This idea of commercialism and Jesus somehow shaking hands has really got a destructive undertone to it. We embrace the Billboard Jesus with open arms, because somehow he makes us feel good about ourselves. He is the guy standing alone with his arms outstretched and a big cheesy grin. Did Jesus smile? You betcha!! But, the picture we have of him fits more on a shelf in Wal-mart rather than hanging out with the outsiders in our society. Somehow commercialism has softened the fierce Rabbi from Nazareth. Somehow behind the plastic and television ads, the real Jesus can’t stand up, because he is nowhere to be found. How did we let it get that far? Why has it come to a point in our society that Jesus is nothing more than a necklace in a shop and a t-shirt? The Jesus commodity has dominated the psyche of the church long before television was even invented. Although, for the most part, most of us have been completely unaware, and not of our own doing. But, the ancient media has now become acceptable in churches. It is a superpower within the churches. In a Baptist Church, it would be the deaconate, in an Anglican (Episcopal) Church it would be the Bishops and the Diocese. And even for Scripture, it could have easily been King James. They were the puppets pulling the strings. Their media is what we now call and easily embrace as ‘theology and doctrine’. This is the modern-day media of the Church. You see because if you don’t “buy” into what the Church says you should believe than you aren’t “acceptable” to God by their standards. Oh, those words may never fall from their lips but they are quietly assumed and have been throughout certain corners in history. We must come to realize that God doesn’t hide in human attempts to understand him. He is out in the open for those who are helplessly surrendered to him rather than those who succumb to knowledge and reason to get them through. The irony in this whole post, is that I am one of those people. And I am learning, like the doll from childhood, I have to let it go. I have to “jump in” the abyss that 15 century heretical monks nicknamed God as. I can’t afford to figure it all out. Can you?
Youth Ministry models? Is there such a thing. I went to University and was taught to follow a model from Doug Fields (A Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry) which I took with me almost everywhere I went and tried so had for that model to work. Then came youthwork in Hawaii. Yes, American by ownership, Hawaiian by culture. It has since then, ruined me in response to the general American attitudes towards life and even youth ministry. At this small church, I tried for the first few months to make this model fit and it didn’t! No matter how hard I tried. Then I realized, I am trying too hard. And so it isn’t about my efforts. It is about my ability to be present with the teens at all times. It is about dismantling the idea that youth groups can’t survive without models. I have done youth ministry for over 10 years internationally, and the one recurrent theme is kids want to know that they matter, that they have value. That doesn’t happen with models. That won’t happen while depending upon ideologies to rescue you. I think with the resurgence of the post-modern approach to life, more specifically, in the minds of teenagers, they have become even more cynical toward anything that looks like a model. That isn’t to say that we give up completely on any type of structure, it means that relationship always supercedes any type of model or model-esque approach. All over scripture, the idea that the relationships between God and man, and man to man was always the point, it always superceded anything the Law had set in place.
Okay so I have been part of the system for a bit. And one I thing I have come to see is that Youth Ministry tends to be the cheerleader for the church, yet, at the same time can easily be the most under-appreciated of all church roles and tasks. Okay, so biblically, there is no mandate for youth ministry. We do have a sort of inter-generational model set-out in the early church. Which I am wondering what would the future of YM look like if we began adopting that as a model. Grant it, I am one of those YM’s that don’t really support a model approach to youth ministry and there is a great book out there called “Presence-Centered Youth Ministry” by Mike Yaconelli (also, read books by his late dad, great stuff!!!) that really introduces the truth that youth ministry didn’t start out of some moment of epiphany. the origin of youth ministry came out of the anxiety of adults who didn’t know what to do with teens. very interesting, but when you look out objectively at the relationship between teens, tweens and adults there is a gap filled with awkward silences and nervous laughter. Yaconelli goes on to say that we should embrace the idea of being with teens and being fully present and protectively vulnerable, but most of all — be REAL! That want authenticity. As much as they claw and clamor for answers to this life, they want to know it is okay not to have all the answers. That doubt doesn’t scare God. That being loved and sharing love are what it’s all about. If we sell them anymore than this, we have embraced the vendor jesus.
What if the message of Jesus was actually meant for a wider audience. What if his message about a mythical kingdom and a way life was also meant for the world. Sure, we can agree it was meant to go to the world. But, what if he was already speaking to the world when he share his message. I am currently writing a book entitled “Jesus Bootlegged: Recapturing the Stolen Message of Jesus for the World” it invites the reader to time-travel back into history to the time and culture of Jesus and his audience. You see, his audience wouldn’t have just been made up of his inner twelve ragamuffins. His messages would have been heard by what most would have known as the “unacceptables”. People who were on the fringe of society, lepers, the unclean, the demonized, the bleeding woman and others who you wouldn’t want to be seen in public with. When Jesus is sitting on rock (the posture of a Rabbi) teaching about organic substances like salt and light and then brings in a city to cap it all off, he would have said this quite a few times, part of his nomadic sermon collection. He would have been empowering all the people eavesdropping. He would have been saying, you are like this salt that in influential. You see Christ was in the works of building a global kingdom. He was pioneering a global kind of ethos and believed everyone could be a part. Let’s take a look at who his inner twelve were. Luke was this Gentile doctor. A practical healer. People would have visited him for medical help. It would be too easy to overlook what a Gentile was and simply label him an outsider. A Gentile was also outside the religious faith, not just a denominational difference…he would have been more like a modern-day buddhist or maybe what we might consider as a Native American healer. He was outside the fold according to the Pharisees. And Jesus entrusted the Kingdom to this guy? Also, Mary Magdelene who also might of been one of the financiers of Jesus ministry was an ex-prostitute who might have actually quite easily slipped back into the practice. So Jesus’ ministry was sustained by a prostitute. She held up the ministry of Jesus. And Jesus supported her by believing she had what it took to build the Kingdom of God on earth. Hmmm…I wonder if we are only aware of half the message of the gospel. I wonder if we missed it all-together?
So Jesus the peasant Rabbi was a troublemaker. A Divine one. If you read some of the conversations he had with his buddies–the Pharisees, about a handful of those times, He picked the fight. Yep, read it again and again. Jesus picked fights with the religious systems. I just think He wasn’t a big fan of systems. Yet, we as followers and people, in general, tend to live out existence inside little boxes. We tend to live our lives compartmentally. Your job is over here, your marriage is over there, and somewhere in between God snugly finds a corner. The ancient Jews saw life and everything in it as holistic. There wasn’t any separation. There weren’t any boxes. In fact, they disagreed with the creation of cliches. “God has a plan” wouldn’t have been a robotic response to tragic events. If that is the case, then why do we live very far from how they interacted with God? What have we missed, if anything? I think we embrace our individuality a bit too much and that tends to tell us that we create our own worldviews and in doing so, then we have to create our own “boxes” with which to live from. And then those boxes become habits, and then habits become doctrine. Then doctrine becomes what God must fit for Him to be God to us. You see I wonder if we really are free? If Christ died to set us free, then maybe we are supposed to be free from all man-made things, including the ability to make sense of things. I am not saying to never ask questions, this is what I think Jesus means when He invites us to be children. But, I do think that His kind of Freedom allows us to just fall hopelessly head-over-heels in love with Him rather than always trying to uncover what His next move is. It’s funny how many times Jesus, the Son of God, invited people away from religion and to centre their lives around relationship. He even says it in kind of a hippy way, “Love God” and “Love your neighbour”. Love Vertically and Horizontally. Love. Not answers. Journey, not the destination. Reckless Abandon. Not, Hesistant Surrender.
We live in a society that promotes the life of the person living it. We look out for number one. So, to have someone come in and say that we’re doing it wrong would upset the whole order of our creature comforts. Not to mention to have someone come in and say that all of our theological approaches actually separate us from God. For this story, let’s define Hell as simply a place where one is separated from their Creator. Can we agree on that? So, Jesus was having a conversation in this guy’s house, and Jesus is on a roll. So he starts telling stories. One story, which actually might have been true was about a rich man and a beggar dude named Lazarus. The Rich Man is a picture of the Church now, but was also a picture of the religious system then. They would have got that when Jesus made the remark about this guy dressing up in purple. No, He’s not Chubby Checker, or a purple-people eater. Purple was used to represent royalty, deity, and even a priest. They would have been ecstatic that Jesus gave them a nod in his story. Then he turns the tables and starts talking about an outsider named Lazarus, at this point they would have gotten really smug and maybe even pissed off. Why would Jesus talk about this man, they would have wondered. Lazarus represents anyone who is unacceptable, especially in a society built on an oppressive caste system, but even worse, he had sores. He wasn’t just pore, he was contagious. Know anyone like that today? Then the story turns. The Rich Man dies and is separated from God, the outcast goes to be with God. We could keep going. But you get the point. The Pharisees believed once you were saved, you were always saved. Not that point in and of itself is a whole other blog. But, what Jesus is saying is this: “You have been usng our influence to preserve your “things”, you are more worried about your reputation than you are about those in need. If you continue down this path, you will be separated from God. This was a warning. The Rich Man was the 6th brother in the story, the number 6 meant something was awefully wrong. He lost the plot. They lost the plot. We lost the plot. We must recover the truth of Christ’s message, that the answers aren’t necessarily found in always looking for responses to our questions. It is running recklessly into the arms of those who are in need and being the love that Jesus was being to us. We must embrace this kind of Kingdom. Are you with me?