Jesus and the authority flip

itunes-barefootIn what turns out to be Justin and Deans most explosive podcast every, they discover Jesus declaring his kingdom message that undoes their concepts of sovereignty, politics and authority in the most beautiful way

Please note that due to Soundcloud’s restrictions we can no longer offer their embedded player. However you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or get it here Click to play, or right click to “Save as”.

I share this to start a conversation and so I would love to hear your thoughts

Setting the Table

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In this episode Justin and Dean are in “prison”, they also use their free time to talk about what might be the basis for our christian unity, the sacrament of Eucharist and how it might be reframed so that it becomes part of our daily life. I hope you enjoy!

The multifaceted nature of Easter

Light dispersion illustration.

It is so easy for us to become too familiar with the cross and with Easter because it happens each year. Also because we see the message as the “Basics” of the Christian life. Obviously they are that, but the problem is that too often our understanding and our experience of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus does not change. I think it is because these two events are critical to our salvation and so we don’t allow them to change because that might actually change the basis of our salvation?

Anyway what I want to do is not take anything from that, what I want to rather suggest is that there is a whole spectrum of light within the Easter event that can only enrich what we already know about it, our relationship to it and obviously our relationship to Jesus and God our father.

Last week I said that nothing shapes our understanding of God like what we believe happens at the cross. I would like to add to that this week that our understanding of the cross is incomplete without the resurrection. These last few days as we approach Easter, it might be helpful to meditate on the cross in the light of the resurrection.

One of the things I have realised is that we have separated the Cross from the Resurrection. Sure on Sunday we will have preachers everywhere talk about how Jesus is alive and how that is good news, which it obviously is. However Jesus being alive and what is meant by resurrection are two different things. If Jesus comes back to life that just happens to him, probably because he is perfect, or God’s son, or both. However Resurrection means that what happened to Jesus, a physical resurrection with a new physically transformed body, will happen to us too. My years in church didn’t prepare me too well for a physical resurrection because I was going to heaven when I died, I would get a “spiritual” body and so I didn’t need a new physical one.

It is very easy to come to the conclusion that Jesus is being punished for the sins of the world by dying on the cross, when we view the cross in isolation. However have you ever thought that if this is true, then God is holding us to a higher standard than himself? We are told to forgive, even to forgive our enemies. We know that to forgive means to not punish, it means to release the person, to not exact revenge on that person. However on the cross we hear Jesus say to his father “Forgive them for they know not what they do” and yet God still has Jesus die.

The only way I can understand that moment is in the light of the Resurrection. I don’t believe God required Jesus to die to punish us for our sins. I believe that he answered Jesus prayer and forgave us our sins even while we nailed Jesus to the cross. However I do believe that one of the things Jesus is doing through his death on the cross, is defeating the principal of sin and death and making a way open to the new creation, so that we can live on this earth from a totally new place.

Jesus doesn’t see death and going to heaven as a way to escape earth and all of it’s evil. Rather he presents his resurrection as a new way that we can engage this broken world with the realities of his new creation. I believe he is calling us through the resurrection to not escape to the “safety and pleasures of heaven” but to rather re-enter this world practising new creation realities, physical realities that are empowered by the love of a Father who is reconciling the world to himself.

Would love you comments and thoughts, and I hope and trust that you encounter Jesus in a new and living way this Easter

Some thoughts on the cross (or why did God kill Jesus?)

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The single most important question we can ask is “How does the cross shape our picture of God?”

What makes that question so powerful is that more than any other question it defines who God is to us and in turn it defines who we are. I am coming to believe that we cannot change (am I the only one who finds changing myself near impossible) in any significant way if we do not change what we think about God and more specifically who he is in the light of the cross.

In the light of that I recently watched this well known story which has been used for many years to lead people to Jesus. Here it is:

(Obviously I do not want to discount anyone’s salvation if they came to Jesus through this story, but I am saying that it is not the healthiest or most accurate picture of God.) I came away from watching it feeling very uneasy and like something was wrong with that picture.

Now I just happened to be reading around the issue of psychopathy, which is a sliding scale, obviously just because someone isn’t the most emphathetic person doesn’t mean they are an axe murderer. However I made a startling discovery, there is a very simple test (obviously this is one of many) psychologists can use to determine a tendancy towards psychopathy and it goes like this:

Imagine a train is traveling down a rail-road track which has a fork in it. Now if it forks to the left there is one person caught in the tracks, but if it goes right there is a group of 15 people that are caught in the tracks and you have to flip a switch to divert the train and chose how many people will die.

Obviously we find the thought sickening but if forced into that situation we are going to flip the switch and sacrifice the 1 to save the 15. Now here comes the twist, there is a second part:

Imagine you are on a bridge that crosses a rail-road track and you see a trail hurtling along it. There is also a very large gentleman on the bridge with you. Suddenly you see that a group of 15 people stuck on the track and they will die when hit by the train. However the gentleman next to you is so large that if you push him off the bridge, he has enough girth to stop the train and save the group. Could you push him off?

Now apparently in a psychopaths brain, they can chose to push the fat gentleman off without giving it another thought because the maths still works. The average person can’t because you no longer have to just flip a switch, it is now very personal and you have to actually push a person into harms way.

This is how the above mentioned video can portray God, as a person with psychopathic tendencies. I am sure you haven’t thought about it like that because this actually happens at a sub-conscious level, but it still has a big impact on you just like other sub-concious knowledge. Emotionally we are focused on the sacrifice of the son, but when the emotions fade, what kind of God are we left with?

The problem we have at the cross if we hold to this view of God is that it portrays God needing to use violence to solve the sin problem we have in the world. Now if I look around the world I can’t help but see that while we need to have justice and law to make things work, when someone breaks the law through an act of violence, another act of “justified” violence or retribution doesn’t actually solve the issue. Violence begets more violence.

This thinking actually reduces God’s law of love to the same level as justice. What that means is that for God to love he must have justice. For God to love us, or to forgive us, somebody must first die and blood must be shed, oh and they must be innocent. I no we don’t like to say it like that, but have you ever figured out how punishing an innocent person effectively deals with the sins of a guilty person?

What I see in the cross is something very different. I see God in Jesus, here is the verse (that is an important distinction to make, that on the cross God and Jesus aren’t separate) reconciling the world to himself. Secondly he allows Evil, Sin and Death to exhaust all their violence on him and he overcomes them by the beauty of sacrificial love and by his resurrection, here is the verse.

In the cross, I don’t see God demanding an innocent person die for the guilty. I see satan, sin and evil coming to kill steal and destroy. I see the wisdom of God worked out by breaking the cycle of justified violence (look at the conflicts around the world, no matter what side you are on each side feels justified in acting out in violence). I see Jesus paying a ransom with his life, I see the power of sacrifical love and innocence as a higher law, infused with resurrection power, breaking the grip of death itself.

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.

The Beautiful Letdown

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That just by the way is the title to one of my favourite albums by Switchfoot. Anyway I thought it describes quite nicely the way I feel about the issue of salvation as we draw closer to Easter. I am just being honest here but sometimes I find salvation just a little disappointing. Not the salvation we are promised from the front of the church, no that salvation is quite literally out-of-this-world, it even has a line of fashionable coffee mugs to boot.

What I mean is that is that our experience of salvation seems to often fall well below what is promised – a life full of promise, direction, satisfaction, purpose, world changing power, miracles, blessing, prosperity, victory and intimacy with God so tangible you can almost touch him. This is often what is meant or understood by the Abundant Life*, but it seems to me like terms and conditions apply because for most of my christian life it felt like I was fighting just to get to the starting line (you know like in those famous ultra-marathons where it takes 10-15 minutes for everyone to get past the starting line.)

Now I don’t want to sound all depressed, I just want to be honest.

In the past I believed that pretty much all of God’s activity in the world was around the issue of getting people “saved”. However in the last few years I have realised that what God is doing is so much more than this. Yes salvation is important but as N.T. Wright says:

“salvation is like the steering wheel in a car, a very important part, but certainly not the whole car and yet this is what we have done, we have tried to tell people that the steering wheel is the car.”

That is a very loose quote but I got it from his book called Justification. The problem I encounter with salvation and justification (often they are even used inter-changeably) is that we have made it all about ourselves and so when life happens to us and it doesn’t treat us with the same favour as our ideas on God and his perfect plans for our lives, we get horribly disorientated, discouraged, disillusioned and disappointed.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus didn’t just die on the cross for your personal sins and my personal sins. He died to defeat evil, sin and death. He wasn’t running a covert snatch and grab operation. He has done it properly by defeating all the powers of darkness. What this does is start with the issue on a macro level and on a communal level, not personal one.

The issue of justification then is not simply “just as if I’d never sinned” which keeps the universe and God revolving around us, but rather that God said to Abraham that He would bless all nations through his family. Notice you have a community around Abraham which is supposed to bless the great greater community of all nations. However we know that instead of this happening Israel, using the law to define and protect it’s identity, kept the blessing of relationship with God to themselves and became an exclusive community.

What Paul explains in Galatians and Romans is that where Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant with Abraham, Jesus was raised up to represent Israel and become that faithful Israelite. He would finally fulfil the law and the covenant and by so doing he would fling the doors wide open for all the peoples/communities of the world to be included.

The reason why Jesus brings an end to the temple (the Temple became the representation of Israel’s identity with all other nations excluded from it), why the curtain is torn in two at his death, is that Jesus is opening access to God for all the communities of the earth. Not only did he do this but he gave God a new name, “Abba” and on the flipside what he is giving his Abba is a new family, Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Male, Female. This is also why circumcision was such a big issue for Paul because that one act separated not only Jew from Gentile, but male from female.

So this easter as I think about Jesus dying on the cross, I am not just thinking about my sins being cleaned. I am thinking about the new family that he died to bring about, those lines of distinctions, those walls and curtains that he died to tear down, the unity and fellowship he died to give us, and how by participating in this new community, this new family, this new creation, I might be saved from myself and my small individualist world.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this…

The invitation of Jesus

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I love reading and researching, probably to a fault, and my kindle is definitely one of my 3 most treasured possessions (my emerald green mapel shelled drumkit and my macbook pro are the other 2). The problem is that reading and researching aren’t bad things, in fact they have been so helpful in removing different ideas, attitudes and beliefs that have held me back, or stunted my growth.

However what Jesus does is so different, so radical. Not because he says we shouldn’t have good theology, or that we shouldn’t think critically. Rather it is because Jesus invites us to enter our said beliefs and to work them out by first living them from our hearts. I used to believe that we are changed or transformed by our beliefs and that’s why one should believe the right thing. Now I realise the reason why I saw so little change is that those beliefs were powerless due to the fact that they were said beliefs, ideas that I was giving mental assent to, nothing more.

I had one of those aha moments when I realised that Jesus not only taught people a different way of relating to God, through his miracles he showed them a different way of relating to God.. However the clincher for me was that he became the different way of relating to God through who he was or to put it another way, Jesus becomes the site where people can relate to God in a new revolutionary way.

So what changes us then if it is not right beliefs? I believe the answer is love. Jesus is inviting us to a relationship where the Father loves us like he loves Jesus. For too long we have tried to approach God with our heads, Jesus opens the way to approach the Father with our hearts, with the guarantee that it is safe.

It is in the safety of this love relationship that we are transformed first at a heart level and then our hearts inform our heads as we grapple with how to live from this new place, the place of new creation. New creation is not saying that Jesus has taken my sins away and made me new again. Rather it is that he, through his death on the cross and then his resurrection, opened up the place of new creation for us to live from.

Many christians live for heaven, that place far removed from earth and from time, where all our problems cease. This is just escapism. Other christians try to live from heaven, bring heaven to earth. The problem with this approach, which is very popular amongst in the circles where healing and worship is emphasised, is that they still operate as if heaven is far removed and so much time is spent desperately trying to get heaven to come close enough to earth for something to happen.

Jesus invites us to go beyond this to the new creation. A new tangible reality which has it’s feet firmly planted in the soil of the earth. Yes we can’t experience the fullness of new creation until all things have been made new. However this is the point of Jesus physical resurrection. He is inviting us not to escape earth to some spiritual disembodied realm, he is inviting us to dance the beautiful dance of the Trinitarian community in the dirt of the earth as we know it.

The crucifixion allowed Jesus to expose evil and sin for what it is, it was his greatest victory. However not satisfied to leave it there, after such a great victory, Jesus displays great love to return through his resurrection to the brokeness of earth and open up that victory and love for all who would recieve him.

Jesus is inviting us to not just believe in his crucifixion and his resurrection as merely historical events. He is inviting us into a place where we are loved and safe and from that place he is asking us to participate in his crucifixion and resurrection. What does it look like for your life and my life to become the site at which others experience Jesus crucifixion and resurrection?

As always I would greatly value your thoughts and comments.

A God you can satisfy

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So do you ever feel like you can never make God happy. Sure we are told that you do make God happy and that he loves you, and we know this is the “right” answer but is that how we really feel deep down inside? Not for me it wasn’t.

I work in a christian business and we have a devotional time every morning. Almost every devotional falls into the following structure: 1) There is something you are not doing that you should be doing, 2) Today we are going to re-commit ourselves to working on this area and doing better at it. 3) Tomorrow we will repeat the cycle again with another aspect you are failing at.

I don’t know about you but I find that super de-motivating. Not only that but I see it causing so much destruction in people’s lives. What happens is some people believe this and blame themselves for their failure (because it couldn’t be God, he is good all the time, and all the time he is good). This makes truly believing that God is happy with you impossible no matter what you “say” you believe.

The other type of person gives up and best case scenario believes in a kind of “grace” where they can do anything they want and God is always happy with them (despite what they say this always feels hollow and unreal and so many drift away from God), or they simply walk away.

However I have found another way, it isn’t a way where you can just add something to your current belief system. It has been a radical giving up of all I’ve know and believed about myself, God and the bible and in true Abrahamic fashion leaving what is known behind to follow Jesus into the unknown.  ( I am saying this not to invalidate anyone’s current experience, but rather to share that moment that for me transformed everything.)

One of the things I have had to work the hardest at is changing the way I read my bible. I used to read it to find answers, to learn timeless principles that could be applied to life. However now I read the bible to allow the Word of God to read me. I read it to find Jesus and in doing so the Father. I am learning to read it like art, allowing it to speak to me of the many colours of Christ.

By reading this way I have found a God who doesn’t let me just do anything I want to but rather loves me just as I am. I have found a God who’s love has begun to melt my hard heart because he always calls me son, even on my worst day. I have found a God who is more interested in me than he is in my sin and is in fact my harbour in the storms of my worst sin and shame.

To make my point I don’t want to go to the easy grace passages in the New Testament but rather to the least favourite book in the Bible, Leviticus (don’t worry I won’t quote long portions).

No matter what early civilisation you belonged to each culture had at it’s core a sacrificial ritual. The idea being that when trouble strike you sacrifice till the “gods” are satisfied and fix your problem. Think about Cain and Abel and how the first murder was committed over this issue. Cultures could never know that God was satisfied unless he fixed their problem, and the longer the fix was delayed, the more intense the sacrifice, until they were willing to sacrifice children to their “gods”.

Enter Leviticus, what many call the most boring and legalistic book in the bible, but have you noticed? There is one incredible difference between the sacrificial system in Leviticus and every other, it is the declaration that if you follow these guidelines God will be satisfied! It is the first time a sacrificial system provided a way for us to know God was satisfied. That is the great news of Leviticus and it only gets better from there. (Check out Rob Bell’s “The God’s aren’t angry” he says it way better than me.)

As we draw closer to Easter may we remember that God has already declared himself satisfied and indeed happy with Jesus and with you. He has done this so that we can engage him in a healthy, authentic, safe and transforming relationship.

As always your comments are always appreciated