Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Conflicts between groups of people plague us. Nations wage war. Neighboring cities compete. Allegiances to political and religious institutions divide.

I’m already beginning to see the havoc in the first weeks of a history class about early and medieval Christianity. Of course Christianity is not the only religion to experience conflicts. Just glance through a good introduction to the major religions (something like Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World), and you’ll see what I’m saying. And of course we see intergroup conflict between other kinds of establishments.

Group of People Standing Holding Culture

Christianity isn’t the only conflicted religion, but its story certainly has its fair share of the mess. And I get to learn about it this semester.

(Although I haven’t always appreciated church history, I’m enjoying this course. Over the last 15 years, as I’ve seen history explain contemporary experiences and even provide some possible responses, I’ve grown to value it. For example, why do Churches of Christ typically worship with voices unaccompanied by other musical instruments? How should church leadership be done? What do I pray when my life is falling apart? Church history addresses all of these and more.)

There’s a lot of positive in the story of this religion. There’s also plenty of negative. But I want us all to understand that the negative doesn’t discredit Christianity in relation to alternative worldviews. All the options have imperfections.

Questions of Culture

One of the imperfections in Christianity (but not just here) is conflict between cultural groups. In the early church, we see this between Jews and non-Jews. (Nothing against Jews here! Jesus is a Jew.) There also was conflict in the church between Jews who wanted to welcome non-Jews and Jews who weren’t so open to that. (Remember that this kind of thing happens everywhere. If the church had started in my home state of Texas instead of Israel, I’m sure there would have been cultural conflicts between the Mexicans and the white folk and between people open to intergroup relations and those preferring monoculturalism.)

This is a struggle in the early life of the church. How can we worship and work together if we’re so different from each other in our talking and thinking and eating and other cultural practices? We still ask similar questions today. What worship songs can connect with all the cultural groups represented in our communities? Where can we find preaching styles that connect cross-culturally? How can we get past the excessive whiteness of our traditional worship styles? (Not to ignore churches that deal with other cultural limitations or have learned to worship and minister in more diverse ways.)

In response to all these questions, we need to hear two answers. One is beautiful but theoretical, and the other is more practical but not as easy as you might want.

Answer One: Jesus

The first answer is that Jesus is our peace and has broken down the dividing wall of cultural hostility (Ephesians 2:14). Some people joke that, when you’re asked in a church Bible class a question to which you don’t know the answer, the answer probably is Jesus. In a sense Jesus is the answer, but in many cases other answers might better respond to the questions. Here, however, the answer is Jesus, who has destroyed the dividing wall between people groups. The people addressed in Ephesians 2 are cultural groups. In the struggle to worship and work together as members of Jesus’ church, we should remember that Jesus “is our peace,” a peace that we are to embody and enact.

Answer Two: Ministry

The second answer responds to questions of how we live out that peace. Should we worship and work in separate communities of Jesus followers, with people of one culture in one congregation and people of another culture in another congregation? Should we strive to incorporate people of diverse cultures in the same congregation? If so, how should we navigate cultural differences? The answer is neither singular nor simple. Church leaders must wrestle with these questions, praying for divine direction, in their respective cultural contexts. What works in Memphis, where I live, might or might not work in Los Angeles or Singapore.

A Needed Conversation

Congregations of Jesus’ followers must proceed through these issues prayerfully and carefully but intentionally and actively. Choosing not to wrestle with matters of cultural reconciliation is choosing not to participate in the peace that is Jesus. When we move forward, with guidance from the Holy Spirit, in efforts to bring diverse cultural groups together in the church, we live out God’s mission of reconciliation (Ephesians 1:9-10).

This was not easy in the early church, and it’s not easy today. Not all cultural groups connect well with all styles of preaching, music, and leadership. One cultural group might benefit from sitting on pews and listening to a lecture, while another might worship more meaningfully when sitting in a circle and engaging in a conversation. One group might experience God through slow, meditative hymns. Another group might more likely encounter the Divine through energetic praise songs. A group might function well with hierarchical leadership, and another might function better with more egalitarian leadership.

And these differences exist not only along cultural lines but also along lines of age, sex, economics, education, and other demographics. There is no single answer that fits every context. I encourage church leaders to study their respective cultural contexts as they study scripture and theology. The best course of action in any situation arises from a conversation between these voices. The point here is to have the conversation, to pray about what needs to be done, and to take action in partnership with God who is reconciling the world through Jesus, our peace who has knocked down the wall.

Churches need such conversations in every generation. If a church had this kind of conversation decades ago, that’s great; but the church needs to regularly ask the questions in order to faithfully and responsibly embrace changing cultures with God’s love.

Read Full Post »

Bread and wineMy wife and I like our son to eat food that’s nutritious and good for his development. We allow ice cream once in a while, but we know that giving our child a steady diet of junk food would be parental malpractice. He needs vegetables, vitamins, fruit, protein, complex carbs, and a reasonable dose of fat.

When he gets bored at mealtime and doesn’t want to eat the rest of his green beans, we encourage him to finish eating. We tell him that eating his food will help him to be big and strong like his daddy.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying “You are what you eat.” That doesn’t mean that you become green beans if you eat green beans. It means that eating healthful food empowers you to have a healthy body and a healthy life, while eating too much junk food empowers you to have a junky body with a junky life. This observation reminds me of another saying: “Input equals output.”

My congregation’s sermon this weekend comes from Romans 8, and in verses 1-11 we find a similar inside-outside connection.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)

What goes into us shapes how we live. “You are what you eat.”

When the Holy Spirit lives in us, God transforms our lives. “Input equals output.”

The Spirit enters us in various ways.

We “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” when we believe the good news of Jesus and when we are baptized (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13).

The Holy Spirit enters people through the laying on of hands (Deuteronomy 34:9; Acts 19:6).

The Holy Spirit can enter people who are around others in whom the Spirit is working (1 Samuel 19:18-24).

The Holy Spirit fills followers of Jesus when they speak (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 13:9) and when they are persecuted (13:50-52).

God gives the Holy Spirit to people who ask (Luke 11:13).

The Holy Spirit can even enter people before birth (Luke 1:15).

Beyond these ways, the Holy Spirit can operate in ways that are unexpected and unexplainable (John 3:8). As the hymnist William Cowper penned in the 18th century, “God moves in a mysterious way.”

I look forward to listening to tomorrow’s sermon on Romans 8. Before that sermon, I get to say a few comments to prepare the church for communion. As I get ready for that privilege, my meditation on verses 1-11 leads me to see communion as one way in which the Holy Spirits enters us and empowers us for life in God’s mission.

A long-held belief in Christianity is that Christ is somehow present with his followers in communion (also called the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper). Although great thinkers in the history of the church have disagreed about exactly how this presence operates, many Christians have believed that in some way Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is present when gathered communities of Christian faith consume the bread and cup, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and celebrating the hope of his return.

Through this process of remembering and celebrating, the Holy Spirit continually fills the body of Christ (the church) and empowers that community of Jesus-followers to carry out God’s mission of blessing the world.

When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we do more than eat crackers and drink wine or grape juice.

When we participate in this event, the Holy Spirit enters us yet again and strengthens us to live for God.

As a child, I experienced amazement when the bread and cup were served. When I looked at the people around me, I could tell that this practice was something special, something mystical. I didn’t understand what was happening, but the holiness of the moment drew me in.

I have not always experienced that amazement at communion. The Lord’s Supper has not always seemed special. I have not always noticed the mystery of the Eucharist.

So I pray for the ability to see the mysterious transformation that God is working through the Holy Spirit when followers of Jesus take the bread and cup together. Through the Spirit, the bread and cup become more than a snack and more than an ancient practice the meaning of which we’ve forgotten. They become a meaningful meal that fuels us for life.

When we eat the body of Christ together, the Spirit empowers us to be that body.

We are what we eat.

Read Full Post »

God calls us to participate in God’s mission, and we should respond in worship and obedience. However, we can get distracted by concerns that hinder our right responses to God.

In Jonah 1:1-16, God comissions Jonah to carry a message to a city called Nineveh. Jonah travels by ship in the opposite direction because he doesn’t want to preach to people he doesn’t like. God responds, and people on the ship respond, but Jonah ignores. The people on the ship cast lots and question Jonah, who admits his identity and responsibility and tells them to throw him into the sea. They try to avoid that by taking other actions. After praying to God, they reluctantly toss him. Then they fear, worship, and vow to God. (Note that the sailors are not members of Jonah’s religious community.)

God wants us to worship. When we lose focus on God and worship our own desires instead, God is not without worship. Others can worship God. Our preferences for our own groups and our prejudices against other groups can blind us to that beautiful truth, which calls us to embrace diverse people who worship God.

Instead of focusing on our own desires or worrying about who is or is not worthy to worship God, let’s just worship and obey God! Worship and obedience lead us to recognize and live out God’s love for all people groups in the spirit of Jesus, who died for the whole world.

Read Full Post »

“The church has left the building.” Yesterday we began a series of group discussions with that title. My preparation of the discussion guides is assisted by the work of John Grant. Here are a few reflections from yesterday’s conversation.

In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus leaves some parting words with his followers who are still expecting a restoration of their nation. In 1:8 we find these words: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV).

Instead of residing in a temple, God’s Spirit lives in God’s people and empowers them to be witnesses of Jesus (testifiers of his death and resurrection and life and teachings), not just in their current city but into the surrounding areas and even “to the ends of the earth.”

The kingdom of God into which followers of Jesus are called is more than a set of beliefs proclaimed from pulpits in church buildings. It is a way of life (both actions and words) that blesses the world far beyond the walls of worship places, beyond Sunday and into Monday through Saturday, beyond the sacred and into the secular.

How will you allow God’s Spirit to empower you to live out that kingdom way of life in your everyday contexts? Your home, your workplace, your neighborhood, your sports field, your grocery store can be holy grounds, contexts of the Holy Spirit’s moving through you into the world beyond church walls.

Read Full Post »

We don’t remember her name, but we remember her.

When she arrives on the scene, Jesus is at a men’s dinner. If she thinks about the fact that she probably won’t be a welcomed participant at the event, the story doesn’t tell us. If Jesus takes notice of her lack of fit for the occasion, the story doesn’t tell us.

Then she breaks out an extravagant gift, an expensive bottle of perfume, and unloads it on Jesus’ head. Some men in the room snarl at her, condemning her for wasting the luxurious item instead of using it to help the poor. But Jesus doesn’t condemn her; he commends her.

And Jesus interprets her act of devotion as a participation in the death and burial to which he’s headed. The story gives no indication that the woman knew the importance of her action, but her little story becomes part of the bigger story of Jesus.

He says that people will remember her act, and the Gospel of Mark (14:3-9) ensures our memory of her.

Do you feel like you don’t have a name? Do you feel like you won’t be accepted in the room? Do you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? God can still use your story.

Read Full Post »

“Jesus is Lord!” The phrase maintains a prominent place in Jesus-followers’ identity.

This morning my ministry teammate, Dana Baldwin, ended his message with a rousing exploration of the statement, applying it to our lives and letting it challenge our hearts.

In Mark 11:27-33 we find questions of Jesus’ authority. The next part of the story (Mark 12:1-12) creatively presents Jesus as the Son of God.

Followers of Jesus today must ask more than “Do we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus has divine authority, that he is Lord?” We must ask ourselves, “Do our lives show that belief?” Do our co-workers, neighbors, family members, and neighbors see that faith lived out in our interpersonal interactions?

Good questions, Dana! Thanks for the challenge.

Read Full Post »

Caleb in PACC nursery by Wendi Sisson on FBReal love is more than flowers, candies, and cards; more than smiles, hugs, and kisses. It’s more than fleeting feelings, more than blingy gifts, more than self-centered sensuality.

Real love is sacrificial. It’s other-centered.

Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God, a kingdom of good breaking down a kingdom of bad (Mark 3:20-35). That kingdom is a way of life that involves changes of thought and behavior (Mark 1:14-15), a way of life shaped by love for God and people (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus demonstrated that love, so much so that he died for the world he loved.

I’ve been talking a lot about this other-centeredness recently. It’s at the core of the message of the cross, and it even shows up in the textbook I use for the University of Memphis. Yesterday, however, I almost forgot the call to put others before self.

Tamara asked me to start changing Caleb’s diaper and told me she would take over soon (because I was sick, not because I can’t complete a diaper change). As I removed his clothes, I caught a whiff that tempted me to stall. I held my son in my arms, and he laid his head on my chest, and I hoped he would stay content long enough for his mom to relieve me before the opening of the diaper.

Then I remembered my lecturing and preaching. The virtue of other-centeredness filled my mind. Guilt pinched me. I reclined Caleb onto the changing pad, unsnapped the diaper cover, and stayed through the task’s completion.

The story of Jesus calls me to real love, sacrificial love, other-centered love. That’s easy to forget. Sometimes I feel like avoiding it, not thinking of it. Sometimes, however, it grabs me and refuses to let me go and surprises my life with fullness.

[Photo by Wendi Sisson]

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: