Tag Archive: Jesus


immanuel-god-with-us

There is something about that story.

Whether sitting watching a Veggie Tales ‘Drummer Boy’ Christmas with two of our nieces, or heading out at 11pm last night for a ‘midnight’ service at St John’s Parish in Wynberg, the heart of the story itself is just so loud and completely powerful that it gets me every time.

i know that many of my friends don’t believe. Continue reading

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rich

Continuing the passage i am sharing from the Ron Sider book, ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’, i’ll back up one paragraph just to remind us where we were:

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If there are poor people who need assistance, Jesus’ carefree disciple will help – even if that means selling possessions. People are vastly more important than property. “Laying up treasure in heaven” means exactly the same thing. “In Jewish literature, the good deeds of a religious person are often described as treasures stored up in heaven.” Continue reading

rich

i have just started reading this book by Ron Sider who we got to hang out with a little bit during our time at the Simple Way in Philly a couple of years ago. Recently he visited South Africa and i got to hear him speak and thought it was high time i got hold of this book which has influenced so many people.

This part i want to share is just from the Foreword and yet it already floored me – definitely not going to be an easy book to read i imagine, but suspecting it will be a life-transforming one. Continue reading

love1

As a follower of Jesus, this really is my mantra. Love one another. This is how you will be known to be My [Jesus] disciples, if you have love one for another.

When i spend a decent amount of time online challenging people about their beliefs and actions, this often comes to mind. After all the church has a pretty bad history of typically being known more for what we are against than what we are for and so i don’t want to add to that. Especially when we are for such great stuff. Loving God, loving people, looking after the least of these, caring for widows and orphans, welcoming the marginalised, being pro all aspects of life, sharing what we have with the stranger, forgiving our enemies and showering them with love.

So when i find myself writing a post that is a little more tongue in cheek and contains the phrase ‘stupid people’ a whole lot, i think about it a lot. When i engage in yet another online dispute about racism or privilege or why it is never cool to make jokes using the word ‘rape’ or reducing it to something describing a much lesser thing that went wrong in your day, i check myself. Am i spending as much time and more championing things which bring people together, which build community, which encourage people to get involved with the poor and marginalised. Don’t get caught up in the mud flinging.

i saw this cartoon today and i really liked it:

Jesus

i think it is the patience of Jesus here that i love the most. No matter how many times i don’t ‘get’ it, Jesus takes time with me helping me to see the error of my ways, bringing me lovingly back to ‘You will be known by the love you have…’

But then i am also reminded of the time Jesus goes completely off at the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

i love the trailer to His rant, found in verse 3:

So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

That seems to say it all, right. “Jesus, i think you covered it all right there. Let’s go get lunch.” But He doesn’t.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

“Blind Fools”… “Blind Guides”… “Hypocrites”… “Whitewashed tombs”… “Snakes. Brood of vipers.”

If this was a modern day setting you can imagine Jesus dropping the mic and walking off stage. Oh, and just a reminder that these are the religious leaders of the day – so the pastors and reverends and very reverends and bishops etc.

And this is not an isolated event. When a woman is brought in front of Him to be stoned, Jesus tosses it back at them – “Go for it. Whichever of you has not sinned, you throw the first rock.” Everyone leaves.

When His disciples are fighting amongst themselves about who is greatest or who will rule alongside Him on His throne one day He calls them out in front of the group and embarrasses them.

At one point He gives a teaching so controversial or difficult to obey that everyone except for the close disciples leaves and stops following Him.

FIND THE BALANCE

Jesus saved His strongest words for those who followed Him, and while i am clearly not Jesus, i feel like i do that pretty well too. It is typically the christians getting pissed off with me on Facebook [which feels great when it’s issues of poverty and race and injustice, but less great when it’s about football salaries and movie pirating and content of tv shows although i tend to stay more out of most of those these days] and getting defensive and more.

And i’m okay with that. i hope people that don’t follow Jesus feel loved by me. i hope they feel safe. i hope i am someone they will call when their faeces has been furiously flung into a nearby fan. Oh, i also admire alliteration, apparently. i hope they expect that i will answer and come rushing.

i don’t see myself as ‘The Internet Police’ just as Jesus probably didn’t see Himself as ‘The Temple Police’… but when He saw people abusing their authority He went off… when He saw people practising extortion in a place meant for prayer He went a little ballistic… when He saw someone responding to a serious challenge and call to self-reflection on Facebook with a cheap and trite metaphorical saying that even the guy who came up with it probably didn’t understand then He went off… oh wait, that one was not Him, that was me. But i like to think He would have smiled and possibly even liked my comeback that involved the phrase “Christmas cracker inserts”.

Or not. He may not have. That might have been one time when i got it wrong. i will keep reflecting on where, what and how i engage. But i won’t keep quiet when it feels like words are needed. And in the background, all the time, i will be repeating my mantra over and over to myself.

love2

[For Ten Different Ways of Loving Well, click here]

audience

i have a gift. i call it the gift of small audience.

There was a time in Cape Town a few years ago when i was one of the 5 or 6 speakers youth groups and Christian school groups would call on for talks and camps and it felt really good – like i had huge opportunity to make a difference – to impact hundreds of young people across Cape Town and beyond as the opportunities came.

At the same time i was running a youth group that consisted of maybe 1 to 8 people. Who mostly just stared at me a lot.

That didn’t always feel that good… or that successful at least. Something along the lines of “a prophet is unwelcome in his own town” or something like that which you cling to when things don’t look at that successful. [Maybe you’re just really bad at running youth groups? Nah, sh! It can’t be that.]

Picture of prophet

When you live in a world and system which judges success in one way [usually numbers, big events, wide reach, that kind of thing] and you see life happening in another way, you suddenly end up as lonely contemplative prophet sitting under a tree by yourself wondering where all the crowds are.

You know someone else who had a small audience? Jesus. That’s right. Oh sure he pulled in the crowds when He was multiplying bread and fish, turning water into exquisite wine and raising the dead… but when He started talking about His Kingdom and what it meant to be a follower… suddenly, crickets.

NO, I’M NOT SAYING I’M JESUS [just so we’re clear]

When the Kingdom message became one of enemy love… or when Jesus spoke about denying yourself, taking up your cross every day and following someone who is not you… when the stories were about the hated Samaritans being the example of Love well demonstrated or about everyone hating you because of Me or selling everything you have and giving it to the poor and then following… well then the crowds started to thin. Drastically.

And when Jesus was arrested and being associated with Him might mean joining Him in the crucifixion, well even His closest friends were nowhere to be seen [those that weren’t denying they knew Him at all]

‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.’

[Romans 12.2-3]

Just yesterday i was listening to someone give a talk to a group of media people. He knew my parents well, but i didn’t even know if he knew me or not. Suddenly, in the middle of his talk, he mentioned my name  and said some really encouraging stuff about some stuff i had been writing/saying in the nineties. i was blown away.

The immense power of words of encouragement or affirmation from an unlikely source. “Just keep on doing what you’re doing. Don’t worry about the response.”

hemustbecomegreateriless1.jpg

Truth in Love. That is what we are called to. And it is such a delicate balance to get right. To be fair, through my life i have probably erred on the side of Truth more often than Love, although i think a do a lot better these days. A lot of other people tend to err on the side of something that is mistaken for Love which might look like reassurance or comfortability or compromise or a number of other things.

i’m not sure what i’m trying to say here. i certainly am not fishing for a bunch of people to jump on and tell me how well i’m doing at life so please don’t do that. i do want us to be aware of how powerful positive words and affirmation can be in the lives of those around us and so where there are other people you know who maybe speak a Truth in Love that is not popular or well received, please find moments to appreciate them and quietly cheer them on.

i also want to encourage you if you are someone who is desperately seeking the Truth of life and following Jesus, but feels like you’re swimming against the current, to keep going. Don’t compare yourself to the people around you – compare yourself to the Truth Jesus taught and lived and called us to. If it doesn’t involve denying yourself and choosing to die daily to self and actively follow Him, then it’s probably not Truth.

While i believe the majority of people are on the wrong path [read Matthew 7, it’s something i feel Jesus believed as well] i am well encouraged by the so many people i know in Cape Town, around South Africa and all over the world, who are genuinely wrestling with Truth and actively trying to follow Jesus in ways that cost them time and money and reputation and make things harder and uncomfortable and confusing and messy.

God sees you. 

He knows you.

Don’t give up.

Forget looking for the signs that the world holds up of success. But listen for the sounds of the Kingdom. On earth as it is in heaven.

Be aware of those who are hungry and thirsty and lonely and in prison and in danger and marginalised and Love them as best you can.

Always remember that it is always about Love – that is the greatest commandment.

Where a prophet comes in, i think, is when there is a need for someone to look at the way things are presently in the world [and in the church] and come to the conclusion that, “This Does Not Look Like Love” and “What Are We Going To Do About It?” 

Well? What are you presently doing about it? With your time, with your money, with your life in general?

Run strong, my friend, and swim against the tide…

fish

book

i am busy reading this book, that my friend Steve Graybill sent to me while we were in Americaland [after i asked for one of the books he had recently read that was worth reading] and it has been such an interesting read. Steve was the one who recommended ‘The Lemon Tree’ and ‘Blood Brothers’ which i gave a glimpse of over here, as i was trying to understand the Palestinian/Israeli crisis a little bit better. This is more of a theological/discussion book whereas the other two were stories and so a little easier to connect with in some ways. But there has been some very interesting thinking generated by this book – i’m not sure i agree with everything Naim Stifan Ateek says, but some very challenging ideas for sure [the proposal that Samson was the first ‘suicide bomber’ for example, really stopped me in my tracks, because…]

But without doubt the section of the book i really enjoyed and found interesting was this passage from a chapter entitled ‘Son of David or Suffering Servant’ which looks at four groups of people and how they responded to the Roman occupation at the time Jesus lived and how He chose a path different to all of them. It is a bit of a lengthy post but it is SO good, so make some time and dive in… The following section is from the book:

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“BIBLICAL CONTEXT

In the first century Jesus was born under the Roman occupation of His home country of Palestine. In fact, He lived all His life under the Empire and was killed in the end by the occupying forces. As a young man, Jesus, as well as many others in His generation, was attracted by different movements and groups within His society. Each had a basic philosophy about life and God, and each movement had its advocates and proponents as well as its adversaries and opponents.

For many centuries people in Palestine lived their entire lives under the Roman Empire. It was not a benevolent occupation. Any occupation is by nature oppressive because it refuses to grant people freedom and liberation. To a large extent, the options and choices that Jesus faced are still present in our different societies. While other comparisons are equally valid, our focus here compares the groups of Jesus’ time with their counterparts in Palestine today.

These groups arise from our basic nature as human beings and our propensity to relate to people of power, especially in situations where people live under foreign occupation. This was as true for the people of Jesus’ time who lived under Roman occupation as it is for Palestinians today who live under Israeli occupation.

The Zealots

Without doubt, the group most attractive to many young people in Jesus’ day was the Zealots. They were the revolutionaries who believed that the only way to relate to the occupation of their country by the Romans was through armed struggle. The model of violent struggle was not foreign to them; there was a strong tradition for such action. The most recent paradigm was that of the Maccabees who had risen up against the Greek occupation of their country and won their independence. In Jesus’ time, in their struggle against the Romans who had usurped control of their country, the Zealots used the tools of revolutionary violence, countering violence with violence. They believed that their god would fight for them in their righteous struggle.

There were some more extreme factions within the Zealot movement. The Sicarii not only killed their Roman enemies but were ready to assassinate any fellow Jews suspected of collaboration with the Romans. And all of this was done in the name of God.

Scholars tell us it is likely that a number of the disciples of Jesus were Zealot revolutionaries. They saw in Him a leader who could command a great following and contribute to the liberation of the country. There are references in the Gospels that indicate such a temptation. John 6.15 offers an example: “When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” Yet Jesus constantly rejected such temptations throughout His ministry, from the temptations of the devil’s offer of the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8-10; Luke 4.5-8) to the cries of the crowd to make Jesus king when He entered Jerusalem near the end of His life (John 12.12-19). The political language of these passages indicates that Jesus could have seized several opportunities to incite a mass insurrection against the Romans, which surely would have involved armed resistance.

The temptation to join the Zealots would have been very real because they shared many of the same goals as Jesus and His disciples. Jesus shared their concern for the poor, and their passion for justice. They were both very committed to the cause, even to the point of death. Roman suspicion that Jesus was a Zealot certainly played a major role in His death.

Today in Palestine the equivalent to the Zealots are groups like Hamas and Al-jihad Al-islami. They believe in revolutionary violence as the means to counteract Israeli state violence and force the Israeli army to end its occupation. They, too, are disciplined and committed to the cause of justice for their fellow Palestinians and have been very compassionate toward the poor and needy in their communities.

The Essenes

This group, disenchanted with the religious system of Jerusalem, left their towns and villages and withdrew into the desert. In the desert, they established communities, busied themselves in copying different texts of the Old Testament scriptures, and developed rules for the daily life of their communities. They avoided involvement with what went on outside.

The Essenes represented an escape from the reality of life, an escape that is still attractive to many people today. This option was open to Jesus: “He could have withdrawn from the tensions and conflicts of the urban center where government and commerce constantly polluted even the most well-intentioned sons and daughters of the law; He could  have sought out a place where He could be pure and perfectly faithful.” Such an approach of escape or isolation can take various forms. People do not have to be enclosed within a monastery to live this way, although some do. Some people emigrate from the area of conflict, leaving everything behind. Others escape by totally withdrawing even within their community, living in isolation from the daily affairs of life.

The Herodians and Sadducees

These were the pragmatists and realists. The Herodians supported King Herod, believing it better to give allegiance to the king who was closer to kin than the alien Romans. The wealthy and conservative Sadducees controlled the temple in Jerusalem and benefitted immensely from it.They stayed on good terms with the people of power to expedite and facilitate daily solutions to contentious problems. They accepted the political situation in Palestine and to a larger extent collaborated with it. They believed that since they could not change the occupation of their country, they might as well not only with it but make the best of it. They made sure that worship in the temple was conducted properly and that nothing should disturb it.

In the conflict over Palestine, many Palestinians have arrived at such realism, accepting the Israeli occupation of their country. In order to advance their business activities or for reasons of prestige, they have allowed themselves to get close to the power and cooperated with the occupation. In some cases their pragmatism has taken on a more sinister aspect, becoming blatant collaboration.

The Pharisees

These were religious fanatics who adhered to the letter of the law. Although the word “pharisee” means separatist, they lived among the people in the village and urban centers of the land, yet separated themselves from anything that in their opinion would defile them. They prided themselves in keeping the purity of the law in meticulous detail as regards eating and drinking, keeping the Sabbath, and many other aspects of daily life. Jesus criticised them for payiing attention to the minute details of the law yet forgetting the more important issues of life such as justice, faith, and mercy (see Matt.23).

The Pharisees comprise a sizable segment of our communities; regardless of the political environment, they continue to practice the rituals and ceremonies of their religion while ignoring the “weightier matters” of justice and love (Matt. 23.23; Luke 11.42). Many cling to the observance of the laws and regulations of religion because they have defined religion in terms of strict adherence to the teachings of the church, mosque, or synagogue regarding worship, fasting, feast days, and so on.

THE NEW WAY OF JESUS

These four options that confronted Jesus confront us today.People are attracted to one or another of them. Many societies offer similar options or philosophies of life that appeal to our human nature. We are always challenged by the “righteous” violence of revolutions, or by escapism and isolationism, or by pragmatism and realism, or by established and popular religion. Each has its attraction, and Jesus must have realised that.

But Jesus chose another way, a way that draws on the best that these paradigms can offer and yet takes religion and faith to a deeper dimension. This is the way of faithfulness to God. Jesus rejected the way of violent revolution and refused to walk the way of collaboration. He would not accept the option to escape life and be uninvolved, and He saw the pitfalls of superficial religiosity where observance and rituals replace morality and authentic relationship with God.

What is the way of Jesus? It is the way of allegiance to God’s kingdom. The way of Jesus is (1) to stand for justice and truth without picking up the sword – that is, to resist evil without using evil methods; (2) to rise above the ways of the world without abandoning involvement and commitment to the poor and oppressed; (3) to seek the humanity of the oppressor without losing integrity by appeasement or collaboration; and (4) to love and worship God without adhering to a strict and closed religion.

Jesus presented God as a loving father/mother who loves and cares for all people equally, a God who is just and merciful. He called into being a distinct community whose basic rule of life is love: the love of God, God’s unconditional love of humans, and the inclusive love of neighbour that denies boundaries. He inspired His disciples to walk a path of nonviolence and to accept God’s will and rule over their life. Jesus asked His community to be salt and light to all those around them. He modelled His understanding of nonviolence as a path that must be followed even if it leads to suffering and death. And Jesus showed that a person can, at one and the same time, live in the world, in the midst of community and serve it and heal it, without conforming to the ways of the world. This is the sabeel of Jesus.

Could Jesus have looked at the availability of these four ways of life and decided not to choose any of them? He must have seen that none of them agreed with the heart of the faith tradition.. He must have felt that while each contained some attractive features, on the whole they strayed from the essence of faith.

He did not choose the way of armed struggle, which later ended disastrously for the Jewish people with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. He did not choose collaboration with the occupying forces, which was a life of deception and destructive to one’s soul. He did not choose escape into the desert, but sought involvement with the poor and wretched of His time. And while Jesus instructed His followers in prayer, He did not choose religiosity, often used to disguise a lack of faith. He chose a different way.

Perhaps Jesus looked back at His tradition of faith. The exile, several hundred years earlier, did not end the suffering and misery of His people. The strong empires of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia had been replaced by even greater Greek and Roman empires. The people still longed for liberation. Such a passion for freedom seems natural. People talked about their religious tradition that referred to the coming of a messiah who would provide redemption and liberation. The fervour for the coming of such a person must be understood against the conditions of their miserable existence. Jesus surely must have been aware of the many so-called messiahs who had come and gone and yet no liberation had been achieved.”

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This is really just a taste, and if you are trying to get your head around the severely complicated context of everything happening in that area of the Middle East, this is a book worth checking out.

You go away on a houseboat for a week, come back home, turn on your computer and it’s like a paint factory sneezed all over Facebook.

fbrainbow

Or something like that. Actually the graphic on my buddy Steve Heineman’s page expressed it best:

rainbow

And i think enough has been said from either side of the rainbow for me to need to add anything specifically about that, although i definitely have some deep sadness for some of the christian response which seemed significantly compassion-free in places.

i did, however, respond with this line, which i hope people on both sides of the spectrum will seriously consider:

May whoever ends up being proven right not lose their rightness in the way that they respond and relate to whoever is proven wrong.

As a follower of Jesus i don’t know that we will know the absolute answer about whether or not we were right or wrong in the particular stance we took on this until one day when we are standing in front of God. But i’m pretty convinced that whether or not we responded in love will be quite obvious. And i’m fairly confident that God is less likely to be focusing on “You said it was okay to be gay” or “You said it was not okay to be gay” and more concerned with, “How well did you love those who thought differently to you?”

Cos that’s the greatest command, right? Love. Not good theology. And that is not saying that good theology is not worth pursuing and putting time and energy and effort into getting as right as we can. But it is saying that it is crucial that we major in love.

After all,

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So, whether you agree or disagree or continue to wrestle with how you feel and what you think or believe, at least be kind. Can we all do that? Is it possible to disagree with someone and love them at the same time? i feel like Jesus was big on that.

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