Category Archives: Jesus

“Blessed”

I’ve made the claim with the Jacob’s Well folks that these “Blessed” sayings, usually called the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, are the most dangerous words Jesus ever spoke. I’ve wondered about that claim a lot, but the more I wonder the more I feel it’s true. Jesus is inciting revolution with these “Blessed are the _____, for they shall receive ______” sayings. Not revolution against the Roman Government, or the Jewish faith of his time. Jesus is declaring war on reality – at least the reality that most of us subscribe to most of the time.

In this speech, which according to Matthew is Jesus’ first public statement recorded, Jesus introduces who he will be and what he will be about with an almost offensive idea of grace. Grace that isn’t just there for us when we screw up, but that is searching for the screw up in us as the most important, useful, possible way to get a foothold in our lives. God loves us, not despite our undeserving nature, but precisely because and for our undeserving nature.

As a Christ follower who has hitched his wagon to the Lutheran team I am not new to the idea of grace and its centrality and all importance, but this stretches me.

This post meant to be about the word “blessed.” It is a hard word to define. The Greek makarios doesn’t really have an English equivalent. ‘Happy’, ‘lucky’, ‘fortunate’ don’t really do it, and ‘blessed’ itself… just doesn’t mean anything intrinsically. Rob Bell cites theologian Frederick Dale Bruner who proposes that in the beatitudes Jesus is saying, “God is on your side.” I like that. I think it works. It isn’t because you’re good enough, or ready or anything, it means that your need has opened the door to God’s presence. Our success, strength, even spiritual prowess has a way of making us self-sufficient. God can’t be on that side, no matter how godly it may look, seem, feel. The only thing that matters is the only thing that is true; that we need God – desperately.

In the spirit of Bruner’s “God is on your side” and my wrestling with Jesus’ own words, my proposal is this:

To be Blessed means to have the Door to God opened. Not opened by getting good enough, but by needing God enough.

and then the opposite comes clear, and this could be another posting…

To be Cursed means to have the Door to God closed. Not closed by breaking rules or not being good enough, but by the deception of self-sufficiency.

Maybe I can find God in who I actually am rather than who I know I ought to be but never am. That would be good news.

God’s ‘too big’ ideas

There is an intrinsic problem in trying to understand God. That is that God is God and therefore beyond our experience or understanding. Our best and most sophisticated concepts and analogies inevitably reduce God to something we can handle. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it just means that we should be careful what we claim. I find that the most helpful isn’t to describe what God is like and doing, but to point towards where we see God showing up.

So, to point in a helpful direction, I like to say God is too big for our world and wants to make us too big for it too and by blowing our minds with thinking that is too big for our world. Too big thinking resonates with and calls to us, but it can’t be managed or accomplished.

What is God’s too big thinking? I’m sure many lists of great length could be put together, but here is one I shared on Christmas Eve at Jacob’s Well that makes a lot of sense to me. What do you think?

God’s too big thinking – we see these all played out in the person of Jesus – says…

  • Sacrifice, not self-interest, is the most direct route to happiness.
  • Generosity, not accumulation, is the greatest source of wealth.
  • Love, forgiveness and mercy are the greatest forces in our world.
  • We are loved no matter how unlovable we think we are, and that
  • We depend on that undeserved love no matter how deserving we think we are.
  • Hope is not wishful thinking, but faith in action.
  • Peace is not the absence of violence or trouble, but an active presence in the midst of life.

What makes me think that these are God-style too big is that I want them all to be true and find myself drawn to them, but have to be really honest and say that I neither truly understand, fully agree or practice any of them. I’m ready to follow a God who says they are the real thing though.

The Best News in the World!

This past Sunday [Feb 15, 2009 worship series Relationship911 at Jacob’s Well] I had everyone read this passage aloud with me. Ephesians 5.1-2. It’s The Message paraphrase. I knew it was strong, but when I heard everyone read it together the power of it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Read these verses. Slowly. Repeat.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5.1-2 (The Message)

In the evening I led the spoken word part of the service at The Source in Stillwater and we read it together again and it was even clearer. How can anyone NOT want to be part of this guy Jesus’ movement? How can you NOT want to be loved by this God?

Okay, it is The Message paraphrase and if you read these verses in a straight translation they aren’t quite so inspiring. But I did some careful comparison. The paraphrase captures the heart of what the Greek is trying to say, but does so in a way that speaks to the hearts of people today.

We have the best news in the world!

Baby Jesus with a full set of teeth

dangersignOn Sunday, Dec. 14, at Jacob’s Well I was exploring what it meant that the magi (or kings or wisemen) – a bunch of outsiders – knew that “the king of the Jews” had been born, but no one inside knew it.  [Read Matthew 2] Interesting… in fact Herod not only didn’t know, but when he caught wind of the possibility he used that information to try to stop it.

I commented that, at its worst, the church does the same thing. The institutional church is humanity’s plot to acknowledge God, because it can’t do otherwise, but to de-claw and render God harmless. It doesn’t want God upsetting what it has going.

Then I shared that it is the hope of Jacob’s Well, and the need for every person who is part of it, to make sure that God is allowed to be dangerous. To let the pregnancy of God’s advent turn our world upsidedown and never leave things the same.

The infant Jesus is a beautiful and gentle sign, but it is important to remember that he had a full set of teeth. He meant and still means business. We want to be the kind of church that lets God be dangerous.

Practice what you preach (or just practice?)

I was meeting with my GroupLife group on Sunday evening and Steve, one of our hosts, said, “You hear people say you ought to practice what you preach, but I wonder if we shouldn’t just practice.” Wow.

Of course that brought up a very good conversation about the virtue and pitfalls of preaching. Legislating faithfulness or proclaiming judgment are dangerous areas for us human beings and this ‘bad news’ method of sharing ‘good news’ seems dubious. But there is value in connecting actions to words. You can be good forever, but aren’t you – at some point or other – obligated to tell people why?

I suppose so (I am a preacher after all), but I really like Steve’s inclination to just practice. Here’s why. Preaching – especially outside the bounds of the Church – has a tendency to do more than share, it likes to hold agendas, to hustle people into its camp rather than their camp. Is it insecurity about the preachers’ camp that drives this, because your joining my camp rationalizes why I’m in this camp?

I imagine that if you are heaven-bent on practicing (excuse the pun) there will be a time when you will speak. Practicing your faith would mean not just acting from your source, but pointing to it. If I want to give people something very special, by practicing what is most valued by me, then I will want to connect them with it so they can receive it without having to go through me. It’s not about convincing anyone, it is about giving my best away. Practicing speaks when the time is right. It doesn’t strategically wait, but is just ready. That’s what’s so interesting about Jesus; he wasn’t about collecting people, he was ready to give what was needed and did it for our sake.

Was it Augustine who purportedly said, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”?

PRACTICE!

Discovery

Another eye for beautyPreaching is always autobiographical for me. Not that I talk about myself, but what I’m talking about is something that I am struggling with. I guess that if I don’t find the content for my message personally engaging and at least somewhat troubling, I keep looking for something more worthy of all our time. Sometimes when i’m preaching I get caught off guard by how personal what I have to say is for me. It happened today.

Our service at Jacob’s Well was starting off a series preparing for Christmas called “Missing God.” I am convinced that to know the heart of God is to know poverty. Not just people in poverty, but poverty in you. Obviously not just economic poverty either, but that fundamental condition of humanity of being in want.  Poverty is good, in fact beautiful, but that’s another blog entry, or perhaps listen to the message ( 11.30.2008 ) on our site. Our neediness is our open door for God. It is acknowledgement that there is a hole inside that someone else must fill for us. At the end of the service we invited people to write what was missing in their life, what was in want, on a sticky note and then to come forward and stick them on a big box.

I had to do it too, of course. I was surprised, at first, that even though I’d talked about this so easily and thought about the concept so long, that I really didn’t know what I would write on the note. But then when I began to put the pen on paper my poverty was so clear. I really didn’t have to think. It was clearly more obvious than I wanted it to be. God showed up. For me. I wonder why I find that surprising… shouldn’t I assume God will? I do, I guess, but it still amazes me when it happens.

Was that really Communion?

communion - saltines and grape juiceOn Sunday (November 30, 2008) Jacob’s Well gathered at the Urban Hub of Urban Ventures, one of our strategic partners in serving the community. If you were there you may have been surprised by how we shared Communion. Some people were actually offended by it. That was the point…It was supposed to be! Let me explain. If you weren’t there our service was called “See hope. See hope run.” It was about putting action into our faith so that it makes a difference in the lives of others and brings hope. We focused particularly on homelessness. Communion happened with no fanfare and little explanation. It was unremarkable to say the least. Saltines were passed down the aisles and paper cups of grape juice. The body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for us.

Here is what I tried to convey at the time and I’ll try to capture again here.

Question number one: Is it still the body and blood of Christ when it is just a saltine and grape juice? When we don’t have special music and the mood isn’t set to be reflective? Is it still the presence of Jesus when all we know is that Jesus’ promise to be with us always is in the ‘bread and wine’?

My answer number one: I think so. The ritual we or any church might typically follow has purpose and meaning, but rituals don’t make Jesus “really be there.” There is no incantation, no magic, no right way to do it. Just God’s promise, “When you seek me in this simple meal… I’m there.”

Question number two: How do most of the world’s people experience the love of God? Is it in nice houses, great meals, vacations and excesses from which to choose? Or is God’s love there for people despite the apparent poverty of their experience?

My answer number two: If God is truly faithful to all people, then God is doing it in ways that those of us in our western world of material wealth would find uncomfortable, and hard to perceive. God’s love – if it comes at all – comes without bells and whistles, without excess and attention to detail, without any expectation of ‘enough.’ God’s love just is, despite the circumstances.

The point wasn’t to offend or shock, but to throw us back on two very important realizations.

That God’s love is there in real and tangible ways even when we have a hard time seeing it. We need to learn that for our own good because there will be many times when our lives are going to need to seek out hope when we’ve lost sight of it.

The other is that just as we would like communion to be more of a celebration and closer to the banquet that God has in mind, so the way God’s love is experienced in the world should be more tangibly celebratory. We shouldn’t settle for billions of our sisters and brothers knowing God loves them despite their circumstances. We should be restless for them to know God loves them because of their circumstances – justice, opportunity, health, security. And that means that we who have the means need to get off one part of our anatomy and be the active arms and legs, the vibrant hearts and mind of Christ in the world. And until that day, maybe we should always celebrate God’s holy meal with mere saltines and paper cups of grape juice so that it might provoke us to the purpose of sharing God’s love.

Hmmm… we’re coming up on Christmas… How did Jesus show up? Was it, perhaps, sort of a saltine and grape juice arrival?