In Luke 20, some teachers of the religious law try to entrap Jesus by asking him a tax question. Now, I don’t know about you but I usually don’t go around trying to field everybody’s tax questions and I often will quickly laugh and change the subject whenever a tax-philosophy is shared. Yet, these leaders wanted to put Jesus in a lose-lose scenario. You see, if Jesus told the people not to pay taxes, then he would be in trouble with the Roman authorities who had successfully squashed any notion of not contributing to the government from other Zealots. This would be the leaders best case scenario. However, if Jesus tells the people to pay their taxes and be good citizens, then in the view of the religious leaders, this stance would forfeit the Messianic fervor surrounding Jesus. He would be seen not as a rebel leader assumed in the notion of Messiah, but as a pawn of the Roman government that would be a far cry from the expectations of those following him. So, here is the story from Scripture, Luke 20:20-26.
20 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. 21 “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. 22 Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23 He saw through their trickery and said, 24 “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
25 “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
26 So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.
So, which side did Jesus take? If you’re confused then it’s okay, the teachers of religious law were too and it says they became silent! Jesus doesn’t pick a side, which might help us navigate other either/or false dichotomies that we face, but instead he presents a notion that there things reserved for Government and there are things reserved for God. The reservation is made by the word “belongs.” Therefore, we might notice that the trust of God is on our money, but the pictures are of our civc leaders and so Jesus is kind of saying that we must give to the government the stuff that bears the government’s image. Meanwhile, we are to give to God the stuff that belongs to God because it bears the Father’s image. And what we don’t want to do is give to the government that which belongs to God and think that God overly cares about our gifts of stuff that has the government’s pictures all over it.
They failed to trap him…and often that is what Christians face is entrapment when we are met with a political philosophy or a dichotomy that asks us to choose between supporting A or B. I pray that we seek the wisdom to be people of high standing in the Kingdom of God and be people who discern the proper images on our stuff. Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” May this not simply guide our tax payments, but may we think about this in all our life’s arenas.
Matthew 27:32–34; Mark 15:20-24; Luke 23:26
Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount the idea of service, he said if anyone asks us to walk a mile with them, go another mile. Roman soldiers were able to command those they protected to carry their belongings for one mile…a repayment to their service. Simon of Cyrene stumbled upon this as he entered Jerusalem at the end of his pilgrimage. A man who lacked the ability to walk his cross to the place of death needed help.
The Roman soldiers, recognizing that Jesus didn't have sufficient strength to carry his cross by himself, "seized" Simon and demanded that he carry the cross of Jesus. No doubt Simon was hesitant, fearing that he might end up sharing Jesus' fate. Yet he knew enough not to provoke the soldiers, so he took the cross as ordered. We don't know much more about Simon than this, since he disappears from the biblical record at this point.
There is much writing regarding what happened to Simon after this event. Most Christian thinkers are compelled because of their knowledge of the Savior and their passion for the narrative to connect Simon with the scattered church both in the writings of Acts and of Romans. Yet, we forfeit that search today to focus on what we know. Simon joined Jesus in his moment of shame, and for that we remember him today…this Good Friday.
We ought to identify with Simon of Cyrene, who found himself a surprised participant in the crucifixion of Christ. This is especially true since many of us became Christians without really knowing that we were dying to our old selves so that we might live anew in Christ. We were pitched a gospel of salvation and eternal life without the implications of servanthood, sacrifice, and death to sin and self.
Yet what is the thought we should take from Simon of Cyrene?
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24) We All have a cross to bear…yes.
Perhaps the words of this hymn will penetrate our hearts today: Must Jesus Bear the cross Alone?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.
The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.
Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ pierced feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from heaven comes down
And bears my soul away.
Yet, this take goes a step further because Simon wasn’t carrying his own cross, but was joining Jesus in the shame of sin and condemnation…Like the other hymn sings: I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, its shame and reproach gladly bare…
It’s one thing to suffer for our own sins, and to pay our own consequences. But Jesus asks us to suffer for the sins of others, to take up crosses all around us and in so doing…we have served the Lord. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done for me.” The day of carrying Jesus’s cross has passed, and we are thankful for Simon of Cyrene and his service to the Lord…
But are we equally thankful for a Savior and Lord that commands us to search for the shame and reproach around us and to reach out to the hurting, broken, hungry, and forgotten…After all, we have to at some point acknowledge our mistake in thinking that this cross was actually Jesus’ to begin with…the perfect Son of God, carried a cross…but not his cross. It was more Simon’s cross or my cross than Jesus’ cross…
Jesus carried our shame, our sin, and when he chose to put that upon himself and go to the cross, then the old rugged cross became the Cross of Christ, and it transformed into something beautiful and Holy…Just like our lives when given over to Jesus, they too are transformed from shameful and rugged to beautiful and holy.
This was shared at a station of the cross during the Elizabethtown Carry the Cross Event, Friday, April 14. I pray that on this Saturday between death and life, we might ponder the ways of Jesus and seek to pick up crosses.
Friday of Holy Week has been traditionally been called Good Friday or Holy Friday. On this day, Christians remember Jesus’ arrest (since by Jewish customs of counting days from sundown to sundown it was already Friday), his trial, crucifixion and suffering, death, and burial. Depending on how the services are conducted on this day, all pictures, statutes, and the cross are covered in the color of mourning, black, and if candles are a part of your worship service, they are extinguished. Here are some scriptures, prayers, and songs to help you focus on the Lord today, the day of Jesus’ death so many years ago. (These resources have been gathered by several places on the internet and are not original to me.)
18 After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. 2 Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. 3 The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
4 Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
5 “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) 6 As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! 7 Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” 9 He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
Jesus at the High Priest’s House
12 So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 First they took him to Annas, since he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time.14 Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”
Peter’s First Denial
15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. 17 The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”
“No,” he said, “I am not.”
18 Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself.
19 Inside, the high priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. 20 Jesus replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people[e] gather. I have not spoken in secret. 21 Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.”
22 Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”
24 Then Annas bound Jesus and sent him to Caiaphas, the high priest.
Peter’s Second and Third Denials
25 Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”
26 But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” 27 Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
Jesus’ Trial before Pilate
28 Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. 29 So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”
30 “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.
31 “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.
“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. 32 (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)
33 Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
34 Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. 39 But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”
40 But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
19:1 Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. 2 The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. 3 “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.
4 Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” 5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”
6 When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”
7 The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. 9 He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”
11 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”
13 When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). 14 It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”
15 “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.
16 Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). 18 There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.
21 Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”
22 Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.
25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. 34 One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. 35 (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.) 36 These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and “They will look on the one they pierced.”
The Burial of Jesus
38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. 41 The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. 42 And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Grieving God, on the cross your Son embraced death even as he had embraced life: faithfully and with good courage. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may hold fast to our faith in him exalted and may find mercy in all times of need. Amen.
O God, who by the Passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that just as, being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man on earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus, today we pause to remember your sacrificial love that shone light into the darkness, that bore life from such emptiness, that revealed hope out of devastation, that spoke truth through incrimination, that released freedom in spite of imprisonment, and brought us forgiveness instead of punishment. Thank you that we can now walk in the light of your life, hope, truth, freedom and forgiveness, this day and everyday. Amen.
Hymns and Song Titles:
The Old Rugged Cross
At the Cross (both the hymn and the contemporary song)
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
I Christ Alone
Oh Sacred Head
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
If you're in the Elizabethtown, PA area, join us on Sunday for a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ at 10:15 AM
According to the tradition of the church, Jesus has been busy in the last few days. On Sunday he entered Jerusalem. This action is known as the “triumphal entry” as people shouted “Hosanna” and laid palm branches down as a pathway into the city. I think it is fair to assert that the crowd gathered didn’t really understand the full implications of their welcome, nor did they understand the one whom they welcomed. (That might still be true for crowds gathered to worship God on Sundays…) Yet, Jesus knew the danger of coming back to Jerusalem and He was moving towards what we refer to as “Good Friday” and then “Resurrection Day.”
Well, today is Wednesday, and here are some readings and prayers and songs that might help us focus on Christ during the day today: (These have been selected from multiple internet resources and are not original to me)
14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.
20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”
23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”
And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
1 The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. 2 The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, 4 and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. 5 They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. 6 So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.
41 Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, Jesus asked them a question: 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
21 Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”
22 The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. 23 The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” 25 So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” 28 None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. 29 Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. 30 So Judas left at once, going out into the night.
31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.
Some Prayers to Consider:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of humility, patience and love to your servant. Grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen
Troubled God, in every generation you call your people to contend against the brutality of sin and betrayal. Keep us steadfast even in our fear and uncertainty, that we may follow where Jesus has led the way. Amen.
My savior, do you invite me to share in the glory of the resurrection? Please stay with me as I struggle to see how accepting the crosses of my life will free me from the power of the one who wants only to destroy my love and trust in you. Help me to be humble and accepting like your son, Jesus. I want to turn to you with the same trust he had in your love. Save me, Lord. Only you can save me. Amen.
Hymns and Song Titles:
All to Jesus I Surrender
Lord, I Give You My Life
Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?
From the Inside Out
I have had a few people approach me about my reactions to an article that has been making it’s way around Social Media. The blog post was by Benjamin Sledge and his title is “Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity is Actually Relevant, Okay?” So, what follows are my insights and reactions to this article…which you can read HERE.
First and foremost, I want to thank Mr. Sledge for his thought provoking blog. There is so much here that is worth considering further, which is what I plan on doing. I must confess that as a minister and preacher, I am having a harder time considering the “practical application” of Biblical texts and it is not because I cannot come up with them, but because I want to give people something they might actually consider being or doing. A fellow minister tweeted a few weeks back that preaching on the Bible is like “giving a book report on a book that no one else has really read.” That has stuck with me as much as Sledge’s remark, “It’s quite strange to expect people to conform to your morals because you quoted a book they don’t read.” I often wonder how Christianity might change if the Bible was taken seriously and read by the people who claim their devotion to it. I also wonder how our study of the Bible would affect our interactions with those who don’t hold to the same belief system that Christians hold.
Don’t mishear my apprehension, I know that there are some Christians who read the Bible and try to take it seriously, but I know many more Christians who would rather assume they know it from childhood memories and one sermon a week than to actually pick it up and read it. So, I say this to reflect some concern as to the level of relevancy the Bible has for Christians before we even begin to look at the larger American culture.
When we do look at American culture, I think this article assumes an emerging correlation between the pagan Roman culture of the first century and the current American culture. This assumption exposes a division in the larger Christian landscape. I know Christians who hold to an understanding of American history and cultural development that claims the United States is a Christian nation, founded by Christian principles, and held together by Christian leaders. Yet, Sledge represents a growing group of Christians who point out that the United States has strikingly familiar parallels to Greco-Roman rule and culture, and has been that way from its conception. Perhaps a truce might be had if we acknowledge that regardless of our bent in regard to history, American culture is growing more pagan and Roman cultural practices, as described by Sledge in his article, are taking precedent over the teachings of Scripture.
Let me try to supply four observations from the article that I believe need to be addressed and corrected if the church is to be Attractive to the culture once again:
1. The relevancy of the church is found in our actions and not in our doctrines.
Ok, so before you pick up your stones to drag me out in the street, what I am claiming is that the church has high-level doctrines like God, Christ, God as creator, Humanity as the beloved creation, the Holy Spirit…etc. And the church has low-level doctrines that have developed between denominations and lead to our unique identities as sects and tribes. So often, we take our lower-level doctrines and try to show the larger culture why our distinctiveness needs to be appreciated and followed…we lead with low-level doctrines. In contrast, it is the higher-level doctrines that produce within us the ability to love, serve, give, and extend hospitality. So, as the church leaders teach us about life as a ______________ (insert denomination here)…as opposed to life as a ________________ (insert hated denomination here…the culture around us scratches their heads and continues to be lost. To seek the lost, we need to actually DO - love, give, serve, and invite - and it is the sum of these qualities found in a group of Christians taking Jesus’ life seriously that becomes attractive to others.
2. We have replaced the pursuit of faithfulness with the pursuit of fame.
Why must we use social media for every little concern we have? I must agree with Sledge that Christians on social media during an election year is one of the most Kingdom destroying activity I have ever witnessed in the American culture. It doesn’t matter who your candidate is, what side of the isle your on (if your even in the chamber), some one is going to represent Christ in a way that makes you go…WHAT!?!? But that isn’t all…what about our Christian celebrities that people flock to go hear speak at the colleges and non-profit events? I mean, what’s better than a super Christian with mega-bucks? I’ll tell you, a widow who has lost her husband and continues to visit the sick, reach out to young mothers, and attend worship services even though she doesn’t know what the internet is….because she continues to be faithful. Sledge says that churches have become bigger, but that doesn’t mean they have become better…I experience the pull and tug between being a famous minister or a faithful minister. I didn’t use an and/or there because I have a hard time understanding what a famous and faithful minister really would look like. I really wonder if anyone can really be famous and faithful…It almost seems to much for us to handle. But I do know this, my neighbor doesn’t really care how famous I am, but she does care about the respect I give her and the conversations we have…What does faithfulness look like, well, it starts by being present and paying attention to others. The famous are often absent and self-focused. Our culture needs more faithfulness.
3. In making God accessible to the peoples, we have displaced God’s holiness.
We can dress God up in skinny jeans, hand him (or her) a guitar, and request Oceans (a good song) as much as we want. But God resists being our friend and pal because God is not as we are…God’s ways are different…God’s thoughts are different…and God as the Holy One refuses relevancy to some degree. Some groups of Christians have synchronized with culture by placing persons and our lives at the center (or top) of our priorities and then they ask God to provide something good or grand for us to entertain and maybe adopt as our way of life. God is a counselor in our efforts to self-help, and this notion of God should be foreign to the Christian experience and is completely unheard of in the text of Scripture. God is Holy, and we are to live a life that is relevant to God and whether God is relevant to us depends upon our choices to put God at the center of our lives and view God as top priority. If God became less of a friend and more of a…well, God…the great “I AM” of the Old Testament who cannot be controlled or manipulated, then we would do as God wants and the life of service to God by loving and serving other would flow out of this attitude adjustment.
4. In prioritizing education through the pursuit of knowledge, we have forgotten to teach the discipline of discernment.
When I went to seminary to study ministry and theology, in my very first class I was handed a book entitled, “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.” It was a brief book that I could make much more brief—the book told us to shut-up! Yeah, not that way but basically the book assumed that we would be gathering all of this knowledge and would learn new things and the author made a point to suggest that take the time to discern what was appropriate for us to pass along and what we should think about a little more before putting it out there. I think that I am smarter than the generations of old, that is I am more well read and have a more well-rounded education. I can look anything up on the internet and learn to do anything on YouTube. We know a lot…but I think we have a hard time discerning…between sources of information…between socially appropriate outlets…between private and public arenas…and so forth. I agree with Sledge that Christians need to halt the relenting pursuit of being right in favor of a pursuit of doing right.
I’m sure there is more I could have thought about, but I think the relevancy of Christianity is dependent on the relevancy the faith finds in the hearts and lives of Christian people. Which brings this to me and to you…are we part of the 70% who are culturally Christian or are we going to be the smaller group characterized by love, grace, and acceptance who live the life of Jesus?
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.