[in]complete: Why didn’t Jesus simply come and out and say “I am God?”

The first Christians did not get in trouble for saying “Jesus is God.” The Romans believed in a myriad of so-called “gods,” so saying Jesus is another one of those is just to add Him to the pantheon of supposed gods they could worship. That wasn’t the offense of their message.

Instead, the message was “Jesus is Lord,” which is much deeper and far-reaching in the claims about the God-Man (and is “sneeze-able“).

Those three tiny words were actually hugely offensive. Why?

Who was the so-called “Lord” of the Roman Empire?

Caesar.

He was the “God of the gods,” who ruled over all, on earth and in the heavens. Or so they thought. Pagans saw gods in everything, and everything was a god. So, calling Jesus “God” isn’t as forceful as what believers more commonly called Him: Lord.

When we say Jesus is Lord, we must become like the first believers, who were not using religious jargon. They were saying that Jesus replaced Caesar, and anyone else, as the one receiving their worship. These thoughtful Jesus-followers were making a whole-life claim as to who they will obey and follow in this life. They were saying He is above all, the one true ruler, the God who calls the shots. He is in control of all; He is the Caesar of the Caesar.

More than saying “Jesus is Lord,” they were living as if Jesus is Lord, which maks all the difference in the world.

Jesus was not an add-on. They realized that before Jesus they were busy serving other kings and masters, who abused them and let them down. In contrast, Jesus is a good Master, who will not let us down.

He wants our whole life. When He is Lord, life becomes good. Because He is the one Good God.

Mark 12:13-17 (NLT):

 13 Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,[a denarius] and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them.

Image credits: “Caesar’s or God’s” by Lawrence OP, and “The Biblical Tribute Penny: Tiberius AR Denarius 16-34 AD” by Icarus Kuwait, both on Flickr

Talk or Walk: Do we love with words or with works?

What is the relationship between evangelism and social justice? 

Should Christians talk more about the good works of Jesus, or demonstrate their own good works? I’m convinced it is BOTH/AND, not just either/or, for Jesus came proclaiming the Good News (Gospel) He embodied in His whole life (see Luke 4:14-21).

Skye Jethani (editor at Christianity Today and Leadership Journal) points us to John Stott to help us navigate the ongoing evangelism/social justice divide:

“Atonement-only advocates demand that advocates of social justice justify their efforts. And justice advocates demand atonement-only advocates justify their emphasis on gospel proclamation. But, using Stott’s logic, if evangelism or social activism is flowing from a heart of love and compassion, than neither must be justified. Love is its own justification. As you engage this issue in your own community, do not get snared by the false dichotomy that declares either evangelism or social justice must be superior. Instead, let’s affirm whatever work God has called us to, whether that be proclaiming reconciliation or demonstrating it, as long as his love is found to be fueling it.”

 

I will add that evangelism that cares only for the eternal safety of another’s soul but not for that person’s flourishing in this life is not truly motivated by the love of Jesus. Let’s talk and walk at the same time.

[HT: Tim Høiland]

[in]complete: Ways & Means so we don’t end up as slaves of a de-souled culture.

Continuing from yesterday and the day before

The prevailing ways and means curricula in which we are all immersed in North America are designed to help us get ahead in whatever field of work we find ourselves: sales and marketing, politics, business, church, school an university, construction, manufacturing, faming, laboratory, hospital, home, playground, sports. The courses first instruct us in skills and principles that we are told are foundational and then motivate us to use these skills so that we can get what we want out of this shrunken, dessicated “world, flesh, and devil” field. And of course it works wonderfully as long as we are working in that particular field, the field in which getting things done is the “end.”

When it comes to persons, these ways of the world are terribly destructive. They are highly effective in getting ahead in a God-indifferent world, but not in the community of Jesus, not in the kingdom of God. When we uncritically accept these curricula as our primary orientation in how to get on in the world, we naively embrace the very temptations of the devil that Jesus so definitively vetoed and rebuked.

Warnings are frequently and prominently posted by our sages and prophets to let us know that these purely pragmatic ways and means of the world weaken and enervate the community of the baptized. The whole North American ways and means culture, from assumptions to tactics, is counter to the rich and textured narrative laid out for us in our Scriptures regarding walking in the way of righteousness, running in the way of the commandments, following Jesus. In matters of ways and means, the world gives scant attention to what it means to live, to really live, to live eternal life in ordinary time: God is not worshiped, Jesus is not followed, the Spirit is not given a voice. …

Jacques Maritain, one of our more prescient and incisive prophetic voices from the twentieth century, continues to call on all of us who have taken up membership in the Christian community to be vigilant and active in what he called “the Purification of Means.” He saw this as urgent work, about which we should not procrastinate if we are to follow Jesus in the freedom where he leads us, and we are not to end up as slaves of a de-souled culture.

—Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way, 2-4.

[in]complete: Ways & Means in everything.

Continuing from yesterday

In this matter of ways, the how of following Jesus and taking up with the world cannot be depersonalized by reduction into a how-to formula. We are involved in a highly personal, interrelational, dynamic way of life consisting of many elements — emotions and ideas, weather and work, friends and enemies, seductions and illusions, legislation and elections — that are constantly being rearranged, always in flux, and always in relation to our very personal and holy God and our very personal (but not so holy!) brothers and sisters.

Ways and means permeate everything that we are in worship and community. But none of the ways and means can be compartmentalized into functions or isolated as concepts apart from this comprehensive biblical Trinitarian world in which we follow Jesus. They permeate everything we are and do. If any of the means we use to follow Jesus are extraneous to who we are in Jesus — detached “things” or role “models” — they detract from the end of following Jesus. Do our ways derive from “the world, the flesh, and devil” of which we have been well warned for such a long time? Or do they serve life in the kingdom of God and the following of Jesus in which we have been given, historically and liturgically, a long apprenticeship?

—Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way, 2.

(More tomorrow…)

[in]complete: Ways & Means.

“This is a conversation on the spirituality of the ways we go about following Jesus, the Way. The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal: nothing disembodied, nothing abstract, nothing impersonal. Incarnate, flesh and blood, relational, particular, local.

The ways employed in our North American culture are conspicuously impersonal: programs, organizations, techniques, general guidelines, information detached from place. In matters of ways and means, the vocabulary of numbers is preferred over names, ideologies crowd out ideas, the gray fog of abstraction absorbs the sharp particularities of the recognizable face and the familiar street.

My concern is provoked by the observations that so many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus, without hesitation, and apparently without thinking, embrace the ways and means of the culture as they go about their daily living “in Jesus’ name.” But the ways that dominate our culture have been developed either in ignorance or in defiance of the ways that Jesus uses to lead us as we walk the streets and alleys, hike the trails, and drive the roads in this God-created, God-saved, God-blessed, God-ruled world in which we find ourselves. They seem to suppose that “getting on in the world” means getting on in the world on the world’s terms, and that the ways of jesus are useful only in a compartmentalized area of life labeled “religious.”

This is wrong thinking, and wrong living. Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them. We cannot use impersonal means to do or say a personal thing — and the gospel is personal or it is nothing.

—Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way, 1-2.

Just having a conversation about Justice.

Today and tomorrow I am at The Justice Conference, hosted here in Portland. So grateful to join in the conversation.

The Justice Conference 2012 is the second annual international gathering of advocates, activists, artists, professors, professionals, prophets, pastors, students and stay-at-home moms working to restore the fabric of justice. For some it means speaking. For others it means singing. For some it means going. For others it means giving. For all, it means living with mercy and love.

Justice Conference founder (and lead pastor of Antioch Church in my beloved hometown of Bend) Ken Wytsma writes on why justice matters to followers of Jesus and all who trust Scripture:

People matter to God and therefore they should matter to us – every bit of them from the salvation of their souls to the meeting of material needs (see 1 John 4:20-21).
Justice is rooted in the character of God, commanded in his Holy Scriptures and exemplified in the life of Christ and the history of the church.
Justice is the right ordering of our relationships with God and neighbor.
Justice, in all spheres and slices of life and especially in the social sectors, is biblical, God-honoring and right. Politics, theories or political platforms, however, are open to dispute and disagreement.

Because Justice is much bigger than “social justice,” he gives a helpful pie-chart to see how various kinds of justice are interrelated:

Do I tend toward religious performance or living by the Gospel of grace?

A few years ago a friend introduced me to a helpful way to examine my heart and see if I am living in God’s righteousness, or asserting my own self-righteousness. The simple chart shown below was adapted from Tim Keller’s talk “Preaching the Gospel.” I found it at a time when I felt far from God’s will (vocationally), but desired to live more deeply in His will (personally). Since then I’ve walked through it personally with many, each time rejoicing in the Gospel truth.

While the chart is useful for instructing others, we must begin by filtering our own heart through it. Do I tend toward religious performance (acceptance based on obedience) or living by the Gospel of grace (obedience flowing from acceptance)? 

To this I would add: we are saved by works. Yet these works are not our own; we are graciously saved by the works of Jesus, who lived the life we should live — in perfect submission to God’s will — but haven’t, and died the death we should die, but won’t have to, if we trust in Him.

RELIGION

GOSPEL

In religion one says, “I obey — therefore I’m accepted.” In the Gospel one says, “I’m accepted — therefore I obey.” Ephesians 2:8-10
Motivation is based on fear and insecurity. Motivation is based on grateful joy. 1 John 4:7-11
I obey God in order to get things from God. I obey God to get to God—to delight and resemble Him. Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23
When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life. When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial. Psalm 23:4; John 16:33; Phil. 4:11-14; Hebrews 12:1-13
When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs. When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism. That’s how I became a Christian. Romans 10:4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18
My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment. My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him. Philippians 4:4-7
My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble, but not confident-I feel like a failure. My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator—simultaneously sinful and lost yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling. Romans 10:4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18
My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’ My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments. Phil. 3:8-9; Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:1-11
Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God. I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost. 1 John 5:11-14; Psalm 73

(Scripture references added)

Keller says he got the idea of contrasting Religion and the Gospel from reading C.S. Lewis’ short essay, “Three Kinds of Men,” in which he says there are not merely two ways to live (God’s way and man’s way), but three: religion, irreligion, and according to the Gospel of grace.