gentiles were used by God to punish sin. Is it not a hint in the text of Mark that Jesus is going to the cross so that sin might be punished and so we have this mention of Gentiles who will, in the langauge of Isaiah, mock and kill the suffering servant? (Has anyone read Peter Bolt’s book The Cross from a Distance – does he pick up on this in that book?)
‘Missional’ is a tag I use a lot for many of my posts and it also characterizes the type of ministry that I wish to be involved with in the future. I suppose its pretty near the forefront of what I think about all day when I think about ministry. Today I stopped and reflected as to how things came to be this way in my thinking. Which influences shaped my missional thinking. So I’ve decided to list a few (in no particular order – some are more recent influences, others influenced me a while ago. I’ve particularly not included Scripture as an influence because pretty much all of these influences below have helped me to reflect thoughtfully on the Word of God):
- My good friend Sam who is now a church planter and pastor in Pietermaritzburg.
- The writings of Steve Timmis and Tim Chester – Sam and I read ‘The Gospel Centered Church‘ together when I was still quite a new Christian.
- The writings and talks of Tim Keller – I think most would agree that Keller is the unofficial bishop of missionals in the reformed tradition.
- My studies in Biblical Theology – thanks especially to the writings of Graeme Goldsworthy for helping me to see God’s unfolding plan for his Kingdom.
- A group of gospel-centered pastors in Kwa-Zulu Natal who took me through a 2 year apprenticeship programme. Thanks Grant, Ray, David, Michael, Wayne and Duane.
- Christ Church Glenwood (the church Grant and Ray pastor) in Durban – I’d never seen a church like this before with such an emphasis on local mission, especially with the students of UKZN.
- St. Stephen’s, Claremont – my current church continues to inspire me as they continue to be missionaries for Jesus in the Cape Town community.
- Bishop Frank Retief – the current presiding bishop of CESA. His commitment to the gospel and church planting over so many years is astounding.
- Phillip Jensen and the Sydney Anglicans - I’ve never been to Sydney but I’ve read a lot of Jensen’s books and listened to his talks and they’ve left me wanting to help people to come to truly know Christ.
- Short term spells of working in townships and low income areas in Cape Town – when you’re there on the ground with them you can’t but help becoming missional.
- The great friendships I’ve built up and discussions I’ve had with my colleagues from Sub-Saharan Africa – thanks Asaf, Leo, Velile, Jean-Blaise, Pastor Pirai, your stories have encouraged me to use whatever gifting I have to be missional here in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- The wonderful self-sacrificial missionaries I met in Malawi last year – you redeemed the concept of ‘missionary’ for me.
- The crew from U-Turn who work tirelessly with homeless folk everyday – you show that Jesus’ love is very practical.
- Mark Driscoll – he makes me laugh and he loves Jesus and wants people to be in a right relationship with God.
- Donald Miller – whether you like him or not ‘Blue Like Jazz‘ is brilliant – it helped me to treat people as human.
- The Emerging conversation – I have a love/hate relationship with the EC, but the things I love in the EC I really do love.
- The writings and talks of Don Carson – No one has helped me understand the gospel with more richness and fullness.
- The Faculty of the Bible Institute of South Africa – you’ve taught me to love people.
- My friends Mark and Anthony – you both often talk to me about ‘missional’ things. These times have been good, let’s pray that God will help us translate these conversations into faithful ministry on the ground.
- The world of blogging – its been a lot of fun and I’ve learned stacks from taking part in it.
- Emergent Africa – seeing your guys’ hearts on these issues has been a privilege.
- My beautiful country – South Africa – she inspires me to see Jesus as her King.
What are your influences?
Ant Adams talks about what’s really important. If you’re anything like me then you need to go read it, think about, repent and ask God to conform you to the likeness of his Son.
I’m probably least likely to help someone in need when I myself am having a bit of rough time. You get days when you’re on top of the world and you’re ready to solve just about every major problem in the world – and then there are days when you stub your toe as you get out of bed, your favourite dog gets knocked over by a car, you scrape your own car on the gate on the way out and the rest of the day just continues like that…the last thing you feel like doing is being compassionate and helping out someone.
That’s what makes Matthew 14:13-14 completely remarkable. In the preceding verses John the Baptist is brutally executed for standing up for righteousness. In response to this tragic news Jesus withdraws to a solitary place, he probably didn’t really want to be around a bunch of people just then. In spite of this the crowds hear about his withdrawal and masses of them followed him to the solitary place. At this point in the narrative you’re like, ‘hey give the guy a break – he’s dealing with some pretty rough news about someone close to him – just leave him to be.’ Maybe you’d expect to see an irritable Jesus tell the crowds to get lost. Instead there’s none of that.
Instead we have Jesus who when he ‘saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick’. That really is a stunning verse and an insight into the heart of our gracious rescuer Jesus Christ. When others would be at their grumpiest and lowest, Christ is filled with compassion. I suppose this is best seen at the cross where Jesus is, by human standards, at his lowest and yet at the same time is partaking in the most compassionate act in history.
So we want to follow Jesus. His compassion wouldn’t be a bad place to start, to be able to look out at this world, at people and reflect the compassion of Jesus to them. If we, as Christians, could grasp something of this sort of compassion then there is nothing in this world that cannot be transformed. Pray that you and I might now that compassion and might reflect that compassion to the multitudes who are in desperate need of healing.