Looking down.

I was taking a stroll today through some beautiful new housing developments here in England and I noticed something, I was looking down a lot. Too much actually. And I was thinking about life. And overanalyzing over this and that. And realized that I tend to look down when I am focusing everything on me. When I forget that the world around me is bigger than me. When I forget that there are beautiful clouds and a mysterious deep blue sky that beckons me onward and outward. It is easy to forget that life is bigger than me and all my non-issues that I seem to be good at making out of nothing. When there is so much beauty that reminds me that God is just that close. He is as close as a tree. Or a bird. Or a word from a stranger. God came near. I can sometimes be so self-involved that the world seems to stop spinning until I get my life in order. But you and I know that this is not the case. The world keeps spinning. I keep walking. And other people have bigger problems than me, I can help them, sometimes, if I just stop looking down…

Mcdonalds and Vampires.

HAPPY MEALS AND VAMPIRES.

Have you ever been in one of those moods where you just didn’t want to cook? Or there was nothing really appetizing eyeballing you in the refrigerator. So you opted for the fast food option. To be honest, that was our family’s motto growing up, we all loved our fast food runs. Sometimes we would jump in the car and make a whole road trip of it. When I was younger, and even into my late teens I would love to get the Mcdonalds’ happy meal. Why? Because of the prize inside. I wasn’t as worried about gourging myself full of greasy fries, although that was part of the joy, it was what I had waiting for me in the bottom of the ‘M’ shaped box. The prize gave me something to look forward, the meal is what I had to get through to get to it. I wonder if that’s we’ve done with Christianity?

In his book the Great Omission, author Dallas Willard says this about our views on salvation. Listen in. “The gospel of sin management produces vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else… At the heart of right-wing theology is the individual forgiveness of sins. On the left it is the removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a gospel of sin management. Transformation of heart and character is no part of the redemptive message. Moment to moment human reality is not the arena of faith and eternal living. What right and left have in common is neither has a coherent framework of knowledge and practical direction adequate to personal transformation toward the abundance and the obedience emphasized in the New Testament.
Pastor and cultural revolutionary of Mosaic, a church community in Los Angeles says something along the same lines: “How is it, that for many of us, being a good Christian is nothing more than being a good person? The entire focus of our faith has been the elimination of sin, which is important but inadequate; rather than the unleashing of a unique, original, extraordinary, wonderfully untamed, faith.”

Have we done this? Have we reduced the message of Jesus down to a prize waiting for us at the bottom of the box? Have we cheapened our journey by reducing the words of Jesus down to something that we get? I think it is a question we all need to be willing to ask. We can’t afford to make the message of Christianity simply about the death of Jesus. There was more to it, wasn’t there? I distinctly remember something hidden in the details of the story about a risen saviour and a charter to go and change the world. I wonder if the theologies of salvation and Christianity have become a bit anemic. Didn’t Jesus challenge us to love our neighbour. To show grace unconditionally. To give without receiving. To help the poor, the widow and the child. Isn’t there more to Christianity that us wanting Jesus for more than his blood? How does that make him feel?

The phrase ‘follow me’ in first-century Palestine meant much more than walk down this road with me. Especially if it left the lips of a Rabbi. It meant that as a follower we are to ‘be’ just like the Rabbi. Do what he does. And do all of it. Listen, Challenge, Cry. Heal. Wouldn’t it be the worst thing if the gospel we now have is the gospel that never was? Or that we have simply dismembered certain parts of the original message of Jesus and put together a gospel that looks a bit less like itself? I think it’s time to recpature the holistic gospel of Jesus. How do we start? I think by realizing that what we have isn’t what was meant to be. That there is more. That Jesus came to give ‘life and life more abundantly’. That his words were opportunities for life. For people to chase after him.

Like Dallas says above, the message we have tends to not focus on the transformational aspects of what it means to be one who follows in the way of Jesus. This isn’t about a list of do’s and don’ts, that would take us back to a place sin management. We have been told for far too long that we are not good enough. That we have nothing to offer. In my study of the Jewish understanding of God, I have come to the conclusion that God has a pretty high view of mankind. Otherwise why would he want to spend time with us and on and step down out of heaven for us, unless we were pretty important to him? If Christ came to save us from our sin, than we are no longer sinners. Plus the word sin is a temporary word. If we are focusing on the problem all the time, then there is no room or space for what it looks like to live and be right. What it looks like to be Jesus. This is so much deeper than discipleship. This is an inner transformation of the soul. The mystical and mysterious kind. Jesus is more than the cross. He knows that, what will it take for us to know that?

Salt, Light, City.

Jesus used three words as metaphors to make the point that we all have what it takes to build his Kingdom here on earth.

In first century Palestine Salt was used for many different things. Most people would use it to cure or heal meats of impurities and diseases. So they wouldn’t get sick. The religious leaders would throw old salt on the ground so that during the winter months it would melt the snow faster so no one got hurt when they came to the temple to make a sacrifice.

But, Salt was also used as money. It had an effect on society. It was the way society lived and survived. Money was important for survival. Jesus calls us all salt. He uses this metaphor to say that we can have an effect on our culture, history, society, churches, and families like money does. That we too can change the world. Salt was also used to flavor food. To stop it from being bland and to add something more to the dish. We all have it in us to add something to society to change it for the better. Salt was also expensive. It was high in value. Jesus is telling them that they are important to the Kingdom of God. We are the currency of God.

In the Old Testament times, the ancient Jews would have a lot of different traditions and practices. They would have these week long parties called festivals where they would celebrate their relationship with God, with each other and God. And one of their practices they had would be to take candles and lights and dance around with them in the temple. They were called the light of the world. And Jesus says that everyone, not just Jews back then, can be the light of the world. Jesus says you can be the light of the world. So what does light do? It spreads out everywhere. It lights things up. It brings hope. It brings peace. It brings love wherever it shines. We can do this. We can do this because Jesus has invited us to. Do you believe that today?

Jesus also says that He is the light of the world. And so if he says that we are the light of the world and then he says he is the light of the world, then what He is saying is that we all have what it takes to be just like Him. This is a very powerful message. Jesus was talking to an oppressed people. They were discouraged by Rome trying to control their every move and they had no freedom. For others it seemed like their society wouldn’t help them because they were different or because of their laws considered them “unclean”. Does anyone hear every feel that way? Jesus has a message of hope for you.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
We can have all the light that this world has to offer – knowledge, intelligence, or sunshine, but without God, we still will be in that darkness which sunshine cannot drive away. Jesus came into the world to bring us the knowledge of God. This is a light that we will not find by studying science or books. It is an enlightenment which reveals to us that there are other realms than just the physical world. Science can study the physical world and all about it, but science cannot study the light which comes from God. But it is this light which comes from God which makes us to be fully human.

The light which God created before there was a sun, which battles the darkness which overshadows the hearts and minds of mankind on the sunniest days, is given to us to give to others. For Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:14) God does not withhold this light from us and say, “spend your whole life searching for that which is beyond your grasp.” Rather God not only brings us to the light, He allows us to become that light.

Maybe you are here today and think you have nothing to offer to Jesus. Maybe something happened to you as a child. Or yo had a bad experience in school. Or failed a test for a job or weren’t able to go to University, Jesus wants you to know that you have what it takes. And that he needs you to help change the world. He believes in you.

Then we meetup with a guy named Matthew. He didn’t think he had what it took either. He was a tax-collector. Now, try to imagine a tax-collector who randomly shows up on your doorstep for a routine surprise audit. All those feelings your feeling now would have been what most of the Jewish people would have felt plus a side-order of betrayal. Jewish tax-collectors were known as double-crossers. It would be like your best friend turning you in for something you didn’t do. The ultimate of all betrayers. They worked for enemy. Rome. They not only collected taxes from their own people, but they would also overcharge each person and whatever the difference was they would pocket it. And for the most part, the price was ludicrously outrageous. It actually helped in creating the homeless population. This was Matthew. A betrayer.

Then Jesus moves on to call them a “city on a hill”. This verse is a reference to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The temple sat on a hill. And you could see it anywhere in the city if you looked up. The temple represented God being present. It meant that God was with man. That God was there. So, when Jesus calls us a city on a hill he is basically saying we all have the ability to be representatives of God wherever we go. That we can be an example of God right now. That we can live our lives in such a way that will make others want to know more about God. By showing love to one another. Sharing peace. Sharing love.

To a people who lived in a society where they were told by the Roman government that they had no value, this was a life-changing message from Jesus. This would have also been life-changing for women and children and those that had diseases or were sick. Jesus is telling them all that He believes that all of them (men, women, children, diseased and the sick) have what it takes to build His Kingdom and change the world. May you know that God is in love with you. That he believes you have what it takes to build his Kingdom on earth. He wants you to know that you are valuable to Him, that is why He sent Jesus, because you are important to Him. So may you now go out and change the world.

Stand up and forgive.

I am writing out my talks for my time in Pakistan. I am going for almost a month. And so I am going through some old blogs and doing some revising, that is the first one below this one (peace as reality) and then here’s this controversial one about the Samaritan, but a bit of a different take on it…see what you think!

READ the GOOD SAMARITAN (Luke 10:25-37)

There was this well-known road in ancient Palestine where robbers would hide and find ways to beat and steal things from the innocent pedestrians that made their way from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road was called the “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” the same one King David writes about in Psalm 23.

One day a Samaritan comes along.

We tend to race past this point of the story. We’ve heard it so many times before. Like an old story our grandfather might have told us about the war he was in long ago. Or the story of Heer Ranjha. In the Jewish culture, a Samaritan was a racial enemy.

Someone who didn’t fit in and was disliked. We can all probably think of someone we just can’t get along with, that is the good guy in this story. Can you think of anyone like that?

He’s the good guy. A

The act of the cross is the ultimate reaction of compassion. the hebrew definition of the word compassion is to see something that needs to be done and to do it. To see someone who is in deep need and to go out of your way and meet that need even if it costs you everything. The teacher of the law in the story of the Good Samaritan wants to know who his neighbour is, the word he uses here is the same word we use for an acquaintance, it is someone we do not know well, we may know of them and their name, but do not spend much time with them. The religious leader is trying to get out of showing love to everyone. He is trying to get Jesus to tell him what he wants to hear. The religious teachers wants to believe that he can choose who he wants to love and show compassion to. And Jesus says it isn’t about who you get to choose to love, he challenges the teacher by telling him that he should be a neighbour to everyone. Even to those he may hate. Even to those who may have hurt him.

You may be here today and can remember someone who may have hurt you. I don’t want to minimize your pain. I don’t want to cheapen your anger for the hurt that you have experienced. It is real. But, I have a question for you, do you want to live the rest of your life feeling that way? Harboring bitterness and malice in your heart. I don’t know what it means for you to fully forgive someone who has hurt you, whether they are related to you or across a country border. I do know this, there is a way of life that is better than living in pain and confusion and anger. It is a reality of peace that Jesus offers. It is something that is bigger than pain and loss. And Jesus wants to bring healing to that relationship. Jesus believes that healing can begin when we choose to show compassion even when we may not feel like it. So who is your Samaritan? Is it a friend? A family member? A muslim? someone from India? The people hearing this story would have heard this story before, Jesus was telling them a well-known story that some might have even heard as a child. The original story where Jesus put the Samaritan was actually a Jew. So, Jesus was changing the story and saying that compassion is the point. Compassion is a trait for those who follow Jesus. Jesus did this. His compassion saves us. He said we could be just like him. what if our compassion can save others? Just like Jesus’ did.

At the age of 13, a young Jewish child went from being a boy to a man and one of the many responsibilities of a man in that culture was to pay a temple tax. The temple tax was specifically reserved to purchase animals for the typical once-a-year sacrifice that the priest would enact for everyone on their behalf. His action would atone for the sins of others. Jesus is playing on the issue of atonement. Of being absolved from our sins. Here in the story though, it isn’t the priest who absolves the victim, it is the Samaritan. The outsider. And maybe a muslim or someone from India. He atones for the victims’ sin.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, bigger than right or wrong, than sin or no sin, the one thing that can absolve the sins of another is hidden in the act of compassion. And anyone can join in on this movement of compassion. There is hope that we all can be a people dedicated to not merely seeing the need of someone else and walking by, but that we all, as the human race can fight indifference and wrong theology with compassion and grace. This is the invitation.

In fact, according to Jesus, the Samaritan is who we need to learn from. We need to learn from him. The Samaritan comes along after the religious people. The guys who should have known the right thing to do yet didn’t do it. In the Jewish Torah, all life is sacred. Period. According to the Jewish Law, they were responsible to protect any human life, even enemies. The first two guys would have known this. But they continue to walk on. Us, do we follow after them as well? One of the many points of this story is that God can choose to use anyone to get his message across.

So maybe the first step for a lot of you might be to seek this person out and find peace with them. Or maybe for others it is to help someone you know who is in need. Maybe it is loving the unlovable. Maybe it is finding someone you have never known before and starting a friendship. Maybe it is treating a local homeless guy like he is rich. Forgiveness isn’t an easy thing, it takes a lot out of us. It challenges us to look and see that the world is bigger than our pain and our experiences. But Jesus’ idea of forgiveness is that it can be one step closer to healing. To restoring peace. To finding hope. To experiencing love. But it starts with us. One of the many words for forgiveness in the Hebrew, literally means to ‘stand up’. It is this idea that without forgiving others we are not getting anywhere. There is no progress. No forward motion. And when we forgive it is then we can stand up proudly and courageously because our act of forgiveness has somehow created peace in the world, if not just our lives alone. Forgiveness can change lives. Restore hope and repair souls. What will it take for you to ‘stand up’?

Peace as reality.

STORY:

An old farmer had plowed around a large rock in one of his fields for years. He had broken several plowshares and a cultivator on it. After breaking another plowshare one fall, and remembering all the trouble the rock had caused him through the years, he finally determined to do something about it. When he put his crowbar under the rock, he was surprised to discover that it was only about six inches thick and that he could break it up easily.

As he was carting it away he had to smile, remembering all the trouble that the rock had caused him and how easy it would have been to get rid of it sooner. There is often a temptation to bypass small obstacles when we’re in a hurry to get a large problem solved. We simply don’t want to stop and take the time to deal with it now. Like the old farmer, we “plow” around it.

Usually we tell ourselves that we’ll come back to it later.What often happens is that we never do. If the obstacle is of a type that will keep reappearing over and over, we’re usually better off to take the time to fix it and be done with it. If we are tempted to go round it time and time again, we had best stop and ask ourselves if the cost in time and money and trouble is worth it. As someone once said, “The best way out of a problem is through it.”

The world we now live in is filled with a lot of uncertainty. All you need to do is turn on your television or walk outside your door to see that the world we live in is not the world as it should be. If you look to your left you might see poverty in one
country, if you look to your right, you might war and death in another. The world is not as it was meant to be.

When Jesus walked on the earth, the Roman government was the center of the world. Rome controlled everything. Rome told you when you could eat, sleep, drink and when to go to work. Everyone had to live by the rules of Rome or be put to death. This was called their political agenda. Rome would travel through the first-century world claiming their political agenda and forcing it on everyone they crossed paths with. Now their political agenda had an interesting title, they would call it “peace through victory”. They believed the only way to find and experience peace was to force all people into submission. If you didn’t listen to Rome, then you couldn’t have peace. It was only found in Rome. According to Rome that is.

So this small-town Rabbi from Nazareth shows up and starts talking about peace, this would have upset the Roman government a lot. But it would have encouraged all the people that were under Rome’s iron thumb. Jesus’ kind of peace was one that looked at your neighbour and enemy and saw the same person. It was a kind of peace that didn’t depend on whether you followed Rome or not. It wasn’t a peace that depended on how many time you showed up to church. It wasn’t dependent on how many times you read your bible or memorized a verse. Jesus’ kind of peace was something he gave freely without needing to earn it. Sometimes in churches we are taught that there are certain things we need to do to experience God’s peace. This isn’t the case with the peace of Jesus.

So. What is peace? For some it is sitting down after a long day of work and sipping on some hot coffee from Hot Fuzon’s, maybe for a teenager it would be getting some ice cream from Chaman’s ice cream shop down the street. For others, maybe it’s the ability to pay rent or buy groceries. In these examples though, the problem is that peace is a momentary thing. Because once you have finished your coffee or ice cream or paid your phone bill you will be looking for the next thing that is causing you stress to be fixed. Jesus’ word for peace is much different than our idea of peace.

Jesus spoke in the Aramaic. He would have used the word Shalom. This word is packed with so much meaning. It is a word that means completeness, wholeness, perfection. It wasn’t something you got to experience if you did a certain amount of things to earn it. You didn’t have to earn it. It was a new kind of reality. It was something that we could live in. That we could all be a part of. Another way to define Shalom would be to say it means “the world as it should be”, or “the world as it was meant to be”. And Jesus left that reality with us now. Not just one day when He returns. He says to a bunch of his friends, that he leaves it with them.

John 14:27 says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus intended for all of us to have peace. This is so much more than just not having war. The word for ‘leave’ in the Hebrew is the word ‘Yathar’ it means to “remain over”, like an umbrella is put over us to protect us from the rain. Or like how the roofs on our houses are over our heads. It is something we live under. Jesus is basically saying that we get to experience this reality, this kind of world right now. That we all already have this reality and that we have the potential to help each other experience it. For some of you hearing this, it may be hard because you might have lost family members or are almost near poverty. So what does this mean for you? It means that all of us, including you can join in on working together to create heaven on earth now. Jesus said we could do this. It means we begin helping each other no matter our backgrounds or religions differences. It means we love without boundaries or expectations. This is what Jesus’ version of peace is.

Then Jesus says he gives us peace in the second line of the verse. The word give might actually not be translated well here. It is the Hebrew word ‘bara’…which means to create out of nothing. It is a reference to God creating the world. This is what Jesus’ audience would have remembered when Jesus used this word. Jesus is inviting all of us to not only live in Shalom but to go out and create this new kind of reality in the lives of others. The idea of creating out of nothing is the thought that Jesus believes we all have it in us to go out and find circumstances where their seems to be no peace and create peace. Jesus trusts us to build his Kingdom in the here and now.

So here is the challenge for today. Jesus is saying in this verse that from this moment on you are no longer living in unrest or uncertainty. That you, in this moment, can experience his peace that he offers. And then he challenges us to go and create peace where isnt’ any.

Are you with me?

Obama's School Speech: Believing in yourself

Obama

Obama’s (Link below to his speech) back to school speech has reminiscent language of this Rabbi I know. It’s very empowering language. It is a theme of “You were meant for so much more. There’s hope. It’s real and alive. You are not your past. You are more. You can help change the world. You have a responsibility to.” This is a quick summary of Obama’s speech. It is so encouraging to hear these words, even now for me, when it’s taken me 12 years to finally get my degree (no regrets, mind you). There was this Jewish Rabbi who stood on this hill long ago and started dreaming out loud what the world could be…and he start telling his listeners that they had what it took to change their culture (he used the word image “salt”), then he goes on and tells them that they have the ability to be a positive influence on society, to be somebody someone else could follow after (he used the word image “light”), then he said that they could build, empower, explore what it means to be a people who follow after God’s vision for the world; that all of them could help be a part. All of them. Great stuff. Powerful. Filled with passion. We need more people, not just a president in the world who is willing to say these things to other people like Jesus did. Who believed in those around him. Do you? Do you believe in yourself and others around you? Why or why not?

Link to Obama’s Speech:
http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/09/07/obamas-long-awaited-back-to-school-speech

Obama’s School Speech: Believing in yourself

Obama

Obama’s (Link below to his speech) back to school speech has reminiscent language of this Rabbi I know. It’s very empowering language. It is a theme of “You were meant for so much more. There’s hope. It’s real and alive. You are not your past. You are more. You can help change the world. You have a responsibility to.” This is a quick summary of Obama’s speech. It is so encouraging to hear these words, even now for me, when it’s taken me 12 years to finally get my degree (no regrets, mind you). There was this Jewish Rabbi who stood on this hill long ago and started dreaming out loud what the world could be…and he start telling his listeners that they had what it took to change their culture (he used the word image “salt”), then he goes on and tells them that they have the ability to be a positive influence on society, to be somebody someone else could follow after (he used the word image “light”), then he said that they could build, empower, explore what it means to be a people who follow after God’s vision for the world; that all of them could help be a part. All of them. Great stuff. Powerful. Filled with passion. We need more people, not just a president in the world who is willing to say these things to other people like Jesus did. Who believed in those around him. Do you? Do you believe in yourself and others around you? Why or why not?

Link to Obama’s Speech:
http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/09/07/obamas-long-awaited-back-to-school-speech