Thinking Out Loud

May 26, 2018

Offensive Jesus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.


Aaron — who looks a lot younger in the picture than he really is — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared earlier this week at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission.

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December 3, 2016

The Season of Anticipation

nativity-calendar-enhanced-2

 

I’ll swear I never heard the word Advent until I was in my 40s. Growing up Evangelical, that just wasn’t our thing.

Let me qualify that slightly. I visited a wide variety of churches. I’m sure the word was used, but I had selective hearing.

That same hearing challenge would come into play when I worked in a Christian supply store. It took the first dozen occurrences to differentiate between whether the customer wanted an Advent calendar or Advent candles. In the first few years, either way, the answer was no. We didn’t have them.

I learned later the nuances of this particular season. Some would argue the season is best expressed in the carol/hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel…

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny…

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here…

I think you could make an equal case the ideology of this season is expressed by the old Heinz Ketchup commercial that was based on Carly Simon’s song Anticipation.  Or better yet, this later one from 1973.

The context (of Advent, not the commercials) is Israel awaiting for a coming Messiah. Perhaps for those with young children, it’s more of a Will Christmas ever get here? vibe.

advent-candlesA few years in we did Advent calendars with our own children. Not the ones where you open a window and there’s a chocolate inside. Give me a break! There was a verse for each day and a definite focus on the true Christmas story. The story of Simeon (Luke 2) also works well with children, as his life was only made complete by seeing the child, the Salvation of the Lord.

A few years after that I started noticing Advent candles in churches that were Christian & Missionary Alliance, Pentecostal and event Baptist. The word had spread, literally.

…Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Another “anticipation” hymn always comes to mind here. I prefer it to the Welsh tune “Hyfrydol” which is also used for other lyrics, and one I consider among the finest musical settings Christianity has produced.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

And that’s where we leave it today. If you’re Evangelical like me, and Advent is a foreign word that “those Anglicans and Catholics use,” I hope you’ll pursue a discovery this season of something that can only enrich your understanding of what you currently call Christmas.


Related Resources:

November 21, 2014

The Hardest Days

Filed under: Christmas, Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

Doug and Gary were always the last to leave the office.  Doug always turned off the lights as Gary set the alarm, and on Fridays, Gary always asked Doug if he wanted to join him for church that weekend.

“Actually, I’m going to church with my wife on Sunday,” Doug replied.

“Oh right. I forgot you’re a CEO,” Gary said smiling.

“A CEO?”

“Christmas and Easter only.” They both laughed, and Gary continued, “You know it’s good that you’re going, but you always pick the two hardest days.”

image 211114“I know,” returned Doug, “The parking at that church is miserable at Christmas.”

“No, that’s not what I mean; you always choose incarnation and atonement. They’re the toughest ones to grasp.”

“Wait a minute, I thought you wanted me to attend church.”

“I do, but think about it; if you show up for The Good Samaritan, the message is ‘love your neighbor,’ that’s easy!  And if you show up for ‘husbands love your wives,’ well two minutes in and you’ve got that one. But incarnation –“

“Do you mean the flower or the canned milk?”

“No it’s the idea of God becoming man, God becoming one of us. See, God is like those triplicate materials requisition forms we send to head office. The kind where what you write on the top part goes through to all three. But then God Himself rips out one of the pages — let’s call it the middle one — and then the letter to the Philippians tells us that that part of God took on the role of a servant and entered into the human condition even to the point of experiencing human death, and a rather excruciating one at that.”

“So you’re talking about Jesus. You’re saying he was 50 percent man and 50 percent God. Like a centaur?”

“No it’s not 50/50, more like 100/100.”

“So that’s gotta hurt. Why would he do that?”

“Well that’s the Easter part, the atonement part. In another letter, to a young disciple named Timothy, the same writer wrote that ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I’m the worst.'”

“The guy who wrote part of the Bible said he was the worst?”

“Jesus himself said he ‘came into the world to look for and save people who were lost.’ In another part he said that he came into the world to give his life as a ransom payment for many; and in yet another written account of his life we read that he didn’t come to condemn — which is what a lot of people think church is all about lately — but that through him everybody could have eternal life.”

“So you’re talking about going to heaven when you die?”

“Well, actually, eternal life starts now.”

“How come I never heard that at a Christmas service before?”

“You did, but you probably weren’t tuned in to it. You heard the carols, but missed the connection between incarnation and atonement, and you can’t have the one without the other. Ultimately, Jesus — the baby in the manger — came to die for the world, for me, for you.”

“Wow;” Doug said, “I never heard it like that.”

 

 

 

Phil 2, I Tim 1:15, Luke 19:10, Matthew 20:28, John 3:17

December 27, 2013

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of Mark

Filed under: Christmas, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This is from Clarke Dixon, a pastor in Cobourg, a city about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. I actually got to hear the first message in this series, The Christmas Story in the Gospel of Matthew, and then at the end he invited his parishioners to read the Christmas story in the second gospel for the following week… Click here to read at source where you’ll also find puppet scripts for the skits that accompanied each sermon.

When I began this series “Christmas According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” I invited the congregation to read through the story of Christmas as found in Mark. I could tell by some smiles that quite a number knew that there is no story of Christmas in Mark, no angels, no shepherds, no wise men, no manger scene, and of course no mention of all the traditions we tend to associate with Christmas. That a Gospel writer would miss entirely the Christmas story can be a good reminder to us that Christmas was not celebrated by the earliest of Christians with the same intensity we do today, much of how and when we celebrate being a matter of tradition rather than of obedience to the Bible. It also serves as a reminder that we ought not to think of the Gospels as “biographies.” A biography will often leave us inspired by a person while at the same time satisfying our curiosity by filling in the details of that person’s life. The Gospel writers will have failed in their quest if we find ourselves only inspired by Jesus, they instead want us to be committed to Jesus, and details can be irrelevant to that purpose. So Mark, likely the earliest written and definitely the shortest of the Gospels spares us the details and leads us straight to “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 NRSV).

So does this mean that Christmas itself is not in Mark’s Gospel? Consider the following (I have included the passage below for easy reference):

  • Mark 1:2 points us to Malachi 3:1 which refers to the coming not so much of a Messiah figure but actually God Himself. That’s a very Christmasy thought!
  • Mark 1:3 points us to Isaiah 40:3, where again the way is to be prepared for God Himself to come. Again, here is the essence of Christmas, that this Jesus is “God with Us.”
  • Mark 1:4-5 makes reference to a lot of people involved in confession and repentance. If you knew that God was to be on your doorstop tomorrow in all His glory, how would you prepare? It takes neither a Bible scholar nor a rocket scientist to figure out that confession and repentance is best and most natural response to the news of God’s arrival. We see people doing that right at the beginning in Mark’s account and again you can hear that echo of Christmas: “God is coming to us!”
  • Mark 1:7 lets us in on the what John the baptizer knows – He is unworthy of the One who is to come. There is an incomparable greatness in the One who is coming which makes perfect sense if God Himself is that One.
  • Mark 1:8 has John saying that while he can only baptize with water, the One to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Who can do that but God Himself? Again, God Himself is coming to us.
  • Mark 1:9,10 points to Isaiah 64:1 where Isaiah prays “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (NRSV). Isaiah’s prayer is answered through the miracle of Christmas.

So is Christmas found in Mark? Yes, right at the beginning of his account where you would expect it! Mind you, if you read through the Gospel in one sitting you will have the sense that Mark would rather have us focus on Easter. While the earliest of Christians in New Testament times did not celebrate Christmas, or even Easter the same way we do today, they did celebrate Christmas and Easter – every Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a special celebration! So Merry Christmas and Happy Lord’s Day!

Mark 1:1-11  NRSV

1. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;  3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”  4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

December 7, 2013

Show Me The Manger

I thought we’d take a break from yesterday’s busy day here at Thinking Out Loud. It’s been a couple of years since this first appeared here. My wife Ruth is a naturally gifted songwriter and singer. Her best writing is often centered on Christ’s birth (Christmas) and death (The Cross).  I hope you enjoy her song.

 

Show me the manger
Show me where life begins again
Show me the manger
Show me where hope and peace come breaking in
Show me the shelter and the family and the faces and the dawn
Of untidy love that’s forever, forever from now on
Once I’ve seen the manger
How could I ever turn away?

Show me the angels
Show me a hint of what Heaven can do
Show me the star now
Show me a flash of forever shining through
Show me the beauty and the glory and the music and the flame
Show me the power of the promise and the power of the Name
Once I’ve seen the glory
How could I ever turn away?

Show me the baby
Though I don’t begin to understand
How such an ordinary baby
Could be God becoming man
Could he be born to live to die to live again?
To be the life, be the way, be the truth, be the plan
Once I’ve seen the baby
How could I ever turn away?

Show me the manger, show me the family,
Show me the angels, show me the star now
But once I’ve seen the Savior,
I will never turn away.

November 27, 2011

A Classic Author and Some Excellent Advent Reading

I’ve said before here that if you want to really balance your intake of Christian books, you should alternate contemporary authors with classic authors.  Today’s book review is about the latter.

It’s also popular for many people to each year purchase a book of meditations or devotions for the season of Advent, however the book under consideration today, while it is structured differently with four longer chapters, is in my opinion a viable alternative, a means of doing something completely different.  You might complete the 112-page book faster, but it is so rich, you’ll want to go back and reconsider some of it a second time.

Magnify the Lord is a collection of sermon manuscripts or transcripts that were given by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Westminster Chapel, London;  delivered in 1959 on Christmas Sunday, Christmas Eve, the last Sunday of December and New Year’s Eve.

The subject is ten verses in Luke 1; verses 46-55, the passage we know by its Latin name, The Magnificat, or by a more contemporary name as Mary’s Song.  This outburst of praise is not light reading, but incorporates a host of references to Old Testament passages, and also serves as a springboard to a study of God’s greater design, occurring as it does at the prime moment where the culmination of God’s plan is about to occur with the incarnation.

Because these were sermons, I actually read the first chapter out loud, which makes for a better articulation of the cadence and rhythm of the work.  In print, with some rather haphazard subtitles that break the manuscript with a form that’s unclear, it might be easier to lose your way if you don’t think of it as intended to be received orally, and hear it that way in your mind as you read.

The sermons don’t present the text in the exact verse order as does Luke, but what is more remarkable here is the employment of related texts, something increasingly missing in modern preaching. It’s easy to read the sermon texts of long-departed pulpit statesmen and say, “Well, we don’t talk like that these days;” or “People had longer attention spans back then;” but these arguments pale somewhat when you consider that Lloyd-Jones’ sermons here are from barely 50 years ago.  I wonder if it’s really spiritual ADD that we’re dealing with today.

Lloyd-Jones also addressed the fact that even today, many Evangelicals shy away from Mary as a Bible study topic because of the over-emphasis on her that we find in Roman Catholic tradition.  You see this most clearly in a passage I excerpted at my other blog.  He also addresses contemporary philosophies of Bible interpretation which are continuing to invade the modern church.  

…Mary was a person not unlike you and I in many ways who God chose to use in a miraculous way.  At first, she hesitated as anyone would under the circumstances, but she realizes that she is chosen to be a part of a pivotal time in Israel’s history, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones clearly illuminates that her understanding of what God is about to do is the key to her response.

Thanks to Christian Focus Publications for a copy of this 2011 re-issue of an excellent book, which retails in paperback in the U.S. for $9.99

November 21, 2011

When The Manger Scene is Too Neat and Tidy

This was composed and recorded by a very good friend of mine.  Kick back for five minutes and consider what the scene at the back of the Bethlehem Inn really looked like those first few nights.

I have a little manger scene I unpack every year,
I put it on the mantle way up high
Safe from puppy dogs, little hands and wrestling adolescents,
Who might break a piece and make me want to cry.

I’ve had that little manger scene of china and of glaze,
Since I was just a kid of 4 or 5
For years and years I looked at it believing every line,
Cause it made the ancient story come alive

It makes me sentimental,  Though I know it didn’t happen quite that way
A little poetic license is OK.

In my little manger scene Mary’s got blue eyes,
she’s dressed in silk and satin like a queen
Joseph’s beard is neat and trim, just like his fingernails,
And everybody’s handsome and serene

The swaddled baby’s smiling up at three wise men standing guard,
So noble, not a sunburn neath their crowns
They’re hanging with the shepherds who are kneeling squeaky clean
on golden straw carpeting the ground

It’s all sleek and smooth and shining,
Tho’ I know it wasn’t quite like that, don’t you?
The truth is not quite so pretty, but it’s true

I bet Mary, she was saddle sore and Joseph couldn’t sleep
The wise men smelled like camels and the shepherds smelled like sheep
And the stable smelled like cattle and the things that cattle do
The baby woke up hungry every morning, half past two
And the straw got into everything, your shoes and in your hair
In the food and in the beds and on your nerves and everywhere

But our Mary, she’s no china doll, she’s a fighter through and through,
Joseph knows he has a job to do
There isn’t any stopping them, there isn’t any doubt,
Together they will see this journey through.

‘Cause she, she was a warrior, he was her strong right arm,
In a battle that they couldn’t comprehend
That baby was a treasure who would ransom all the world,
They’d carry him until he took his stand.

Even though Mary, she was saddle sore and Joseph couldn’t sleep
The wise men smelled like camels and the shepherds smelled like sheep
And the stable smelled like cattle and the things that cattle do
The baby woke up hungry every morning, half past two
And the straw got into everything, your shoes and in your hair
In the food and in the beds and on your nerves and everywhere

So if in my little manger scene, they look a little glazed
A little poetic license is OK.
Though I know it didn’t happen quite that way.

©2011 Ruth Wilkinson

January 12, 2011

Wednesday Link List

A rather bizarre lynx links list this week if I say so myself…so we brought back the Iberian Lynx for only the second time ever…

  • Tomorrow, this blog is one of the stops on a blog tour promoting W. P. Campbell’s book, Turning Controversy Into Ministry, a study of the church’s response to homosexuality.  I’ll be reviewing chapter ten, a pivotal chapter that kicks off the practical part of the book, Section III.
  • The video to watch this week is the young Lutheran boy who really gets down to preachin’ it in Jesus in Every Book of the Bible.
  • Top blog post this week — but it will take you a few minutes — is Darlene Parsons’ excellent analogy concerning cilantro and legalism.  Well written with a sharp taste just like the herb in question.  Don’t miss this.
  • At Q-Blog, Andy Couch brings a list of the top ten cultural trends of the last decade includes a few that may surprise.
  • Apparently signs at church exits stating, “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field” are more widespread than I realized.
  • Shane Claiborne visits a Christian bookstore only to find it freshly stocked with military merchandise and regalia. “Studies show that not only is the institutional church hemorrhaging economically, but the Christian industrial complex is in really bad shape…”
  • And in a somewhat related post, Shaun Groves gets ready to record his first studio album in five years, and carefully notes the way the Christian music industry has changed.
  • I’ve heard this story presented as a sermon illustration, but didn’t know there was actual video available. It should be called ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway,’ because over a thousand people were asleep at the switch. Watch for a few minutes before reading the full story.
  • Zac Hicks thinks that worship leaders have a major obligation to present orthodox theology. “A great place to start is by studying the attributes of God, and particularly His incommunicable attributes (those characteristics of God which he does not share with humanity).”  Read more and bookmark this site if you are responsible for weekend worship in your community.
  • Ron Edmondson’s 10-year-old son figures when we get to heaven, they’ll have “one contemporary service and one traditional.”  Ron’s not so sure.
  • Think before you answer this one:  Did Jesus ever get the flu?  You might be surprised at Russell D. Moore’s answer.
  • Here we go again:  A Canadian Senator wants to criminalize spanking children.  Be sure to read the anecdote that Michael Coren relays before you think this isn’t a major issue.
  • Are dead birds falling from the sky a sign of the end times?  Former Left Behind movie actor Kirk Cameron thinks a reporter would do better to call a veterinarian.
  • True, Steve Saint is the son of South American missionary martyr Nate Saint; but also has an identity that’s all his own that springs from his own response to events that January day in 1956.  Such as working for Mission Aviation Fellowship.  Including going back to the same tribe that killed his father.  Lately, he’s been busy building a flying car.  Yes, you read that right.
  • If you enjoyed yesterday’s top Christian books chart here yesterday, you’ll really enjoy the U.S. Top 100 Christian Books for 2010 posted at Michael Hyatt’s blog.
  • The Toronto Star profiles Aiden Enns and his unusual Christian magazine, Geez, a faith magazine for the unchurched.  (Geez is the name that won out over Cripes.  Seriously.)   Enns got the idea for the magazine while working for Adbusters.
  • Here’s a video link to a great Sonicflood song from a couple of years back: Psalm 91.
  • Most comments indicated that this editorial on all things Crystal Cathedral was a miss more than a hit.
  • The Bible makes it into Gasoline Alley.  Not in a good way, though. At the blog The Comics Curmudgeon, a post last week focused on spiritual themes and noted in this case, “Gasoline Alley has continued its attempt to ditch its goody-goody image by dabbling in blasphemy. Today [Jan 5] it suggests that the Holy Bible is best used as a weight-loss aid.”  See for yourself:

  • Then again, I thought we needed a better note to end this week’s list on, so seeing it’s just a few days past Epiphany, this one from Sacred Sandwich seems to be timed just right:

December 19, 2010

A Social Networking Christmas

Filed under: Christmas — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:50 pm

What if Jesus had been born into a world of internet social connection?  This is a clip from Igniter Media that was available for churches to buy a license to use this Christmas.     Very well done!

December 10, 2010

Enjoying Christmas Without Missing the Point

Regular readers here at Thinking Out Loud will notice something different today.   One of this blog’s distinctives has been not relying on video embeds for daily post content.   But the one I’m embedding today is somewhat special.

It’s not the musical quality, or the recording quality; it’s just my wife and I with some extra time on Wednesday, and a desire to share with my blog audience a song I’ve been singing somewhere every Christmas for a rather long number of years.

There’s something about being “home for Christmas;” something about the fact the pace of life slows down for a day or two.   No wonder that it’s so difficult for people who are alone on December 25th; being with friends or family seems to define the day.    (Which is why people where I live are reviving the annual “Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day” for people who don’t have close family, or can’t afford all the trimmings of the season.)

We didn’t have time to do this up as professionally as we might have, but I hope you’ll kick back and enjoy the song and its ideas.   Most of the technical work was that of my wife, Ruth; who, on some of this, was learning on the fly.   If we could ever cut loose from our individual projects, we could be the Christian version of Pomplamouse!

Most important, I hope you’ll reconnect with the thought that the familiar “birth of Christ” narrative in Luke is the start of much, much longer story.   One that continues into eternity.

Canadian readers:  Don’t forget you can still contribute to our Salvation Army iKettle.   Donations stay with your community.   More details here; or go direct to our iKettle.

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