Doing Right Things

After reading the last post, you can probably surmise that my dad did things right. We had the best crops in the area with rows straight as an arrow. My dad loved driving down the field roads admiring the crops. We stacked hay on the hay-wagons with perfection – exactly 105 bales on each wagon load. We had a premier dairy herd, finishing 1968 with the highest producing herd in the state of Minnesota. And he had only been a dairy farmer for 17 years. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, right?

In fairness to my dad, his success as a farmer was directly related to the fact that he did right things. Anyone can plant corn in straight rows. But my dad was a good steward of the land. He applied humus (manure) to the soil, working it in to prepare a good seedbed. He was also a model conservationist. He rotated crops and allowed land to rest every seven years – a long-lost conservation practice. He treated the cows in a similar manner – allowing plenty of rest between lactations. Doing right things led to his agrarian success. So, how does this apply to our faith journeys?

Jesus told a lot of agrarian-related stories (parables), many focused on doing right things. Living in a highly agrarian culture, his followers were able to understand. Though our culture isn’t agrarian, we can certainly glean (no pun intended) from his stories.

The last post intimated that the Jesus way of doing life entailed doing right things, contrasted with the first century religious leaders who focused on doing things right. Grace versus law. First things first. We also suggested that we westerners tend to focus on doing things right, focusing on second things (and I would suggest western Christians are no different than others).

Did you know that the main topic of Jesus’ story-telling focused on the kingdom of God? Of the 34 parables recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew,* Mark, and Luke), 19 address the nature of the kingdom of God and/or life in the kingdom. Likewise, did you know Jesus’ primary message to his hearers was focused on the kingdom of God? Many don’t. In fact, while preaching at a “bible-believing” church a few years ago, I talked about this focus of Jesus. I was inundated after the service by a number of longtime parishioners indicating this was unknown to them.

With an understanding of Jesus’ focus on the kingdom, Matthew 6:33 makes a lot of sense – seeking first God’s kingdom and the associated righteousness. First things, doing right things. Then (and I would propose, only then) would the things we need for living be provided by Him. What does it mean to seek God’s kingdom? That’s a conversation for another post. However, here’s a hint: Jesus wasn’t talking about Heaven.* Meanwhile, as you read the Gospels, pay attention to how often Jesus talks about God’s kingdom and listen to what he is really saying. You might be surprised!

* It’s important to understand that Matthew used the term “kingdom of Heaven” which scholars agree equates with “kingdom of God” language used by Mark and Luke. However, this distinction may have led people to view the kingdom of God as simply Heaven. NT Wright suggests (a bit tongue-in-cheek) that this view might have been perpetuated by well-meaning people, intent on reading the Gospels, who started by reading Matthew first and quit part-way through, thus never encountering “kingdom of God” in Mark or Luke. 😉

Which Jesus do we “Follow?”

Over the past 15-20 years, many people have preferred to refer to themselves as Christ-followers rather than Christians, of which I am one. However, what following looks like has everything to do with who we understand Jesus to be and what he is up to in the 21st century.

In the last post, I suggested that there is a significant difference between “believing” and “following.” I would further suggest that we consider the difference to be related to who we understand Jesus to be, rather than a mere definition differentiation of the two terms. It is important that we distinguish between cognitive belief, typical of 21st century western thought, and pisteuō, the Greek New Testament word often translated as “believe.” It might have more to do with who we want Jesus to be in our day-to-day lives.

What if I view Jesus in a transactional manner – meaning, he came, died and rose for the forgiveness of my sins with my acceptance of his action as a completion of the transaction? How might that affect who Jesus is to me? How might that affect daily life? I would propose that a transactional understanding of faith leads to a ‘static’ Jesus – he came to earth, did his job, and returned to heaven awaiting our arrival (unless he comes back to get us first). It’s the Jesus of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism! Consider what a static Jesus looks like…

In truth, the “Jesus card” (above) that we gave the confirmation kids depicts a static Jesus – he’s not moving. Since he’s not moving, I can move toward and away from with ease and regularity. If I need him, I know where to find him – he’s right where I left him (i.e., I can leave him at Church and come back to see him the following week(s)). A static Jesus is safe and predictable and will not mess with my world. This is the Jesus of western cultural Christianity, the one we manipulate* so we can live a nice, civilized life. His job is to make us happy. With this Jesus, it’s mostly about me and sometimes about him. This Jesus won’t ask much of me. This Jesus will randomly ask us to serve others to appease him and to feel better about ourselves. I can’t follow a static Jesus (he’s not moving!). I can only “believe” in him. This all begs the question: “How can I have a dynamic relationship with a static Jesus?”

In reality, Jesus is on the move, advancing the kingdom work he inaugurated 2000+ years ago. As confirmation classes progressed, we helped the kids understand this. What changes for me if I see Jesus as present and on the move? Everything!

The Jesus depicted above is not static. He invaded our world 2000 years ago and turned things upside down.  This Jesus is on the move and has invited me to join him in his movement – the advancement of his kingdom.  If I choose to walk away from this Jesus for a while, he moves on without me because it’s not about me – it’s all about Him.  This Jesus asks for a lot – all of me.  This Jesus says that our primary purpose on earth is to serve others.  This is the Jesus of Christ-followers.  This Jesus is worth following and makes my following worthwhile.  This is the Jesus of scripture.  THIS IS THE REAL JESUS. Oh, and I can have a dynamic relationship with this Jesus!

I would suggest that if we find ourselves with a static Jesus, we don’t really know him. We have built a faith primarily on knowing about him. Consider that the Pharisees primarily had a static view of God. We certainly don’t want to align our theology with the Pharisees, but many of us have. How we follow is affected by how we view Jesus. Which Jesus do you “follow?”


For Your Consideration:

“It was the good (and extremely dangerous) news that the living God was on the move. Jesus came to Galilee as a wandering prophet, not a stationary one. Jesus’s contemporaries trusted all sorts of things: their ancestry, their land, their Temple, their laws.  Even their God – provided this God did exactly as they expected him to” (my emphasis). (From NT Wright in Mark for Everyone – comments regarding Mark 1:14-20.)


* The most accurate definition of idolatry is “conscious manipulation of God.”

Getting Close to Jesus…

Spoiler alert. This is part one of a two (or more) part series of posts. I am committed to keeping posts short for readability, thus the need for multiple editions. You’ll understand the reason as we continue…

A dozen years ago, I was prepping for a confirmation retreat for about 50 kids and their leaders. The intent of the retreat was to provide the kids with the opportunity to respond to what they were discovering about Jesus. Our hope was that they might choose to follow the Jesus that came for us – the One who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sin and was resurrected, paving the way to life eternal. In light of the discussions of the last post, we did NOT want to present them with the typical invitation to declare a cognitive belief. We did not want to lead to the misconception that the Christian faith is primarily a transactional act. So we tried something different…

At the beginning of the weekend, we gave the kids a card with “Jesus” on the center. We asked the kids to put an “X” on the card to describe how close they thought they were to Jesus, then discuss with their small group. There was a girl in the group who knew all the Jesus stories, having attended Sunday School all her life and now confirmation. She placed her “X” right next to Jesus, a bit proud of her knowledge of what Jesus had done for her in dying for her sins so that she could go to heaven.

Then there was Levi (not his real name). He placed a tiny “x” in the lower left-hand corner, as far away from Jesus as possible. I think he might have actually placed it on the backside of the card, had that been an option. When asked about the placement of his “x” on the “Jesus Card,” Levi explained to his small group that he knew very little about Jesus and what he did know came mostly from his first semester of confirmation. He wasn’t opposed to Jesus, just far away.

As the weekend progressed, we helped the kids understand belief/faith in terms of pisteuō (trust, reliance, adherence). We helped them understand that pisteuō is really a following term and that following implies direction (i.e., if I’m following someone, then I need to go where they are going). So we had the kids put an arrow on their “X” indicating direction in relation to Jesus. The exercise was transformative for many of the kids, especially Levi and the girl (we should give her a name – let’s call her Judy).

Judy sadly had to admit that she was actually moving away from Jesus. Though she was knowledgeable about Jesus, the exercise caused her to realize that she had no interest in following Him. She was focused on what Jesus could do for her (see Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) and wasn’t interested in giving him permission to run her life. Levi, on the other hand, was elated to to discover that he was actually moving toward Jesus. In fact, his arrow was fat and long in order to communicate to his small group that he was well on his way.

Yes, Levi was well on his way. He began to follow Jesus that weekend, learning to pisteuō Him, continuing the journey today. Judy struggled. She wanted to stand on what she cognitively believed, but did not want to give Jesus the reigns. Transactional (or positional) belief in God is not what Jesus calls us to. In fact, I would suggest that it gets it the way of actually following Him. You’ll want to come back to the next posting in which we will compare and contrast “belief” with “following.” In the meantime, think about how you might have marked the “Jesus Card” in the past. Or in the present.

Now Let’s Go!

If you have never watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk in which he talks about “Why” before “What” and “How,” you must. Sinek reminds us that knowing what we do and how to do it doesn’t serve us well in life, individually or when we lead others.

When I quit practicing the Christian disciplines close to 40 years ago, I sensed God saying, “Do you know how long I’ve waited for you to quit? Now let’s go.” What did “Now let’s go” mean? It meant going right back to practicing the disciplines in almost the same manner as before. So, what was different?

Everything! I knew how to practice disciplines. I knew what to do. And I thought I knew why I was practicing them. It was my version of “why” that was at issue. In the context of wanting to serve God well, I focused on reading and studying scripture (as well as praying) primarily “so that” my ministry might succeed (or, not fail). Plus, I wanted to be a better Christian. A noble quest. It was after our cross-county move and with no ministry left in the equation that I quit. I lost the motivation to continue.

I see “Why” and motivation as quite similar. The definition of motivation implies the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. My motivation was to succeed and to be a good Christian. Two issues with that:

  1. God never asks us to be successful. He only asks us to be faithful. When orphans were starving in India at a greater rate than her little orphanage could serve, Mother Theresa was asked by a reporter how she could feel any sense of success. Her response? God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful. In western thought, we have equated success and faithfulness. The sooner we figure that out (change our minds, repent), the sooner we can get on with a full life.
  2. God never asks us to be good Christians. Read the scriptures. Read the Gospels. It’s not there! The Pharisees – a sect of religious leaders in Jesus’ day – fell into the false understanding that it was their job to read and study the scriptures so that they could be good Israelites. All God ever asked of the them was loyalty to Him and thus his creation (this is the essence of the two great commandments of which Jesus spoke and the words of Micah, the prophet).

The Pharisees’ motivation was clear, but wrong. They knew their reason for acting and behaving in a particular way. And they were sincere – very sincere. But wrong. Their “why” did not line up with God’s. They were disciplined in their search of scripture, looking for life yet missed life when it was revealed through Jesus.

Likewise, I was sincere and disciplined in searching the scriptures, but for wrong reasons. The Celebration of Discipline was initially an unhealthy read for me. I thought I was to try to conquer the disciplines (succeed). As I strove to succeed at practicing the disciplines, it felt like I was spinning plates. At some point, I listened to a cassette tape by the author, Richard Foster, talking about the disciplines, reminding us that the purpose of the disciplines is to place us in front of the Father so he can transform us. THAT was transformative and freeing! Once again, my “why” had shifted.

Oh that we could have eyes to see and ears to hear that much of what motivates us is cultural and not biblical. Father, show us where we might be missing the mark.

Circa 1981…I Quit!

After eight years of serving as a volunteer Young Life leader, we were surprised when God lead us away from our comfortable life and vibrant ministry to…[wait for it]… Muskogee, OK, “a place where even squares can have a ball” (Merle Haagard). We were 750 miles from anything familiar – job, family, stores, church, ministry, etc. We were experiencing a mix of adventure and loss.

I took my faith seriously. I tried to practice the classical disciplines described in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (well, sort of – 3 of the 12 disciplines). I read and studied scripture and prayed regularly – almost daily. A few weeks after our move and the start of a new job, something strange happened regarding the practice of the disciplines – I QUIT!

One morning while biking to work, I was wondering about why I had quit, why I had zero motivation to read, study, and pray. From somewhere inside my head I heard, “Do you know how long I’ve waited for you to quit? Now let’s go.” I can’t say that I audibly hear God’s voice on a regular basis, but I am pretty (very) sure God was speaking to me that morning. And I had no doubt what he meant. Looking back, I realized that all my reading, studying, and praying had a “so that” attached. I think I attended to these disciplines so that the ministry I led would be successful. Understand – I certainly benefited from all my reading and studying, but apparently something was amiss.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what was amiss, but I was sure that God wanted me to go right back to reading, studying, and praying (I suspect it’s what “Now let’s go” was all about). I found a greasy spoon restaurant near my work (circa 1981 was pre-coffee shops) and determined to stop there every morning before work to read and spend time with God. The restaurant opened at 5:00a and I gave God permission (like he needed my permission) to wake me up whenever he wanted. 4:30a became quite common! As I am wont to do, I purchased a used Amplified New Testament, a translation unfamiliar to me, and dove in. The Amplified translation expands the English to better align with the richness of the original Greek. One morning, about 6:00a, I stumbled across this…

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out-flowing from His resurrection… (Philippians 3:10, AMPC)

This resonated deep within my being. I parked on the passage for a some time, pondering its significance. When he wrote this, the Apostle Paul was in jail in Rome, awaiting trial, aware that the outcome might be his death. And yet, his determined purpose was to progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Jesus, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly! Paul, one of the most successful ministers ever, the writer of much of the New Testament, was focused not on his ministry, but on progressively knowing Jesus! I discovered what was amiss. I was so focused on the success of my ministry that I lost sight of simply knowing Jesus. So, with determination, I set out to progressively know Jesus more deeply and intimately.

We can be so busy working for God that we totally miss Him. A couple years ago I graded papers written by people after they read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. There was a common theme in the papers: I am so busy working for God that I don’t have time to spend with him. Some even confessed a “so that” attachment to their devotion to God. I prayed for them – that they might quit some day. I’m sure glad I did!

The Visible Expression of the Invisible God…

Circa 1973. God had drawn me into youth ministry through Young Life, a non-denominational outreach to teenagers. I was serving teenagers in my hometown, working full-time, and pursuing an engineering degree taking classes a couple nights a week. In the midst of it all, I tried to read scripture with some consistency and with some success. In the 70s, we didn’t have the availability of scripture translations and paraphrases as we do today, but we had a few – King James, Revised Standard, New American Standard, The Living Bible, The Good News Bible, and a favorite of Young Life staff, the J.B. Phillips New Testament.

Early into my Young Life experience, at a volunteer leader training, we were pointed to Colossians 1:15Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God (Phillips). The passage, it was explained, was a cornerstone to Young Life talks – we wanted kids to know the real God and the real God made himself visible through Jesus. Jesus revealed God’s character, compassion, and heart for people. In preparing Young Life talks, I diligently worked at helping kids see this Jesus, the visible expression of the God they could not see. A few months into the beginning of my Young Life tenure as a volunteer leader, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t know God or Jesus, save a few stories I learned in Sunday School*…..

In the midst of a fairly busy schedule, I embarked on a year-long quest to know God. It didn’t start as a year-long quest. It started as a one-time reading of the the Gospels in my brand new J.B. Phillips New Testament, underlining and highlighting with a red colored pencil as I progressed. After an initial read, I decided to read them again – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – marking the pages with a different color. I was amazed to discover how much I didn’t observe in the first go-around. So I read them again. I soon realized that my eyes were drawn to passages that were already highlighted. So I bought a new bible of a different translation and repeated the process, highlighting new discoveries about Jesus (and thus about God).

Seven translations and a year later I felt I was ready to adequately venture into other parts of the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. As I look back 45 years, I have to believe that year was one of the most transformative experiences of my faith journey. It’s what likely saved me from the tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It set me up to know Jesus (not just about Jesus). It set me up to give decent Young Life talks. It set me up to be a better husband and father. It set me up to learn to read Scripture exegetically. IT SET ME UP FOR LIFE!

I am amazed how few people have actually read straight through the Gospels even one time, which is why I give everyone I mentor the exact same assignment – read through the Gospels. When done, I usually have them repeat the process. Invariably, I get the same response – it was a transformative experience (a common ‘practical theology’ theme, you’ll notice). If you happen to be one that has never done a read-through of the Gospels, then you know what I would suggest. I sincerely hope you would heed the suggestion. My heart aches when I realize how few Christians spend time in the Gospels, and thus with Jesus. How else will we ever know Him?

* I had the privilege of joining a group of people to hear George Barna give a researcher’s perspective of what is needed to develop our young people in today’s culture. He said research shows that most church children and youth teachings tend to focused only on about 20 basic Bible stories. (In one of these posts we will need to discuss “kindergarten faith.”)

How do we know…?

It was the mid-1980s, a couple years after discovering I wasn’t the Good Samaritan. I had taken some Young Life kids to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota for stress camping, hoping it would stretch their developing faith. It did just that, but I felt the experience was still a bit self-focused. So we decided in subsequent years to take kids out of their comfort zones into a serving capacity. What we did was a precursor to today’s mission trips. Our first trip was to Haiti. Our second trip was to Kansas City, MO, to work with Habitat for Humanity. The third trip was back to KC, helping a large, white, urban church re-purpose some underutilized space. They wanted to create a community ministry to their neighbors, including the construction of space for a food pantry.

To set up the trip, I visited the church to see what work needed to be done and to begin planning for the project (I convinced them, as an engineer, I could serve as the project foreman). During the trip, I spent much of my time with the pastor. He had a significantly different worldview than I did – enough that I knew I could/should learn from him. Still trying to figure out how to navigate and interpret scripture in an exegetical manner, I asked him, “How do we know how to interpret scripture properly? After all, we have been at this a lot of years, yet we seem to have a lot of differing opinions.” His response was transformative…

He reminded me that scripture should always be interpreted in context. (I knew this already, as did most people I suspected.) He went on to remind me that the broader the context, the better. (I think I knew this as well, but wasn’t sure how to do it practically.) The broadest possible context for interpretation, he suggested, is the entire Word of God – the whole Bible. (My first thought was, “Serious? How is that even practicable?”) Then he made a statement that sent chills through my body…

“And always remember,” he said, “the Word became became flesh (John 1, 14). If what you are reading doesn’t line up with Jesus’ words and deeds, then there is something else going on in the passage.” This resonated with me. This was such good news. I could wrap my head around the concept that all scripture needed to align with the Word that became flesh, with Jesus. This made scripture reading and honest attempts at interpretation possible and practical.

That was about 35 years ago. The adage that all scripture needs to align with Jesus has served me well all these years. Do I still have questions about the paradoxes presented in scripture? Absolutely! (Maybe even more questions as I get older.) But this I can rest on – with Jesus as my standard, I can live with the paradoxes. Why? The paradoxes drive me back to Jesus and the more time I spend with Him, the more I understand what God is up to. And the more time I spend with Jesus, the more my mind is shaped, allowing for transformation (Romans 12:2) – I actually start to become like him (Philippians 2:5-11).

“You are NOT the Good Samaritan”

Hearing this statement at a Young Life conference 35 years ago set me on the path to discovering the Jesus of scripture. The speaker (I think his name was Bob) wanted the audience to understand that we tend to eisegetically read scripture. Eisegesis was a newer term to me – one of those theological terms that I thought was of no practical use. The speaker proved to me otherwise.

Eisegetical scripture reading, Bob explained, happens when we read the text through the lens of what we already believe to be true. What we read is shaped by our preconceptions. As I took notes, this cognitively made sense to me. I prided myself that I certainly was above reading scripture through such lenses. Then the speaker rocked my world, wounded my pride, and pretty much disrupted everything for me.

Turning to Jesus’ parable we know as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Bob showed us just how real and subtly we read eisegetically. I remember him asking the audience, who in the story we most identified with. It seemed like we all figured we were the Good Samaritan, or at least tried to be. I know I assumed as much – after all, that’s what Jesus was asking of us, right? It’s what we learned in Sunday School.

Then the unraveling began. Bob helped us understand that Samaritans were despised (nay, hated) by Jesus’ audience, the Jewish theologians of the day. Some members of the Jewish nation had long prior compromised their charter and beliefs and married people outside their faith and ethnic group. These were the Samaritans. They were called half-breeds and dogs. When people traveled to Jerusalem from Galilee to honor God through the various annual festivals, they added days to their journey just to avoid Samaria. The parable, the story that Jesus told, was in response to a religious expert’s question:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”  The expert answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

As Jesus told the story, one could envision the legal expert understanding why the priest and Levite passed to the other side of the road, away from the robbery victim. They were on their way to serve in the Temple and contact with a bleeding person would have disqualified them to do their jobs. It was the law. However, what probably made the expert’s hair stand up on the back of his neck was Jesus’ introduction of the Samaritan as the ‘good guy.’

Wanting us to get the effect of what Jesus was saying to his audience 2000 years ago, Bob retold the story in modern terms. He talked about a pastor or a Young Life leader passing to the other side of the injured man. Then Bob went on to say, “But a Homosexual, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” The hair stood up on the back of my neck! Not so much because he said ‘homosexual’ but because he had messed with scripture, that he had messed with the neat, domesticated story I was so familiar with. I was no longer the good guy – that was no longer on the table as an option.

What’s more, Jesus’ primary point wasn’t to be a ‘good’ Samaritan. The expert wanted to know who his neighbor was. After hearing the parable, he had to admit that his neighbor was, in fact, the Samaritan (though he couldn’t bring himself to utter ‘Samaritan’), and that’s who he was to love.

Who might Jesus substitute for ‘Samaritan’ today, if he were to tell the story in a manner that might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? It’s an important question that we may not want to think about. Discovering the Jesus of scripture is a wonderful thing, but doesn’t come without the undoing of our domesticated version of Him or without some angst. But, as I said in the previous post, it’s well worth it!


Sunday School Answers

Billy attended school with me during my early Junior High days. He was in most of my classes. He was also our pastor’s son. He clued me in on something in seventh grade that might have had a larger impact on my life than I might have expected.

We were part of a Sunday School class of all boys (at least, that’s what I remember). I also remember that we were a typical group of seventh graders with built-in ADHHHD. Paying attention to the teacher or lesson was not high on our abilities or agendas (I suspect most of us were not in the class by choice). Billy’s clue was related to our Sunday School class. He told me he learned from his dad that if asked a question by the teacher and unsure of the answer, “Jesus” was always a safe response – a “Sunday School answer.”

One Sunday I was particularly distracted when, toward the end of class-time, our teacher asked me point-blank if I knew the answer to the question he had just asked. I had no idea what he had asked! And I was pretty sure he knew I hadn’t been paying attention – I suspect the question was his way of letting me know. Remembering Billy’s suggestion, I said, “Jesus!” emphatically and with confidence. The teacher looked a bit surprised and said something like, “Yes! And don’t ever forget it!” Class was over. I got the answer right and I didn’t even know what the question was!


“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock.

C. S. Lewis spoke of first things throughout his writings. Just yesterday I was speaking with someone who had recently stumbled onto one of his essays that pointed readers to first things. I wonder what Lewis’ answer would have been if asked, “What is the first thing?” I suspect he would have said, “Jesus!” emphatically and with confidence. And he wouldn’t have been offering up a Sunday School answer.

Today if asked about the first thing, I answer emphatically and with confidence, “Jesus!” Many would agree with me. However, the answer begs a follow-up question: “Which Jesus?” Sounds like an odd question, but not really. One could be talking about the Jesus of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, whose job is to make us happy and show up when we need him. Or the Jesus of economic prosperity who lavishes us with material blessings. Or the Jesus we draw into our political bents to help us gain control over the ‘other.’ Or the western version of Jesus (or eastern). Or a Jesus whose main role is to simply get us to heaven. These incomplete Jesuses are a result of putting second things first – which is what he can do for us.

The first thing must be the Jesus of scripture, the real Jesus, not a ‘Jesus’ informed by culture, ideologies, or what he can do for us. The first thing must be Jesus only. Period. It takes concerted time and effort to see past the pseudo-Jesuses to the Jesus of scripture. I speak from experience. I can also speak from experience that it is worth the time and effort. It’s transformative.

It all starts with an open, honest perspective of where one is now. So, ponder for a bit: In what ways might the ‘Jesus’ you know be shaped by outside ideologies?


Metamorfoo

The Monarch butterfly fascinates me. It always has. I remember back in grade school when our class’ pet caterpillar ate all the milkweed we could find to feed it. We watched it shed its skin several times before it hung upside down, shedding its skin for the last time during the pupa stage, becoming a beautiful green chrysalis. We watched with anticipation as the chrysalis slowly became transparent, revealing the butterfly that was developing inside. Metamorphosis. What a great idea! Only God could come up with such an idea.

In the Monarch butterfly metamorphosis process, the caterpillar has but one job – to eat and not be eaten. After eating its fill of milkweed, the caterpillar takes a two-week nap inside the chrysalis. While napping, God transforms it into an amazing butterfly with the same DNA, but a totally different look.

Metamorphosis!

The Apostle Paul, author of the letter to the first century Roman Christians, cautioned his readers not to be molded by the world around them but, instead, to be transformed from the inside out by the renewing their minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated as “transformed” is metamorphoo, from which we derive metamorphosis. Paul is telling the readers that in God’s economy, we are to act more like caterpillars rather than straining to become like butterflies. The economy of the world around us tells us we should strive to transform ourselves. Paul reminds us not to become molded by that approach, but to let God do the transforming through the renewing of our minds. But practically, how does that happen? A couple thoughts…

First, we need to learn not to conform. Or maybe choose not to conform. There were a lot of milkweed plants in the pasture on our family farm. I remember watching hundreds of caterpillars chomping away, focused on eating and not being eaten. I also noticed that the caterpillars were not at all tempted to join the cows as they ate the bountiful harvest of wild clover. They were not tempted to conform to what the cows around them were doing.

Second, we need to eat. God cannot transform a starving caterpillar. Nor can he transform people that aren’t taking in the nourishment that leads to a renewed mind. Consider this saying from the February 21 blog post…

If I keep on thinking what I’ve always thought,
then I’ll keep on perceiving what I’ve always perceived.
If I keep on perceiving what I’ve always perceived,
then I’ll keep on seeing what I’ve always seen.
If I keep on seeing what I’ve always seen,
then I’ll keep on doing what I’ve always done.
If I keep on doing what I’ve always done,
then I’ll keep on getting what I’ve always gotten.

This little verse is about change, about transformation. It starts with a change in our thinking; it ends with a transformed life. As we take in scripture, as we continuously hang out with the “visible expression of the invisible God” through the Gospels, and as we listen to messages that help us make sense of what we are reading, our minds are changed and renewed. Our main job is to let God’s thoughts permeate our minds and thoughts. Then, and only then, can God transform our behavior from the inside out. It’s his job and he’s really good at it. When we take the transformation process upon ourselves, we become become self-righteous moralists and are of little value to those around us who need to know Jesus.