13 October, 2008

Although it’s been a while since I’ve regularly blogged, I have been posting elsewhere.  So here’s something I wrote not so long ago on what I believe makes followers of Jesus distinctive…

What makes us distinctive?

I have friends who tell me it’s the fact that we’ve acknowledged what Jesus did on the cross so we’re saved and we live our lives accordingly.

But, I watch them, and they’re driven by much of the same compulsive attitudes (success, power, authority, popularity, status) that the rest of the world is. The biggest difference is they’ve channelled those attitudes, desires, whatever into what has become socially acceptable within Christian culture.

Same same… but different.

In this case, the only distinctive thing is the culture in which it’s all lived out. It’s like they’ve justified them all by slapping the word “calling” on them and giving them the appearance of Godliness.

Sure they’re different, they don’t smoke, they don’t swear, they don’t sleep around, they don’t cheat on their partners, and they frown upon those that do. Mind, I know many unsaved people who don’t do any of these things either. But then my unsaved friends don’t read bibles, and turn up to church on Sundays and don’t tithe, maybe that’s it?

I know many unsaved that pray… so that can’t be it, although they wouldn’t put “in the name of Jesus” on the end. 

But, isn’t that still just behaviour modification or even ‘sin management’ (as Dallas Willard so eloquently puts it)? 

Isn’t the thing that actually makes us distinctive not that we talk and walk with people just like us, and exert self-control in some areas of our lives, or even that our lives have been modified so that we fit within acceptable standards of behaviour with the Christian culture, but rather that we’re becoming more and more aware of how much we’re loved by our Creator and that that love is transforming us on the inside into his image. So that, all that other stuff no longer matters to us? 

We don’t need power, control, authority over others, success etc to make us feel ok or even acceptable to those around us. We no longer need to perform for the masses, conform to their expectations or even place expectations of behavioural standards on others. I mean, isn’t that what Jesus came to set us free from? Not only sin and it’s grasp on our lives, but along with that (for surely it’s all connected?), free to live unencumbered by all the stress of conformity to those around us and their expectations? Religious or otherwise?

Free to be the beloved of God.
Free to live for others instead of self.
Free to promote others ahead of ourselves.
Free to allow them to ruin our reputations before men.
Free to go where religion can’t take us, to befriend the drug addict, 
the homeless, 
the poor, 
the widow, 
the wretched, 
the neglected, 
the smelly, 
the stinky, 
the dirty, 
the naked, 
the homosexual, 
the blasphemer, 
the sex addict, 
the foul mouthed youth, 
the drunkard, 
the single parent, 
the angry teenager, 
the ugly, 
the despicable, 
the desperate,
the lonely, 
the murderer, 
the enemy of our nation, 
and those that act in all the other ways we find offensive, because, really, we’ve encountered the love and forgiveness of Jesus and we get that just like us, these are just hurting, broken people, responding to the fact that they ‘feel’ unloved and unimportant.

But we know that’s not true. They are loved more deeply and more honestly then anything they can imagine, and what really matters is that the people around us begin to get how loved they are by their heavenly Father. That they (and we?) no longer have to lash out at others to protect or exalt themsevles. They are loved due to the mere fact that they ‘are’ the beloved of God, His creation, His kids and Jesus died for them as much as he died for us… He loves them, and if we don’t, then John tells us we don’t know God.

And I believe our distinctiveness is found in the fact that we wont isolate or reject the ‘unlovely’, we wont shun those who disagree with us, we wont judge the broken, because we know that they already feel wretched and dirty, it’s grace they don’t understand, and we have that by the bucket-load!!! We get ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ because He has met us in the midst of our junk, and poured His love into our hearts.

That’s what markes a believer as distinctive to me. Not just the ‘card carrying christians’ who show up every time the church doors are open and have exchanged ambition in the ‘world’ for ambition in the church, because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do’… but those who are the people of God because the Spirit of Jesus lives in them.

I reckon that is our distinctiveness, and no amount of separateness “from the world” is ever going to work that in us. The only thing that will is if we get what God did in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and allow that to transform us into his image. 

From the inside out… not the other way around.


5 October, 2008

So it’s been almost 10 months since I posted last. That’s because nothing noteworthy has actually happened in the last 10 months. I’ve been waiting, and hoping and wishing and praying, but… Nadda! Zip! Zilch! Zero! Nothing!

Well, unless I count a trip around the world, quitting work, turning 40 and getting another job… Hmn… I suppose it has indeed been eventful after all.

Apart from those things I’m still getting to know Jesus and live life with Him, and still being deliberate about being Church, rather than doing Church. I’m not entirely sure why I stopped blogging, it’s not like I’ve run out of things to say (like that would ever happen), I suspect I just got lazy (more likely)!

So, here’s something to start me off again. I’m reading through the book of Jeremiah, and am up to one of my favourite passages:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (NKJ)

How beautiful is that!!?!

Then!  Jumping to Hebrews 8, and we see that this is the New Covenant that Jesus is the mediator of.  Today, now, we can all know the Lord for ourselves.  Everyone.  Not one person needs miss out on this.  We don’t have to rely on others to help us know our Creator, our heavenly Father, our brother, our friend.  He’s made it possible.  Just as him.  He’s lovely.

our justifications

18 December, 2007

It’s been a while, two months I think.  But I’m still here, still reading, still primarily hanging out in the gospels and still getting to know Jesus, the Way he responded to people, the Way he thought, re-discovering the things he said.  I finished reading Matthew a couple weeks ago and there were a three things this time around that have messed with the way I think about Jesus and the Way I want to do life…

The first was in Matthew 5:17-18, when Jesus said “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”  He then goes on to say just how hard it is to live up to the law.  Remember the whole need for our “righteousness to exceed that of the Pharisees” bit?  And cutting off your left hand if it causes you to sin?  How about being in danger of judgement just for being angry with your brother without cause?  Or adultery of the heart?  You don’t actually have to “commit adultery” you just have to think about it to be guilty of it!  What on earth?  The “Law” just became and even harder task master.

But wait a minute, what did Jesus start with?  He said that he came to fulfill the Law, and nothing of it would be changed until it was fulfilled.  But He’s done that!  He said it was over!  Paul explains quite succinctly in Romans that there was no way we could live up to the law and that the only one that could save us from the wretched people that we are is in fact Jesus!  He did it.

Now, what strikes me about this passage in Matthew is that I’ve heard it taught as something we should aspire to.  We do our very best not to do the things Jesus talked about here.  Don’t call someone anyone a ‘fool’, don’t be angry without cause, don’t look at someone lustfully, be prepared to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (although I don’t know of anyone who actually takes this one seriously, nor the one about gauging out an eye), but seriously folks, isn’t this the very thing that Jesus came to set us free from?  We no longer live by the law.  He made it clear!  He has fulfilled the Law.  It is finished!

I think what He was doing here was just highlighting our inability to fulfill the law ourselves and our need for Him to do it.  We can’t but the separation between Heaven & Earth has passed away, the Law & the Prophets are fulfilled, and the more I get to know the One who brought the cure, the less I want the sickness that is this sin.

The second thing that stood out was in Matthew 18, you know, the passage about how we’re to treat the “sinning brother”?  Briefly, if a fellow follower of Jesus sins against you, you’re to go to him and call him/her on it.  If they ignore this, then take another follower with you, if that’s ignored take it to the larger community of believers, and if they ignore that, then treat them like a sinner.

Now the thing that really bugged me about this is that I’ve heard this used over the last 17 years as a justification for cutting someone out of our lives.  Expelling them from “fellowship”.  In effect, it’s the old term “excommunicate them”.  They can no longer commune with us.  The justification being that we’ve called them on their sin, they ignored it and so Jesus said to treat them like a sinner.

But… wait a minute.  How did Jesus treat sinners?  He spent most of his time with them!  He went to their house for lunch, he talked to them by the well, he made a point of not condemning them, he went fishing with them, he even drank with them (remember the ol’ “wine bibber” accusation?).  In short Jesus was their friend.  He lived his life with sinners.  Lovely.

I don’t think Jesus was giving us an excuse to cut people off at all.  I think he was telling us to let them off the hook.  To no longer have such high expectations of them.  So they don’t want to live life according to the ways we think they should, so let them off the hook!  Free them from our expectations, but, love them.  Keep loving them.  Be their friend and love them.  I think that’s why he goes on to say “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”… let them loose He cries.  Beautiful.

Thirdly, Matthew 20 & 23 (and I’ll emphasise the text to make my point quicker)…

Matthew 20:25-28
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 23:1-12
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;  therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.  “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.  “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.  “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.

But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.  “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (emphasis mine).

Strangely, or perhaps “perversely”, this one kind of made me laugh.  These passages have been used time and again as the basis for “leadership training”:

“If someone wants to lead, let them first serve.  You can’t lead others if you don’t know how to follow.”

Now, I say that’s just plain old nonsense, that is so not what Jesus is saying here!.  He wasn’t giving us a leadershipprinciple, he was saying exactly what he said.

“Do not be called leaders!”

“Do not be called Teacher, Father or Leader, that’s My role with you.  Don’t lord it over one another, you’re all brothers, equal.  If someone insists on leading you, don’t let him/her.  Let them serve you.  Not in order to lead, because I’ve said don’t be called Leaders!  Serve one another in love, just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Jesus never demanded anyone obey him, on the contrary, he said that as we get to know him we will find ourselves doing the stuff that he’s taught us (John 15:14) and though he has the title of Lord, have you noticed he never enforces it?  It’s always by invitation.  I follow Him because of His great love for me.  I trust Him, and yet, even that relationship is not really as Lord and servant, it’s as friends.  He has allowed me to get to know the Father in a way I never could have before, because he came as my friend, my brother.  He never condemns, never manipulates, never shames, never condescends.  If you don’t believe me, have a look for yourself.

So why do we insist on taking up positions of leadership over one another?  I suspect it’s more to do with our own need for significance than it is anything that God is truly doing in us, because I’m fairly certain he hasn’t changed his mind about this stuff….

John 15:15-17

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.  “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.”

“This I command you, that you love one another.”


19 August, 2007

Each individual will make a matchless discovery. He will be able to cease from constantly scrutinizing the other person, judging him, condemning him, putting him in his particular place where he can gain ascendancy over him and thus doing violence to him as a person. Now he can allow the brother to exist as a completely free person, as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining within his brethren, the richness of God’s creative glory. God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find within him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction.

God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image. I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely form God’s free and sovereign creation. To me the sight may seem strange, even ungodly. But God creates every man in the likeness of His Son, the Crucified. After all, even that image certainly looked strange and ungodly to me before I grasped it.

Strong and weak, wise and foolish, gifted or ungifted, pious or impious, the diverse individuals in the community are no longer incentives for talking and judging and condemning, and thus excuses for self-justification. They are rather cause for rejoicing in one another and serving one another.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together

still here… still learning

7 May, 2007

I know it’s been ages, and I know I said that now that I have the laptop I will be able to blog more, and in fact I’ve actually been blogging less… but isn’t that the way of it? No excuses realy. There’s not even a ‘but’ to follow that statement. I’ve just not been doing it. It’s not even because I haven’t had time, because I have. I’ve actually been home a great deal more than usual of late. I think if there’s any reason that I’ve been conspicously missing from said blog, it’s that I’ve been overawed (is that a word and did I spell it correctly? Carolyn? Gina?) with God’s grace and the things I’m learning about doing life differently, and what’s important and what’s distraction.

And even now, now that I’ve actually got this page open and am putting cyber ink to cyber paper, I’m still not able to pull it all together into some cohesive statement that explains all the wonderful things I’m learning.

So, instead of me totally fluffing it up, here’s a link to a person I’ve been listening to of late, and… this stuff is wonderful, refreshing, and doesn’t beat around the proverbial bush.

Brent Rue

If you actually do follow the link and have a listen (my favourites thus far – just for the record – are the ones entitled “letting God love you”, you’ll find them under ‘Brent’s Core Values”) then please come back and let me know what you think.