Tag Archives: following jesus

Evangelicals don’t listen to Jesus enough?


jesus-really-follow-me-twitter-450x408

Sometimes when I read the gospels and then see myself and fellow Christians, I wonder about the difference between what I read and what is expected as ‘normative’ in contemporary Christianity.  As a non-American I do see a lot of weird Americanist synchronism hiding as ‘conservative Christianity’. Sometimes when I see the Christian subculture with all its distractions I really understand Ghandi who said ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ’

Today I read an article by what looks to me like a good oldfashioned American baptist preacher, that reminds me that evangelicals, that all christians who proclaim to be ‘followers of the bible’ can in no way be expected to sweep the words of Jesus under the mat. There is no alibi for that. Read 10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep conveniently forgetting by pastor Joe McKeever here.

I am quite sure we all need to be reminded of a lot of those, or even if you’d disagree with some of his conclusions, just take all his bible verses as a starting point, or start with the words of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) of the sermon on the plain in Luke 6 read every day and taken serious in all aspects of our lives are enough to shake and challenge a lot of our traditions and assumptions. And let’s not forget that both pieces of teaching  I’ve named are concluded by Jesus with :

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!

So would living according to the words of Christ maybe be a good idea for those who claim to follow Him? Is it not the only thing we should expect that anyone who claims to be a ‘bible-following Christian’ tries to do. Love our neighbour, love our enemies, bless those who persecute you (even rejoice when they persecute you for Christ’s sake!), take care for the poor and sick, etc…

And yes, I know I’m still nowhere with that either, but I wish we would see that as a real problem, more than a lot of problems we evangelicals like to see that might be quite irrelevant…

Bram

grace vs Gods commandments…


(This post was originally a facebook note. The comments on facebook are interesting to do something with, so expect a ‘part II’ when I find the time. And if you’d like to be updated about this blog, you can follow it on facebook also)

Now to go on with an important subject in Christianity: grace vs Gods commandments…

Let’s start with a quote from Scot McKnight (from a blog article on the 10 commandmenst: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/01/18/the-lord-alone-2/#more-12945)

What does it mean to be saved? to be redeemed? to be ransomed? It means to be a person who lives out that salvation, that redemption and that ransom by making God the Lord alone. It means obedience to the God who sets us free.
The biggest mistake of Christians today is to make obedience legalism and to think that God’s commands are somehow an inferior form of religion or spirituality. The second mistake when it comes to the Ten Commandments is to fail to see how they flow out of redemption and don’t stand alone as if they are arbitrary commands. The third mistake is to think they are only for the ancient world, or for Israel, and have nothing to do with gospel.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about when I hear some ‘grace’ preachers, and those who make a big opposition between ‘law’ and ‘grace’. Surely legalism is a big problem, and following laws will not save us. The fist law explicitly states that it’s about our heart anyway, not about following regulations (‘love the Lord, ect etc)

But somewhere among the line we swing too far to the opposite side if we want to abolish all law and put Jesus against it. Thereis something very twisted about the hyper-reformation that does not only believe that we are saved by faith not works, but also makes all kinds of good works suspect. Something is very wrong here! Jeremiah speaks about a new law written in our hearts, and paul speaks about fulfilling all of the law if we love our neigbor as ourselves.

The ten commandments are not evil. If God’d make a heaven with people who would break those commandments, it’d not be heaven at all, but a broken world like ours. So I agree with professor McKnight here: we live out our salvation, and that means obedience. Not obedience to get saved, but when we get tranformed by God we will not want anything else than living in His will.

There is no opposition between faith and works, and between grace and law. By faith we learn to trust Him, and follow Him. By grace we’ll learn how to live in His will. We do not get saved to just sit on our ass being saved, but as a part of a new creation, one that is different from the fallen world.

whadyathink?

shalom

Bram

What do we want? (reflecting on a sufi prayer)



Sufi Comics: Imam Ali's Prayer

I was reading a blog by a sufi muslim, and found this prayer which made me think:

O My Lord,
if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell;
and if I worship You from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your own sake,
do not withhold from me Your Eternal Beauty.

~ Rabia

I have no intent to convert myself or anyone to sufi islam, but I think we all need to reflect upon this prayer, and we all should investigate our heart. For this is a serious matter!

We should also question the way we communicatie Christ to the world. Like the saying says ‘what we win them with, we win them to’. If we ‘win people to Christ’ with flashy videos and rock’n roll, will they stay in our church if we cut down on the electricity?

If we win people to Christ because He is the way to not go to hell, do we really bring them to Christ? Or would they pragmatically choose any other way to get out of hell?? Would we bring animal sacrifices or buy indulgences if they were convinced that was the way out of hell, or do we follow Jesus for who He is?

It’s not up to me to judge anyones intentions or faith, but we all know God sees the heart… Accepting Jesus to get something (like a free ‘get out of hell’ card) and not because of Jesus Himself. If we don’t really love God but just want to ‘get out of hell’ we still won’t have much fun in heaven, because it’s being with God for all eternity. There’s no point in believing in God if what we want is not God, we cannot use God to get something else. There’s no point in following Jesus if what we want is not Jesus, and there’s no Christianity without Him at all.

Christianity revolves around Christ. God incarnate who became one of us and shared in our humanity, even til death, and who conquered death and evil in the resurrection. And he calls us to follow, to bring His Kingdom, and says the gates of hell will not prevail against us, His Church.

So what do we want?
Do we want Jesus?
Let’s go for it then, brothers and sisters!

Let us pray

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done
on earth as in heaven

Amen

Bram

A call to subversive Love!!!


hi readers

I will start with a quote from Zack’s response to my last post on cross-gender friendshios (which is worth reading, giving a good explanation of the things I was talking about, from the perception of the culture he was born into):

We don’t often find Jesus bending over backwards to not offend His culture. On the contrary, He went against the grain precisely to demonstrate how backwards their culture was, and to reveal to them what God’s love looks like in society.

That’s the context in which I would place the whole subject of cross-gender friendships, but this topic of subversive love is so much broader that this, and it must have a central place in our Christian life if we want it to make any sense at all. Jesus, Paul and the early Christianity did not only summarise the whole law in the ‘Love God above all and you neigbor as yourself’, but they also lived that way, which was not just a choice, but also an orientation, and a lifestyle, a transformation, a whole new way of being and relating to the world.

So when we look again at the story of the woman at the well (see john 4), we clearly see this revolutionary way of lovingly relating at work. No jewish rabbi at that time would ever even think about being seen with a woman of questionable reputation, even if she wouldn’t have been samaritan. There was a great segregation of the sexes, and a looking down on sinners, and the way Jews reacted to samaritans would be considered racist by todays standards. But against all those cultural taboos, Jesus just talked to her, in a friendly and egalitarian way. No matter how we try, we will not realise how subversive and not done such a thing was. And we are called to follow Jesus and do likewise as He did.

The well-meaning intentions of people who are abstaining from stuff like being seen with people of the other sex or sinners or other wrong company might stem from an honest trying to do good, but it’s far away from Jesus’ teachings and example. And it may be much closer to the one kind of people Jesus always rebuked: the religious elite of his time, like the pharisees and sadducees. He was the one who hung out with sinners and the pariahs of his age, with litteral lepers and traitors of Gods chosen people. We are not called to carefully watch our reputation, we are called to embody christs love, and we are called blessed when we are persecuted for that (see the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5)

In our christian communities we should be one, without distinctions based on race, gender, age, musical preference or social class. Neither greek or Jew, male or female as St-Paul calls it. The first christians lived that way, and so did countless other christian communities in all kinds of situations in the last 2000 years, from old to new monastics, from anabaptists to Jesus people communes. And those communities were not only focussed to keep thier love inwards, but also to sharing it with the world, with hospitality, generosity, charity.

A comment here is that, while I do believe that we have to contextualise the gospel and translate it into each culture we are in ourselves, we do not have to let the culture and it’s definitions and taboos, or even definitions alter the gospel. Au contraire, we should let the gospel transform the culture, just as we need to be transformed ourselves! We come as we are, but no way that we will stay as we are, otherwise our good news does not make any sense at all…

And this may come down to something you could call christian anarchism, or better Love-archy. We don’t listen to then written or unwritten rules that try to put boundaries on our love, just like Jesus who talked with the woman at the well as if it wasn’t special at all to do such a thing…

And I know that I fall short in any way. Both in my personal life and in communal life with my brothers and sisters in christ, and I want to repent of that. I don’t want to see the prayer of st-Francis as inspirational but faraway from my daily life. I don’t want 1 Cor 13 and verses like ‘perfect love drives out all fear’ to be hypothetical theory, but I want to learn how to live them.

This is my new motto for my life:

I want to learn how to love, the rest are details.

will you guide me, Spirit of love?

will you join me, my brothers and sisters?

will you be my all, Christ?

shalom

Bram


ps, for some inspiration go look at the revolt collective or read shane Claiborne’s book ‘the irresistible revolution’. Or look at those countless hero’s and examples that we have in the history of our faith who lived a life of subversive love. We are surrounded by a witness cloud!!

Psalm 51 and atonement theories


Last saturday I was attending a bible study from our youth grou, and at a certain moment we were discussing a part of psalm 51, which was projected unto a screen. Seeing the last part I had some thoughts that may have brought the discussion totally off-topic, and it already was lost in escalation so I kept silent. But somehow I do regret that now, so I will write down my thoughts now for the readers of this blog…

I will start with the bible verses from psalm 51 (for some reason the verse numbers are different from the dutch version but that isn’t important here):
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.Renew a right spirit within me.  11 Don’t throw me from your presence, And don’t take your holy Spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Uphold me with a willing spirit.  13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways. Sinners shall be converted to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation.My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness.  15 Lord, open my lips. My mouth shall declare your praise.  16 For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering.  17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The first verses are very familiar to me since we do sing a Keith Green song based on them in our church… But that’s not the point now. This psalm is said to be written by King David after he committed one of the worst crimes of his carreer: He had seen a beautiful woman bathing so he sent her man who was an officer in his army on a mission that would kill him, so he could take his wife… So David here is both a murderer and an adulterer. But eventually he comes to see what he has done (with help of the prophet Nathan) and he repents, and that is the moment this psalm is composed. So the context of these words is clear: the whole psalm is about salvation from the point of a serious sinner who has repented and wants restauration. It’s about how God forgives (and remember, this is long before Christ and the cross)

Now those words were on a screen, and I thought about the ‘basic evangelical story’ of atonement that I have heard so much, about the cross of Jesus: Man is a sinner, and God cannot just forgive him, sin is to serious for that, and someone needs to get punished. So God needs bloodshed and to punish someone to be able to forgive humans. Hence all those sacrifices in the old testament, in which the animal is a substitute for the sinful man that suffers death it his place.  But those offerings were not good enough in the end so Jesus had to come to give His blood, and take the punishment in our place, so once and for all with this one sacrifice God would be able to forgive us…

I’ve always found it a very strange idea that God would demand blood to be able to forgive us, but for long it was just a mystery that I did not question much… Even though I had philosophical and theological questions about it and did I also know some bible verses that seemed to say something totally different about God needing blood and sacrifices to be able to saveus, like Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Atonement seemed to me more like a restored relationship than the payment of a punishment to God before He would be able to forgive us. The penal substitution atonement theory is unquestioned and seen as the basis for Christianity by much evangelical and (neo-) reformed Christians…

Later when I read more, I found out that it is not the ‘one and only biblical truth’, but just one of the many stories that tries to explain how Jesus’ cross saves us. There are different theories of atonement, but that’s something I think most evangelicals are not aware of, unles they have studied serious theology. But still most of us are familiar with another version of the atonement story, and I still have objections against that particular version I am affraid. It sounds too pagan to me, and it makes God a bit weak in my eyes… It is very strange that an all-powerful God would not be able to forgive us without punishing and killing something. But even though the bible is clear that Jesus’ cross brings us salvation, it is not that clear how exactly this happens, and in the long history of the church there have been different versions and explanations of the atonements story, and different methaphors have been used to explain it.

Even if they may be not aware of it, there is another version that most people in evangelical circles do know: the powerful picture used in C.S. Lewis’ narnia story: Edmund the traitor is a sinner, who has become rightful property of the witch (evil) and then the Lion Aslan (Jesus) gives himself in Edmunds place to the Witch to be killed. And then death gets reversed and evil is defeated… 2 older atonement views can be explained from the narnia story, which is not exactly a coincidence: Lewis was a professor in medieval literature, and he did not hold to the penal view of substitutionary atonement himself… What is needed in the story is not that someone is punished, but that the sinner is saved from his bondage to evil, and rescued from the destruction that comes with being enslaved to evil.
The first theory is the so-called ransom theory: Jesus gives himself as a ransom in our place, to be taken by the ‘other side’ (satan, death, evil,…) So what’s the difference now? We still have the same sacrifice idea, and Jesus who takes our place, but something is reversed: it is not God who wants to see the sinners blood, but who loves us sinners and sacrifices Himself to the evil from which we have to be saved that does not want to let go of us. Jesus gives Himself over as a ransom to that evil (in our place!) to release us. Another related theory from the early church, looking from a slichtly different angle is what is now called the Christus Victor theory, in which the emphasis lies on Jesus who could not be taken by death, and who reverses death, and so has victory over evil in which we all can share… So here we have a very strong resurrection theme, which is not unimportant: Christianity has no meaning without the resurrection, in which we share!

Other theories of atonement have been proposed in the church history. The aforementioned penal substitution story, which is favored by much evangelicals and (neo-)reformed originates from the ‘satisfaction theory’ from Anselm in the eleventh century. Another theory is the moral influence theory, that says that Christs sacrifice was needed to give an example of faith and obedience to inspire man to be obedient to God. So here the sacrifice of Jesus is important as the culmination of obedience to the law of love, in which Jesus gives His life… (No greater love than he who gives his life for his friends…)

But like I said, all of these theories, and various others, are just theories to explain how Jesus saves us. Not all of them are focussed on the cross and resurrection: the orthodox church says that the incarnation already has saving power, and the anabaptists tell us that following Jesus’ words and living as his disciples will save us. And some pentecostelism will learn us that it is the Spirit who came with pentecost who saves us here and now in a lot of situations.

Most of these views date from long after the time of the first church and the New testament writers, so none of those can be seen as ‘biblical’ (Calling the penal substitution  ‘the only biblical version’ because it can be illustrated with some bijble verses is poor theology, and denies a lot of church history). I like to see them as different windows looking on something that is too big to comprehend with our human mind… The important point is that Jesus has saved us from destruction by taking our place, and has conquered death, so we can share in the resurrection..

And even more: it makes no sense to be saved jsut in theory. If we are saved from the bondage of sin and destruction, and reconciled with God, we have to embrace life and step out of what is destructing us… We have to live a life that is again living in harmony with Life, and the world arounds us needs that too…

shalom

Bram

Jesus saves, or the red pill out of Babylon?


You might or might not like this song, but I’m affraid I  do. And for more than just the quirky industrial rock aesthetics. I always get some chills, some kind of apocalyptic feeling of urgency over me when I hear the words Brian sings. As if someone is telling me, matrix-wise to use the red pill , that I happen to have with me, but always forget that I can take it…

Run away from all your boredom
Run away from all your whoredom
and wave Your worries, and cares, goodbye

All it takes is one decision
A lot of guts, a little vision to wave
Your worries, and cares goodbye

It’s a maze for rats to try
It’s a maze for rats to try

It’s a race, a race for rats
A race for rats to die

It’s a race, a race for rats
A race for rats to die

run away
run away

So I get the feeling I should run, even though I don’t know where to, and take the red pill, and pick up my bed and leave all things useless and harmfull, and look for the light and go for it. Let’s call it an escape from Babylon system, the soulless monstruosity which turns us into less than humans, and reduces us to the part of a machine. A machine that may even be a suicide machine that could consume the whole planet and turn it into shit while all we do is just endure the status quo of our great civilisation.

But for some reason I never get far. I have my dreams of getting away, and maybe I might even try, but it’s no use. The sad truth is that I can run away as far as I want from Babylon, everywhere I could go I’ll still have Babylon in my heart, and if I’d find unspoiled territory I’d only contaminate it with the very thing I’d try to get rid off…

It’s like an addict who tries to stop his drugs. One decision may be enough, but like a marriage which is not one moment of vow but a whole life of living that vow together, I do not seem to be able to make it real. I’m not strong enough, and I don’t know what to do, I’m programmed by the patterns of Babylon…I seem to stay in nomansland in the best moments, and I’m just asleep or actively participating in Babylon in the worst ones… From the viewpoint of  human being I’m pretty hopeless…

I need help. And I know that the only One who can really help me is the one who is not from Babylon. The One whose Kingdom is the one place I long for… The Prince of peace, bringer of salvation. To use great Christianese words that may be totally meaningless in the real world if we don’t watch out how we (ab)use them.

I’m a christian. I’ve been one all my life, even though there were moments that I’ve been struggling. I believe that the core of christianity lies in Jesus as God incarnate, and that Jesus saves us. Now that statement can be interpreted in very different ways. Sometimes I’ve been told things that seem like it only means that after this life we won’t go to hell, and nothing else. Just some mystical change in the heavenly realm, but nothing else. God does not intervene much… I find that kind of deism very tiring I’m affraid.

In the pentecostel church as a kid I learned that God does intervene, but it was totally cut loose from salvation as far as I could see. Even when YHWH saves the israelites out of Egypt, that is not salvation. Salvation is going to heaven. But then in a lot of places salvation seems to mean a lot of things. The example of the israelites taken out of egypt surely is a form of salvation… I do believe that salvation is more than just going to heaven after this life. I believe it is connected to the coming of Gods Kingdom, which Jesus announced, in and through our lives. I believe in salvation as a process, ongoing salvation, which ends in being with God forever, but that’s not the only thing there can be said about it…

Jesus  invades our life when the Spirit fills us. Where the light is the darkness cannot be. Where the Spirit is Babylon cannot exist. Where perfect love is, there cannot be fear. But that’s just theory for me. Just as the assurance that after this life I won’t go to hell. It doesn’t change my life. In the worst case I could be the irritating protestant who avoids to do anything good because then I would be trying to be saved by works… But that’s just nonsense. Being saved also is a process of being changed, of bringing the Kingdom into our lives, so that ‘His will can be done on earth as in heaven’. and then we wil automaticly do those good workd, not to be saved, but because being a new creation is not theory, or at least, it ought not be…

Shane Claiborne says somewhere (roughly parafrased) that when Jesus says ‘follow me’, that he invites us into a new way of Life. And that’s what I need. I need Life, for me and for this starving world around me. I need salvation, to pass it on to this poor planet… We are lost. and if Jesus is not being saving us here and now, what sense does it make to discuss about atonement theories and soteriology and whatever academic subjects we can make out of it? Does it make sense to discuss about all those things, or are we just called to follow?

And like John Wimber asked: When are we gonna do the stuff? I’ve been a christian all this time, and it’s still mostly theory, even the commandment to love is not being very actual in my life all the time. I’m still at the beginning of my way. And maybe I need to take the red pill daily; and convert time after time. But I believe Jesus saves! And I want to take new steps in that faith!!

Jesus,
learn me to follow You,
and to live Life,
and to bring salvation
to this broken world

Father,
Let Your kingdom come
Let Your will be done
on earth
as it is in heaven

spirit
flow through me
and let me be transformed
to the patterns of Jesus

Jesus can get Babylon out of me, and send me back into Babylon as an ambassador of light.

I pray He does, for nothing else would make sense for this life

shalom

Bram

dry inside after being soaked for centuries…


Once when I was in the Himalayas, I was sitting upon the bank of a river. I drew out of the water a beautiful, hard, round stone and smashed it. The inside was quite dry. The stone had been lying a long time in the water, but the water had not penetrated the stone. It is just like that with the “Christian” people of the West. They have for centuries been surrounded by Christianity, entirely steeped in its blessings, but the Master’s truth has not penetrated them. Christianity is not at fault; the reason lies rather in the hardness of their hearts. Materialism and intellectualism have made their hearts hard. So I am not surprised that many people in the West do not understand what Christianity really is.

These words come from Sadhu Sundar Singh, a unique person in the rich history of Christianity. He lived around the year 1900 and was a indian Christian holy man, who possessed nothing but a new testament, and led a rea christlike life. And how true and relevant his word still are if I look to my de-christianised country, or to my own heart and life.

I am not really a man of prayer. I don’t exactly follow Jesus with all my life, and most of the time I don’t even know how I could follow. How can I say that I do love God with all my heart, mind and strength, and my neigbor as myself? Do I even love myself? I can read all the books by the church fathers, the contemporary evangelicals, the emerging  church, the medieval mystics, whatever. It wil not necessarily bring me closer to Jesus.

He is Truth, and Light, and Life. And all those books, even the bible, can be a distraction. The truths of man are incomplete, only very dim we see, an vague is our knowledge… They are a finger pointing to the moon, and I’ll never see the moon if I don’t stop staring at the freaking finger. And I loose my way when staring at all those fingers, and listening to all those people who tell me where the fingers point to.

Oh God open my eyes to see Thee…

More from the Sadhu:

I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. … You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.

Auch!!

Let me see with the eyes of the Spirit, Lord; and open my eyes.

My heart is restless, it needs to find rest in You…

God have mercy upon me, sinner

shalom

Bram