Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Generous Christology

As I continue to explore the I Am statements of Jesus, the next up is from John 14:1-7.

This passage includes the following:

“No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words of Jesus that follow up his identification as the Way, the Truth and the Life. This seems pretty straightforward.

If you are not going through Jesus Christ, you are not getting to God.

Worldwide, if you are gracious in who you would consider Christian, this means that a little less than one third of humanity has a legitimate relationship with God.  As Wesleyans, we believe that God loves each person and is trying to reach them.

So either God is doing a poor job of reaching the world or the Christians are.

Muslims pray formally five times
each day.  What if Christians were
as consistent in their practice?
As I consider those of other faith traditions, I've met some who are really devout and some who are slackers and some who identify with their faith in name only.  So this is pretty similar to the Christians I've encountered.

If I believe that God is trying to reach these people and they are praying to God from a different faith tradition, do I believe that God hears their prayers?

I’m hesitant to declare "no" more so for the limitation it places on the infinite God rather than on my own strict adherence to this verse.  As I explore the Gospel, I find that there are more mysterious understandings such as John 10:16 where Jesus states, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

My own understanding of Christology has grown rather generous. 

As I see non-Christians who are devout in their own faith and seeking the same fruits of the Spirit in their lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), I may see Christ in them.  They would not declare this for themselves but I would have no problem seeing through the eyes of faith to declare this on their behalf.

It reminds me that Jesus talked about being the Way.  A way is more than just assent to a set of doctrines or beliefs.  A way is more than just declaring affirmation to a litmus test of orthodoxy.  A way requires that we follow through with our actions.  If Jesus is our way, we begin to take on his own characteristics.  As we study Jesus, we see that he was more generous in his day concerning those who would be thought to be in relationship with God.

And so, if I follow Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, I must begin to adopt this generosity of spirit as I encounter my neighbors.  Rather than see their lack, where do I see Christ already at work in their lives?

I think this begins to turn the conversation and it becomes more profitable for us all.    

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More than Mostly Alive

In the movie, A Princess Bride, one of the main characters, Westley, appears to have been slain and is brought to Miracle Max to see what could be done.

Miracle Max examines him, lifts and drops the arm of the supposed corpse and declares, "I've seen worse."

Max then states to Inigo Montoya the man who brought him, "He probably owes you money huh? I'll ask him."

Montoya replies, "He's dead. He can't talk."

Miracle Max then surprises us by saying "Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do."

"What's that?"

Max: "Go through his clothes and look for loose change."

This exchange brings us to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead found in John 11:1-45.  In verse 17, it lets us know that Lazarus had already been dead for four days.  This is a long time to be dead in an ancient Mediterranean culture.  The heat would have made decomposition a quick occurrence - especially without any modern embalming techniques.  The King James Version says it bluntly in verse 39 as it reads, "he stinketh."

What this is stating is that in the ancient world, "mostly dead" was a thing that sometimes people became.  You could recover from being "mostly dead" and sometimes people miraculously did.  With no modern instrumentation, it was difficult to tell when a person had really passed.  But after three days, the ancient belief was that the soul then departed the body.  So for John to share the detail that Lazarus was dead four days showed that there could be no doubt as to his state.

For Lazarus and his sisters, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.  It is real and vibrant and we would like to know this Jesus because we have all faced grief and loss. Sometimes our spiritual lives, our emotional lives or our relational lives may also become "mostly dead."

How does Jesus become the Resurrection and the Life for us today?  Just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, there are parts of us that sometimes need raising as well. Sometimes I may look at areas of my own life and declare, "they stinketh."  These may be the times when we need to take a new look at our faith!  As we encounter the living Lord, it could be that we become more than "mostly alive!"

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Shepherds and Alphas

I am the Good Shepherd.
                       John 10:11
There has been a lot written on the stupidity of sheep.  So as we think about the metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, it is a little demeaning to put ourselves in the role of the sheep.

We are taught to be strong, self-reliant, independent individuals.

To rely on others is often seen as weakness.

Now, I'm not saying that this is healthy.  Internalizing our difficulties or fears is not a productive stress for our bodies.  It leads to heart disease or strokes or worse.

And yet because leaders are often so admired in American society, can this lead us away spiritually from this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd?
Even lead dogs need help from the handlers.

A popular saying about sled dogs is this one:
If you are not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.  
If you are an alpha male or female, you are prone to leadership.  Submission may be an issue for you. So what do you do with this passage?

It could be that our pride is blinding us.  It takes a big person to admit when they are wrong and it takes a big person to admit they need help. This doesn't diminish them as people, it just means they are wise.

At the end of the passage in John 10:20-21, they are accusing Jesus of having a demon because he was saying all these things about being the Gate and the Good Shepherd. Others defended him saying, "Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"  This is an important question for us.  As we consider that the demonic leads one through deceit, we may find that only the truth opens our eyes.

So the question for the independent spirit becomes, "How do you really need Jesus as the Good Shepherd?"  As human beings we realize that we are social animals.  None of us is really independent when we analyze it.  So maybe the healthy thing is to cut through this myth and see the truth.

Dorothy Thrupp wrote these words in the 19th century and they are still true in the 21st:

We are thine, thou dost befriend us, be the guardian of our way; 
keep thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray. 

Jesus is our Good Shepherd if we are wise enough to see the truth.  And if we're not, maybe that metaphor of us being like sheep is better than we would like to admit.

Photo by Wknight94 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Lyrics from "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us"