Thursday, July 28, 2011

Your Basic Jesus

During a recent dialogue (some called it a “debate”) on Facebook, we were discussing what it means to be a Follower of Jesus. As we were doing a little digging into what the teaching of scriptures meant for our lives and purpose on earth, one person got a bit testy with the conversation.

In some ways, I understand this resistance as we need to be cautious about our “knowledge” and being “right” about what we hold. This is the quick path the legalism and modern Pharisaism.

This person said: “…sometimes you "theologians"... think WAY too much and forget about the simplicity of Christianity. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, therefore I am a Christian! That's it! I don't have to buy into anyone else's theory... Keep it simple!!!!

I resonate with the sentiment, but only in part. My response to this was *simple.* “I wish it was.

Over nearly 40 years of being a committed disciple, I learned that following Christ is basic, but it is far from simple. These two words are not synonymous. It is essential to follow Christ. Paul clearly states that when he says to the Corinthian believers: “I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and him crucified.” “Jesus the Messiah” is the rudimentary truth. But the latter part of Paul’s statement carries a perplexity for all who don the flesh.

Our instinct is to survive, not die. But Christ, as well as the New Testament writers, teaches us that we must not cling to surviving. That we must indeed die to self and all that nurtures our wants and inward desires. The transformation process is rigorous and has a daily increment.

I find the first disciples’ transformation inspiring. Matthew, chapter 16 a microcosm sample. The person of Peter is easy to resonate with. He is the transformation poster boy. How often do we see his “V8 Moments” throughout the New Testament? They run right up to his canonized letters.

Jerry Tankersley, after an address to the National Prayer Breakfast, wrote an article titled: “Following Jesus is Not Easy!” In the article, he stated:

Jesus’ followers did not understand this. The meanings of his words were hidden from them. They could not perceive the truth of Jesus’ way because they had other plans for Jesus and themselves. They were spiritually blinded.

Now this remains as a central obstacle for all the followers of Jesus. Often, we do not understand what it means to follow Jesus in his rhythm of death and resurrection. We do not understand how the way of Jesus disrupts and often contradicts our world views, ideologies, and agendas.”

Within our Facebook discussion, someone asked:

Why isn't being just a ‘Christian’ enough? Why does it have to get all complicated? I don't remember anything in the Bible telling me that I had to do anything more than accept Jesus Christ in order to be a Christian. Jesus may have taught challenging and difficult things, but, he also simplified it so that everyone could get the message…I'll just keep up the faith the way I've been doing, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, I'll answer on my judgement (sic) day....

“Anything more…” I could not let this go (the person even told me that, in an accusing tone, after I responded).

Again, I understand the sentiment, but I’ve also discovered that the road of transformation has no earthly culmination. I think Peter learned this again and again. I think we all learn this until we get to the point of having “fought the good fight.”

Following Christ is basic, but it is far from being simple. Each day, many of his words echo in my ear and my flesh resists. Death to self is painful and agonizing. But resurrected life is refreshing and fruitful. Not a simple matter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Civic Disobedience

To call the police or not to – that is the question.

What is it about my transformation that now has me hesitating to bust 2 obvious “Junkies” when I encounter them?

On a recent Sunday, just after our Community Gathering around Noon, a young woman came into the coffee shop as a “customer.” She informed me she had not been in here before. I customarily informed her that we are non-profit and handed her one of our brochures on the front counter.

She looked at the menu and was rather fidgety. I offered her a few suggestions and she affirmed all of them. When I asked which one she wanted, she went back to not knowing. “Her behavior is very odd,” I thought to myself. I finally gave a resounding endorsement of one I assured her she would enjoy. She agreed to it and I started to prepare it.

As I went about my task of pulling a couple of espresso shots and mixing her vanilla iced latte, she looked at the brochure until she became engaged on her cell phone with a friend. She was informing her friend of her whereabouts. I couldn't help but notice that her speech was a bit hurried and jumbled, but not slurred. I began to wonder if her demeanor was the result of an uncontrolled substance.

I delivered her beverage and rang the total up on the register. The total was $3.75 and she handed me 2 one-dollar bills. I politely repeated the total and she began to rapidly finger through an over sized wallet. I observed the contents, which were mostly small note papers, credit cards and coins. More than once, I saw her thumb passed a thick fold of green backs, thinking she would draw from them. But this was not coffee money. She finally handed me a credit/debit card.

I swiped the card and the merchant program declined it. I then manually entered the data, and again it was declined. When I told her this, she did not look surprised but was able to come up with $1.75 in quarters. She was even digging for the coins as I was running the card.

Just as I completed the transaction, an older model compact car pulled into the sparse Sunday morning parking lot. A young female in flip flops, brown shorts and black tank top (only) quickly exited the car and headed toward our front door. As she opened the door, she came in to greet her friend. I greeted her and asked her if she wanted anything. She returned the greeting and said she didn’t need anything.

Her demeanor was even more animated than the first woman. She could not stand still and she kept running her hands over her hair (like smoothing it out), putting her hands on her hips, shifting her weight back and forth. For some reason she decided to exit the front door, go out to her car and then quickly return. I watched her and surmised that her quick trip was fruitless as she didn’t retrieve anything. It looked like the movement only served to keep her active, or she forgot why she went out.

I asked both of their names, in an introductory manner, and shook their hands. There was small talk about the 4th of July, weather and such. As we talked, the first woman was smiling as she continued to put light coins into the donation jar by the register. She informed me that her iced latte was delicious as they both headed toward the door and left.

As they headed to their respective vehicles, I wondered if they would pose a hazardous threat to others on the street. The traffic was extremely light, being a Sunday before Independence Day. Still, they were obviously under the influence of something.

I prayed fast and intently regarding my response and reaction to this situation. Conventional wisdom dictates a prescribed civic responsibility. I knew what it was as I had it filed in an impermeable compartment of my mind. I could almost hear it speaking to me: “Jeff. Call the police. They are doing something illegal and need to be intercepted.” For some mystical reason, and despite the risk, I disobeyed the standard imperative. I was amazed at how quickly I was processing the matter seeking a divine influence to give me rapid insight.

I just sighed and in a strange kind of peace, prayed for and loved them. I mentioned their names. I imagined the One who created them also sighing their names. I may never see them again. But I do wonder if they may cross a subsequent path that will lead them away from darkness into a redemptive and loving light. I have strong conviction that that can happen.

This experience has resulted in a conflict that causes me to ponder. The opponents are all the conventional lectures that I imagine and may literally hear from those who may be skeptical about my decision, versus the “renewing of my mind” based on what I believe is my own spiritual transformation.

As I was praying in those short moments, all the cultural outcasts in biblical narratives popped into my mind. I was able to see a vast company of brokenness. I was able to see myself among them. I was able to see myself in journey with 2 fellow human beings I had never met. All of this transmitting in seconds.

Just what is “the renewing of our minds?” What does it involve? Is it continually the pattern created by God in the Old Testament and by Jesus in the gospels – where our fixed notions are challenged and dispelled? Does his real purpose and desire really escape us in the blind fashion that causes Peter to inappropriately thrash a heavy blade cutting off an ear of one perceived in violation?

I don’t think that there is a disjointed jump in thought, in Romans 12, when Paul implores us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but rather think of ourselves with “sober judgment.” The Greek concept for sober is a “corrected mind.”

If we consider our own condition and our continual desperate need of mercy, the result will be a spiritual metamorphosis of our not conforming to the pattern of the world, as our mind-set changes.

I’m discovering that the “pattern of the world” is not always the caricature of extreme malfeasance we imagine. It can even be a “conventional wisdom.” Haven’t we seen Jesus criticized for disregarding perceived “injunctive norms?” Haven’t we learned that the principles of God’s Kingdom are a reversal of our own “Top Ten” lists?

As I reflect on this encounter, I must say that I was surprised at how it affected me. I didn’t see what I customarily see in this situation. It still amazes me how there was this “divine appointment” aura to the whole scenario. Instead of the standard eye roll and condescending “There but for the grace of God, go I” verbiage uttered, I rapidly connected with 2 fellow human beings created in the image of and dearly loved by God.

My sincere prayer is that I may see them again and have a chance to get to know them and experience Godly community with them.