Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? A simple question with a million answers. Pastor Grieg asks us to figure out who exactly we believe Jesus to be. I am looking forward to hearing your answers, for now however, I thought I would share mine. What never stops surprising me, is how often my answer to this question changes. The more I learn about this Jesus, the more I can't put my finger on Him. His identity ebbs and flows. He is consistently bigger than the box I put him in. And however my relationship with Him grows or morphs, I know a few things for sure. I believe Jesus is the lover of my soul. I believe he is kindness, mercy and the raw expression of unconditional love. I believe He is humble yet made of the power that created the universe. I believe he suffered physical and emotional pain while on earth. I believe He chose, over and over again to love even when it hurt. I believe He was in the beginning, and will be in eternity. I believe he is the life that pulsates in all of creation. He is light. He is the truth of how things really are. He is a bridegroom fighting for his marriage to us. He is our savior, rescuing us day by day, moment by moment, from our sin. He is the encourager and life giver. He is our hope and our future. He is consistent and unpredictable at the same time!

I think CS Lewis said it best; "He is not a tame lion, but he is good." (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

I would argue that no matter who you think Jesus is, you can't ignore him. He changed the course of history, and his followers are in many ways shaping our future. I leave you with a quote from Theologian Fredrick Buechner.

"It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did ... for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him." Listening to Your Life [63]

Suggested reading on this subject...
The Jesus I Never Knew- Phillip Yancey
The Boundary Breaking God- Danielle Shroyer

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rob Bell and NT Wright, thoughts for tonights small group...



"Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God's."

"When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter--they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth. What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth."

"The goal of Jesus isn't to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here."

"For a Christian, Jesus' teachings aren't to be followed because they are a nice way to live a moral life. They are to be followed because they are the possible insight into how the world really works. They teach us how things are. I don't follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion. I follow Jesus because he leads me into ultimate reality. He teaches me to live in tune with how reality is. When Jesus said, 'No one comes to the Father except through me', he was saying that his way, his words, his life is our connection to how things truly are at the deepest levels of existence. For Jesus then, the point of religion is to help us connect with ultimate reality, God."


Why do bad things happen? Probably the most fundemental question of life. Why? Because we want to know the sense behind something so senseless. Different faiths have lots of different answers to this question.

Here is an article from, a multi-religious online forum, that skillfully sums up this question from the world views  of almost every major religion...

Why Bad Things Happen

How different religions view the reasons for undeserved human suffering.
BY: Ellen Leventry

 For centuries people have been asking, "Why, God, why?" when disaster strikes. And for centuries, religion has been trying to answer the question of how a loving or just God could allow humans to endure such suffering. While Western traditions strive to teach that God's power and goodness are, indeed, compatible with the suffering of innocents, many Eastern faiths view undeserved suffering as a result of a cosmic law of moral cause and effect.

According to the first two Noble Truths of Buddhism all of life is suffering and suffering is caused by attachments to worldly things. This attachment, which can take the form of greed, hatred, and ignorance in this life and past lives, can, unless mitigated, return as more suffering (karma). According to the Dhammapada, "By oneself the evil is done, and it is oneself who suffers: by oneself the evil is not done, and by one's Self one becomes pure." Suffering is not necessarily punishment from a divine being, but rather something that must be transcended by not clinging to material objects or relationships. According to Lama Surya Das, bad things happen to good people "because there are myriad karmic causes conspiring to bring about any particular event, which then becomes cause for other effects to take place."

The question of the unjustified suffering of the innocent is at the heart of Christianity, which holds that a sinless man (Jesus) suffered and died for the sins of humanity. Some Christians see suffering as God's punishment of sinful people or the world as a whole. Others see such suffering as a way a loving God tests the faith and fortitude of survivors. According to St. Paul, Christians should rejoice in suffering because it produces endurance, hope and character (Romans 5:3-5). Still other Christians see innocents' suffering as evidence of the inscrutable will of a God who "works in mysterious ways" toward an ultimate but unknowable good. Some Christians offer no explanation but, like Job, seek to trust in God. In the past, Roman Catholic Christians were taught that they should "offer up" pain, with the idea that through faith, suffering that seems meaningless can be redeemed and transformed. The fourth-century saint Augustine says, "God would not allow any evil to exist unless out of it he could draw a greater good. This is part of the wisdom and goodness of God."

Many Hindus view suffering as punishment for misdeeds committed in this lifetime or past lives. Even a seemingly innocent person who has not eradicated bad karma from past lives through charitable deeds is susceptible to such payback. Individuals' suffering should be placed in the broader context of a cosmic cycle of birth, life, destruction and rebirth. Hindus believe victims will be reincarnated and may be happier in their next life.


The very word "Islam" means "submission." Many Muslims understand that to include suffering--enduring pain or loss is a way of submitting to the will of Allah. Some suffering is Satan's doing or is the work of his cohorts in the spirit world (the "jinn") and is allowed by Allah as a test of humility and faith. Many Muslims believe suffering and adversity strengthen one's faith, as pain often leads to repentance and prayer and good deeds.


Sometimes it is believed that suffering is caused by a weakness in one's devotion to God. Generally, it is believed that God gave humans free will to feel pleasure and pain, and His purpose in allowing deep suffering of the innocent must be good even if mysterious. God suffers along with the sufferer. Many believe that God's sense of justice, and therefore the reasons for human suffering, are unknowable. To some Jews, knowing why God allows suffering is not as important as knowing that God will punish the perpetrators. All Jews place high importance on working to help those in need; the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, will help allay undeserved suffering. Interestingly, suffering is the only issue listed in the Talmud that could lead a person to lose faith in God.

Whatever your opinion is, hold it in your mind for one second. Consider these words..

"Our tendency in the midst of suffering is to turn on God. To get angry and bitter and shake our fist at the sky and say, "God, you don't know what it's like! You don't understand! You have no idea what I'm going through. You don't have a clue how much this hurts." The cross is God's way of taking away all of our accusations, excuses, and arguments. The cross is God taking on flesh and blood and saying, "Me too."
- Rob Bell

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Is it Religion or Relationship?

"Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

-C.S. Lewis

When I first heard this quote, many years ago now, I thought it was strange. I remember thinking, "C S Lewis, you're smart guy, an educated guy, and this sounds a little mushy." This idea about God loving us no matter how we've acted, or if we even love Him back, made me angry. You see I had decided that Christianity, to be real and meaningful, should contend with other religions. By this I mean that it should be rational, manageable, and defendable, have goals and conclusions, etc... For me, Jesus either had to make sense scientifically -by answering big questions-, or have a process to be followed like other religions. If faith was a fight, I wanted a worthy contender.

In Buddhism if you don't follow a certain path than you will never achieve Nirvana, and be trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth. In Hinduism, if you don’t make sacrifices or give right praise to the Gods they could turn on you. Orthodox Judaism still maintains hundreds of laws about purity and morality, essential to knowing God and getting blessed. There's a formula to most of the world’s religions. So what was the formula for following Jesus?

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of Christian literature that tries to put formulas to Jesus. You have probably read some of them, maybe even studied them in a small group. Books with title such as:

"Seven Steps to a Strong Marriage"
"Three Ways to Know God"

Lots of sermon series try and use formulas as well...
"Five Ways to Connect to God!! Week 1: Have you tried the Internet?"

I think these formulas can help people's marriages and help them connect to God... But I don't think they're very biblical. In the Old Testament they tell storys and poetry to teach lessons. And the New Testament isn't much help either, it's full of parables and letters... Heck! What am I supposed to do with the Revelation???

"12 Marks of the Beast for Your Prayer Life! Buy Now before the Apocalypse!"

No! The bible is freaking useless when it comes to formulas for life! In the book of Job, Job asks God "Why me God? Why do bad things happen to good people?" And God says things like, "Where were you when I created the earth? Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise? And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?" (Job 38: 4-9)

God doesn't answer Jobs question; in fact, he throws in a bunch of NEW questions!

People ask Jesus, "What is the kingdom of Heaven like?" And he responds with,” It’s a treasure that someone stumbles upon in a field." "Jesus, what is faith like?" "Well... it’s kind of like a mustard seed."

What was a I supposed to do with this? When you actually sit down and read the bible it seems like most of it is grey area, rather than black and white answers. And the worst support for Jesus as a powerful Messiah, ready to show the world the power and mightiness of God? The Cross. What are we supposed to do with a God that let people gossip about him, run him out of town, arrest him, kill him?.... And not only let them do all that, but forgive them for it! Love them even!!

Show me a beliefe system that lets that happen. Where's the formula for this kind of God? How do I begin to follow a being such as this one? Jesus says, love me and others like I love you and all that stuff will work itself out.

... love?

In the Song of Solomon, the God character is described as a Bride-groom romancing his Bride (us as the Church). Is the Bible telling us we are married to God? Later on in the Bible, God asks the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a symbol of God's love for his wandering people. So we cheat on God?

It seems to me the Bible is making a clear argument for a REATIONSHIP with God. And it's messy, and we cheat, and there's bitterness and we're unsure how to love this God the "right way." This sure sounds like love to me.

Christian Author Donald Miller puts it this way, "Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon."

God has loved us, loves us now, and will forever love us. And the best part? There is nothing we could EVER do to make him love us less. There is no formula that can hold our God. His mercy is BIGGER than how good we can be. His love outmatches our best praise. The Bible says Jehovah extends farther than the galaxies and yet is closer to us than our very breath.

You see, followers of Jesus understand (as other religions do) that God is powerful and beyond our understanding. But Jesus followers also understand that humanity gets strength, meaning, and purpose from relationships. Pastor/Author/Speaker Rob Bell has said that some religions are very powerful, but not very personal. And sometimes, the Christian religion waters down Jesus until he is purely a close friend you should hang out with (aka: have you accepted Jesus into your heart?), and so the message is personal but not very powerful.
But God invites us into something that is both personal and powerful. Its love that "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13).
So now may you live in full knowledge that the way of Jesus is bigger than formulas. May you build a meaningful relationship with your creator, one that is personal and powerful. And may you invite others into the kingdom of God!

<><  Leigh

Derek Webb ("Wedding Dress")
Donald Miller ("Searching for God Knows What")
Rob Bell (Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, MI)
CS Lewis