[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

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[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.

[in]complete: What does it mean to ‘Accept Jesus’?

You may have heard it before: an invitation from Evangelical Christians to “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” What on earth do we mean by that? (Or, since it sounds like religious jargon and we can be poor messengers: what should we mean when we say that?)

Ray Ortlund illustrates the modern idea of ‘accepting Jesus’ in two ways:

You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided.

There is a board room in every heart. Big table. Leather chairs. Coffee. Bottled water. Whiteboard. A committee sits around the table. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting. Constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we’re this way because we’re so busy with so many responsibilities. The truth is, we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, unfree.

That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication.

The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. Please run my whole life for me.” That is not complication; that is salvation.

“Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols.

—Ray Ortlund, Jr., Christ is Deeper Still (emphasis mine)

We shall not merely invite Jesus into our lives. Our lives are a mess! Rather, Jesus invites us into His life. Through what He has done on the cross — in defeating sin, Satan, and removing all the obstacles we have before a holy God — after all that: God accepts us. And then cleans out our heart idols. They were terrible leaders anyway.

“You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
1 Thessalonians 1:9

[in]complete love: the ruts where we get stuck.

“I will heal their backsliding.”
—Hosea 14:4

I talk with backsliders all the time. Most don’t notice their rut or direction, and almost as many don’t really care. It usually their closest loved ones who seek out a pastor for advice and encouragement.

I also find that when people strongly desire change (circumstantially), but are not willing to change themselves, they are in the throngs of many dangers. At least one of those is how we creatively find ways to meet our heart longings in ways that can slowly (or quickly) destroy us. Our poor decision-making accumulates over time, for very few people wake up one day and say “I want to run from God and make a mess of my life.” Little by little we get stuck in a rut of our own choosing, not recognizing the warning signs, and sometimes ignoring them. When confronted by loved ones, we minimize, deny, deflect, distract or minimize our issues, numbing the pain while making it worse.

Consider the analogy of a muddy road:

God’s people let themselves drift. We fall into backsliding gradually, a process unfolding over time. This is no surprise, for apart from the grace of God we remain children of Adam our entire lives. We can never shake off our old nature completely; it clings to us with the tendrils of countless sinful tendencies.

The life of God’s child is illustrated in a frequent scene in rural Michigan [or Central Oregon, where I grew up] during the winter weeks of heavy snow. The lanes and smaller roads, many of them unpaved, become muddy and nearly impassable. Looking down these after a snow, at first only one set of tracks appears. As each subsequent vehicle follows the same tracks, the ruts grow increasingly deeper, until someone finally becomes stuck and can go no further.

Similarly, God’s children are prone to follow the tracks of their muddy human nature, following those tracks wherever they lead. The further they go, the deeper they sink into the ruts, step by step, one thing leading to another until they get stuck. What are these ruts believers are so inclined to fall into? I can enumerate at least these six:

  1. Coldness in prayer
  2. Indifference under the Word
  3. Growing inner corruptions
  4. The love of the world
  5. Declining love for believers
  6. Man-centered hopes

—Joel R. Beeke, Getting Back in the Race: the cure for backsliding

Backsliding is always an issue of love. Our heart longs for something, usually a legitimate need, yet we somehow invent illegitimate ways to meet those needs. (Such as when a teenage girl desires affection from her father but goes with a vastly incomplete substitute: a boyfriend.) When we’re bored with God and His good will for us, we seek out alternative routes to travel. Killing sin isn’t about never getting in a rut; it’s about finding the desire to run to God, and seek help, when we get stuck.

For more on backsliding see:

Every day I talk to a potential backslider. Myself. (You do too.) Preach the Gospel to yourself each and every day. Teach yourself to love God and His good news.

Image credit: “Bad Road” by National Library of Scotland