Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Open Letter to Anyone Disgruntled with Christianity... From a Postmodern Jesus Follower

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I believe that it’s important for me to clear some things up. Even though what’s below represents some of my convictions, know that Christianity represents a broad range of beliefs and ideas that are not shared by all. That being said, here are 10 things that I really want to communicate to you:

1) I also get frustrated when christians say one thing, but do the opposite.

2) I don’t understand either why most christians simply refuse to take what Jesus said seriously.

3) I do want to apologize to you for how bad and poor quality the christian entertainment industry usually has been over the years. I am often times embarrassed.

4) Or, maybe I should apologize that there’s even a christian retail market to begin with. Jesus was against materialism, so I suppose that would include things that bear his name also.

5) Not all christians are like televangelists asking for money or like the people in mass crowds handing out pamphlets and holding signs with hateful messages. I apologize for how they’ve distorted your view of christianity. Just know that your frustrations with these and others are shared by christians as well.

6) I don’t like how christianity has meshed with politics either. No matter what the right or the left says, I am sure that Jesus would not be a democrat or a republican. He really isn’t concerned with with such things.

7) I also get angry when I think about all the times through history and to the present where christians have used the name of Jesus to manipulate, create fear, wage wars, or do anything to amass power over land, wealth, or people. Its disgusting. I think Jesus would be very angry.

8) I am so sorry that our churches have not been willing to listen to you, that we haven’t been as welcoming as we should, and that we haven’t loved all people the way Jesus does. I am ashamed that many churches are more concerned with stains on the carpet than loving the broken and the poor. I promise that many of us are trying to bring change in a positive and constructive way.

9) My hope has never been to “convert” you or anyone, but rather, to get dialogue started, ask for your forgiveness, and remind you through my words and especially my actions that God loves you, and nothing you could ever do could change his unwavering love for you (or even the people mentioned in #5).

10) Don’t expect that because I follow Jesus I am trying to be perfect or that I am trying to convince people that I'm perfect. I have issues, mistakes, and problems in my life too. But, this in no way makes my efforts to be like Jesus less genuine. Without them, I will never grow or learn.

I hope this clears some things up between us.  I wanted to let you know that it's difficult for me to understand you when you say that you’re open minded, but think anyone willing to bear the label “christian” is automatically intolerant, ignorant, or gullible. Please be open to the possibility that you don’t have us all figured out.

Even though I've mentioned above the many ways that my religion has failed, and will continue to get it wrong in the future, I am still a Christian and I believe that participation in church is important.  We have to start understanding that the church is simply a group of admittedly broken people attempting to do what Jesus asked of his disciples together.

So many people leave the church because they are tired of christians being hypocrites.  But, I hope we all can come to the conclusion that the church is supposed to be a group of transparent sinners striving to do better through God.  If this could happen, no one would have so much of an issue with us being hypocrites because we wouldn't be hiding that fact. Ever. We should be embracing it.  If we were anything more, we would have no need for a savior.

I hope that we can start some really good conversations sometime soon.

God is Love,

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If you want to share this, feel free to post a link to it on twitter, facebook, or wherever.  If you have an issue with anything I've written here, let's get a conversation started.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Brian McLaren posted this a while back.  I think its fascinating.  It seems like Buddhism and Christianity not only have similar problems, but in some cases are trying to use the same remedies.  But what do you think?

Paul in the Shadow of Jesus - Part 2

Continuing my proposal that even though Paul didn't know Jesus personally (you can read Part 1 here), he understood very well the heart of Jesus, I think we should consider Philippians 2.1-5 (NRSV):

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...

Although admittedly, we're not talking about this passage in its context (which is not the purpose of this particular study), I believe its safe to say that Paul knew that one could not follow the teachings of Jesus without intentional humility and purposeful submission.  This is what Jesus taught, and showed by example.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Are You Ready to Fall?...

As we journey toward the cross together, I thought I'd share some devotional material.

Take a look at Psalm 38.  Read it aloud.  Read it again.  And Again.

"But My will is that you do not try to find a place free from temptations and troubles.  Rather, seek a peace that endures even when you are beset by various temptations and tried by much adversity." - Jesus speaking to his disciple in Thomas Kempis' The Imitation of Christ (Penguin Classics, pg 108, December 30, 1952).

Is your faith about managing and avoiding sin, or living in God's grace?  Do live your life knowing that Jesus hung on the cross in your place, or do you live out your faith as though Jesus' death doesn't cover your sins?

Are you ready to fall?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beginning the Journey

As I'm sure you know, today is Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent on the liturgical calendar which spans forty days (not including sundays).

I'm hoping to have several reflections on here throughout Lent on the idea of "genuine discipleship".  I hope we'll have some guests posting thoughts for the season here as well.

Something to think about:

1) Why do people need to ask everyone what they're giving up for Lent?


2) Why do people feel the need to tell everyone what they're attempting to go without through Lent?

Its almost like we approach the season with thinking that whoever comes up with the most creative sacrifice is the most spiritual christian or wiser than the losers who can't think of anything better than meat.  In fact, asking people what they're giving up or pronouncing what you're giving up is completely contradictory to reason for the Lenten journey.

Lent is about humility.  Its about dying to ourselves, so Christ can live in us.  Its about remembering that we came from dust and one day we'll return to dust (Genesis 2.7 and 3.19).  Its about purging, and cleansing, and transformation.  Its about rest.  Its about realizing where we're being tempted with power and glory and for this repenting.  Its painful.  Its joyous.  Its about Jesus.

Don't let a season about self-denial be for you a season of self-righteousness.  Fast, pray continually, and be open to the whispers of God.  Don't let your penitence and supplication be seen and noticed by others unless that's what you're seeking - praise from men.  I guarantee that if that's what you seek you can find it.  Instead, only let your Father in heaven see, who will reward you in secret and by his means (Matthew 6.16-18).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book of King James... I mean Eli

So I finally got out to see a movie this weekend, and it happened to be Book of Eli - not a cheesy valentine's day movie.  Anyways, the movie is entertaining and has great character and plot development.  I enjoyed it.

***Spoiler Warning***

At first I was trying to make parallels to the biblical Eli (whose name in Hebrew means literally "My God") who trained and mentored the prophet Samuel, but I had trouble making any connection.  This was problematic for several reasons, not the least of which being that the movie's Eli died an honorable and idyllic death, whereas the Bible's Eli died in a not so picturesque way.  Although they were both blind at their death, the biblical account tells us that Eli died because he fell backwards out of his chair and his overweight body caused his neck to break.  You can read the account here.

The one thing that bothered me about the movie was at the end when Eli recited for record the King James Bible while someone wrote down what he remembered - which happened to be everything, word for word.  The idea of orally passing along the story of the Bible seemed very cool to me at first.  But, while recalling the story, it became static and empty very quickly when Eli also recalled the verse and chapter numbers.

Driving home after the movie, two scenes really stuck with me, the one mentioned above and the finished KJV printed and bound being placed on the bookshelf in between the Tanak, Torah, and Quran (and mentioned was Shakespeare).  After wrestling with the importance of these two scenes in relation to the overall message of the movie, I came to a conclusion:  The movie really has nothing to do with the "word of God" (sorry Bible nerds and Christian's looking for a "feel good" movie moment).  Instead, what I got from the movie was that the story was about preserving the King James Bible (1611), not the Bible per se.

And why not? The literary document has been integral to the art, science, and philosophy of the modern Western world.  Wasn't that the point of the movie - to reacquaint the struggling people with the major cultural influences that were backbone of everything people once knew in order to rebuild society in the shadow of what was lost?

Keeping in mind the dichotomy I found this movie placed between the KJV and the Bible as the inspired word of God, the Book of Eli should allow us to ask the serious question:

Hasn't the Bible been misused and abused by enough people in powerful authoritative positions (think Eli's nemesis) that we now more than ever should rethink the cultural value we've placed upon it and, instead, start to focus more on its actual message for humanity and all of creation?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Paul in the Shadow of Jesus - Part 1

I used to love disregarding what Paul had to say in his letters to different churches.  For some reason,  I felt that what he had to say was at odds with what Jesus said and did.  I still love the idea of being a "Red Letter Christian".  But I now am starting to understand that reading Paul can help me to actually better live that out.  Even though Paul didn't know Jesus in the flesh, the more I read what he wrote, I am seeing more and more just how much Paul is in synch with the message of Jesus.  I understand that Christianity today would look quite differently without Paul's theology, but my appreciation is growing in a healthy direction.  

Here's an example of Paul's writing reflecting the message of Jesus from Galatians 5.13-15 (NRSV):

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Paul is in the midst of explaining to the Galatian church here why they should disregard teachers informing them that they must be circumcised (I have written on this before, which I encourage you to read here for more context).

But I love it when Paul writes, "... through love become slaves to one another" before quoting Jesus saying "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".  Paul understands the centrality of love to Jesus' teaching and he clearly encourages all of the churches embrace it.  I can't read Paul and not see that he holds Jesus' life and teaching (which by the way, he only learned of secondhand) in the highest regard.

Do you agree or disagree with me here?

What is Our Mission?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately - what is the mission of the church?  It seems that this is something christians in America have issues agreeing upon.  Or, maybe the disagreement has more to do with how we approach or act out the mission in today's world.

But what are your thoughts?  Why do we have issues with this?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Building On Sand

{Adapted from Matthew 7.21-23 in the NRSV}

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of God.

But Lord, Lord, did we not keep clean and secure the beautiful structures we built so that we could gather in your name?  And did we not try our best to replace secular influences with our own sub-culture of media and merchandise in your name?  And do we not attempt to spread our religious influence to the world around us through powerful means?  

Jesus answered them, "Only those who do the will of my Father in heaven are fit for the Kingdom of God."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hell of a Discussion...

Seems like the blogs are buzzing about hell again.  I really like what Out of Ur is doing by highlighting teachings on hell from influential people.

Here are the last couple videos they've posted - the first from N.T Wright and the second from John Piper.

I have a lot of my own opinions about what these guys have to say, but I want to know what you think.
What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Did We Leave This Out? - Reflections on Jesus' Anointing: Part 3

Mark 14.9 (see also Matthew 26.13) ends the Gospel's story about Jesus being anointed by the woman with very costly perfume with this -

"Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her" (NRSV).

Waiting tables for several years has afforded me the wonderful opportunity of not receiving tips for my work, but gospel tracts instead.   Tracts are those brochures you get on college campuses and subway stations that remind you why you cringe at the word "repent".  I used to have quite the collection, and to be honest, many were quite creative.  All of them however, made me simultaneously giggle and feel ashamed to be part of a religion associated with people who pushed the "good" out of the Good News.

In Matthew and Mark, the stories of Jesus' anointing end with Jesus telling everyone that what the woman has done will be told wherever the gospel is proclaimed.  What will be told of her along with the Good News is how she humbled herself before the King in a manner from which her heart lead her, not how well she followed the particular rules of a religion.  And - If our attempts to get anyone to embrace the Gospel (good news) comes with any strings attached that are man-made rules, then we're not spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, we're making our own religions in the name of Jesus while leaving out what he actually taught.  This is why the Pharisees always butted heads with Jesus.  Their lives were wrapped around a religion with rules that didn't affect their heart in anyway.  "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness" - Jesus in Luke 11.39 (NRSV).

Religious rules don't matter to Jesus.  There's no such thing as a "good" Christian.  Jesus doesn't care what we wear on Sunday mornings (shout out to my friend Ann Lantz), nor does he really mind if we sleep in on Sunday mornings (granted there's some Sabbath in your life).  He isn't concerned whether or not we can recite creeds, or if we memorize Bible verses.  God doesn't care if we wear Christian clothing or listen to Christian music.

He cares about where our hearts are and what our intentions are.  He cares how we make decisions, and why we do anything we do.  God cares about how we view and treat ourselves and others.  And he cares deeply about our devotion to him over all other potential gods (which includes religion).

An important aspect of the Good News is that God loves us for who we really are.  Not who we're told we should pretend to be.

So where are you?

Do you live out the Gospel, individually or communally in a manner that reminds people of what this woman did?

Do you proclaim the Good News of Jesus with her in mind?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Smile like a Saint, Love like a Sinner - Reflections on Jesus' Anointing: Part 2

My last post had to do with the somewhat similar stories of Jesus' anointing in Matthew, Mark, and John, in particular in reference to the relationship and sometimes difficult conflict between worship and charity.  Luke's Gospel has a lot of parallels with the other's regarding Jesus being anointed, but is unique unto its own.  Luke gives us a very different story in 7:36-50 that I highly suggest reading here.

(picture of sculptures I took at the Santa Barbara Mission depicting Jesus helping sinful woman)

As we read here, Jesus understood something about the relationship between seeking forgiveness for sin and the ability to love God and his people.  I really want to pick apart verse 47 - which reads, "Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love..." (NRSV).  On the surface, one could argue that Jesus is implying here that to have "great love" for God and his people, one must have many sins for Jesus to forgive - so sin away!  But we know that reading the passage in this way doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Instead, we can infer that Jesus is implying that we all have sinned much, but some of us, like Simon the Pharisee, have issues recognizing or admitting our sin.  

Its difficult for us to be a church full of loving people if we're trying to sell ourselves to Jesus and our communities as saints instead of just being transparent as sinners.  Simon the Pharisee believed that he was good and had little to be forgiven for because of his religious fervor.  Jesus tells us that "... the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little" (47).  Its easy for any of us to fall into the trap of thinking we are saints on account of our own merit (i.e. going to church regularly, tithing, serving the poor) instead on account of what Jesus has done on our behalf.

If we're going to follow Jesus' commandments to love God and his people as best we can, we need to start understanding that it starts with us constantly confessing our sinfulness, letting our tears fall on Jesus' feet in passionate worship, and learning the differences between what God and man see as righteous.  May we all wrestle intently with this passage.