Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Don’t Mind People Calling Them “Holiday Trees”

As Christmas has approached I have found myself in a few different conversations with other Christians about their concerns with the trend to rebrand “Christmas” as “the Holidays”. The conversation frequently sounds the same, with most lamenting the loss of what once was in our culture and someone passionately demanding that “Christ” be put back into “Christmas”. As these conversations unfold, I find myself unsure about how I feel. Am I angry? No. Am I happy? No. Am I surprised that this is where our society is at? No, not really. Am I sad? Maybe, but less about what we call this time of year and more that most people are ignorant of the significance of what we are supposed to be celebrating.

As I reflect on what passes as “Christmas” celebrations in our culture, I think I may actually be okay with simply referring to this time of the year as “the holidays” for reasons that go beyond political correctness. There are many good things about the way that we celebrate this time of year (i.e. charity, gift giving, the opportunity to spend time with family, peace and good-will, etc.). But the reality is that how the season is celebrated at a popular level has very little to do with Jesus (i.e. over-indulgence, over-spending, greed, waste, some vague empowering force called “Christmas Spirit”, etc.) and perhaps it would be best to separate these things from his name.

In one of my recent conversations a story was told of a primary school classroom survey that revealed that very few children were aware that Jesus had anything to with Christmas. As one participant in the conversation stated, “maybe this is a good thing, because it means that they haven’t been jaded by Christians.” In a podcast I listened to today by Dr. Tony Campolo he suggested a similar thought. He suggested that many in our current culture have been inoculated against the gospel by “Christian” culture. He went on to suggest that perhaps this move away from a “Christian” holiday was an opportunity for the church to do its own marketing and storytelling about who Jesus is in a compelling way. I agree!  As Christians we cannot rely on our culture to tell the story of Jesus and convey the significance of Christmas. This is not their role or job and to expect this of them is unfair and unrealistic. Rather as the church, it is our job to proclaim the birth of Jesus and to invite people to experience Jesus for themselves.

Now I don’t think I am suggesting a boycott of everything our culture does during “the Holidays”, although I would certainly advocate for moderation and discernment, but I think that we need to figure out how we can be different. Perhaps it is a slowing down to contemplate and reflect on God’s love and gift of Jesus. Maybe it is the development of traditions that focus our attention on the significance of the birth of Christ. It certainly could be, and should be, the telling of the story of Jesus in a manner that connects with those around us. The significance of Christmas does not diminish with branding or whether we call the trees in our living room’s “Holiday trees” or “Christmas trees”, rather the significance is found in the baby in the manger - God dramatically breaking into our reality so that we could experience God’s forgiveness, restoration and divine peace. It is our responsibility to remember this and to proclaim it to our culture.  

The Tony Campolo podcast can be found on itunes ( See the release on 12/18/11.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Going to the Dentist Brings Me Closer to God...

So I'm going to the dentist (again) today and I realizing something about myself. I think that going to the dentist some how brings me closer to God. You see I am not a big fan of going to the dentist - although I am learning that being in the dental profession does not make some one a bad person (my recently experiences have been very positive). Going the the dentist makes me nervous. I am never sure what to expect. I feel exposed. I feel insecure. My efforts to cut corners are seen for what they are. There is nowhere to hide and I feel a lack of power. And so I find myself praying, meditating on God's goodness and quoting scripture to myself as I walk into the office and sit in the chair. It always strikes me as funny that I do this, but also always calms me.

I know that I might just be a big wimp, but I am realizing just how much we need experiences like this. Experiences where we suddenly realize our lack of power and that our best efforts have failed. Experiences where we don't have the means to get out of a jam or where those times when we have been faking it have been exposed. This is life. But these are also experiences that can cause us to realize that we need God - that without him we are lost, that we need to experience his presence and power to somehow survive.

For many of us there was a big crisis moment in our lives where we realized that we were in trouble, admitted defeat and threw ourselves to Jesus to rescue us. We may describe this as the time when we decided to follow Jesus. But the reality is that we don't just face one crisis moment and then the rest of life is hunky-dory. Rather the reality of life is that it is filled with moments where we need to realize that it is only through the power of God's Spirit within us that we will survive and find hope. For me, today, this is a trip to the dentist (admittedly small in the grand scheme of things...but it is what it is).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reshaped by Generosity

Lately I have been doing some thinking about what it means to have a healthily, God’s kingdom-orientation towards things like money and stuff. Scripture is clear that there is more to life than wealth, stuff, prestige and even physical comfort.  As people who are Christ followers, our lives are to be oriented differently; we are to shape our lives around God’s priorities rather than what our culture deems as important.  However, acknowledging this in theory is different than living it.  If I am honest, I struggle with wanting to hold tightly to the things that I have and my heart lusts for things that are clearly luxuries. I find security in my comforts, I covet what I do not have and make plans to attain things that I really do not need. It all sounds so shallow and is contrary to what I know about Jesus.

But then the offering plate gets passed on Sunday and something sinks in. Perhaps one of reasons why God asks his people to give a tithe or an offering is because he wants to help his people come to have a different perspective on wealth. Sure, it is a great way to support a church, charity or a person in a tangible way, but perhaps there more to it than fundraising.  In the Old Testament God asked his people to give the first and the best of what they earned/grew/raised. The New Testament isn’t quite as strict about how much someone is supposed to give, but the expectation is still that God’s people give generously.

I think that part of the point is that the act of giving shapes our attitude about what we have. The reality is that when we are generous with what we have, we are acknowledging that there is more to life than hoarding wealth. God’s requirements require that we hold loosely the things that we have and lead us to acknowledge that they came from God in the first place. When we give God the first crack at our pay check (no matter what the size) and not from what is left over, we are taking active steps to allow God to change our priorities from being “us-focused” to “God-focused.” For example, when we are faithful in giving instead of holding back so we can go on vacation, or to even pay down some debt, and instead give it to God, we are giving him priority over our wants and acknowledging that we are relying on him for our needs as well. Indeed, giving is one way that we acknowledge who God is and that we submit our hopes and dreams to him.  

A Christians we are called to be different.  Jesus invites us to make our lives about more than accumulating stuff and to instead enter into a life that is rich with meaning and significance. One of the ways that we can be different and fight off the values of a culture that place priority on self, wealth and success, is to practice being generous with whatever we have. May this define who we are. 

Friday, September 23, 2011


This week I read a stat that suggested that Canadian young people spend 7 hours and 38 minutes a day consuming media. Is this a scary thought to anyone else? I am not sure what the stats are for the rest of us, but I am sure that it is pretty high as well. The truth is that we are steeped in media and are steeped in a culture that is in many ways contrary to God's values and intentions. But perhaps recognition of this is key, as we realize that what we value and even built our lives upon may have little to do with Jesus, God or the Bible and more to do with the 100 hours of Jersey Shore we watched over the summer.

At youth group we have been talking about what it means to find our identity in Jesus. Part of a recent lesson was about being made new and how this means that we are to be different in every aspect of our lives. A key part of this discussion became about what we are consuming (not in a moralistic, you-shouldn't-watch-any-TV way) and that maybe we need to have our minds re-set in order to become who Jesus died for us to be. 

And so we came to Romans 12:2, that emphasizes that as believers that we should not just go along with the common thinking of our culture, but instead " transformed by the renewing of your mind." For Paul, what Jesus does for the believer is a life changing  thing and he is looking for this transformation to take alter the lives of Christians at the deepest level. He is looking for believers to stop conforming to the status-quo of their culture and to be the different people they are called to be. For Paul, the renewing of the mind is part of how this transformation takes place. It is a re-programming of values, morals, attitudes and behaviours. In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul again uses language that points to the mind as being important for transformation. Here Paul tells his readers that they are not like those who don't know Jesus. Instead they have been changed and that they need to be the new people that Jesus died to make them. The old way of being is to be abandoned and they are to be made new in their minds so they can take on a new way of being. 

I think that here Paul gives us something that we who are Christians need to remember. Our minds are crucial to being new creatures. What we input shapes us, it influences us. Maybe not much at first but over time we become what we consume. Therefore it is important that we dedicate ourselves to guarding our minds from just anything going in, and take active steps to allow God to re-set, and continually influence our thinking. This means spending time purposely consuming things that shape us in Godly ways (i.e. in scripture, at church, in prayer and in the fellowship of other believers). 

One final illustration (that I can't take credit for). When I prepare a steak, I usually prepare a marinade for it and let it soak for as long as I can. The longer I let it soak, the more the steak takes on the flavour of the marinade. If I just dip in in and take it out, really nothing happens. But if I let it sit in the juices all night...WOW. Perhaps in some way our minds are like the steak (please don't take this too far), the more we soak in God's influence, the more we a take on his flavour. But the converse can also be true, the more we soak in things that are not of God, the more we take on those flavors. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

True Story

Stories are the best. They engage us in ways that propositions and stated facts just cannot. This is something that we who are Christ-followers need to remember. We need to tell stories (true stories) about how we experience God's goodness and grace in our ordinary lives. These are the stories that our friends and families need to hear. They need to understand the real difference God has made in our lives.

I love the beginning of Psalm 107 where it says "Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story..." The rest of the Psalm is about people who are in dire situations, cry out to God for help and then experience help from God. This dramatic act of God in rescuing those who cry for help, is what the "redeemed of the Lord" are called to testify to. To me this is not unlike what Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 3:15, where his readers are told to, "Always be prepared to answer everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have."  Peter wants his readers to be ready to answer the questions, "So why do you follow Jesus?" and  "What has Jesus ever done for you?"

This call to testify to what God has done in our lives is something that we need to take seriously as Christians. We live in a culture that is drawn to stories and holds experiences in high esteem. This seems to me to be the perfect opportunity to speak about our relationship with Jesus. It does not have to be preachy, but rather it is simply being honest with our experience of God with those who we share our lives with. Our God stories are not just for us but stories to be told that can help others realize that Jesus really can make a difference.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Thought for the Day

"Who, after all, was it who didn't want the dead to be raised? Not simply the intellectually timid or the rationalists. It was, and is, those in power, the social and intellectual tyrants and bullies; the Caesars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrant's last weapon, death itself...Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world."

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope pg. 75

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Step 2

Usually I like posting my own stuff, but periodically I find something like this that I like a lot and want to pass on. This Rabbi captures something that I believe to be true: we can't fix ourselves and are in need of God's dramatic intervention. Please read and reflect.

~ Josh

Check out --> Was the World Powerless to Stop Amy Winehouse?

Friday, July 15, 2011


A few months ago I (finally) finished reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel.  To be absurdly succinct, it is a book about the vastness of God’s grace.  Honestly an amazing read, and I am considering making it a book that I read once a year for the good of my heart. Anyways….in one of the chapters Brennan Manning explores the theme of being free in Christ. This has given me much to ponder.

In a theological sense, we can understand that the Holy Spirit is at work in the cosmic conflict between God and the powers of sin. In the process of conversion, the Spirit frees us from the enslavement of hostile forces. He is the one who gives us the ability to reject sin and turn to God. This theme of freedom is important to the New Testament writers. Jesus himself promises true freedom from sin when he says, “So if the Son sets your free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36). Stanley Grenz (who I am getting most of my theology from these days) points out that the NT writers place this freedom in the context of a cosmic drama. The human predicament, as the NT writers put it, is that we are slaves to sin (see: John 8:34-35 & Romans 6). This bondage has two dimensions to it.  It means that we are spiritually dead now and that in the future we will be eternally separated from God. The good news is that Jesus has been victorious over the forces of sin and death – his resurrection is the great reversal of the power of death (a.k.a sin). Through conversion the Holy Spirit applies Christ’ victory to our lives and continues to live in us to empower us to overcome the enslaving control of sin (check out what Paul says in Romans 8:9-11). The Spirit’s presence brings freedom. As Paul writes “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (1 Corinthians 3:17 TNIV).  

This freedom in Christ that is empowered by the Holy Spirit is something that is life changing and can be experience in our lives now. We are freed from feelings of guilt and shame because we have been forgiven. We don’t have to hide our failures because we know that God didn’t accept us because we were perfect but found us while we were still stuck in sin. We need to remember that Jesus speaks about his Kingdom being for those who acknowledge that they don’t have it together spiritually (see Matthew 5:3-4). Suddenly we are no longer outsiders, but can enjoy the God’s presence in our lives. It is safety, peace and rest in the midst of what seems like chaos.  Brennan Manning puts it this way – “Home is not a heavenly mansion in the afterlife but a safe place right in the midst of an anxious world.”  “To those of us in flight, who are afraid…Jesus says, “You have a home. I am your home. Claim me as your home. You will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my home. It is right where you are, in your innermost being. In your heart.” This freedom changes what makes us tick…what drives us. Instead of being shaped by the ever-changing thoughts of others, “Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people pleasing, and the bondage of human respect.” Indeed, as followers of Christ we are called to continually give-in to the Holy Spirit so that he can work inside of us to change us. He will reshape our priorities and gently whisper to us how much God loves us even when others are telling us that we don’t matter. (All quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel,  chapter 8).

As I have been pondering what it means to find freedom in Christ, it strikes me that we need to proclaim this freedom to those who are searching. The reality of following Jesus is not  that all of our current problems will be suddenly fixed and that life will be made easy, nor is it is just about going to heaven (a topic for another blog perhaps). Rather there is a newness and a freedom that is available for the believer now. I think that this is part of what Jesus was talking about when he said “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 TNIV). 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


It is not often that I find myself reflecting on something that I have written almost a month later. Usually once my thoughts are out of my mind and on paper or posted on this blog, I move on. But over the past few weeks I have found myself thinking about the quotes that I posted in my last blog. These quotes have challenged my understanding of what it means for me to invite students (or anyone really) to follow Jesus.

The New Testament writers often use the terms "repent" and "believe" when they talk about individuals coming to faith in Christ/following Jesus/becoming a Christian, and I think that understanding these two terms are key to what it means to follow Jesus. "Repent" means to feel sorry, self-reproachful, or contrite for past conduct; to regret or conscience-stricken about a past action or attitude. Throughout scripture, people are called to repent of their sin and turn to Christ (see Acts 3:19). In this way repentance is a feeling of sorrow over ones sin that results in change - the following of Christ. Biblical repentance is not simply a feeling but must be accompanied by action. This action is the turning from and old way of life without Christ to one that has Christ at its center. In this way, following Christ is a complete reorientation of ones life. The term "believe" is also much more than an intellectual statement. It is not simply the affirmation that Jesus exists but rather I think that it describes a deep trust that encapsulates all of who we are. Much like repentance, believing in Jesus requires action and is incomplete without it. This "belief" is a way of being that is fully convinced that Jesus is one with God and is God's salvation, which results in a reorientation of ones life to be fully reliant on him. The Gospel of John repeatedly emphasizes the importance of "believing" and invites the reader to believe in Jesus and have life in Jesus' name (John 20:31).

I guess all this has challenged me to realize that our invitations for students to follow Jesus must be more than a one-time intellectual assertions.  Being a follower of Jesus means that we need make daily decisions to orient our lives around him - each day we will need to repent and believe afresh as the Holy Spirit does his thing within us. With this in mind, we must constantly be inviting our students to make decisions to follow Jesus in the day to day things of life and trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work reforming them from the inside out.

One last thought before I conclude. I think that as we invite our students to contemplate what it means to follow Jesus and reorient their lives, we need to be honest  about the cost of being a disciple. Heck, Jesus himself is pretty honest with his followers that following him won't be easy (see: Matthew 8:18-22 & Matthew 10).  Following Jesus is not always easy. It may require giving up something that we hold dear, it means that we stand out because our values are not to be the same as everyone else's, it may mean that people hate us and persecute us. How many times have you heard this in an alter call? But perhaps we should speak about the difficulties of following Christ when it is not popular to do so from the outset.

I guess I lied, I have one more thing to add. In all of our being real with students about what it means to follow Jesus, I believe that we need to also present that following Jesus does not just benefit us in the afterlife (i.e. not going to hell) but that he also blesses us here and now. We need to speak about God's goodness in tough times, about the new life that Jesus gives, about forgiveness and love,about the blessings of the community of faith, about the abundant life that Jesus promised, about the presence of the Holy Spirit and about the hope that we have even when all seems black.

Well I feel like I should end this before I  meander some more. I apologize if these thoughts do not fit together tightly.  Just working through some thoughts and thought I would include others in the process. ~ Josh

Thursday, June 16, 2011

pressure to convert

Last summer I started reading Mike King's Presence-Centered Youth Ministry and never finished it. So today I decided that I would try and finish it. But in refreshing my memory on what Mike is writing about, I came across some interesting quotes on the topic of asking students to make faith decisions via the "sinner's prayer". He notes that this was, and still is, one of the prominent ways that someone "becomes a Christian." On this topic he says the following...

"...the decisions we make being a follower of Jesus are so different than the formulaic nature of the sinner's prayer. We cheapen what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus, when we give kids the idea that praying a sinner's prayer settles things once and for all. We make thousands of decisions as we follow Christ." pg 36.

"Jesus would not have been considered a good youth pastor in most of our evangelical churches. [He] was obviously willing to give followers the time and space to understand....The rush to get kids to make a decision for Jesus takes away the important process of counting the cost of being his follower. pg 36.

"We must move away from premature and manipulated decision-making and instead create environments that allow for time and space, where youth are repeatedly ushered into the presence of God. We must allow transformation by the Holy Spirit instead of by gimmickry, tricks and manipulation." pg 37.

"Allowing youth to belong in our communities without pressuring them results in authentic decisions to follow Jesus." pg 37.

Interesting thoughts as we ponder what it means to make disciples of all ages in our culture today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Defacing the Image of God

 21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

Ever wonder how Jesus can say that murder and hatred deserve the same punishment? Isn’t one so much worse than the other? What Jesus is pointing out is that the attitude of the heart is the same in both actions.

At the point of creation the Bible says that God made man and woman in his image with great value; each of us, whether we are a Christian or not, are valuable because God made us to be like him. When someone makes the decision to kill another person they are placing themselves in the place of God. It is a defacing of the image of God - saying that the other person is not worthy being in the image of God and the value that God has given them.

Jesus’ statement here affirms that murder is indeed wrong but points out that in the attitude of the heart that we can deface the image of God in another person or diminish their God-given value. This is equally as wrong as murder. “Raca” is a term of reproach, a term of disapproval. It pointed out disgrace and was used as a strong insult to demean a person. Jesus pairs up the word “raca” with “you fool” to illustrate a bitter hatred and demeaning of a persons very being. This type of attitude, even if it is not spoken, is just like murder in that it makes a judgement about the value of another person. Where God has given them great value the attitude of hatred takes that away. Where God has made them in his image the attitude of the heart sees them as useless and disposable.

Jesus wants his audience to realize that God has made people with great value and that we are not to deface his creation and value he has give to people. Who are we to take what God has given? But like murder is a physical choice that one person does not matter so the attitude of our hearts can destroy the value God gives to another person.

On the one hand Jesus’ statement is incredibly good news. Jesus is affirming and protecting the value of his creation. Each of us is so valuable as image bearers of God that Jesus is not okay with people being filled with hatred toward one another. On the other hand this statement is very challenging. Jesus points out that this is not what his people are supposed to be about. His people are not supposed to be destroying the God-given value of others, even if it is this is done silently in their hearts. His people are supposed to be nurturing the God-give value of others.

But as believers we have been made new. Galatians 5:13-26 points out that we have been given a new way of life. We used to be people characterized by our sin nature. That is who we were. Being sinful we naturally were full of hatred and other things that took value away from other people.  But because of Jesus we have been made into new people. Remember that God loved you so much, he valued you so highly, that he was not willing to let us stay in sin. Jesus death made it possible for each of us to have a new life and to really live out what it means to be in God’s image – that is living in a relationship with God that is not affected by sin. Being new people we have the Holy Spirit living in us and changing us from people of wrath to people of love. Instead of being characterized by our sin we are characterized by Christ’s love in us. This will result in our loving other people despite their flaws and failures. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Putting the pieces together...

When we understand that our true value is found in our being God’s image-bearers and that our identity is whole when we are attached to Christ, we are freed up to be people of change. No longer do we need to listen to the voices that tell us that we need to be self-reliant, comfortable, outwardly beautiful and inwardly focused. This is not who we are. We know that there is more to life than being a consumer. Rather, we have been freed to be counter-cultural, to live differently.  Jesus has radically changed who we are and the Holy Spirit is at work continually transforming each of us, calling to us to make God’s priorities our priorities. Now we are called to be different. To give generously. To live sacrificially. To embody grace. To seek justice.  To love mercy.  To walk in humility. To share hope.   

Monday, March 28, 2011

Doing nothing is not an option!

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed in my past few postings that I have been trying to work out what the Christian response to suffering and injustice should be. Indeed as I have been reading the Bible I cannot shake the reality that God cares deeply for those who are in need and that it is expected that as one of his followers, that I be doing something to bring his grace to those who are hurting. I don’t think that our acting on issues of injustice, poverty or suffering is an option as a Christian. So what can we do? I know that this question can be pretty overwhelming as it seems like there is so much suffering and injustice in our world. However, I sat down the other night and in 20 minutes had a list of ideas that I think that most of us could do in our ordinary lives and would address the things that God cares about. I think that these might be a good place to start. Please take a look and let me know what you think. ~ Josh

Sponsor a child. Check out: or

Be a big brother or big sister (or some other youth mentoring equivalent).  Check out:

Each time you go grocery shopping, buy extra food to donate to the food bank.

Donate money to organizations that provide aid to countries that are war-torn or have been struck by natural disasters. Check out: or

Write a letter to a prisoner. Check out:

Make visiting a hospital or a nursing home a regular part of your week.

Visit those who are shut-in.

Volunteer in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

Vote responsibly. Check out:

Write your Member or Parliament about government policies that affect those who are vulnerable (both here in Canada and in other parts of the world).  Check out:

Be responsible with what you have. Perhaps you can make due with less and use the excess to help others? (e.g. Could someone else benefit from the money you were going to spend on a new cell phone?)

Be a wise consumer. Find out where your products are coming from and what the manufacturer’s labour practices are.

Buy a homeless person a sandwich and a drink. Talk with them.

Befriend an immigrant or refugee. Help them integrate into Canadian society. They will need help finding a place to live, filing paperwork, getting around town, etc.

Befriend that person that everyone tries to avoid (you know who I am talking about!).

Volunteer for a Habitat for Humanity build in your community. Check out:

Pray for God’s justice, mercy and freedom to come soon. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

we gotta change!

A friend just showed me this in class today. It really has made me think. We gotta change the way we approach life!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It's Not About Us

Over the course of the past few months, I have found myself overwhelmed by the abundance of troubles that exist in our world and my own feelings of powerlessness in knowing how to deal with them. However, in these feelings of powerlessness I have been struck by one line of the Lord ’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10.  Jesus prays, “...your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is part of the model of prayer that Jesus gives in his famous Sermon on the Mount and is intended to be something that his followers emulate. For in praying like Jesus we are acknowledging the reality that God is the ruler of all and that therefore nothing is outside of his hands. He is in charge not us. This should be very freeing. Indeed, praying like Jesus means that we are relinquishing our will, our rights, our desires and opening ourselves to God’s ways. It is an honest statement that our ways are not working and that we are without adequate power to save ourselves or our world. We are in need of God’s intervention. It is a yearning for things to be made right and an openness to God acting in accordance to who he is, not how we think that he should act. It means that we are welcoming God’s priorities and seeking to see them enacted in the world around us.

As Christ followers we live in the tension of waiting for God to finally make all things right but also in the now where God is already at work in his world. Therefore, our prayers are in anticipation of the complete rule of God but are also looking for God to come and bring a taste of his goodness to our present -  so we acknowledge the supremacy of God, submit to his ways and look for him to act. It is no longer about us but about him. However, perhaps as we yield to him, God will use us to bring the grace, love and goodness of his Kingdom into the brokenness of this world.

 It is not about us. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What does worship look like?

I have spent a fair amount of time in the Minor Prophets lately and have been trying to process the implications of what I have been reading. This blog is part of my reflection. I would be happy to receive your feedback on what the implications/application of this are.

The prophet Amos is writing to the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, and is condemning them not for their religious practices but mostly for their neglect of justice and righteousness. This was a nation where the wealthy elite were oppressing the poor in many ways all the while believing that they had God’s favour. But this was not the case. God states plainly that he hates their worship because they have neglected to do justice (5:21-24). They were worshipping God while oppressing the poor and seeking after their own gain. Amos condemns them for human trafficking (2:6), oppression of the poor (Amos 2:7, 4:1, 5:11, 5:12, 8:4), denying justice or perverting justice (Amos 2:7, 5:7, 5:10, 5:13), dishonest business practices that result in cheating the poor (8:5-6), not to mention idolatry and pagan worship practices (2:7-8).  These charges of sin against other people are also proclaimed by other prophets (see: Micah 2:1-2, Habakkuk 2:9-17, Hosea 4:1-2,12:7, and Zephaniah 3:1-4).  

I think that these passages should remind us of something that is close to the heart of God. God really cares about his human creation, particularly those who are vulnerable.  The reality is that God has created humanity in his image and he is jealous to protect that image.  Human beings are created to live in community with God and with one another, not to be used as a means to get rich or viewed as a burden. They have been given great value as God’s image-bearers and as such, God desires that humanity be treated with the dignity and value that God gave.  Indeed the way we take care of each other, particularly those in need, speaks to our understanding of God and the worship that he demands.  In Micah 6:8, God says that he does not want ritual worship but that instead he requires that they act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

I know that as I have pondered this that I have found myself wondering if I am a person who thinks that my faith and worship is fine but have been ignoring how I am a part of the problem of injustice.  I can honestly saying that I do not believe I am contributing to the trafficking of human beings but I do wonder how my life as a middle class Canadian may be contributing to injustice. What can I do to alleviate the suffering that exists in our world and help affirm the dignity of the Divine Image? In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus speaks about caring for those who are in need (the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner).  In James 1:27 the true religion that is acceptable to God is caring for the widow and the orphan.  What should this look like in real life? Is it more than just making monetary donations? Might it actually mean making due with less, or leaving our comfort zone, for the sake of another?

In closing, please do not think that I am advocating for a faith that is solely based on social action/justice. Rather, I am just thinking out loud about how our knowledge of God and our relationship with Christ should look like in real life.

I look forward to any feedback you may have.
~ Josh 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Portrait of Grace

Warning: This blog repeatedly uses a word that some may find offensive. You have been warned. However, I do not believe that it has been used inappropriately or gratuitously. There is a point. Read on if you are interested.

Wally, Elliot and I were on the street corner across from the church. Wally and Elliot had just finished their after-church smoke and I was helping Wally out of his wheel chair and into the car so I could take him back to his home at the hospital. Just then, I looked down and saw a stream of watery poo come from under Wally’s shorts. It seemed that his diaper had leaked. To be honest I was a grossed out and was not sure what to do. But Elliot did. While I was hesitating, Elliot reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief at the same time saying, “Wally, you’ve got shit running down your leg. Let me clean you up.” And just like that he bent down, wiped Wally’s leg clean and put the handkerchief back into his pocket. That was it. Elliot helped me get Wally into the car and then went on his way home.

This moment felt holy to me. In a situation where human dignity was fragile and fleeting, Elliot reached out, preserved it and gave it back. In fact, it has struck me that Wally’s restored dignity was at the expense of Elliot’s.  It was in this moment that I saw Jesus at work and feel as though I understand a little more of what his grace is all about.  The grace of Jesus finds us a disgraced mess and restores us. But this restoration happens at the expense and disgrace of Jesus.

I think that Elliot’s response in this story was perfect and illustrates another truth as well. Elliot acknowledged the problem for what it was and responded in a gracious manner.  He did not ignore the shit running down Wally’s leg. He did not make a bigger deal out of it than it needed to be. Neither of these responses would have brought about the needed restoration to the problem. Rather, he called it what it was and brought grace to the situation.  Shit happens in other areas of life too. It takes many forms but we know what it is when we see it. I think that one of the things that we, as followers of Christ, can be about is acknowledging the shit of life in a gracious, but honest, manner and then respond in ways that helps bring restoration. Unfortunately, many pretend like shit does not happen or go to the other extreme and blow it out of proportion. Neither of these responses are truly gracious or helpful. 

“The graces of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:18