Jesus as The Way

 “Jesus as the truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way.” – Eugene Peterson

We cannot skip the way of Jesus in our hurry to get the truth of Jesus as he is worshiped and proclaimed. The way of Jesus is the way that we practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus, living Jesus in our homes and workplaces, with our friends and family.

The local congregation is the place and community for listening to and obeying Christ’s commands, for inviting people to consider and respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” a place and community for worshiping God. It is the place and community where we are baptized into a Trinitarian identity and go on to mature “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), where we can be taught the Scriptures and learn to discern the ways that we follow Jesus, the Way.

The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with the particulars and people we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and personal. Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal.  The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denigrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. *

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Now playing: Cooper – Until
via FoxyTunes

* Peterson, Eugene. The Jesus Way: A Conversation About the Ways that Jesus is The Way. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007

Inertia

I read recently (in what book I can’t remember, and I haven’t found it again yet) a phrase that really struck me. It was the “inertia of disobedience.” Wow, is that ever true!

When we begin to disobey it takes on an inertia all of its own that results in us being a lot further off the path of godliness than we ever intended.

The converse is that I believe there is an inertia of obedience as well. Each decision to obey that we make deepens the pattern of obedience in our life. And each positive decision is a “cross-training” of sorts. For example, I have noticed that fasting regularly increases general self-discipline when it comes to making other decisions to deny oneself.
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Now playing: Brian Dunning, Jeff Johnson, John Fitzpatrick & Jozef Lupták – Jesus, Remember Me
via FoxyTunes

Conversion to a New Culture

For some years I have been saying to anyone who will listen that the Bible, and specifically the Torah, is a cultural manual for God’s people. If Christianity is inherently communal (and it is), then Scripture provides the outline for the culture that is to form and to characterize Christian communities.

It is encouraging, therefore, to read other believers discovering some of the same truths. This is an excerpt from an excellent book I’m reading right now titled, Inhabiting the Church: Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism.

John Alexander, who was for many years the pastor of the Church of the Sojourners community in San Francisco, once wrote an essay that he called the “Apache Document,” proposing this scenario to his readers:

Suppose a white person went to Arizona for a weekend and came back saying he’d become an Apache. He still talked the same, he still lived in the same place, he still related to nature the same way, he still talked to everyone he saw, and he didn’t spend much time with Apaches. The only change you could see was that he wore buckskin Sunday mornings and went around telling people he’d become an Apache.

What would you think? I’d think it was odd. I’d suspect he hadn’t joined the Apache tribe in any meaningful sense.*

Alexander’s point, of course, was that we don’t usually think about conversion as joining a tribe. Yes, we talk a good bit about conversion. And, yes, most Christians learn how to look like a Christian on Sunday mornings. But there is little evidence that most of American Christianity actually believes that the gospel offers us a new culture–a new ethnic identity in our sea of multiculturalism.

But if God really has made us part of a holy people, then we have been baptized into a new family whose way of living calls into question all the practices of our different cultures. This is not to say that black Christians have to become white or that Latinos need to act black, but rather that black, white, and Latino must become Christian. First Christian, then white. First Christian, then black. First Christian, then Latino. For Christianity is a culture–a set of beliefs and stories and practices that shapes our vision of the world around us and the decisions we make about ways to act in the world. Christianity is not a culture wholly incompatible with black culture or with white American culture, with Hindu culture or with Arabic culture. But it is a culture that calls every human practice into question.**

Like I was saying the other day, the Gospel is designed to permeate every fiber of our being and to transform us; from the way we talk to the way we think, from the way we eat to the way plan.

 

*Alexander, “On Becoming an Apache.”

**Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonothan, “Conversion” – an essay in the book Inhabiting the Church: Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism by Jon Stock, Tim Otto and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

My Sentiments Exactly

Close your eyes, friend, and imagine. You’re high up in the air, in an aisle seat, looking past your neighbor and out the window. Down below you is a mass of cloud cover looking like fresh snow, marbled, marked with divots and craggy monuments of white. Imagine that your understanding of reality is defined by this view: what you see out the window and what’s proximate to you there in the plane’s cabin. The airplane and its passengers are what you might call a small, unique closed system moving inside what appears to be vast space with a visible boundary of white mass below.

Many well-meaning Christians, gathered together in various sects, present Christianity in just this way. They invite you to view reality from a very small window, and they are quite certain they’re providing you with an absolute objective view of reality. If you join them, you are expected to see as the sect sees. Failure to embrace their view of reality is sometimes commensurate with failure to be a follower of Jesus. And when people say you’re not a follower and you are, it is very hurtful–and very troubling. (pg 7)

– from New Way to Be Human by Charlie Peacock

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Now playing: Sons Of Korah – Psalm 128 Olive Plants
via FoxyTunes

Culture

I want to energize cultural shift; I want to invigorate soul healing; I want to ooze the Gospel. I am stymied in this desire by a cultural misperception of what the Gospel is designed to permeate. I believe that the Gospel does exactly that – permeates – leaves no stone unturned, penetrates to our core and transforms from the inside out. But North American Christians don’t expect to have their lives over turned by the Gospel. After all, many of them “received” the Gospel years ago and it hasn’t radicalized much since then!

Eugene Peterson conveys my thoughts well…

My concern is provoked by the observation that so many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus, without hesitation, and apparently without thinking, embrace the ways and means of the culture as they go about their daily living “in Jesus’ name.” But the ways that dominate our culture have been developed either in ignorance or in defiance of the ways that Jesus uses to lead us as we walk the streets and alleys, hike the trails, and drive the roads in this God-created, God-saved, God-blessed, God-ruled world in which we find ourselves. They seem to suppose that “getting on in the world” means getting on in the world on the world’s terms, and that the ways of Jesus are useful only in a compartmentalized area of life labeled “religious.” (pg 1)

The prevailing ways and means curricula in which we are all immersed in North America are designed to help us get ahead in whatever field of work we find ourselves…The courses first instruct us in skills and principles that we are told are foundational and then motivate us to use these skills so that we can get what we want out of this shrunken, desiccated “world, flesh, and devil” field. And of course it works wonderfully as long as we are working in that particular field in which getting things done is the “end.” (pg 2)

When it comes to persons, these ways of the world are terribly destructive. They are highly effective in getting ahead in a God-indifferent world, but not in the community of Jesus, not in the kingdom of God. We uncritically accept these curricula as our primary orientation in how to get on in this world, we naively embrace the very temptations of the devil that Jesus so definitely vetoed and rebuked. (pg 3)

Warnings are frequently and prominently posted by our sages and prophets to let us know that these purely pragmatic ways and means of the world weaken and enervate the community of the baptized. The whole North American ways and means culture, from assumptions to tactics, is counter to the rich and textured narrative laid out for us in our Scriptures regarding walking in the way of righteousness, running in the way of the commandments, following Jesus. In matters of ways and means, the world gives scant attention to what it means to live, to really live, to live eternal life in ordinary time: God is not worshiped, Jesus is not followed, the Spirit is not given a voice. (pg 3)[i]

This is what I want for my family, for my congregation, and for Christians everywhere. To live in technicolor, to truly be a firstfruit of the world to come when all will have been not only redeemed, but re-made by Messiah. This will require a new comprehension of the ongoing nature of conversion, and a renewed commitment to the body (the community) of Messiah over and above our personal obsession with God’s salvific work in our person.


[i] Peterson, Eugene H. The Jesus Way: A Conversation On The Ways that Jesus is the Way. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007.

Now Listening: Jason Upton – Remember – Fly

Now Reading: Inhabiting the Church by John Stock, et al, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson and On the Way to Jesus Christ by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

WWJD

In recent days I have been talking often about the human propensity to ride a pendulum and a related issue that is actually what I want to comment on today.

I often find myself in the position of discussing a truth that has been widely accepted.  It is so easy to be understood as attacking that idea, when in reality I usually want to affirm that a particular idea is true, but there is more to it than is commonly perceived.  In other words, “that is true but here is the rest of the story.”  Yet again, “let’s expand your understanding of that idea, but I don’t want to swing your pendulum all the way to the other side of the spectrum.”  I’m not talking true and false here, but true and “truer.” 

Am I in any way suggesting that truth is relative?  Absolutely not!  On the other hand, while truth is absolute our perception and understanding of it is rather subjective, and prone to misapprehension.

The bracelets and the concept of WWJD or “What Would Jesus Do?” is a great example.  Is it a good idea to focus on trying to act as Jesus would act? Most certainly.  It’s a great idea. However, if we are suggesting that in momentary occasions we can significantly modify our responses to mirror those Jesus might make/have made by wearing a WWJD bracelet, we are fooling ourselves.

The significance of the WWJD bracelet is in conforming the day-to-day pattern of our normative lives to the same pattern that Jesus lived out.  In other words, if we hope to respond to crisis moments like Jesus, then we have to pattern the non-crisis moments of our lives to His habits.

So the most important times to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” is not when a crisis strikes–we will respond instinctually at that moment–but at the beginning of each day, or better yet when planning the next day, week or month. Thus we will form our instinctual responses as a pattern of transformation takes hold in our lives.

See what I mean? True and true-er, not true and false.