Saturday, February 28, 2009

Worship of Jesus provides needed power (Saturday)

Theme: Week 1- Jesus as God Incarnate
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 14:22-33
John 20:19-28

In these two scenes from the life of Jesus- one a pre-Easter and the other a post-Easter setting- we see Jesus being worshipped. In John, it is a climax to the gospel account in which Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God!” I believe this worship of Jesus is grounded in the theme for this week of Jesus as God Incarnate.

Considering this idea of worshipping Jesus can be confusing if we think that we have two Gods. We don’t. Willard Swartley in his book, “Send Forth Your Light,” spends time making the case for a high Christology (fancy word for study of the nature of Jesus), Christianity that is monotheistic (fancy word for one God), and cites numerous places where Jesus is worshipped.

I offer these two sentences from Swartley as a place for your prayer, listening, reflection, worship and commitment this day. “…worship of Jesus empowers both the mission assigned to Jesus’ followers, to proclaim the gospel to all nations, and also the call to peacemaking, living out our new identity as God’s children. Falling at Jesus’ feet in worship provides the humility and the strength to do what is humanly impossible: love enemies and share the gospel with all people.” (p. 218)

This aligns with some of our core values here at The Bridge (our church in Denver): a Christ-centered faith and commitment to service and social justice (as I see it, peacemaking is part of this; Swartley uses peacemaking and social justice, I assume, would flow out of the Gospel of peace).

And here is what is essential, in our personal lives and in the life of our faith community: worship of Jesus, God Incarnate, empowers us to do mission, serve the poor and marginalized, seek justice in our city, be peacemakers in our community, and address issues that need systemic change. For living in this way is something that is beyond what is humanly possible.

When we worship Jesus we name who is Lord- not Caesar, not anyone or anything else. We worship the one who saves and rescues us- it is God who saves, Jesus who saves, and not us. And, we are empowered when we fall at Jesus’ feet.

Question: What might take place in me this day if I exclaimed, like Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”? What are the places in my life where I am in need of power- to do those things which are beyond my human strength alone?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I worship you. You are Lord and no other. It is God who saves; it is you who save; I cannot save myself. As I bow down in worship of you, my Lord and my God, may I experience your power to face those things in my life that I cannot do on my own strength. And, may I be empowered to love my family, my friends, the poor, the forgotten, the ones who do not have a voice, and even my enemies. I pray all of this in your name. Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Worship of Jesus- fully human and divine

Theme: Week 1- Jesus as God Incarnate
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?


Read Matthew 2:9-12; 28:16-20

When I think of Jesus being “fully human and fully divine,” along with some other complex realities within faith, I see mistakes that often are made: one, there is an attempt to explain comprehensively what cannot be done; and two, there is a dismissal of tough questions that a friend or someone we know poses. I believe it is a mistake to take either route.

While we can’t explain this entirely and dialogue and engagement must continue when tough questions are raised, I believe the full humanity and divinity of Jesus is a foundation for the church. Greg Boyd speaks to this uniqueness, “The foundation of orthodox Christianity is the belief the Jesus Christ is, as the Chalcedonian Creed puts it, ‘fully God and fully man.’…everything that is unique about Christianity is related to this central truth.” (p. 54, Seeing is Believing).

The earliest Christians, says N.T. Wright, “remained firmly within Jewish monotheism; and yet they said, from very early on, that Jesus was indeed divine.” (p. 117, Simply Christian). This earliest conviction has been carried on throughout history.

One of the outcomes, of which I am giving more thought recently, is worship of Jesus. Not as a separate God, but in the way God has come to us in a human. And, the great outcome of rescue from my self-centered existence and pride, and leading and providing the power to live the life God intended for us. (What we’ll open up to consider and pray about in the weeks ahead regarding Jesus.)

This is intriguing but also significant: when looking at the gospel according to Matthew, we find that at both the beginning and the end that Jesus is worshipped. (Thanks to Willard Swartley for this insight.) The magi worship Jesus when they first see him (Matthew 2:11); right before Jesus commissions his disciples in mission, they worship him (Matthew 28:17). The same Greek word is used for worship- prosekynesan.

Worship is due God alone, for the things that God alone can do. If not, it is idolatry. We worship Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, for all that God has done through his Son.

Question: What would worship of Jesus include for me this day?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, while I can never fully comprehend all of what it means that you are God Incarnate, I will continue to give thanks that you, the one “in whom all things hold together,” came to earth as the visible expression of God. I worship you. Teach me more of what it means to worship you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Living with questions and Jesus as God Incarnate

Theme: Week 1- Jesus as God Incarnate
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Colossians 1:15-17
John 1:14

For the past five years, I have been one of the guest speakers in a social studies class at a local high school. The teacher invites a variety of pastors and religious leaders, over the course of several weeks, to speak on what our faith/religion says on a number of issues. I’m the token Mennonite! It’s fun. The kids ask great questions. I love it!

The initial questions go like this: how we define “soul,” when we believe human life begins, and if we believe Genesis 1is to be taken literally as the account of creation. (You can see the implications of where this will lead with questions and discussion.) The last time I was there, I was paired with a pastor of a conservative, Christian church and he had very definitive answers on each question. Our approach to answering the questions was quite different.

In part, this is why: I live with a chunk of unanswered questions. I find more complexity in what comes our way in life. I used to think “old” people stopped asking questions and simply had answers. Increasingly, I know that is not true.

Yet, here is a paradox: in the midst of the questions and complexities of issues we face in life, I find a growing conviction about core beliefs in Christianity. (I realize using “Christianity” stands on shaky ground because of all that is associated with it in our time.) What these core beliefs are is open for debate; but, I am referring to those strands that can be traced throughout orthodox Christianity.

One such area is that of God becoming human in Jesus. The one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1) has taken on flesh in Jesus of Nazareth (John 1). This is of importance in a number of ways, some of which we’ll consider in the next several weeks.

But, here is the issue I would raise today: to live with questions, and even the puzzle of how we might view truth that can be found in other faiths, does not detract from the conviction, belief and commitment to base my life upon the truth of Jesus as God Incarnate (taking on flesh). Leonard Sweet speaks to our context, “Postmodern Christians, who acknowledge the various degrees of truth, will protect the rights and rituals of people of other faiths, while at the same time presenting Jesus as God Incarnate.” (p.384, Soul Tsunami)

Holding these together, conviction and questions, will impact the way in which we relate to others. It will include humility, passion and gentleness.

Question: How can I embrace the particularity of God becoming flesh in Jesus, and not have a spirit of arrogance or judgmentalism?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as I embrace the fact that you became flesh and blood and “moved into the neighborhood,” allow me to see that my ongoing questions confirm the limits of my humanity and what I can know. And, allow me to see, more and more, why you chose to become one of us. In your name I pray. Amen

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You see Jesus…you see God

Theme: Week 1- Jesus as God Incarnate
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read John 1:18; 12:44-46

One of the questions that surfaces when talking about Jesus as divine, and the definitive revelation of God, is the question of all those people who lived before the time of Jesus on earth. How would they have the nature and being of God revealed to them? Is it fair that they were not given this visible revelation of God? Is Jesus necessary?

The questions could continue along that line. This is not the setting to explore this more fully, but I would respond, in part: it doesn’t seem fair from my limited, finite vantage point, I will never be able to unpack the nuances of God’s timing, and I will just live with gratitude for this concrete picture of God in the person of Jesus.

Jesus, this man from Nazareth, lived approximately 2,000 years ago…and, was God among humanity. Concrete. Visible. We have not seen God, but we have in Jesus. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18). Jesus, in his words, says that if we see him, we have seen the Father (John 12:45).

I would echo the importance Greg Boyd gives to this very truth, “To think of Jesus Christ, therefore, is to think of God. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this fact.” (p. 55, Seeing is Believing)

With expectancy, hope, and life-giving urgency I want to listen to the Word and words of Jesus, observe closely the way in which he lived, and continue to grasp the way in which Jesus died and the meaning of his death (and resurrection). Because…because when we see Jesus, we see God. And, that is the center and where we will find life.

Question: In the midst of our busy, often preoccupied, lives, how can we more effectively see and hear what Jesus has to say to us?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to have my mind open to hear you and your words. Enable me to be more keenly aware as to what you are revealing about the Father from your life, the way you treated others, your choice of stories you told, and the way you lived and died. Keep me alert, for when I see you I see God, for you were God among us. Thank you for choosing to reveal yourself to us in this way, and may I be more transformed into your likeness this very day. In your name I pray. Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jesus as the final and definitive revelation of God

Theme: Week 1- Jesus as God Incarnate
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9

Since this is “day 1” of a 6-week daily blog/reflection, it warrants a few words of introduction. I am new enough to the blog world that I’m unaware if any or many use it the way I will write between now and April 12 (Easter). But, I guess bloggers can make their own rules!

The Plan- I am writing a daily reflection around the question of “Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?” Each week will have a different theme under this larger question. It will include a few words on that weekly topic, a Scripture passage, question and prayer.

I am thinking and writing in the context of our new church that is forming in Denver- The Bridge. The daily meditations will be the theme for our discussion the following Sunday evening (when we meet) in our gathering/worship time (and discussion, engagement, and conversation is an important value for us!). While I am working primarily in this context, I decided to use the blog as a way for our participants and members to access this, and to make it available for anyone else that is interested.

Enough on the introduction….

I titled this week’s reflections, “Jesus as the final and definitive revelation of God” (p. 33 Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places). Perhaps it doesn’t need a citation as it is a common phrase and used often. “Final” and “definitive.” That isn’t appealing and it may appear harsh to many in our setting in Denver…or North America, in general.

But, I would suggest that this has been the confession and conviction of the Christian community in all ages and contexts. While this can be stated in various ways, the confession of Jesus as God incarnate has been a common thread. I must add: to think that anyone could presume (much less, me!) to address all the implications of “Who is Jesus?” in 6 weeks is preposterous! My hope is that we might center on some core aspects of this question that will prompt us to a greater relationship with the living Christ and living it more fully.

So, if this is true, Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9), then this will move us to pay more attention to Jesus and all that we know about him. In fact, it changes everything.

As you begin your day- or end it or pause in the middle of it- the invitation I would offer is not to get sidetracked on an intellectual word game or haggle over a hyper-creedal statement about Jesus, but to ponder and rest in this reality from Colossians 1 and 2, and that of Jesus as the “final and definitive revelation of God.”

Question: How might my life be impacted today, and throughout my life, as the result of Jesus being the “final and definitive revelation of God?”

Prayer: Lord, while I hold the mystery that I can never fully grasp and comprehend who you are, I also live with ultimate gratitude that I can know you. I give thanks that when I see you, Jesus, that I see God. Help me to see you more fully, Jesus. In your name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Living gently in a violent world"

My blog title today is a recent book by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. It is an invitation to the way of peace, rooted in "weakness" from the story of the L'Arche experience, and grounded in Jesus. For those who don't know, L'Arche is a web of communities made up of people with various disabilities that Vanier started in France. (Henri Nouwen introduced many to L'Arche when he moved to Toronto in the 90s to be pastor/member of the L'Arche community there.)

Good stuff on "weakness" (see 1 Corinthians 12), violence, peace. A few lines from Vanier, among the many simple, profound words...

In a word of how we grow and learn together, he says, "We must begin at the bottom. Jesus came to announce good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, liberty to the oppressed, sight to the blind. Let's help the poor to rise up, and then help those who have power and money to see that for the sake of peace, which is the greatest good humans can seek, they too should enter into this vision and start helping the weak to rise up." (p. 71)

I have learned much about myself, the "upside-down kingdom," weakness, peace and community from those who have been considered dispensable in the eyes of the world. Someone like Vanier has much to teach me and followers of Jesus.

When describing what places like L'Arche can teach the world, he invites us to have communities of celebration. "Maybe what our world needs more than anything is communities where we celebrate life together and become a sign of hope for our world. Maybe we need signs that it is possible to love each other." (p.75)

More and more, in the course of reflection and listening to what others are saying, these words ring true to me. To demonstrate love for each other. To live out, imperfectly and yet real, love, reconciliation, celebration, laughter, non-violence, compassion, forgiveness, weakness, and acceptance.

The world desperately needs to see this. Thanks, Vanier.

...Footnote: beginning Tuesday (after a slack on the blog) I'll try something new: I'm writing a daily devotional/reflection during these 6 weeks before Easter (Lent, as it is known in many parts of the larger Church). The focus will be on the centrality of Jesus- primarily as I see its meaning for our new church, The Bridge (Denver). So, while the primary context is this setting, it may have a broader application for reflection on the nature of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, etc.