Archive for May, 2012
Jesus not only came into the world with divine authority, He also came to the world as a model for what the missional life looks like. Think about the incarnation itself. The eternal, pre-existent Christ stepped out of the splendor of heaven, limited His glory, and became like us. During His brief time on earth, Jesus revealed God to us. His claim was, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:7-11). He was the “icon” of God, revealing God to each of us. He helped us know who God is and what He is like.
Not only did Jesus reveal God, He also communicated God to us. John’s gospel account begins with this affirmation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). What is a “word,” other than a means of communication. Jesus was God’s megaphone to the world that He had and continues to have something to say to creation.
Finally, Jesus came expressing the nearness of God’s presence. One of the names of Jesus ascribed through his advent was Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). He tangibly represented the presence of God in the world, and did so through his words and deeds.
So how does this inform our function as missional Christians? Quite simply, as we live our lives we reveal what God is like, communicate his word and his words, and serve as tangible reminders that God is near. Tomorrow I’ll finish up this week’s run with a couple of more thoughts on living the life as a missional Christian.
Back in my Arkansas days I had a church member who was a police officer. We spent a fair amount of time together working on a community project for at risk kids. One day following a planning luncheon I was taking him back to work, when suddenly we were passed by a car driving at a high rate of speed. The car was easily going 20 MPH over the speed limit, swerving back and forth while changing lanes.
The officer looked at me and said, “Catch that car.”
The adrenaline surged and I bagan to follow the instructions of the officer. I broke the speed limit, changed lanes erratically, and did my best to catch up with the speeder while trying to preserve my own life. The only thing that saved us was the red light at the intersection.
The officer looked at me and said, “Pull up beside that car.”
I pulled beside the car and rolled my window down and yelled at the driver to get his attention. The young man looked over and saw me and gestured aggressively. He did not see the officer. About that time, the officer leaned up and displayed his badge to the driver and his passenger, and strongly urged them to exercise prudence and caution while driving. Or something like that.
I was amazed at the 180 degree change of demeanor when they realized that the middle aged man in the Chevy Silverado was accompanied by a law enforcement officer. It was like someone flipped a switch.
The moral to this story is a simple one. Jesus came into the world under the divine directive of the heavenly Father. And in the same manner that He was sent, we are sent into the world to be the presence of Christ. We don’t go on our our initiative. We don’t go by our own design. We are sent by God to fulfill His mission on earth. Tomorrow I’ll continue this series with another thought about how we can better embrace our missional sentness into the world.
Graduation season has reminded me of how much fun I had during my senior year of high school. I had more than enough credits to graduate and had one block to fill. A friend of mine and I decided we should volunteer the last hour of the school day as office aides. (It wasn’t like they would let us sign out early to go home.)
Working as a seventh period office aide was a lot of fun, but it carried a little more responsibility than I imagined. Todd and I began our work each day by walking to all of the classrooms and collecting the attendance slips affixed to the door of the room. We were sent to the bank to make the daily lunch money deposit. We were sent to the post office to deliver the school’s outgoing mail. If phone messages came in for students from their parents, we delivered those as well.
Todd and I did all of these activities on a routine basis and were never questioned as to why we were freely roaming the halls or driving off and on to the campus. The reason we were never questioned was because we were sent by a higher authority, namely our school principal. I learned that year that when you are sent by a higher authority you don’t have to look over your shoulder to see if anyone is judging you or evaluating you. I learned that as long as I was pleasing my higher authority I didn’t need to dwell on the opinions of lesser ones.
This simple story is a good illustration of how we should perceive our sentness into the world. In John 20:21, Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” This week I want to point our some aspects of how Jesus was sent by the Father into the world and how His sentness informs our mission on earth today.
Peace is a scarce commodity in modern culture. More and more we tend to live in crisis mode, struggling to keep our heads above water as wave after wave of adversity pounds against our lives and homes. Living in survival mode will push hopes for peace to the margins of our prayers. Frankly, most of us don’t even aspire to high ideals such as “peace that passes all understanding.” For many, the only peace we can imagine is the peace that comes from the absence of adversity.
But the peace that Christ speaks of is a peace that comes to our lives even in the midst of adversity. Which brings me to the fourth post resurrection statement of Christ, found in Luke 24:35-40.
“Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost! “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet” (NLT).
In the Luke account, Jesus offered his scars as a means of comfort and peace. So how does that work? Think about scars for a moment. What do we know about scars?
First, scars are a sign of a previous wound; evidences of an injury that has occurred in the past. Some of our scars are visible. I have a scar, for example, on the palm of my hand that I received from a bike accident as a kid. I have a couple of other scars like that, but over all have been pretty fortunate. While some of our scars are visible, many are not. Some of the worst scars we carry are scars that cover our hearts. Some times the invisible scars represent more pain than the outer scars etched upon our bodies.
Second, scars are evidence that our wounds can be and have been healed. After all, if its not a scar, its still a wound that remains unhealed. When you see a scar there should at least be a flicker of hope for healing has occurred.
Third, some scars exist because we did exactly what we were supposed to do. I can remember as a child staring wild eyed at a young man just home from Viet Nam. He attended the church where I grew up and had been facially disfigured because he did what his nation called him to do. Jesus, of course is another example of one who bore deep and ugly scars through no fault of his own. He simply did what he was supposed to do. Maybe you have scars as the direct result of doing the right thing.
Fourth, scars are an important part of our maturity. Romans 5:3-5 speaks of God’s purposes in our adversity. Paul states that the trials of life work endurance in our lives which develops godly character, resulting in love. In short, adversity works endurance, and endurance develops character, which helps us to mature into persons who are more loving than before the adversity we experienced.
Finally, scars are a part of our authentication as human beings. They are what make us real. Behind every scar is a story, and those stories help our lives intersect with the lives around us. Scars have a way of reminding us that we are both human and mortal. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. We’re all human and mortal. Sometimes a scar will remind us of that and keep our feet firmly planted in humility and reality.
Now think about Jesus in that quiet room with the disciples. Jesus looked into the eyes of the disciples and saw the turmoil. He showed them his scars and invited them to touch them. In doing so, he invited them to come close, to take a step toward a deeper level of intimacy. Jesus could indentify with their lives, and he can identify with your life. Regardless of what you’ve experienced, Jesus can identify with your scars. To find peace in the midst of your struggle means that you’re going to have to take a step toward, not away from Jesus.
700 years before he was born, the prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would be called the “Prince of Peace.” He’s the ruler of peace and he makes it available to you. He gets the fact that you’ve been hurt or are still hurting, and he invites you to come closer.
Jesus’ third post resurrection statement was made during his interaction with two pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. You can find the story in Luke 24:13-35. The narrative describes two disciples who had observed all of the events in Jerusalem during the first passion week. While on the journey home, they were joined by a traveller who asked them, “What are you so concerned about?” They didn’t recognize their new traveling companion and began to describe all of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem that weekend. A careful reading of the story will reveal the ambiguity they felt. You could sum up the conversation like this:
Who was Jesus?
Well, he was a prophet.
Why did he come?
We hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman rule.
What did he accomplish?
We don’t really know. We heard his body was gone, and we heard he had risen.
How did Jesus help Cleopas and his wife transition from ambiguity to faith? How does Jesus help us move from ambiguity and uncertainty to faith?
Jesus first began with what faith they already possessed. Luke 24:25-27 reads as follows, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the road to faith actually begins with faith. Three times during the last six months of his public ministry Jesus foretold his passion. The point is that faith is a building that is constructed on what God has said in Scripture. The Scriptures serve as a foundation and we build on that foundation one story at a time. The two on the road to Emmaus weren’t challenged at the point of the circumstances of their immediate weekend. They were challenged at the point of the writings of the prophets over the course of several hundred years.
When we take the first step of faith, faith will next open the door to reveal more light. Think about driving your car at night. Your car has headlights that reveal what is before you. Your vision is not unlimited, for the headlights reveal what lies before you for only a few yards. But as your car travels the light continues to illuminate your path. Even with limited vision, you as a driver are more than willing to drive 60 or even 70 MPH.
As the travel companions neared Emmaus, Jesus was invited to dine and stay with them. His words had taken root in their hearts and their faith was emerging. It was during dinner that the couple recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. Then He was gone.
Rather than bask in the afterglow of the experience, the couple set out for the return trip to Jerusalem to share their discovery with the disciples. Jesus’ self disclosure made their faith personal. At the beginning of the story, the two pilgrims were wrestling with what others had said. But now their faith was personal because they had seen Christ for themselves. No longer did they need to live on borrowed faith. They learned that they could have their own faith and be free from ambiguity. So can we if we begin with the light we already possess.
I grew up in a day when there just weren’t a lot of options. My home of origin had three television stations, two grocery stores, and one Bible translation, the KJV. So naturally I cut my Bible reading teeth on a text written on the twelfth grade level. As time marched on, other translations began to emerge. The New KJV came along, smoothing out some of the archaic language while still honoring the spirit of the KJV. Then came the NASB (New American Standard), followed by the all time best selling NIV (New International Version) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Currently I’m reading the New Living Translation and am enjoying it very much.
As you know, today we have multiple versions of the Bible that are readily available. Even secular book store chain will carry a dozen or more options for those in the market for a new Bible. I’ve read each of the above mentioned versions cover to cover, and as I’ve read them have carried them into the pulpit and have used each of them in worship and preaching. I’m honored to share a few comments about how to select a Bible translation for you, the faithful reader of this blog.
The first thing you’ll want to know about Bible translations is the philosophical difference in how the version is interpreted. All authentic translations are taken from the Hebrew and Greek texts. (The difference between a translation and a paraphrase is that a translation comes from the ancient text while a paraphrase is a reiteration of the English text.) Some translations interpret the text “word for word.” In this approach, the goal is to convey the most precise interpretation of each individual word in the manuscript. Examples of word for word translations are the KJV, NKJV, and the NASB.
The other approach is to interpret the text “thought for thought.” The idea here is to value to concept to make sure that the main idea of the passage is conveyed clearly. Obviously one can get each individual word correct yet still fail to communicate the broader point being made by the verse(s). Examples of this would be the NIV, TNIV, and the NLT.
Think of the difference this way: word for word sees and values the individual trees while the thought for thought sees and values the forest. I don’t know that there is really a right or wrong in this. It’s simply a matter of preference and what the reader is really wanting out of the study experience.
The second tip I would offer is to remember that every translation is an interpretation. Valid translations are conducted by a committee of scholars who are well versed in biblical languages, theology, church history, and pastoral ministry. Each committee brings their education and their experience to the table. Take, for example one of the more popular new translations, the ESV. It is unapologetically reformed in its theology. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you know it going to check out. On the other hand you have the NLT, which is distinctly evangelical in its theology. Again, its not about right or wrong. I’m simply trying to make the point that you need to be aware that Bible translations are not neutral. Each possesses a theological bent. In fact, you can discern a lot about the theology of a church simply based on the translation that the pastor uses for preaching.
So how do you determine the theological bent of a translation? The easiest way is to thumb through the introductory pages of the translation and see who served on the translation team. Who are they? Where do they teach? A little cyphering at this point will tell you much about how certain passages will be handled, especially in the Pauline epistles.
Third, don’t rely on familiar passages to help you make a decision. Even the most contemporary translations will refrain from tampering greatly with commonly known sections such as Psalm 23, John 3:16, or the Lord’s Prayer. If you want to see how the translation really works, you’ll need to select a passage that is important to you and do the direct comparison accordingly. Visiting a free site such as www.bibletab.com will allow you to do direct parallel comparisons to get a feel for how the translation team handled important passages.
Finally, follow the money. At the end of the day, it’s about cash. The most popular translations may not be the best translations. They may simply have invested the most marketing dollars. Translations live and die based on sales, not scholarship. So whatever you do, don’t make your decision based on what the sales statistics report. Pick what speaks to you.