What did Jesus do?

wwjdThe Christian™ marketplace is flooded with a huge range of memorabilia, gadgets, gizmos, plaques with cute sayings, and symbolic creations meant to entice the Christian’s hard-earned cash away from them and into the pockets of Christian™ entrepreneurs.

And nothing has been such a smashing success as the WWJD brand.

Based on the poignant question ‘What would Jesus do?’ asked in the classic Christian™ novel (before the Christian™ novel became a sanitised Harlequin Romance), In His Steps, this question has been a consistent top-seller in Christian™ book stores, church shops, Christian™ cafes and Christian™ online sellers and market stalls.

Yet, I don’t think the average person who calls themselves by the name of the Christ ever actually stops to think about what Jesus actually did.

Here’s just one of the many things he did–toted as Jesus’s ‘first miracle’–in a little town called Cana and a wedding the details of which have been lost to anonymity.

So what did Jesus do?

John Shore, in his excellent little book I’m OK and You’re Not tells it this way:

What Jesus did that afternoon at that wedding was, to my mind, as powerful a testament to how much he loves people as was his very sacrifice on the cross*. I believe that his choosing to make his first miracle turning all that good water into all that good wine says everything any of us will ever need to know about what Jesus wants our attitude to be toward not just fellow believers, but toward virtually everyone.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Jesus fully understands the power of first impressions, don’t you think? He knew blessing that wedding with more wine than any of its guests could drink would be recorded as his opening miracle. He knew that for as long as people told his story, they’d remember that that was how he first chose to conclusively prove his divinity.

Pretty clearly, he was meaning to tell us something with that choice. And I believe that something was love people just us you find them.

He didn’t lecture the people at that wedding. He didn’t frighten them. He didn’t try to convince them of the error of their ways. He didn’t start dividing them into groups of good and bad. He didn’t in any way interfere with what they were doing. He quietly and without fanfare enhanced what they were doing and that was all.

And what were they doing? Dancing, singing, hugging, whooping it up, crying, and in every way acting like people usually do at wedding receptions: Like they’re celebrating all the tilings about being human that deserve to be celebrated. In a real way that we all understand, there’s nothing more gloriously human than a wedding reception.

And that’s where Jesus decided to launch his ministry.

And that’s how: By doing nothing more dramatic than making sure the lovely couple and all their lovely guests didn’t run out of wine.

And not that cheap, comes-in-a-gallon-jug wine, either. He gave them good wine. He gave them great wine.

Because he wanted them to just keep doing what they were doing

when

he

got

there.

I don’t see how Jesus could have made any clearer what he intended to be his first Big Message to anyone who would ever follow him: Accept and love people exactly as they are when you first meet them.

Go and do likewise.

Reblog: Resurrection Happens

enlight2Easter is a very conflicted occasion.

  • Pagan festivals and church processions.
  • Eggs and crosses.
  • Bunnies and burials.
  • Lilies and grave clothes.
  • Chocolate and empty tombs.

Then there is the question of reality–did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there evidence beyond the Bible for this supernatural event? Is Scriptural evidence sufficient?

Regardless of our responses to these questions, there is a broader question that we ought to be asking: Is thee a wider truth that we can draw from the Easter story that speaks to us on a more universal, meaningful level?

Listen to the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

It doesn’t take that much imagination to put ourselves into the story of these disciples. “We had hoped. Our dreams were in him. Our future was in his hands. Now he’s gone.”

Are you feeling hopeless today? Do you feel that you cannot go on? Is the burden you carry great, and the pain too intense? Is the healing just not happening, the sorrow too much for you?

Here is the truth of Easter: God is in the resurrection business.

The very first words of Scripture speak of God making new life out of chaos. The creation poem tells us that God spoke there was light. The waters separated (the ancients believed above the sky was a water-dome called in Genesis ‘the firmament’). The dry land appeared. Fish and animals, human beings, plants and trees all came into being out of the chaos of ‘the deep.’

Some of the last words in Scripture state in simple words God’s grand plan: “Behold I make all things new.” From the chaos this world has become, resurrection will happen and new life–a renewed creation–will spring forth.

Whether or not we believe in a literal resurrection should not prevent us from drawing deeper meaning from this widely-accepted Christian narrative.

Resurrection–new life–is happening around us every day. It’s never too late to begin again. God is even now, in all-embracing love and grace, making all things new.

And this can be true for you too.

There is hope. The power of Christ’s resurrection is at work. The Spirit of God is moving amongst your chaos, speaking light into darkness, strength into weakness and new life into hopelessness.

Resurrection happens!

And resurrection can happen for you.

Peter: A Good Friday Story

Enlight1I imagine Simon Peter as a rough fisherman-type man. He’s probably salty-mouthed, says-whatever-he-thinks, does-anything-for-you type of guy. In my mind’s eye, I see him as what we in Australia would call a “bogan.” (Chances are, if he lived in South Australia, he’d be a Port Adelaide footy fan, listen to bands like AC/DC and Chisel, and drink cartons upon cartons of West End.)

So imagine with me the moments after Jesus’ death and his friends are preparing his body for burial. They’ve been asked to say a few words before he’s put into the tomb.

This is Peter’s story.

Hi. I’m Simon, son of Jonas. You might know me better as Peter ‘cuz that’s the name Jesus gave me. Y’know, when he said that “Who do you say that I am?’ line? I just can’t get what he was after, I mean He was the promised Messiah, right? So that’s what I said and he answered by giving me this name. He said,”You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” What? Seriously?I’m a fisherman. I can’t make sense of that. But Jesus was like that. He told it like it is.

I remember some of his sermons. I reckon I stayed awake through most of them…. It’s kinda hard when you fish all night and then spend the day in the hills with thousands of people around you. But what I did catch was that Jesus was all about people and people knowing and helping other people. I mean, like really serious about helping other people in the way that he helped people. He didn͛t seem to get tired of teaching us, even when we didn’t listen.

He also loved kids and I guess that’s why he like threatened those who abused them with stuff like”It would be better if you had heavy weights tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one of these little oness.” He loved the kids.

There were some awesome days. Like when me and James and John and Jesus climbed Mt Tabor— amazing view from there! And we were like looking around to see if we spot our town. The view is really amazing! Anyhoo, Jesus just like *transforms* into some incredible angel-like being—like an alien or something from another planet. We were all standing around like gob-smacked. Couldn’t believe it. And weirder still two other alien-like people stood next to him and I swear they were the prophets Moses and Elijah. We like just stood there and didn’t know what to do. Best I could come up with is”Hey Jesus, why don’t we set up three tents for you and them two.” I’m glad he ignored that comment ‘cuz it was a little stupid, looking back now.

Jesus sure knew how to confuse a bloke. He told us that we were gonna rule with him in his kingdom, that we would sit on 12 thrones. Then he said that the greatest of us is a servant, and we had to become like a little child to enter the kingdom. He chose us and called us to follow him knowing that one of us would turn him over to the Romans to be killed. … Can’t quite figure that one out.

Seriously, but. Jesus was a top bloke. He was a good mate who always looked after you. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He didn͛t have a bad bone in his body. When we went to parties—and we went to a lot of parties– he was there to turn the water into wine. Whoa! How good was that?! We loved it when we would go into a town and crowds would flock around us like seagulls around kids with chips.

But things got nasty. The temple crowd wouldn’t have a bar of Jesus and wanted to knock him off. We could see it a mile away. But Jesus … I wish I had done things differently now. I tried to warn him about coming to Jerusalem, but he like wouldn͛t listen. He got quite stroppy at me and said something like”Get behind me Satann.” (Man. That hurt!)

I … I just wish I could have been stronger. This whole business came crashing down around us real sudden. We ate Passover dinner with Jesus and, next thing, Judas leaves. We left the house and walked a few k’s down the road to this garden and it was late and we were a bit tired and Jesus told us to like wait and went off by himself to pray. He knew something was going down but we just fell asleep waiting. Then the Roman soldiers came with the priests, Judas kissed Jesus and they arrested him … and we were all so scared, and we ran away.

Should’ve stayed. Should have stayed and gone to the trial at least. Mind you, I did go back to the Chief Priest͛s house later that night to see what was happening, but that didn͛t turn out so well.

If only I … but it’s too late for that now. He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do. That’s how it ends.

I remember that night when me and James and John were fishing and a storm came up. We thought our boat would like go under and we would all die. Then Jesus, Jesus comes walking on top of the water towards us! I thought it was a ghost. We were all like terrified. I thought it looked like Jesus. He sounded like Jesus. I said,”If it is you, Lord, ask me to come to you”—and he said “Come.” And I stepped out of the boat and walked on top of the water towards him. I was walking on the water!! But … but when I suddenly saw what I was doing, Ithought,”No way. This isn͛t possible.” And I  started to sink into the water. Jesus saved me. He pulled me up and we got into the boat. He shouted something like”Be still” into the wind and the sea became like glass and the clouds vanished.

If I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I never would have imagined that following Jesus would take me on such an adventure. We had some great times together, the thirteen of us. Yeah, there were some bad times as well, some disappointments, some things I wish we could do over. I wish I would have trusted Jesus more and I wish I would have stood up for him . . . Maybe, maybe things wouldn͛t have turned out this way.

We’ll miss you, mate. Thanks for believing in me even at those times when I didn’t believe in you.

Mary: A Good Friday Story

imageHi. I’m Mary. I used to live in the beautiful town of Magdala on the sea of Galilee.

I First met Jesus when my friends asked him to drop by my house. I guess I’d better tell you a little of my story:  I had been really sick for a long time. It started when I was young—probably when I was around 10 years old. It wasn’t something that happened all of a sudden, but gradually over many years. I began having really dark thoughts about myself. I know that God made me just like I am, but it never seemed to be enough. At synagogue each Sabbath, we were taught how girls were inferior to boys, like there was something wrong with us. The story in the Torah that talks about the woman being deceived and causing all human sin and sickness as well as making our lives generally miserable really got under my skin. It bothered me more and more until it became like it was me there in the garden of God and the snake was coming to get me, or at least take over my mind.

This despair slowly took over my mind and I became really dark and sad.It got to the point that I hardly left my room. I just lay in my bed and stared into nothingness. My parents and whatever friends I had left were worried sick about me. They called in every healer they could find in the hopes that one of them would have some magic oil, herbs or tea that would cure my illness, or at least make it bearable. They spent heaps on trying to help me, but nothing worked.

I can’t even remember where those days went. It all seems like a blur. I started cutting myself and marking my skin with knives. I started hearing voices in my head and it became so bad I couldn’t even hear my sister or mum speak to me. I would wake up at night in terror and see spirits and demons in my room. Many times they would taunt me and call me names. They would tell me I was useless and should kill myself. When my mum died, I couldn’t deal with anything anymore. There seemed to be no end, no way out of this deep darkness that was my life. I gave in to the voices in my head and the years of torture and stumbled and crawled my way out of the town and towards a high hill that dropped off like a cliff into the sea below.

I don’t know why I couldn’t follow through with it. I told myself it was because I was such a coward, … and that became one more name that the demons used to mock me.

Then, one day my sister ran into my room and grabbed me. She was so excited she had tears running down her face. She said, “I think we found someone who can help you!” I must admit I was in some kinda zombie state at the time and the fact that I hadn’t washed or changed my clothes in days didn’t seem to faze her at all. She grabbed me and literally dragged me out the door and down the stairs.

And there he was. Jesus. …

He said one word, “Mary.”

It was the sweetest way someone had ever said my name. I felt . . . I can’t really explain it . . . There just aren’t the words  . . . . I could feel my demons leaving me as something like a huge gust of wind swept right through me. I  . . . I . . . was . . . . free!  I was so overcome by a joy and sense of peace that I had never known. The voices in my head disappeared. The spirits in the room vanished and the air was fresh and sweet-smelling . . . (not like me, as I suddenly realised). And you can’t begin to imagine how my friends and family reacted: they were over the moon with excitement. It was like I was resurrected from the dead!

I followed Jesus from that day on. Everywhere he went. I wanted to be near him. I watched him heal the sick, I saw him open the eyes of that blind man. I was there when he fed 5000 people with just five small bread rolls and two little fish.

I was there when he rode into Jerusalem a few days ago, on the back of a donkey. I heard the crowds shout “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” I poured the wine for Jesus and his followers when they celebrated Passover together.

When he was arrested, I went with Jesus’s mum to his trial—if you can call it that—and watched him accused of treason and blasphemy.

And then they sentenced him to death and immediately took him to the hill of the skull, outside of the city and nailed him to a cross.

My heart broke. After all he had done for others—I mean, look at me!—after all the good he did . . . this? Seeing his mum sobbing . . . I don’t know what to say. It was horrible.

I just remember Jesus as being this wonderful, kind . . . generous man who always had a smile and encouraging word. He never turned anyone away. . . . We’re going to miss him, and I’m sure memories of these past few years will never ever leave us. A few of the other women who travelled with him are gathering together some spices and oils and are going to go to the tomb and do a proper burial as soon as the Sabbath is over. I guess I’ll join them. Then I’ll probably go back to my family home in Magdala. I just hope those demons don’t come back. I knew they wouldn’t if he was nearby, but I don’t know what I’m going to do now. . . .

Goodbye my dear friend. You saved my life. I will always remember you.

Resurrection Happens

IMG_1444Easter is a very conflicted occasion.

  • Pagan festivals and church processions.
  • Eggs and crosses.
  • Bunnies and burials.
  • Lilies and grave clothes.
  • Chocolate and empty tombs.

Then there is the question of reality–did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there evidence beyond the Bible for this supernatural event? Is Scriptural evidence sufficient?

Regardless of our responses to these questions, there is a broader question that we ought to be asking: Is thee a wider truth that we can draw from the Easter story that speaks to us on a more universal, meaningful level?

Listen to the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” 

It doesn’t take that much imagination to put ourselves into the story of these disciples. “We had hoped. Our dreams were in him. Our future was in his hands. Now he’s gone.”

Are you feeling hopeless today? Do you feel that you cannot go on? Is the burden you carry great, and the pain too intense? Is the healing just not happening, the sorrow too much for you?

Here is the truth of Easter: God is in the resurrection business. 

The very first words of Scripture speak of God making new life out of chaos. The creation poem tells us that God spoke there was light.  The waters separated (the ancients believed above the sky was a water-dome called in Genesis ‘the firmament’). The dry land appeared. Fish and animals, human beings, plants and trees all came into being out of the chaos of ‘the deep.’

Some of the last words in Scripture state in simple words God’s grand plan: “Behold I make all things new.” From the chaos this world has become, resurrection will happen and new life–a renewed creation–will spring forth.

Whether or not we believe in a literal resurrection should not prevent us from drawing deeper meaning from this widely-accepted Christian narrative.

Resurrection–new life–is happening around us every day. It’s never too late to begin again. God is even now, in all-embracing love and grace, making all things new.

And this can be true for you too.

There is hope. The power of Christ’s resurrection is at work. The Spirit of God is moving amongst your chaos, speaking light into darkness, strength into weakness and new life into hopelessness.

Resurrection happens! 

And resurrection can happen for you.

Atonement, the Prodigal Son and ‘Why So Serious?’

cross_2There is no doctrine so entrenched in Christianity as that of the Substitutionary Atonement (also known as ‘Vicarious Atonement’ or the ‘Penal Substitution Theory’). In simple terms, this is the teaching that, on the cross, God’s wrath against sinful humanity was absorbed by Jesus—that the payment for sin was made to God by Christ; that this blood sacrifice appeased a holy God and saves us from certain (eternal) condemnation/torment.

This is a major (or may I say MAJOR) theme in many Christian circles, more so amongst fundamentalists. When I was a student at a leading fundamentalist university, this was hammered home to us in every sermon, in most classes, in many prayer meetings. It was not ‘a’ but ‘THE’ central tenet of The Faith and demanded a serious analysis, on a regular basis, of one’s place in the overall scheme of sin and salvation.

And serious it was. One would be out of line to show a smile in a church service or during the singing of a hymn. People had been expelled at this university for daring to treat a song about Jesus in a ‘frivolous’ manner. (see the video that got two students expelled and a third a severe reprimand here.)

And so they sing solemnly, seriously, it seems with a burden that is weighing them down. (Have a look at these two videos of a ‘performance’ of a well-loved (fundamentalist) hymn here and here.)

Here are the words for those of you following along at home (the sheet music is here.):

His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.

Chorus:
I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost:
Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God.
Bought by such love, my life is not my own.
My praise-my all-shall be for Christ alone.

His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.

His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased.
Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased.
Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “‘Tis done!”
Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.

His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!

(His Robes for Mine by Chris Anderson and Greg Habegger ©2008 ChurchWorksMedia.com All rights reserved.)

Here is an insight into Chris Anderson’s understanding that has prompted this composition:

“Verse 3 focuses on the grand doctrine of propitiation, the fact that God’s wrath was not merely deflected from us by Christ, but was rather absorbed by Him in our place. Jesus Christ bore the infinite wrath of God against sin, satisfying God’s wrath and enabling sinners to be forgiven—and justly so. Isaiah 53:10-11 describes it this way: God looks on the travail of Christ’s soul and is satisfied by it. His wrath has been exhausted on Christ. The doctrine of propitiation is taught Isaiah 53, Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2 and 4:10, et al.” (source: http://blogs.mbu.edu/praisemen/songs/his-robes-for-mine-authors-thoughts)

I have a HUGE problem with the language used (and the theology implied) in this song: ‘Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage,’ ‘Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased,’ and ‘Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God’ among others.

But then I realise that this comes from that classic Biblical story:

A man who had two sons. One demanded his share of the inheritance and then went off and spent it, in a far country, on riotous and loose living. The father, enraged with a fiery anger against that son, took his brother and turned him over to the torturers and finally the executioner. Only when the elder brother had died, paying the penalty that the father demanded for the younger one’s disobedience, was the father able to open up his heart in love and welcome the younger son home and once again grant him the blessings of being a part of the family.

No, I don’t have that story in my Bible either. That, on so many levels, goes against my understanding of God. And if we understand Jesus to be the most accurate depiction we have of God in Scripture, then we must accept that God is loving and compassionate. He would forsake his own Son only as much as he would forsake us, his children. He would not demand a penalty to be paid vicariously any more than the father in the real parable would have demanded one son pay for the sin of another. That is a primitive view–a tribal understanding–of God rooted in a culture set in ancient history and grounded in stories handed down from generation to generation over fires and in marketplaces.

Many argue that this understanding of what took place at the cross is helpful to Christians in certain situations. Scot McKinght in his book A Community Called Atonement illustrates the many theories of atonement (Substitutionary Atonement being one) as being like a set of golf clubs where one club (say, a wedge) may be good for a particular situation (like, for example, if you land your ball in a sand trap), but not practical or helpful in others (as in driving). While this may be true in a metaphorical or illustrative sense (though this may be open to interpretation as well),  I don’t believe it is very helpful in explaining anything of the nature of God or God’s interaction with humanity.

The problem is that we have ‘Set the members of the Trinity against each other—as when the Son is described as the object of the Father’s wrath on the Cross. Others stretch the concept to charge that penal substitution language amounts to “divine child abuse”—where an angry, cosmic Father beats up his meek and helpless Son—hardly the biblical imagery of the relationship of the Father and the Son.’ (source: Christianity Today) God becomes a deity with a schizophrenic tendency or bipolar disorder (and, as we know, without proper medication, either one of these illnesses renders an individual quite unstable.)

Joking aside, if we accept that God is love—If we accept the story of the Prodigal Son to be an illustration of how that love works itself out in reality—then we must not be so hasty to take on the ‘traditional’ view of atonement as fact. Certainly, it can be argued, some of the New Testament authors seemed to believe this was so. But a look at Jesus and his revelation of who the Father is cannot be dismissed. Rather, it should be the cause of much joy, celebration and excitement: All are welcomed—sinners and saints, elder and younger brothers, tax-gatherers and Pharisees—not because Jesus satisfied an angry God, but that God has sought and found us and brought us into the embrace of love and grace.  Welcome home!

Losing Faith

I don’t know about you, but I have a faith problem. My faith problem is simply that I often lose my faith. It’s not a matter of maintaining appearances–I can do that awesomely; after all, I am a pastor’s son. I can look happy and spirit-filled at the drop of a hat.

No, this is far deeper, raw and honest; it’s a place where I find myself all too often.

Maybe it’s the books I read. People have said stuff to me like, “Don’t read (insert name here)’s books. Your faith can’t last if you expose yourself to such dangerous ideas.” Maybe its the blogs I visit and the topics they discuss like post-evangelicalism, post-modernism, post-Darwinian thought, post-Christian, post-colonialism, etc. Maybe its the stuff I put in my ears–words that tell me I need to think freely, have an open mind, be more inclusive, love more/hate less. . . .

Regardless, apart from the fact that there are certainly elements of danger every time I open my mind to entertain a new thought, I would say the greater danger remains in trying to maintain a status quo, an attachment to a system that just doesn’t work and is losing its credibility more each day. I can’t buy into the Evangelical culture any more than I can buy into consumerism, wanton capitalism, or corporate warmongering.

Ideals aside, it’s still Good Friday (and I digress).

Today we remember the cross, the sacrifice of Jesus, the rigged execution of the God-man who came to be revered as Lord,  King and Saviour.

It is a dark day and, perhaps, “Good” Friday is too sanitised a version of this story. This particular day was horrible, terrible, dark, depressing. It was a  time of pain, of loss, of an end to a promise. . . .

The disciples fled.

The women wept.

The soldiers mocked.

The earth kept spinning into night and the one who promised it all had died.

God had left the building.

There was no more promise, no more hope, no more kingdom.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living that day.

Sometimes my faith gives way to anger, pain, regret. Too often God is distant,  silent, unknowing and uncaring. This is my own personal Good Friday . . . or Monday,  or Thursday, or Sunday. . . .

How about you?

(To be continued)