29 November 2010

Jesus Ministered in the Shadow of the Cross

Mark 9:30-32

“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

How Jesus will die is ugly.  So ugly that it defies comprehension unless one has its eyes wide open to the world we live in.  So ugly that it is uncomfortable to even talk about.  So ugly that some congregations of Christians do not like speaking about it at all.

While I was studying for my B.A. in ministry, we had a seminar taught by this new church who found success in marketing itself on billboards and having "seeker-sensitive" services.  Seekers are classified by the church as people who are curious about Christ, but not ready to commit yet.  It's kind of like they are dating different ways of life to see which they will marry.

Their seeker-sensitive service is different to their "believer's" service in a number of ways including not speaking about how Jesus died and not taking communion since it talked about the ugly subject of Jesus' body and blood.  Now, I was just a young, naive student so I didn't think much about it at the time.  But, that seminar has been echoing in my ears whenever I hear about churches who go out of their way not to offend people.  After all Paul was right when he said, "but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,"

I would much rather speak about how Jesus lived, how Jesus loved, and what Jesus taught.  But while Jesus lived, loved and taught, he knew what was coming.  How could I function knowing that I would be betrayed by one of the people I am serving with right now?  How could I love knowing the hate to be endured?  How could I teach those who would mock, accuse and execute me?

The longer I go in this study of Jesus' ministry, the more amazed I become.  But when I think about how all the incredible ways he served people was all in the shadow of what was to come, I am awe-struck.

Thank you, Lord, for being the strongest man who ever lived.

23 November 2010

Jesus Wants Us To Grow Up

Mark 9:14-29

"I believe; help my unbelief!"

This simple phrase is the statement I resonate the most with.  I find myself praying this to our Father in Heaven all the time.

My head knows that Jesus wants to work through me.  My head knows that through Jesus, I have emmense power just longing to be unleashed.  My head knows that there is a powerful force for good just waiting to be used by those of us who understand this fact.

But, my heart is weak.  I am easily distracted.  I am easily discouraged.  I sometimes so want to do what I want, I ignore what the Father wants me to want.  I easily come up with excuses.  I easily explain away that which can easily be accomplished by that which cannot be seen by temporary eyes.

My growth is so slow.  As soon as I think I have grown, I am confronted with a situation that causes me to look back.  How would I have reacted to the violent convulsing of a child?  Jesus wasn't there.  Jesus knows how to handle these situations.  I don't.

This is the tension for followers of Jesus.  Jesus wants us to know that we can do nothing without him.  But, he wants us to act as though he is with us, because he is.  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see."  He wants us to allow Him to work through us.  Why?  Because that is how we grow.  And all parents who love their children, want to see their children grow.

We miss out on so much potential because we refuse to grow up.  We are a society of people not "ready" to commit to anything until after 30.  The problem with refusing to grow up is that a fallen world needs mature people to take up the responsibility for cleaning up the mess; for taking care of those who desperately need it. 

You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.”

The sad part is that without faith in Jesus, others suffer.  When there are no people who are willing to allow Jesus to work through us, spirits continue to seize little boys and throw them into the flames.

Jesus' brother James was right, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." 

Too often we read those descriptions as seperate, unrelated categories.  But, they are not.  One cannot exist without the other.  Righteousness, walking humbly with our God, is the foundation of justice and kindness, looking after orphans and widows in their distress, not just a neighbour of justice and kindness.  We cannot do good unless we can see who is good.  We cannot love mercy unless we understand the mercy that has been shown to us.  We cannot seek justice if we do not understand what justice is.  We cannot look after orphans and widows in their distress unless we live with the one who has brought us out of our distress.

What do I want out of life?  What do I want to do?  When seeing a father and a son who desperately need help, do I want to watch helplessly or do I want the ability to help those who truly want help?

"I believe; help my unbelief!"

18 November 2010

Jesus Is The Important One

Carl Bloch, The Transfiguration
 Luke 9:28-36

 “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

What is important? What is significant? Where is our focus? What do we centre our life on?

This is the Jewish understanding of “glory”. The word “glory” in the Old Testament (Testimony) was understood as weight, significance and importance. When someone was glorified, it was as though everything else stopped as there was no other option but to pay attention to who was being glorified. All other activities, transactions, thoughts, worries, foci paled in insignificance and was brought into proper perspective.

This was the experience of Peter, James and John as they accompanied Jesus up another mountain. They were tired. Peter was probably still smarting from Jesus’ harsh words. They were all probably still absorbing what Jesus told them about his upcoming suffering, rejection, dying, and being raised from the dead. We are told by Luke that they were on the verge of sleep, when suddenly they woke up to a brilliant scene.

Jesus’ appearance became like lightning. And, he was talking to two men, Moses and Elijah. Yes, the Moses and the Elijah. The man in Israel who delivered God’s Law and the man in Israel who many considered the chief Prophet. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, were there, in the flesh, talking with Jesus. How did Peter, James and John know it was Moses and Elijah? We’re not sure, but the explanation could be as simple as the three addressing one another by name.

This is the Kingdom of God. Isn’t it amazing? Here we have a former murderer, coward and reluctant leader and another man who became discouraged to the point of suicide now talking with the Son of God, Jesus. Christian, our hope is that this uncommon scene will become common. What was the subject of the conversation? It was the impending departure of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Quite often, I find myself easily distracted. I worry about what I will eat, where I will sleep, what I will wear. Did I say the right thing? What job should I pursue? Do these people like me? Etc...

Then, Jesus is glorified and it all snaps back into perspective. What is important? What is significant? Where is our focus? What do we centre our life on?

“This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to Him!”

04 November 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 4

8 weeks old - svclcc.org

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  Romans 1:24–25

The sexual revolution endeavoured to separate what God has joined in His reality. Husbands no longer need wives. Wives no longer needed husbands. Children no longer needed fathers. Life no longer needed intimacy. In other words, sex was separated from reproduction. Sex is now seen by our culture as a recreational exercise. “It’s just sex. No big deal.”

Try as society might, there is one fundamental truth that stubbornly remains, sex makes babies. No matter how far technology advances or how much people wish it not to be so, sex makes babies. Babies are quite the inconvenience to people wishing to engage in the pleasures of seduction, prostitution and sensual licence. So, this inconvenience to a culture longing to be sexually free must be confronted.

Unborn children, just like any group of people culture resents, had their endowed right to life taken from them the way anyone has their endowed human rights taken away, by taking away their humanity. Babies in mother’s womb were exclusively referred to as foetuses. Once society came to accept the notion that unborn children were not really human, then these ‘clump of cells’ could be dealt with in any way that would liberate women oppressed by an unwanted role of motherhood as they were now free to engage in recreational sexual activity.

Through second-wave feminists and their male counterparts who long for orgasm without the responsibility of fatherhood, abortion has been accepted by Western culture as a legitimate form of contraception. Despite numerous safe sex campaigns designed to show us how to have sex without babies, abortion has become an unspoken, underlying factor within culture. Today, over 90000 abortions are executed every year in Australia. (There are approximately 3.9 million Australian women aged from 14-40.)

If the culture’s reasoning is accepted that the unborn are not human, then this should not cause any great concern at all. But, if there is a belief that the unborn are human and that all human life is a precious gift of God, then the millions of abortions performed worldwide should send shockwaves through our collective conscience. Again, are those Christians teaching about biblical sexual ethics ignoring the higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness?

Of course, the unborn and the decisions of mothers and fathers on how to deal with this consequence of sex is not the only physically negative outcome that can occur from a sexual liberated lifestyle of prostitution, seduction and sensual licence. There is also disease. In 2008, Western Australia (population 2.1 million) had 14502 newly reported cases of STIs. And that was just in a year. Each year, more people are contracting Chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhoea and hepatitis B. After the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1985, cases of HIV were on the decrease, but it has been slowly on the increase the past few years. Men engaging in homosexual sex put themselves especially in harm’s way as HIV transmission occurs primarily through men having sex with other men. Around 65% of newly reported cases of HIV in 2009 were made by men who have sex with men. Again, are those Christians teaching about biblical sexual ethics ignoring the higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness?

Was Jesus much more concerned for matters of justice than for who our sexual partners are? It’s the wrong question with a faulty assumption. Truly, the higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness include matters of how we relate to one another as men and women. Maybe Jesus was right all along, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

02 November 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 3

"Corner Boys" from "The Wire"
 A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.  Proverbs 29:3

“OK,” some of you may be discussing with me, “sexual ethics and justice are related. But, you can’t honestly lecture someone who has an empty stomach about who their sexual partners are. Ultimately, who cares who they are having sex with when they are starving to death.”

On its face, this reads like a sound argument. We are indeed to love kindness by giving generously to those in need. We are to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. However, in our attempt to do these things for the billions around the world with such needs, it is fine to give a person a fish that lasts a day but it is much better to teach a person how to get their own fish so they are fed for a lifetime.

Do not misunderstand. I’m not saying don’t feed a person in desperate need. If they need to eat today, feed them today. If they need a home today, share one with them today. But, if we do not provide ways for as many people as possible to feed themselves, then the number of people in need increases while depending on fewer people who can meet that need for them until the day comes when that need cannot possibly be met. As one looks around the Western World, seeing the increased government debt from unsustainable social programmes, the truth of this becomes self-evident. Besides, the path to justice and peace is not paved with the subtle and not-so-subtle messages that those people will never be capable, will always need us, will never be as good as us.

How do people learn how to get their own fish? It starts with learning about what God requires of us. We must be a people who values justice in our dealings with each other, who loves to show kindness to one another, while being inspired by our Father in Heaven who does the same with us. In other words, how we care for one another is not dependant on what we have, but on how we relate to one another. How people learn how to relate well to one another is by embracing all of what the Father has given to people to help all people love and serve each other well. This starts with the basic sexual relationship given by God to those who bear His image, His institution of marriage.

The leaders of the sexual revolution saw marriage and its family as archaic, hypocritical and demeaning to women. The leaders of the sexual revolution sought to destroy the family. And, for the most part, they succeeded. But, when the family weakened, so did strong men. We have few men who have strength of character enough to stand strong for their families, communities and neighbourhoods. If we want to give all communities of this world fruit that will last, we must teach husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave His life up for her. We desperately need husbands, who Jesus gives the strength to earn, trust and respect.

The Marriage Gap
 As Kay Hymowitz writes in her book, “Marriage and Caste in America”, “If you want to discuss why childhood poverty numbers have remained stubbornly high through the years when the nation was aggressively trying to lower them (America’s War on Poverty in the 1960s), begin with the Marriage Gap.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2006-2008, 26.8% of poor families were headed by married parents. This means that the vast majority of poor families, 71.2% (almost three of four) were headed by single, divorced or de facto parents.

The Fruit of the Sexual Revolution
 There are several reasons for this, but in the interest of brevity, here’s one reason. In several studies conducted during the 1990s, they separately concluded that married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories. According to the booklet, “21 Reasons Why Marriage Matters”, “Why do married men earn more? The causes are not entirely understood, but married men appear to have greater work commitment, lower quit rates, and healthier and more stable personal routines (including sleep, diet and alcohol consumption). Husbands also benefit from both the work effort and emotional support they receive from their wives.” In other words, learning to use his strength to serve others helps a man become a better person who is motivated to catch fish and teach others how to catch fish for themselves.

So, yes, in order to lift up all of our Father’s children to be all of whom God has created them to be, we must include Jesus’ teachings about sexual ethics. Otherwise, we are merely putting a band-aid over the melanoma instead of putting in the hard, skilled work of removing the tumour.

01 November 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 2

Source: greenberg-art.com
And this you do as well: You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.  Malachi 2:13-16

In light of all this, the author of the original statement may respond, “Yes, I see that Jesus is concerned about who our sexual partners are, but I didn’t deny that. I merely assert that Jesus is much more concerned for matters of justice than for who our sexual partners are.” Again, there would be many Christians who would agree with this assertion.

So, back to the original question that those who act out of a deep concern about family values and sexuality issues neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. Those Christians who follow Jesus under the banner of “social justice” certainly accuse many of their conservative, evangelical, family-oriented brethren of exactly that.

But as one carefully considers the basic meanings of justice and of sexuality quickly discover that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive but symbiotic. What is justice? Justice is the integrity in the dealings of people with each other. As with all important issues in our Creator’s world, justice is about the quality of our relationships. Are our dealings with each other fair? Are our transactions just?

What is sexuality? Sexuality is how we relate to one another as men and women. Sexual integrity denotes a justice and kindness between one another as men and women. Do we value and serve one another as men and women?

We learn about the origins of sexuality as we read about when God created the world. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Christians uniquely understand God to be three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Because these three persons have a perfect relationship in mutual submission to one another, they are one God. Apparently, humans are uniquely created to share in this kind of relationship through God’s institution of marriage between a husband and wife, “and the two shall become one flesh”. When a husband and a wife have perfect, mutual submission with one another, we can better understand the blessed Trinitarian relationship.

Conversely, when our sexual relationships are taken out of God’s design, our created lives go pear-shaped. We stop looking to serve the other, but look to take pleasure as long as the other can provide it. We start judging one another based on who can bring the most pleasure. The strong use the weak for their own pleasure. The rich humiliate the poor. The beautiful humiliate the unpopular. We do not care what the other has to do or how vulnerable they become or the harms they endure as long as we get the pleasure we will do anything to achieve.

A Profound Cultural Shift
 According to Gertrude Himmelfarb, author of “The De-Moralisation of Society”, in Great Britain from 1800-1960 children born outside of marriage stayed between 5-7%. Then, the sexual revolution of the 60s happened. From 1960 onward, children born outside of marriage have increased steadily to the point where today 40% of U.K. children are born outside of marriage. This mirrors the experience of Australia and the U.S. according to the ABS and the U.S. Census Bureau, respectively. That is a profound cultural shift. When one laments the loss of community and the weakened church, this cultural shift explains quite a bit.

Through empirical and anecdotal evidence, we know at our core that everyone is profoundly affected by their family. We live in an era where men are only seen as necessary sperm donors and child support cheques, children of all men derive who they are from their fathers and how they regard their mothers. Fathers are indeed the spiritual leaders of the household, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they are good spiritual leaders or not.

Sons and daughters derive their self-image, learn how genders should relate to one another, and what love looks like from both mothers and fathers. Broken sons and daughters become broken men and women who become broken fathers and mothers and the cycle continues... Knowing this, it is clear that those who aspire toward biblical sexual ethics are speaking to the Kingdom of God’s higher matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.