What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

A fascinating article in Esquire magazine….

November 18, 2009, 9:05 AM

What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

This radical Christian’s ministry for the poor, The Simple Way, has gotten him in some trouble with his fellow Evangelicals. We asked him to address those who don’t believe.

By Shane Claiborne

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Now for the good news.

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it… it was because “God so loved the world.” That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven… but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our “Gospel” is the message that Jesus came “not [for] the healthy… but the sick.” And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God’s Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth.

One of Jesus’ most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan… you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I’m sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine… but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David… at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you.” And we wonder what got him killed?

I have a friend in the UK who talks about “dirty theology” — that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man’s eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)

In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay “out there” but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, “Nothing good could come.” It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society’s rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors… a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

 

Your brother,

Shane

 

 

 

Thanks-living

Pastor Schmidt in his Thanksgiving message had some good thoughts and tips for Thanks-living.

Thanksgiving is an invitation into the heart of God.

Thanksgiving actually heals us.

Thanksgiving lifts us out of the crud of our circumstance.

You can’t move from Thanksgiving to Thanks-living in one jump. You will crash and burn.  Thanksgiving is a day to day lifestyle.  Try giving thanks each day:

Sunday: Grace  (thank God for his grace, that he forgives our mistakes)

Monday: Family. (they are a gift to you)

Tuesday: Community. (local, state, country)

Wednesday: Life /Special blessings (thank God that you are alive)

Thursday:  Church (in our case Concordia, for the mission launch)

Friday: Self  (what God has given me, done for me, who He has made me)

Saturday: God (for His person and for His performance, i.e., what He has done for us)

More good ideas for Thanks-living all year long!

Am I a Thankful Person?

Came across this from Pastor James MacDonald’s blog and thought I would share it here. Good food for thought……and love his index card idea.

“I am just wrapping up my sermon preparation for this weekend and my thoughts are turning toward Thanksgiving Day. Turkey, family, football, mashed potatoes, friends, and maybe a nap! Oh, and remembering to thank our great God for Who He is and what He has done. Did you remember the “thankful” part of Thanksgiving?

I just want to ask you three questions.

First question: Am I a thankful person?

I’m not asking if you think if I am; I’m asking you to ask yourself if you think you are. Ask yourself the question, “Am I a thankful person?” Am I? Well, let’s go to school on thankfulness just for a moment here. There are three levels of thankfulness. Elementary school. High school. Higher education.

Level one: Thankful. Just thankful. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Let us offer onto God the sacrifice of praise.” That is the fruit of lips giving thanks to His name. Level one—elementary school—is the sacrifice of thankfulness. “Thanks God. Okay? Is that what You want to hear? Okay. That’s right. You did do that for me. Thanks.” Now that’s not nothing, but it’s not much. As long as thankfulness is just a sacrifice, like, “Well, I’ll do it if I have to, I guess”, you might get to the edge of the Promised Land, but you won’t find a lot of the joy that’s there.

But there is a better place. We’ll call Level two—high school thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” In every situation, I can always find something to be thankful for. Always. I can make that decision. I could look away from what’s wrong and focus on what’s right and give thanks. “In everything give thanks.” That’s kind of a high school version.

But if you want the real joy—if you want to be done with the poverty-cheerless-joyless-wilderness thing, Level three—higher education is thankful for all things. Ephesians 5:18-20, “Be filled with the Spirit, giving thanks always to God for all things.” Even the bad things. Even the things you wouldn’t choose.

Maybe you have a health crisis or a great sorrow that won’t go away. Maybe you’ve got a financial need. To get to the place, by faith, where you can thank God for that thing— “Thank You, God. This is the thing that You’re using in my life. Thank You, God for that!” When you can do that, get ready for the land flowing with milk and honey.

Second question is: Am I seeing the blessings of thankfulness in my life?

Am I? Am I seeing the blessings of thankfulness in my life and the joy that comes with that? Is my life like a wilderness?

What percentage of my thought life is focused on good, positive, praiseworthy things? How often do I go out of my way to recognize with gratitude a person that God has used to bless me? A parent or a neighbor or a friend or a Small Group leader. Is thankfulness part of the discipline of my life and am I seeing the blessings of that?

Third and last: Am I choosing thankfulness over complaining moment by moment?

Am I choosing thankfulness over complaining? Because it’s at a moment. It’s like freeze-frame! Am I choosing thankfulness right now? Am I? Remember, attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time.

Find a 3” x 5” card, but don’t write on it. What you want to do is to take it and put it on a photocopier and make three hundred sixty-five of them. Then put it by your night-stand. Now I’m telling you, in Jesus’ name, you fill out that card every night before you go to bed. Big things. Little things. Something good today. Things you’re thankful for.

You lay your head down to sleep with that on your mind. You get up in the morning and you read that before you begin your day. That will change your life—that will absolutely change your life. You say you want to live in the Promised Land? Do you want to know the fullness and the fulfillment that only God can bring? That card right there—that was worth the price of admission of this morning. Guaranteed.

Nobody’s life is perfect, but we dilute the complaints of life with thankfulness. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s what we choose to focus on. God’s fullness comes to those who turn from complaining and embrace thankfulness as the focus of their thought life.

Happy Thanksgiving,

James”

Thanks-living

We have a new ministry counselor for the work in Tijuana and so we had a week of long days sharing the vision of our work in Tijuana.  (www.cptlnmexico.wordpress.com)  I actually had time for a daily facebook/twitter post focusing on those things large and small for which I am thankful.  It is an appropriate thing to do in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  I am hoping I can turn thanksgiving into thanksliving.

Have you tried this tea?

I am thankful for Good Earth’s Herbal, cafeine free Sweet and Spicy Tea?  I can’t believe it doesn’t have sugar!  On these chilly nights, it is great to snuggle up with a cup of tea.  Soothes the rough spots in your day.  Let me know if you try it and what you think.  (yes…..I wish someone would write me a comment ….. any comment on virtually anything!)

 

Thankfulllllllllllll!!!!!!!

I really have been posting daily thankful notes……but on FACEBOOK!  (www.facebook.com/melissasalomon)

 

Thankful for the power of friends…..

I am thankful for the power of friends….some I have never met face to face but heart to heart.  I have stalked the blog of two gals — the Opel sisters — very talented women as they went from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Utah to take jobs in the scrapbooking industry.  I have admired how they incorporate the things they love into their scrapbooking work.  I have “lifted” some of their work (this is ok in the scrapbooking world….we are a generous bunch!) and TODAY I got a mention in their blog!  Sweet!  Not only did I get a mention but the LWML got a mention.  This is a missionary organization that raises millions for mission work all across the  globe by filling these tiny boxes with loose change (and more)….. a perfect example of the power of one, the power of the insignificant, the power and multiplicative (is that a word?) power of love.

http://bethandsusanopel.typepad.com

I am also thankful for an endowment fund that was established yesterday which will have an impact on the ministry in Mexico!  Check out our work on the ministry in Mexico blog: www.cptlnmexico.wordpress.com