Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The new community or something like that (Week 6:1)March 31, 2009

Topic: Week 6- The new community: the body of Christ
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Corinthians 12:27

Bring up the word “Christian” to some stranger in a conversation and you’ve got decent odds that she might roll her eyes or you get a sarcastic smirk or maybe even initiate a tirade against those hard, judgmental, hypocritical, and pious folks who want to tell me how to live my life. Say the word “church” to anyone who is not a part of or member of a “church” and you might find the “church” written off or worse.

Say the name “Jesus” to that same crowd and the odds of a positive response go way up.

Which brings me to Jesus. The Christ. And here is where I’m going this week: the body of Christ in the world today. The “body of Christ:” this is what the church is called. “…the church, which is his body…” (Ephesians 1:22-23) This Pauline phrase you will find again and again in his letters in the New Testament.

Ok, I don’t know what to do about some of the semantics; do we find other names for “Christian” and “church” and the like? I don’t know; perhaps. I think about it often because of all that has become associated with those nouns, and how it clouds being able to have a conversation without some of that baggage. For now, I’m still using “church” as well as some new language. Maybe, the “new community” as some are doing.

But, whatever word, or words, we use the reality is this: the church is the body of Christ. Robert Webber says it this way, “The church is the continuation of the incarnation…There is only one actual incarnation of God and that is Jesus Christ, but the church, being his body, sustains an incarnational dimension.” (p.95, The Younger Evangelicals). This new community is the body of Christ.

Ok, we’re talking about you and me. I’m thinking of my context and time: The Bridge, our “new community” in Denver. But, this is any of us in this new community(ies) around the world.

Over these six weeks of thinking and praying and reflecting on “who is Jesus,” this is part of it: the body of Christ in the world today. I find the words of Stanley Hauerwas compelling and accurate, “The work of Jesus was not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness, sharing and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline. In that sense, the visible church was not the bearer of Christ’s message; it was itself to be the message.” (cited by Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership, p. 156).

To many of you, these words- “body of Christ”- are not new. They may be familiar and worn. But, I would invite you to consider the reality and potency of this concept: the new community as the body of Christ in the world. That…that is something which has the potential to foster deep joy, energy and to even make small ripples in changing the perception of “church” to those who are on the outside.

The rest of this week I’d like to consider some of the ways for us to be the body of Christ.

Question: What first comes to mind when you think of yourself as part of the “body of Christ?”

Prayer: Our heavenly Father, may I consider anew what it means for me to be part of the body of Christ in the world today. May I be captured by what this means for me and for us to be this new community. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New post tomorrow...

Hey folks,

Just a short note: we are in Kansas City visiting a church, Jacob's Well, and Tim Keel, the pastor. Our days are full and I haven't had time to write my daily blog/meditation. I will be back on tomorrow- Tuesday.

The peace of Christ!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A new creation (Week 5:4)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it m

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Is it, “There is a new creation!” or “he/she is a new creature?” (v. 17). While not to minimize the hard work of textual critics attempting to give us the best guess at the most accurate text, my answer is: both. The NRSV and NIV translate this differently.

My response: when Christ is “in us” or we are “in Christ,” there is a whole new creation! Yes! And, one is a new creation when Christ is in us. That is what can make the difference in how we seek to have our lives formed more in the likeness of Jesus, living it out in our personal lives, our families, among our friends, among and with the poor and suffering, and among those who push our buttons, who want to hurt us, who want to tear down instead of build up, i.e. our enemies.

I find Lewis Smedes’ words helpful in thinking about Christ in us and us being a new creature. “ ‘Christ within us’ is a reality of the new creation. Jesus Christ is Lord. The Lord is the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ in effective action within the present time, leading, enlightening, calling, and pulling us from within, shaping our lives to the pattern of Christ and His way. The power, or the Spirit, is at work within us and on us, in our inner man [being], in our hearts, ‘on our spirits.’ This is Christ within us.” (p. 133, Union with Christ)

This new creation is from God (v.18) and this is the work of God.

Without this, and I consider this a vital issue, we are merely trying to follow the teachings of Jesus on our own strength and without the power of the Spirit at work in us. But, with the Spirit, all things are possible.

We see it. And, it’s in ordinary folks like you and me. Yes, we see it in St. Francis, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr. But, sometimes that litany can almost paralyze us and not realize: “Christ in us” applies to all of us who surrender our lives to Jesus- ordinary folks like you…me.

Walk in that power that is shaping your life into the likeness of Jesus!

Question: What might the power of Christ in you do to make an impact in your sphere of influence?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you that I can live as a new creation because of your reconciling work. Make me an instrument of your reconciliation and love by the power of your presence within me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

“Do you not realize…!” (Week 5:3)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20

“Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?!” In the midst of this letter Paul writes to the Corinthian believers asking them to examine themselves, he asks this question. We could ask that same question, perhaps rhetorically.

It’s pretty startling if we step back from it and ponder the question. It reiterates what is said in Galatians 2:20 about Christ living in those who acknowledge him as Lord.

When we ask, “Who is Jesus?,” this is part of the answer: Jesus Christ is in us.

This can get a bit confusing: who, actually, is living within? Christ? The Holy Spirit? The Spirit of Christ? The Spirit of God? (see Romans 8:9-11) We can only allude to it here and it embraces an understanding of the triune God- this mystery and truth, and the oneness of God and the various ways God is manifest.

I believe it’s worth noting a lengthier quote from Lewis Smedes, the late theologian/ethicist who taught at Fuller Seminary, in his book Union with Christ, “The Christ within is the Lord Jesus…History moves on in redemption. The specific person of Calvary becomes the specific Lord of heaven and earth. And his modus operandi changes, not to fit the changing epoch, but to create the new epoch. He is now the Lord who operates effectively through the Spirit. This is not merely a change in title; it is not only an elevation in status. It is a shift in the kind of work He does and in the manner in which He does it. Being the Lord Jesus within us, He is at work within us in the freedom of His lordly power.” (p. 134)

Jesus is Lord, operating “effectively through the Spirit,” living within. We, in our bodies individually and collectively (next week’s topic), are the temples-the locus, of where the Spirit dwells.


Question: What might transpire if you listened to (and prayed) this question over and over again this morning (evening or whatever): “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have promised to never leave me. Do I realize that you, operating ‘effectively through the Spirit,’ live in me? I want to live in your kingdom way this day, this week, living in that revolutionary kingdom by your presence within me. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Connecting who Jesus is and ethics/living (Week 5:2)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 5:1-2; 28:20

How do I demonstrate value and significance to the student in my class who is constantly angry and annoys me? How do I take the Jesus’ way with my neighbor who tosses his cigarette butts over in our yard? How do I demonstrate Jesus’ life and not hate Mr. Road Rage, cutting in front of me and slamming on the brakes? How do I forgive her when she has hurt me so badly by what she did? How do I love my enemy, praying for him and returning good for his evil?

In other words, how do I follow Jesus in the hard ways that come our way just in the course of going about life? How do I live the Sermon on the Mount and all the ways Jesus taught and modeled for us to live? Matthew 5 begins with these first two verses telling us this is what he taught his disciples then, and teaches us today, as well.

In a slightly different focus from the “Christ in us” theme for this week, I want to bridge the person of Jesus with the practices of living for the follower/disciple. In theological terms, it is the bridge between Christology and ethics.

It’s the person of Jesus that makes the difference. The things we have been considering over the past weeks with the question, “Who is Jesus?” The one who saves. The one we follow as Lord. The one who came announcing and embodying the kingdom of God- that which he talked about more than anything else. God Incarnate- God among us.

And further, the one who said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Always.

This is what Dale Bruner had in mind with his introductory words to the Sermon on the Mount in his Matthew commentary, “Matthew taught us in his four-chapter preface that Christology (who Jesus is) is the key to the mystery of Christian ethics (what Jesus teaches). Without the Son of God, the Sermon on the Mount is not only impossible; it is impertinent. But since the Sermon’s Commands are accompanied by the Sermon’s Commander, there is something very exciting ahead!...With this Commander, all things are possible (19:26), even…the practically impossible Sermon on the Mount.” (p. 152, Matthew)

It’s with Jesus, the one who is with us always, that we are empowered to deal with Mr. Road Rage dude, love our enemies…

Question: What’s the area, right now in your life, where you most need the person of Jesus to help you live the way of Jesus?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be with me always. Empower me to walk in this joyful, yet often very difficult, way of compassion, forgiveness, and loving others, even my enemies. In your name I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Spirit of Christ in us (Week 5:1)

Topic: Week 5- Christ in us
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Romans 8:9-11

I’d like to begin this week with the “big picture” idea of the Spirit of God living within us. We not only have God revealed to us, in Jesus, when he came to live and be one of us (the Incarnation). But, we have not been left alone for we have been given the Spirit of God to be within us (the Indwelling).

In this passage Paul says that the Spirit dwells/lives within us. He says that: the "Spirit…Spirit of God…Spirit of Christ…Christ" lives within those who are in the Spirit, who have given their lives over to follow Jesus. This Spirit can be said to be the very Spirit of Jesus living within- Christ lives in me! (Galatians 2:20).

We are called to follow Jesus, but we are not left alone to do this. The very Spirit of Christ lives within and empowers us to follow in the way of Jesus.

Many have written off the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus as impractical; “You can’t do it!”- so, it’s written off. I will agree, but only in this way: you can’t do this merely on your own will power and determination.

And that’s the point: we aren’t alone. Jesus didn’t teach us to follow him, or call us to this new way and the kingdom of God, in order to frustrate us or just give us some theoretical teaching that was never intended to be lived out. But, neither did he leave us without power or alone; he came to live within and set us free to walk in this way of the “upside-down kingdom!”

That fills me with hope!

Question: Have you thought about the power that resides within you- Christ in you, enabling you to follow Jesus in your daily life?

Prayer: “’Have your own way, Lord! Have your own way! Hold over my being absolute sway! Fill with your Spirit till all shall see, Christ only, always, living in me’ (Adelaide Pollard). I pray this in your name, Amen.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who’s kingdom? (Week 4:6)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Mark 1:14-15

With a bias toward action and a commitment to following Jesus, there is a temptation for us to take control. It sneaks in the back door- the illusion: “We will bring in the kingdom!” The greater temptation is the opposite: sit back and God will do this on his own. But, the reminder this morning is in response to the first temptation.

So, here’s the reminder: this is God’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God.” What Jesus is announcing, teaching and embracing in his very person is the kingdom of God.

We do not usher it in. We do not control it. We don’t set the agenda. We don’t define the nature of it. God does. Further, it is the power of God that is infused in us even as we seek to follow Jesus in this kingdom that is counter to the kingdom of the world.

But…there is always a “but” here. But, that doesn’t mean we sit on our hands or say to God, “Go change that situation of poverty. Go help those refugees. Go and bring justice into the housing situation over there. Go bring peace into that conflict.” We are participants; we are God’s ambassadors of reconciliation. We are the instruments that God uses.

We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Walking in and announcing this kingdom that Jesus embodied. And, that kingdom is the kingdom of God.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What temptation do you face most often: to take charge, be in control, and serve the needs of others on your own efforts (as if it’s your kingdom); or, to sit back and pray and hope God changes poverty, violence/war, an injustice, etc.?

Prayer: Lord God, this is your kingdom. I pray for your kingdom to come, your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May I be an instrument of yours and your kingdom for healing, peace, joy, justice, freedom, reconciliation and life by your power and life within me. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My friend, Robby (Week 4:5)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Luke 22:24-27

This kingdom of God Jesus comes announcing, and embodying, is truly an “upside-down kingdom.” It’s certainly not always easy and it often defies logic among standards in the world, but it is good. Very good. The way and life with the King and this kingdom brings meaning, even as it is upside-down.

I’ve known Robby (as I’ll call him) since 7th grade. In so many ways, our differences would not have brought us together naturally. He was from a wealthy family, he was Jewish, and he lived in a huge, expensive home on the other side of town. I came from a blue collar, middle class family, my parents were Christian, and we lived in a small, modest 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom home.

Sports brought us together in junior high. I played on the same baseball, basketball and football teams with Robby. He was the second-baseman and leadoff batter; I was the centerfielder and hit behind him in the line-up. On the baseball field, basketball court and football field we became good friends. We often sat next to each other on bus trips to games.

Robby was “normal.” He made all “A’s” and “B’s.” He was our class president one year. He chose “The Age of Aquarius” for the theme song of his campaign for class president; it worked. (Trivia for the old dudes: what group made this song popular in the 70s?) He had tons of friends and was at the popular parties.

Then something happened. It’s a longer story, and not that pertinent to my point here, but Robby was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He’s been in “institutions” ever since the early 80s. I lost track of him except for an occasional call to me over the years. I haven’t seen Robby for 30 years, until this past month. He’s living in Colorado and in a nursing home. I hunted him down and we met last month.

I met Robby and we went to lunch. It was pretty startling to me, because, instead of the guy who you would expect to have a family and decent job, I looked into the eyes of a guy who looks a homeless man on the streets of Denver. At 5 ft. 9 inches, his 260 pounds slows him down. (Not the old Robby who was the fastest on the team.) He is sockless in beat-up tennis shoes. His pants and shirt are stained with food. During lunch, he gulps food and it’s sloppy. He’s balding, like yours truly, and his hair isn’t combed. He takes a break to smoke outside; he smokes three cigarettes, in rapid order, on the bench outside. His health can’t be that good. Messy.

But, here’s the deal: God has asked me to love Robby and take him out to lunch. I am to just flat-out love him. Hang out with him. That, and Robby in particular, is another sign of this upside down kingdom. In addition to my family and friends, and my church community, The Bridge, I need people like Robby in my life.

My friend teaches me grace. It teaches me how I don’t earn God’s love. Being with Robby is another sermon to me about everyone being created in the image of God and that God loves the world. And, it is a reminder to me of the kingdom of God Jesus embodied, announced and called us to: the great reversal. Up is down. The last are first. You enter like a child. The greatest is the one who serves. The greatest power is self-sacrificial love. The cross of Jesus is the greatest witness to all of this.

So, I’m thankful for Robby. When I bring him pictures and articles of our junior high basketball team, we recall how Wiggins used to have that sweet jump shot from the baseline, we laugh about an old girlfriend, or I see a full, body-laugh from Robby when we share a crazy story from the past, I experience joy and life within in a strange way. Over a messy, sloppy, cheap lunch I get another glimpse of what Jesus is talking about in the nature of this “upside-down” kingdom of God.

And...I want the "Robby's" of the world to be welcome in our church community.

Question: What are the ways you hear and see God speaking to you about the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God?

Prayer: Lord, it is easy for me to gravitate to the things that are comfortable. I give thanks to you today for all that you have given me- this relationship with you, relationships with others, and all that comes my way. Help me to have my heart open to ways you continue to speak to me, even in the uncomfortable things that come my way. In your name, Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

At the heart of it: love (Week 4:4)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read 1 John 3:16; Luke 6:27-36

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this on a plaque, framed picture, or wedding gift: “…and the greatest of these is love- 1 Corinthians 13:13.” It likely conjures up some warm, positive feelings. Usually tame, mild and maybe a bit syrupy.

It’s not that this isn’t true. In fact, love is central. But, love is sometimes very difficult, even if it is the “greatest,” and we may lose sight of the foundation for this love that is talked about in this letter.

“Who is Jesus?” That’s the question that we’re just scratching the surface with for these six weeks. And, one response is this: not only is the main focus of Jesus’ teachings the kingdom of God but he himself embodies the kingdom of God!

The heart of this kingdom of God, and Jesus himself, is love. But, not just any love. It is love that we see demonstrated on the cross by Jesus, and that love was demonstrated by him throughout his life- the way of the cross. Loving outsiders and outcasts, forgiving those who put him on a cross, loving enemies, and loving those who denied him.

And, it doesn’t just end with Jesus; here is where it is not just a simple reference framed in a picture or on wedding wrapping paper. We are called to this type of love- this “Calvary love”- in our lives as well. Greg Boyd says it this way,

“The love we are called to trust and emulate is supremely manifested in the cross of Jesus. The cross is the ultimate symbol of the kingdom of God, for it defines what the kingdom always looks like. It looks like Christ- self-sacrificial and loving. It looks like grace.” (p. 34, The Myth of a Christian Nation)

There’s that “upside-down kingdom” again. It was this love, in God among us in his Son, Jesus, that has defeated Satan and evil on the cross. This is the power that has overcome and transforms: Jesus on the cross. It has changed our lives.

This love is what we are called to as well, as Jesus tells us. It is that which has power to transform, heal, restore relationships, and break down walls. And, it comes from the power of Christ living within us.

Question: What situations and relationships might be impacted if I pray for this love of Jesus to be made more real in my life?

Prayer: “Lord, I know this is the way of life, freedom and joy- living out your love. I also know this is hard and I need your power and presence within me. Help me to follow you and your call: to love my enemies, to do good to those who hate me, to bless those who curse me, and to pray for those who abuse me. Show me who I am to love today. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What does the kingdom of God look like? (Week 4:3)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 4:17; Luke 17:20-21

If this kingdom of God is so important, what does it look like? If Jesus talked about it more than anything else, then our ears should perk up.

What does it look like? In a word, Jesus. Jesus, the Incarnation of God among humanity, embodies and incarnates the kingdom of God. At the beginning of his public ministry, he announces, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” (Matthew 4:17, The Message) It is here and he embodies it.

“It is here! God’s kingdom is already here! It is here among you!” Look at Jesus, and all that he taught and preached about the kingdom, and we will get handles on what this kingdom looks like.

Followers of Jesus are kingdom people. The kingdom: the rule and reign and realm of God. The reign and rule and intentions of God: this is what Jesus comes announcing, and then incarnates in his person. And, we are invited to live in this way of Jesus.

It is already here…and it is not yet here fully. That is why we also pray “Thy kingdom come” since it is not completely here. We seek to live as kingdom people, to be signs of and point to what it will be in fullness some day in the new heavens and new earth.

What does the kingdom look like? Jesus. We take our cues from him, God’s final and definitive revelation. We look at his life and death. We listen to his stories and parables, his teaching and preaching. And, we open up our inner being to his rule and kingdom- and to his very person to come live and rule within.

We keep looking to Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), “the first and last” (Revelation 22:13). This is, literally, the journey for the rest of our lives- to continually learn and grow and be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. What we see in Jesus is the very kingdom of God- that rule and reign and life that is from God, and…which is “upside-down” from the kingdom of the world. More later…

Question: What do I see in the nature of the kingdom of God as I look at Jesus?

Prayer:O God, keep my eyes intently fixed on Jesus. I submit to your rule and reign, your kingdom; keep me focused on Jesus and what this life looks like that you so desire for me and the rest of the world. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Week 4:2)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read John 18:36; 17:15-18

Jesus not only makes it clear in what he says but in the very way in which he lived: his kingdom, the kingdom of God, is in sharp contrast to the kingdom of the world. We see it splashed over the pages of the New Testament.

When Donald Kraybill used the title phrase of his book, “the upside-down kingdom,” it stuck with many of us. It is an apt description of the kingdom of God. Down is up. The last are first. Life comes from death. The cross is power. Servants are elevated, etc., etc.

Our Lord, the embodiment of the kingdom, rides in the parade exalting him as king on a donkey, not the victor’s horse. He gives his life in the greatest act of love and power in history. It’s the grand reversal of things. Flipping logic on its head.

This is a complete contrast in the way of the kingdom of the world. It’s that contrast that we see lived out and taught by Jesus, and then giving that call to us, his followers, the body of Christ in the world.

But, this is important not to miss: while the contrast of these kingdoms, in the way they operate and function, is clear, followers are not to opt out of the world! This is not a sectarian view: stay away from the “world;” don’t get stained by interactions with it.

Jesus says the opposite. In essence, he says this, “You are different. You live this upside-down way of self-sacrificial love, this servant love. But, I’m not pulling you out of it. In fact, I’m sending you into it! Penetrate the world, as kingdom-of-God-people. Let them see this type of love and servanthood, and I will empower you to live this way.”

Contrasts? You bet. So, do stay off to ourselves? No way! Go into the world, Jesus says, and he is with us.

Question: What are some of the main contrasts you see between the way the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world operates?

Prayer: “O God, go with me into the world, for you have sent me. May I be, increasingly, a light in the world of your ‘upside-down kingdom.’ And may we, as a community who follow Jesus, be a corporate light in this world. It’s in his name that I pray, Amen.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Jesus talked about (Week 4:1)

Topic: Week 4- Jesus and the kingdom of God
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Mark 1:14-15

Here’s an answer to a Bible trivia question that someone throws out there at a party/summer cookout/bar: “What topic did Jesus talk about more than any other?” If you answered: Heaven and hell- wrong. Salvation- wrong. Belief in God- wrong. Faith- wrong. Eternal life-wrong. Sin-wrong.

Answer: The kingdom of God.

If Jesus says something, those who are followers of him pay attention. If Jesus says something frequently, we pay even more attention. If Jesus talked about something a lot, it must matter and be something he wants us to hear.

When asking the question of “Who is Jesus and what difference does that make?” the kingdom of God comes into the picture. You can’t talk about Jesus and not talk about the kingdom of God; it’s everywhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus.

Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled; and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) If Jesus speaks so much about it, what does he want us to hear?

Question: Does this surprise you that this is the topic Jesus spoke most often about? What is it about the kingdom of God that Jesus wants me to learn about, experience, and live?

Prayer: Lord God, these words feel pregnant with meaning- the time is fulfilled…the kingdom of God has come near…repent and believe the good news. May you continue to open up to me what you would want me to know and experience about the kingdom of God. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Both/and: Jesus as example; Christ in us (Week 3:6)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Galatians 2:19-20; 4:19

One of the more common ways I have come to describe this way of Jesus, a life with God, and this life in the kingdom of God is “both/and.” With every book or conversation or study we don’t need to include the “both/and.” Often we focus on a particular topic or issue in our life that needs to be addressed, and it may not have balance in terms of the entire message of the kingdom. And, that’s appropriate.

But, we need to continually remind ourselves of this balance or else we wind up with half of the good news or half of the Story.

This week’s focus on discipleship (following after, learning from Jesus) and imitation (just as Jesus, so we) is needed more than ever in our world by Christians, in my opinion. Jesus is Lord- not Caesar, not any ideology, not any nation, not any system, not any other person. We bow to Jesus as Lord now in what the entire creation will do eventually (Philippians 2:9-11).

We follow him. He is Lord, he is our example, he is The Way. The method matches the message. We are to walk as he walked (1 John 2:6). In doing so, this is where we find life and where others will see Jesus in us as we see Jesus in the ones we serve (Matthew 25:30).

But, I feel compelled to add the other piece of the whole at the end of this week: the “and.” It is the risen Christ, living in us, that is part of the whole. While it may appear strange to say, and garbled, this is our life: we follow Jesus and walk as he walked, and we do this as Christ is living in us (Galatians 2:20). It is Christ who is being formed in us (Galatians 4:19).

To take the steps in this radical way- to extend mercy, welcome outsiders, love enemies, live with simplicity, show forgiveness, resist violence- is to follow Jesus as Lord. To follow Jesus, God Incarnate. And, we are not left alone, for he has sent us his Spirit to point us to Jesus and to live within us.

That empowers me and gives me hope! Jesus is Lord!

Question: As you seek to follow Jesus, what does it mean for you that “Christ lives in” you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are Lord. I acknowledge that now for my life, and the entire world will bend the knee and confess that some day. As you live in me, Christ, I seek to walk as you walked. May you be formed in me, day by day, so I may love as you loved. In your name I pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Love as Jesus loved (Week 3:5)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read John 13:34-35; 15:12; Luke 6:32-26

I continue with this aspect of the Lordship of Jesus: imitation and discipleship. Imitate or mimic, the meaning of this word in Ephesians 5:1 and found throughout the New Testament. Discipleship: to follow after, to learn, to become a disciple/follower of Jesus.

“Just as” Jesus, “so” you and me. The center and essence of all of this is love. If we had to boil it all down to one thing it would be love. It is the first, and second, commandment, Jesus says (Matthew 22:37-38). To love is to fulfill the law (Romans 13:8).

This isn’t pulled out of the hat somewhere; we go to the words of Jesus. Jesus, who is Lord. He says it explicitly and it is implied throughout his life and teachings: how he lived and what he taught his followers.

Here’s the explicit call to us who choose to be his followers, the “just as…so you” language. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) God has come down to humanity, become one of us; God Incarnate: Jesus. And, he has shown us, in flesh and blood, what God is like. God’s will for the world. What brings life, freedom and joy. Love is at the core.

It’s unconditional love. Indiscriminate love. We aren’t asked to love with conditions or to choose just to love only those who love us; it is even our enemies we are called to love (Luke 6:32-36). That’s how God loved us. That’s how Jesus loved us: when we were enemies.

Tough! How that gets worked out in specific situations is part of our life-long discernment and a dependence upon the very power of the risen Christ in us.

Question: Where, in my life, is the most pressing situation to follow Jesus in his call to me: “just as I have loved you, so you love…?”

Prayer: My Lord Jesus, our Lord Jesus; teach me more how to love as you loved me. And, I know how you loved me: even when I was an enemy and apart from you. With that power of your love, may I love those you have put in my path. In your name, Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jesus: “Follow me” (Week 3:4)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Mark 2:13-14; Romans 6:4

For the next three days, we will continue this theme of who Jesus is with respect to the confession that Jesus is Lord.

The simple, and sometimes not so simple, call of Jesus is what we find him saying to folks along the way, “Come, follow me.” There’s more to it than some leader who might echo similar words (you pick the setting: a key leader of the company you work for, a political leader, etc.).

It might have some similarities- the vision sounds compelling, you like the direction where things are pointed, etc. But, with Jesus’ call the person calling is God Incarnate, the Lord. And with the follower, whether that is Matthew, Peter, Mary Magdalene, or any one of us, there is a way in which we participate in the Person of Jesus.

In this participation, we are invited, by Jesus, to follow. To imitate, in the words from yesterday. The idea of following after and imitating Jesus is pervasive in the words of Jesus and throughout the New Testament. John Howard Yoder cites at least 53 places in the New Testament where this language about Jesus- discipleship, following after, learning from and imitating Jesus- is used (p. 118-127, The Politics of Jesus).

As…So…That’s the tag David Augsburger gives to this discipleship. An “As-So Model of Spirituality:” as Jesus…so us (p. 32, Dissident Discipleship). There are many places we see this in the New Testament. For example, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Jesus saves. We cannot save ourselves. Jesus is also Lord of all. Master. And when we enter into participation with him, by his power, to follow him, we will enter more fully into the life he has promised. It will also be, equally so, for the benefit of others- for goodness, justice, forgiveness, compassion, love of neighbor and enemy, mercy. That is, in all the ways in which we are called to follow him.

Question: What are the “just as…so me” (as Jesus…so me…) ways of Jesus that are more urgent for me at this time in my life?

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you not only called Matthew and Mary, Joanna and James, but you have also called me: “Come follow me.” I cannot do this on my own strength, and you have promised to be with me through your Holy Spirit. But, I can choose to seek you and to walk in newness of life. I do so. Empower me. In your name I pray. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Imitators (Week 3:3)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Ephesians 5:1-2

As young baseball fans, my brother and I played a game we cooked up with some of our friends in the backyard. Pre-fantasy baseball fantasy league. We used a softball and carved out a small baseball field. The fun part: we picked real major league teams, went through their starting line-up, and had to imitate the batter’s pre-pitch routine before the ball was thrown.

Some of my favorites: the Willie Stargell “wind-up,” Joe Morgan’s “chicken-flap,” or Carl Yastrzemski’s “wave-to-the-sky.” We were imitating some of our baseball heroes in the batter’s box. Trying to mimic their unique routines and preparation.

That’s the word used in Ephesians 5:1-2: imitators of God. Mimic, literally. “Live in love, as Christ loved us.” Whoa! It’s a lot easier to imitate Joe Morgan’s pre-swing routine!

This is not an isolated scripture that is pulled out of context; there are numerous references and calls to this very thing in the Scriptures. (More in the next several days.) Nor is this something to dismiss and then move on: “What’s next in the rest of this letter to Ephesus.”

This is part of lordship. Jesus is Lord and, as followers of him, we seek to do just that: follow him and be transformed into his likeness. We will do this imperfectly, but that doesn’t mean we write this off. We confess, ask forgiveness (sometimes, asking forgiveness from the world), and then move on.

Others in history have reinforced this call: Augustine said, “The gist of religion is imitation of him who is worshiped.” Soren Kierkegaard noted, “God’s will is to express that he desires to be in relation with us, and therefore desires the thanks and adoration which is in Spirit and truth: imitation.” (p. 474, The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard).

This is not fantasy or a backyard game. It’s the real deal. Real life. And, when living in this way of Jesus, we know it is abundant life and faith in Jesus becomes more credible to the world.

Batter up.

Question: Where would Jesus call me to follow him, imitate him, and “love as he loved us” this day?

Prayer: Lord God, you have called us to be imitators of you. Help me today to live in love as your Son, Jesus, loved us, giving himself up for us. May gratitude empower me for this day. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jesus is Lord and… (Week 3:2)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Philippians 2:5-11

If you are new to Christian faith and this Jesus way, or if you were raised in a home where you rarely missed a church service on Sunday, these words from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Philippi will likely sound familiar. This was a hymn by these early followers of Jesus that Paul quotes.

Two things from this hymn (out of the vast reservoir of meaning and implication that can’t be addressed here): first, that Jesus is Lord is the climax of these seven verses. Jesus of Nazareth, does not cling to his equality with God, but empties himself, takes on the form of a servant, and becomes human. He humbles himself even to the point of death on a cross. Then he is lifted high: he is Lord of all.

Jesus is Lord. Not Caesar, whom Rome demanded you to declare lord at that time. Not anyone or anything else. We might even say, “Yep, Jesus is Lord. I believe that.” It makes for good hymns, litanies, a scripture verse on a bookmark, or a good passage on my-verses-to-memorize-list some day.

If you meditate on this passage it can lead to some pretty profound implications on the nature of Jesus.

But, here’s the second thing: don’t miss verse 5, which leads into this hymn about Jesus. Here’s the kicker: “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The same. Emptied. Servant. Humbled. Obedient. Downward mobility. Now it’s more than a sweet hymn or confession about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord. And, we are called to this same way of the cross- the way of the servant and self-sacrificial love. While that way may not always be easy, it is good news for others, good news for the world, and good news for us.

Question: What will having “the same mind” of Jesus as a servant look like in my life?

Prayer: Jesus, you are Lord. I can only begin to grasp what it meant for you to take this downward mobility posture as servant- becoming human and the way of the cross. Help me to take this way of the servant, and reveal to me what this means for my life. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jesus: follow and know…know and follow (Week 3:1)

Topic: Week 3- Jesus as Lord
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Colossians 2:6-7; John 17:3

One of my favorite both/and lines, with respect to being Jesus-followers, comes from a 16th century Anabaptist, Hans Denck. “No one can know Christ truly except by following Him daily in life; and no one can follow Him faithfully except those who truly know Him.”

It addresses the “cheap grace” question or that faith in Christ is merely some private piety- just Jesus in my heart. But, neither is this walk with Christ merely obedience to Jesus on our own efforts.

To confess and believe and live this earliest of Christian confessions- Jesus is Lord, is to sometimes just take a step…and then another step, in following Jesus. In the process, we come to know Jesus more fully. And, those steps of following faithfully are also rooted in the power that comes from knowing Him (John 17:3)- through prayer, worship of Jesus, silence, reading Scripture, etc.

There is “…one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). We seek to know him and follow him. We follow him and know him. We know him…

We’re off and running on this ongoing cycle.

Question: Is there balance in my life with the “knowing” and “following” of Jesus as Lord?

Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge you as just that: Lord. My desire is to know and follow you, for I know that this is where there is life and life abundantly. As I have received you as Lord, I want to continue to live my life in you. Show me what this looks like today and this week. Amen.”

Friday, March 6, 2009

Saving and a dose of humility (Friday)

Topic: Week 2- Jesus as Savior
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 11:27; Romans 5:1, 6-11

I’m not a fan of street preachers who wave signs, point fingers, and shout words of judgment at anyone walking by. When Gail and I walked out of Coors Field in October 2007, when the Rockies had just won the National League Championship, there he was- this street preacher saying “Jesus saves” and yelling at all of us walking out of the stadium. If the Rockies had lost, more than a few fans might have punched out the guy, or at least wanted to.

I’m afraid of my faith in Jesus getting lumped in with the street preachers, and having conversations with others set back as a result. It’s not that the message might be offensive to some (e.g. saying that you believe going to war in Iraq is wrong will cause offense); it is how one says it that matters a great deal to me.

In this respect, I would advocate we seek the posture of humility. In this arena of the saving, rescuing work of God in Jesus, two areas, among many, come to mind.

First, we are unable to save ourselves (already noted this week). “If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son…” (Romans 5:10, The Message). When reading the beliefs’ section of The Simple Way this week (community of Shane Claiborne), their statement on “Humanity” fit this description, “We believe that people are created in the image of God… We also believe that humanity is fallen, and Jesus died and rose in order to save humanity. Humans are incapable of holiness and perfect love without the sacrifice of Jesus.” Thus, humility.

Secondly, this “exclusive” claim about Jesus gets tricky and can appear arrogant. I do not believe the Story of God, and of Jesus, is one story, equal among many. I like the way in which Dale Bruner, in his monumental commentary on Matthew, comments on this verse from Matthew 11:27, “We have not been authorized to say that there is salvation anywhere else than in faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Self-Gift.” (p. 535)

But, Bruner also adds this, “Christians must also allow the Son, if he chooses, to reveal the Father to those outside of Christendom.” (p. 534) This is not the all-paths-are-great-just-pick-one notion. We are called to live and announce Christ. But, we also come at this with humility, acknowledging our need of God and that we aren’t God. Humility.

This is even in concert with the truth that we need a Savior. We can’t save ourselves.

Question: Is there an area in my life characterized by arrogance?

Prayer: Thank you, God, that “when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms” with you. You save and rescue and put us in right relationship with you, something we cannot do on our own. I thank you. May l live in your saving work, day by day. Amen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rescue from evil and sin itself…that includes me! (Thursday)

Topic: Week 2- Jesus as Savior
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Colossians 2:13-15; Romans 6:5-8

Evil must be reckoned with. Sin must not be overlooked. When statements like that are made, what often follows is a litany of “ain’t if awful.” Well, there are a ton of awful things on personal and systemic or structural levels. But, I’ll omit the litany.

You could make your list of the outcomes you see from evil or sin today. You don’t have to look far, only as far as yourself. That’s all the further I have to look, even though I’d rather look at and enumerate the sins of others.

What’s at stake: not overlooking evil. There is a temptation, perhaps in reaction to abuses or an “ain’t it awful” party that has appeared in churches and pulpits, to diminish the realm of evil and sin. I can find no other way to make sense of the sad and sick and twisted ways humans have (and still do) treated one another and creation itself. So, it’s here. Real.

But…and this is an important “but:” God has done something about this. By coming to us in the flesh, Jesus has rescued us from evil and sin itself in his life, death and resurrection. It wasn’t a rescue effort to defeat sin by political means, or by use of force; it was the upside-down way of self-sacrificial love. His death on the cross is totally consistent with the way in which Jesus lived. Rescue. Victory over evil and Satan and the powers! Christus Victor!

Now, evil is still sputtering along but the victory has been won and it will come to full completion in the “new heavens and new earth.”

N.T. Wright states the importance in this way, “Nothing in all of history of paganism comes anywhere near this…The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste of misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns. Christianity is based on the belief that this was and is the latter.” (p. 111, Simply Christian).

This makes sense of both the personal and systemic level of sin, rather than turning my head and acting as if evil did not exist. And, God in Jesus comes to rescue, save and restore. I need no longer be enslaved but freed, and to live in that freedom with increasing awareness.

Question: What is it in my life that Jesus wants me to be freed from and no longer enslaved? In what ways would Jesus want us, as a community of his followers, to be engaged in living and announcing this freedom in our city?

Prayer: Oh Lord God, you know that I can’t rescue myself. Evil is powerful and runs deep, and it needed the cross- the bearing of the sin of the world and defeat, by this self-sacrificial love, of evil and sin. Thank you for that in my life; may I live in that freedom today. And, help us to be instruments of your work on the cross and the resurrection, to those in our city: announcing good news to the poor, release to those who are captive, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation, and walls that are broken down. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Something we can’t do on our own (Wednesday)

Topic: Week 2- Jesus as Savior
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Matthew 1:20-21

If I say that I can’t save myself, that I can’t rescue myself from sin or things that hurt me or others, than does this mean that following Jesus and his teachings are incidental? In other words, that the point of Christianity is God’s rescue effort in Jesus and that there’s nothing for us to do? That ethics, the teachings of Jesus, and the life Jesus describes is peripheral, at best?

There is a way to look at this that makes it appear that these two notions- something we can’t do on our own and something we can do- are opposites or contradictions. One way to deal with that is to decide: the life and teachings of Jesus do make sense and are important; therefore, the other part about Jesus as Savior must not make sense or it isn’t necessary.

I believe this falls into dualistic thinking and opting for an either-or approach. I want to suggest a both-and approach which is holistic and biblically rooted in the story of salvation, God’s great rescue effort!

And, it begins here- with salvation (this is one of those words that has become distorted in our setting in America; it’s unfortunate since it is rich and freeing!). Eugene Peterson’s words here hit the mark: “Salvation is God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Salvation is a work of God that we cannot approximate or rival or reproduce. (p.177)…Jesus is the central and defining figure in the spiritual life. ..He is God among us: God speaking, acting, healing, helping. ‘Salvation’ is the big word into which all these words fit. The name Jesus means ‘God saves.’” (p. 32, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

To omit the Sermon on the Mount or Jesus’ teachings is a serious error. To miss the call of Jesus to be made into disciples- “come follow me” is to miss the life Jesus is talking about. But, to take the “try harder” approach or to think this way of Jesus is something we can do on our own is also to miss a crucial of the biblical, salvation story.

Jesus, God who came to us as a human, saves. And, and as we eagerly seek and take steps toward this, God is doing the work of transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. We follow Jesus- in our families, marriages, friendships, among co-workers who annoy us, in response to the grocery store clerk who is bored, into the pub where some lonely dudes are looking for community, among/with the poor we serve, to the discarded and “sinners,” and in loving our enemies-we follow Jesus, in all of life, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Question: Do I try to follow Jesus on my own efforts? Is there an area(s) of my life where I want I need Jesus’ saving work- doing for me what I can’t do for myself?

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for your saving work. Thank you for doing for me what I cannot do on my own, that is, save myself. Now, empower me to follow you in the very ways you called us to live. In the name of Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jesus saves (Tuesday)

Topic: Week 2- Jesus as Savior
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read 1 John 4:14

“Saved.” That tag can still trip me up in my mind. I can recall the time, when I was 12 years old, when I said to myself, “I want to be saved.” It carried significance for me at that point in my life.

While this stage of my life was real with respect to faith, questions started to roll in over time: was this just a one-time event? Is it a private experience? What’s the practical experience of being “saved?” How does this relate to living my faith?

It began to have a static feel to it. And, as I heard many other Christians talk about it, it began to feel even more flat. Pointing to some event on such and such a day.

But, then…the meaning of “saved” changed. Part of it was a deeper understanding for me of what salvation was/is/will be after reading Scripture over time and having others open up some new meaning for me. Part of it was life experience- what I was learning about myself, the world; learning from failures and disappointments.

So, sometimes when I hear “saved” in a religious context, it still feels flat. But, for me, it is a positive, even necessary, thing in my life: Jesus saves; I can’t save myself. More later…

Question: What does this mean- “that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior?” What does “Jesus saves” include for you…even this day?

Prayer: Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name. I cannot save myself, so my trust and dependence is upon you. Thank you. Thank you for coming to us, for sending your Son, to be the Savior of the world. May I live in that awareness today. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Clearing the baggage (Monday)

Topic: Week 2- Jesus as Savior
Theme for 6 Weeks- Who is Jesus and what difference does it make?

Read Psalm 18:46; Matthew 1:20-21

Since this second week of a meditation/Scripture for the day, there are three things that can serve as reminders:
...These daily meditations (normally, Monday-Friday), are for the six weeks before Easter on the question, “Who is Jesus and what difference does that make?”
...My focus and context is our church, The Bridge, in Denver, but it is not limited to our church community. (The teaching on Sundays will be linked to the daily meditations and topic.)
...My hope is for the entire six weeks to help us focus and pray on the question of “Who is Jesus?” So, I envision the daily/weekly themes to be in the context of the whole: God Incarnate, Jesus as Savior, Jesus as Lord, the Kingdom of God, being “in Christ,” and the church as the body of Christ.


When you hear or read things like, “I was saved on ________ at _______,” or, “I want my friend to get saved,” or, “Jesus saved me and now I have a home in heaven when I die,” what goes through your mind?

Or, perhaps you had an experience with church when you heard the pastor (or tv/radio preacher) ask for anyone interested, at the end of the service, to raise your hand or come down front if you want to be saved. Or, maybe you never heard the word saved or salvation, or hardly ever.

Depending on our past experience, the idea of Jesus as Savior or that “Jesus saves” can carry some baggage that clutters some of the real intent with salvation. It could carry some very positive notions. It could involve some quite negative associations.

What if we attempted clear some of the trappings that we have associated with Jesus as Savior and the one who saves? If we cleared some of this away, might we be in a position to more openly receive the meaning(s) of “Jesus saves?”

Question: What do I bring to my time of prayer regarding “saved” and “Jesus as Savior?” Is there negative baggage and associations that might block the intended meaning of Jesus as Savior?

Prayer: Gracious God, I want to love you and to live my life in love of others. If there are things that are in the way of understanding and receiving the implications of Jesus as Savior, may you reveal them to me. May I open myself more to your saving work. Amen.