Who Am I?

Jesus Creed 19 – Believing in Jesus

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 19 – Believing in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28.

The opening theme of this chapter reaches out and grabs you.

The goal of a disciple of Jesus is relationship, not perfection.

Let that sink in for a while. I deeply sense this is not how most of my fellow believers would formulate this statement. I once heard someone in my church describe ‘being Christian’ as ‘trying to be perfect even though we know we will fail.’ I can only describe my reaction to that statement as one of horror. I tried to share my reaction with some who were close to me and whom I thought might understand, but nobody really understood the depth, breadth, and intensity of my reaction against that description of the essence of Christianity. I know that ‘horror‘ seems melodramatic, but it’s not too strong a word to describe my reaction. If that statement captures what it means to be Christian, then I want to be something else. The statement strikes me as a rejection of all I understand it to mean to be Christian. This focus on ‘perfection‘ is not a minor side issue for me.

I think Scot captures my perspective, in part, in this statement:

Faith is an ongoing relationship and therefore like a marathon. The Jesus Creed is not for someone who believed, in the past, but someone who believes. Christians are called believers not believeders.

If you don’t immediately grasp the truth and implications of that statement, I simply don’t know how to make them clearer. Our faith can be stated as simply as, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ’ or ‘Jesus is Lord,’ though those statements then need to be worked out.  McKnight uses an interesting example of Shammai and Hillel on this point. It’s worth reading.

Faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In theory we all agree with that statement, but do we live that way? I’m not convinced. I like the following. (I think Scot is quoting someone else.)

We cannot have a relationship with our christology — we can have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our soteriology cannot save us from our sins — our Savior can.

Our ecclesiology does not make us one — the Lord of the Church does.

Our eschatology will not transform this flawed universe — Jesus the King of kings and Prince of Peace will do that.

And, no matter how much we love theology — it will never love us back.

Only God in Christ loves us, and that is why believing is a relationship.

Those are extremely good words. Of course, ‘relationship‘ is also something of a tricky concept. The English word can describe our most intimate bonds and our most shallow connections. I can say I have a ‘relationship‘ with my wife, but I can also say I have a ‘relationship‘ (a business relationship) with the man who delivers my newspaper. In the context of Christianity, we’re using the word more in its former connotation. A lot of our words, like fellowship or knowing, have the same problem. That’s one of the reasons I’ve come to believe that the English word communion is probably the better choice.

Salvation is union or communion with Christ and being Christian is the process of growing in communion. And that necessarily means also growing in communion with our fellow human beings. I think a quote by St. Silouan captures this dual reality very well indeed.

We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies.


Jesus Creed 18 – A Society with Perspective

Posted: September 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 18 – A Society with Perspective

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 14:25; Matthew 25:31-46.

The bible gives us only an occasional glimpse of heaven.

That’s an important place to begin this chapter because it focuses on the perspective our eschatology gives us. However, Scot also connects the fact that our culture impacts our ‘idea’ of heaven at least as much as anything else. And that’s both accurate and a very important observation that is often missed.

I’m not going to delve into all the vagaries surrounding that point in this post. Scot touches on them, but does not dwell on them. His focus is on what Jesus teaches and what should be common to all of us.

Jesus teaches that heaven, or the eternal kingdom, begins with a judgement; that heaven is entered by the followers of Jesus; that heaven involves table fellowship between Abba and his people; and that heaven is magnificent in its glory, intensity, and splendor. In short, heaven begins with the judgement and then, once that is over, the whole place is decked out for eternal fellowship with God and others.

There really is a lot of exploration in this chapter, but I’ll skip to this.

The place to stand, the perspective it gives us, is this: The end is the beginning. That is, one’s view of the eternal (the end) gives one perspective in this life (our beginning each day). The most potent incentive to spiritual formation is to see the end of history, to ponder God’s eternity, and to realize that this end shapes our beginning each day. So, in the words of Thomas a Kempis, ‘Practice now what you’ll have to put into practice then.’

Scot then builds a case against reading scripture purely for information. And his case is a powerful one. It merges, for me, with Willard’s words about bible study in Spirit of the Disciplines. We should read, meditate upon, study, and otherwise use scripture not for information but for formation. It helps us little to learn about love. We need to love. That is a distinction always worth keeping in mind.

This concludes the part on the society the Jesus Creed forms. Mcknight moves next to living the Jesus Creed.


Jesus Creed 17 – A Society of Joy

Posted: September 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: John 2:1-11.

This chapter opens with an exploration of the yearning that is a universal part of the human experience. While there are many good thoughts, quotes, and ideas in the opening, I’m going to skip straight to the following from the book.

Here’s the good news: Jesus claims that the yearned-for joy is already here, that he’s provided us with an abundant drink of it, and that his offer will satisfy our thirst forever and ever. To reveal that joy, Jesus performs miracles that draw down a little bit of heaven’s joy to earth, that suddenly make life in this world light up in glory, and that convert the humdrum routine of reality into the joy of life.

Sometimes it seems like we treat God’s joy, grace, and life as if it’s in short supply. We feel we have to be careful where we bestow it. We don’t want to ‘waste‘ it. And that’s so very foolish. If there’s anything that knows no limit, that overflows with abundance, in which we swim in riches unimagined, it’s the embarassing wealth of grace and life God pours out on us.

Obviously, from the gospel reading, Scot begins his exploration at the wedding at Cana. And he starts by pointing out one of those things that we don’t often consider. Why does John specifically mention that the vessels Jesus’ uses are for ceremonial washing? Here is where we’ve lost some of our points of reference to Jesus’ culture. These weren’t about hygiene. They contained sacred water. It is water used to purify people and things.

People and things are made pure to get them in the proper order before God, to render them fit to enter into God’s presence. Observant Jews wash their hands in this water so they can eat their food in a state of purity.

Think on that for a moment. We talk about those containers a lot but I can’t think of a time when I can say I truly paused to recognize their significance in the culture. I knew it, but never connected the dots. Scot draws a wonderful point from this.

Jesus transforms the water of purity into the wine of joy. … Purity comes, not from water, but from drinking in the wedding wine of Jesus. … Jesus not only transforms water into wine, he does so in abundance. … Abundant joy is a feature of the kingdom…

That’s a powerful thought. Scot closes the chapter with the following.

When Jesus transforms the waters of purification into the wine of celebration he is saying that the daily grind of yearning for joy through purity has come to an end. ‘You need search no longer,’ Jesus is saying, ‘the wedding wine is at the table, drink it, all of you. Drink of me, for I am the wedding wine of joy, for the forgiveness of sin. I am what you yearn for. I make all things pure.


The Jesus Creed 16 – A Society of Restoration

Posted: September 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 16 – A Society of Restoration

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 23:8-12; Mark 5:24-34; Luke 5:12-16.

If justice is really about restoring people to God and others, then it follows we are a society of restoration. So this is an obvious next step.

However, the chapter begins with a discussion of miracles. Scot McKnight explores the way many Christians think that miracles are proofs of various sorts. And while they do, in fact, prove that Jesus is God, the Son of God, and basically is ‘right‘, that’s really more of a side-effect. I hadn’t thought of it exactly that way, but it’s a strong thought.

God isn’t in the show-off business or in the convincing business. Miracles, again speaking generally, are not done to prove the truth about God or about Jesus Christ. They may reveal plenty about Jesus (as our next chapter will show), but their intent is often otherwise.

I must emphasize this: Miracles do reveal things about God and His Son. That is beyond dispute; that they are always designed to prove something is disputable. I’m on the side of those who think Jesus did miracles, and on the side of those who think miracles tell us something about Jesus and about truth. But I am also on the side of those who think the miracles had intents other than proving something.

Let that sink in for a bit. I’ll go further. I believe God is still in the miracle business today. There is little else that accounts for some aspects of my experience and life. But it isn’t about ‘proving something’. At least I don’t see it that way. What is it most often about? Restoration. And that, as the title indicates, is McKnight’s point.

It is quite easy to see the normal intent of Jesus’ healing miracles. Any glance at the many records of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels reveals what the miracles normally do: They restore people. Miracles are performed by Jesus out of love and are done to restore humans to God and to others. Miracles are what happens when the Jesus Creed becomes restorative.

Think about that. As we expect the Jesus Creed to restore, do we live in expectation of miracles? Not at our beck and call as some ‘Christian‘ sideshows would proclaim, but unexpectedly and when and where they are needed? It’s something to ponder.

Jesus heals to restore others into a society without the age-old classifications. He heals to knock down walls between people.

Scot then proceeds to examine two walls that are crushed by the restorative power of the Jesus Creed.

Wall #1: Women Join the Table.

He uses one specific illustration, but the evidence is legion. Jesus breaks down the societal classifications/walls that keep women from the table of God.

Wall #2: Lepers Come to the Table.

Lepers were the prototypical outcast. Unclean. Unable to participate in any of the functions of society. The functional equivalent of the Hindu Untouchables. Jesus restored them. Again and again. I’m not sure the implications can be overstated. McKnight describes Jesus as “a contagion of purity”. Meditate on that a bit. He wasn’t consumed with the fear that others would make him impure, but confident that by bringing them to his table, he could make them pure.

Which model are we called to follow?


Jesus Creed 14 – A Society of Mustard Seeds

Posted: September 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 14 – A Society of Mustard Seeds

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Matthew 13:31-32.

Jesus thinks paradoxes best explain the kingdom.

Is there any better way to capture Jesus’ parables? What are they if not paradoxes? And the particular parable under discussion in this chapter is even more the paradox than many. N.T. Wright has noted that Jesus did things and when questions or challenges were posed him as a result, sometimes he refused to answer and other times he told a story that forced his listeners to work out the meaning of his actions themselves.

But instead of defining ‘kingdom’ as paradise, Jesus defines it with a paradox. If you want to see what the kingdom is like, look at a mustard seed. This surprises everyone because it asks everyone to think of ‘kingdom’ in a new way. We should look at what they were already thinking — and be honest enough to admit that what they were thinking is what we are thinking — before we look at what Jesus means by a mustard seed.

When we think ‘KINGDOM’, do we really think mustard seed? That’s not the impression I get, whatever people say. The following expresses it well.

Why does a mustard seed attract comparison to the kingdom of God? Because for Jesus the kingdom is about the ordinariness of loving God and loving others. The kingdom is as common as sparrows, as earthy as backyard bushes, as routine as breakfast coffee, and as normal as aging. He hallows the ordinary act of love, making it extraordinary. Instead of finding it in the majestic, Jesus sees God’s kingdom in the mundane. The kingdom of God is the transforming presence of God in ordinary humans who live out the Jesus Creed.

Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God, but it doesn’t look like any sort of kingdom that people expected. Paul saw that Kingdom growing and spreading and the word he most commonly used to describe it was ecclesia, a word that did not have a strictly or even primarily religious meaning before it was adopted by Christians. (At least, that seems to be the general consensus.) We translate it Church, of course, in English.

The mustard-seed paradox of Jesus surprises in many ways. The first surprise is that Jesus finds the presence of his kingdom at work in the most unlikely of persons. … Time and time again Jesus chooses odd people to follow him, and then he holds them up as examples of what the kingdom is all about.

As one of those unlikely persons, I certainly empathize with this. Think about it. Don’t you see it again and again in the gospels?

Our natural tendency is to search for the perfect, for the powerful, for the pure, and so prepare for paradise. But Jesus’ kingdom is about tiny mustard seeds, not big coconuts; it is about the ordinary act of loving God and loving others with a sacred love that transforms.

Love God. Love others. The two cannot be separated. And it’s work and requires discipline and a willingness to change. Moreover, we have to love others even though they disappoint us and hurt us. But if we say we love God and hate our brother, we are liars. John said that, though I’ve noticed we don’t much like to read what he says.

Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed tells us that the mustard seed, though small when it is planted, becomes a large bush. It grows. So also the kingdom of Jesus: it spreads like seeds, one at a time, from person to person.

And I suppose that captures the essence of my discomfort with “programs” of evangelism. I see that they ‘work’ with some people, whatever that means. At the same time, I see how thoroughly I could have decimated any of them if someone had naively attempted to convert me using one of them. It wasn’t any ‘program‘ that reached me. There were a number of individuals over time who acted out of love toward me. Over time that softened my dismissal and rejection of Christianity. I doubt anything else could have ever reached me.

In the world of Jesus, there are only two ways the kingdom can be established: either wait patiently and peacefully for God’s time or force the rule of God with violence.

That’s certainly a true observation. Which did Jesus choose? Can there be any doubt at all? What does that say about us?

Jesus has a thing for paradox. The thing is that it works.


Jesus Creed 13 – A Society of Transformation

Posted: September 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 13 – A Society of Transformation

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 6:10, 11:28-30; Luke 17:20-21; Mark 3:31-35.

This section begins with the point that your goal shapes your journey. You have to know where you are going or you can get lost.  Jesus, too, knew where he was going, and he had a term for it — ‘kingdom of heaven’ (malekutha shamayim). This expression of Jesus provides a goal for his followers and, by living out that vision in heart, soul, mind, and strength, life is transformed.

Thus we should be a society of transformation. Are we, though? Scot has this interesting bit.

But what does he mean by ‘kingdom’? Ask a Christian ‘What did Jesus mean by ‘kingdom’?’ and you will get something like this: ‘heaven, eternity, life after death.’ Or, you might hear: ‘heaven on earth, the millenium, a perfect world, a paradise.’ (On my unscientific questionnaire, the responses are about fifty-fifty.)

His ‘unscientific’ poll strikes me as exactly right. That does seem to be how most people view the term. Scot has a lot in the book developing his thoughts, but the below captures part of his conclusion.

So, if ‘kingdom of God’ is so important to Jesus, what does it mean? I offer this thumbnail definition: the kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed transforms life. Three parts here: first, it is a society; second, the content shaping that society is the Jesus Creed; and third, the impact of the kingdom is that it transforms life.

A society is certainly one term, an entry point if you will, into the reality we call the church, but I don’t believe it captures its fullness. The church does break down all human divisions — it heals Babel. But I would call it less a society than a restoration of communion between human beings. I will say that where a larger society or culture shaped by the Jesus Creed exists, it transforms both those within and those who come in contact with it. If the society, whether labeled ‘Christian’ or not, is not shaped by the Jesus Creed its impact is negligible or even harmful. We have plenty of examples of both of those from history.

I will note that in my own journey toward Christianity, I was neither uncomfortable with what I believed (I wasn’t seeking something different), nor did I have an unsettled opinion of Christianity and Christians in general. Rather, it was the actions — the love — I saw and experienced from various Christians over time that led me initially to wonder if my judgment of Christianity had been premature and unfair.

Scot continues with this important insight.

It is important to understand that for Jesus the kingdom is about a society. Jesus did not come merely to enable specific individuals to develop a solo relationship with God, to run about on earth knowing that they, surrounded by a bunch of bunglers, were the only ones getting it right. No, he came to collect individuals into a big heap, set them in the middle of the world, and ask them to live out the Jesus Creed. If they live out that Jesus Creed, they will be personally transformed, and they also will transform the society around them.

Think about that. If it were all about individuals and God, there would have been no reason to amend the Shema, would there? It already covered that, didn’t it? Are we proclaiming and living the kingdom? Or are we returning to something like the focus of Israel under the Shema? That’s something to think about. I will, however, note that Jesus’ own language goes well beyond that of societal relationship. His language is that we be one with each other as he and the Father are one. That’s why I think a communion is a better word for the Kingdom than a society. But the point remains — this is not a faith for individuals. It’s not just about God and you.

The kingdom would be a society that is transforming life in the now, and that’s the extraordinary thing about Jesus. At the time of Jesus, it was not hard to find Jews pining for, pondering over, or planning for the kingdom. It was impossible to find one who believed that the long-anticipated kingdom was already present. Of all the radical claims Jesus made, this one stands the tallest: ‘The kingdom of God does not come visibly … because the kingdom of God is [right now and here] among you’ (author’s translation). Jesus’ saying- satchel is full of radical comments, but this tops ’em all. Jesus believes the kingdom of God is present. This can mean only one thing: he expects his followers to live in the kingdom in their daily lives — right now. Thus, a spiritually formed follower of Jesus lives the values of the kingdom now.

Do you agree? Or disagree? This is a central question, not a peripheral one. How you answer determines how you perceive the faith, Jesus, and everything surrounding it. Obviously, I see it much as Scot McKnight does. I get the sense that much of the church today does not. He does point out that Jesus says the kingdom begins by turning to him. So it is personal and relational. It begins by turning to him. But it doesn’t end there. “Kingdom transformation continues by following Jesus.” Scot has a lot more to say, but that captures it. Turning to Jesus is the start, but if you refuse to follow him, it doesn’t mean all that much. He talks a lot here about Jesus’ yoke as compared to the Torah-yoke and that’s a really good part of the chapter.

But it doesn’t even end there. The Kingdom transformation is only sustained by communion. Those fellow believers are the holiest objects presented to your senses. As flawed as they are, as often as they will fail you, they are the only thing that will sustain you in the faith. If you do not spend time with them, you’re in trouble. Pure and simple.

As a family they learn from Jesus about this new transforming: about boundary-breaking table fellowship, about forgiving one another, about financial responsibility for one another, and about equality within the family of God. What they learn most is the upside-down nature of the kingdom istself: instead of acting with power, his family serves one another. And, instead of living in self-absorption, his followers love one another. In other words, they live out the Jesus Creed as a society –and when they do, life is transformed.

Do we do that? Really?

The kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed transforms life.

In other words, that place where God’s will is done as it is heaven, even imperfectly.

Nothing else transforms life.


The Jesus Creed 12 – Women: The Story of Compassion

Posted: September 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 12 – Women: The Story of Compassion

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 7:11-17, 36-50; 8:1-3.

Jesus, in his radical actions of compassion, does not permit his followers to embrace the stories of only those who are similar — we are to love all those who sit at Jesus’ table.

Isn’t that the most difficult part of this? If our ‘fellowship’ looks homogenous (and it mostly does, especially when I see the pictures in publications like ‘The SBTC Texan’), what does that say about us? Do we seek the comfortable at the expense of faithfulness?

Sometimes we treat the needy as if they are pariahs, as if they have done something to deserve their fate. … Even when we believe that God loves everyone, we still don’t know what to do with some people. The distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’ creates hostility between the haves and the have-nots.

But Jesus, with eyes abrightin’ and heart awarmin’ and hands astretchin’ and feet amovin’, does offer hospitality to persons at the edges of society. He enters the safety zone, walks to the edges, takes the needy in his hand, escorts them back across the zone, offers them a spot at his table, and utters the deepest words they are to hear: ‘Welcome to my table!’ He offers them a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.

The first woman McKnight examines is the widow leading a funeral procession. “Jesus knows widowhood firsthand because his mother is widowed. Even though Judaism developed a small bundle of laws protecting widows, the label ‘widow’ (Hebrew: almanah) quickly became synonymous with poverty. … The widow from Nain had already seen the death of her husband, and she is now losing her ‘only son.’ And thus she is probably losing her income. She is weeping in grief when Jesus observes her.

Jesus empathized with the woman. And the words he utters reflect that fact. ‘Don’t cry.’ He had probably uttered them to his own mother.

Another story of empathy we see is toward the woman who bathed his feet in perfume and tears in the house of Simon. His response to her is full of compassion.

Notice how Jesus’ compassion for these women turns into action to resolve the problem: he raises the widow’s son, he forgives the prostitute and gives her a new vocation, he exorcises demons from Mary Magdalene, and he heals Joanna, Susanna, and others. … Jesus’ kind of compassion is not abstract commitment. It is real and personal and concrete. Compassion moves from the heart to the hands and feet.

Absolutely. McKnight concludes this chapter with Mother Theresa’s creed. He even calls it her “Shema”.

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

And I would add: Amen and amen.


The Jesus Creed 11 – John: The Story of Love

Posted: September 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 11 – John: The Story of Love

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Mark 10:35-45; Luke 9:49-56; John 13.

In John’s story we see the process of learning to love. John became the Apostle of Love, but he didn’t start that way. Not even close. In fact, not once during the gospels does John show any evidence of the love for which he would later be celebrated. Read them. They tell the truth. And the truth about John shows little love.

John does learn about love. He even ties loving God and loving others together, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” But John had a long way to go before he learned to live lovingly. In the gospels, John fails when he is tested in love. His failures are less celebrated than Peter’s denials, but I’m not sure that should be the case.

First, there’s John and James ‘request’ to let one sit on Jesus’ left and the other on his right. “If love is service (which is what Jesus goes on to explain to the brothers), then John fails in love.

Then John fails to recognize someone exorcising demons in Jesus’ name. John tries to stop them and ‘tells on them’ to Jesus. “To which Jesus gives the agelessly valuable response, ‘whoever is not against us is for us.’ Anyone following the Jesus Creed would not denounce someone who is breaking down demonic walls. Except John.

And then finally there’s John wanting to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan town refusing Jesus hospitality because he was heading for Jerusalem.

John does eventually learn love. But key to that is that he was loved and loved deeply by Jesus. How does he describe himself? The disciple whom Jesus loved. John is a slow learner, but that constant exposure sinks in.

I probably empathize and connect more with John’s story of learning love than anyone’s, though Peter’s story of conversion is a close second.  I have always loved and desired family, but love of others was never my creed. At best, my perspective was that which fulfills the Wiccan Rede: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will. At worst, my perspective was more along the lines of: Do unto others before they do unto you.

I still don’t think I would say that I’ve learned love.  I would say that I now desire to love — to truly love as Christ loves. While that’s quite a step for me, I don’t think it counts for all that much until I actually love. Until then, I pray for mercy as the least loving of all.

It occurs to me that scattered through my posts, I mention Wicca, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and other spiritual paths. It’s unlikely that many who read will be familiar with the many threads that shape my thoughts and thus my references. As a rule, I’m more drawn to the more ancient religions. Even so, though I have never been Wiccan, I have had friends who were and it’s one of the modern spiritualities that has to one extent or another shaped my life. I still remember how struck my wife was at the final line of a Wiccan handfasting of some friends of ours many years ago. You have been married since you met. She said that line described how she felt with me.

With that in mind, for those who may have never read or heard, I’m going to share the full Wiccan Rede. I do not believe it reveals the fullness of truth or I would be Wiccan rather than Christian. But there are ways to shape your life that are much worse.

The Wiccan Rede

Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.

For tread the Circle thrice about to keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell well every time, let the spell be said in rhyme.

Light of eye and soft of touch, speak you little, listen much.
Honor the Old Ones in deed and name,
let love and light be our guides again.

Deosil go by the waxing moon, chanting out the joyful tune.
Widdershins go when the moon doth wane,
and the werewolf howls by the dread wolfsbane.

When the Lady’s moon is new, kiss the hand to Her times two.
When the moon rides at Her peak then your heart’s desire seek.

Heed the North winds mighty gale, lock the door and trim the sail.
When the Wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.

When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss you on the mouth.
When the wind whispers from the West, all hearts will find peace and rest.

Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.
Birch in the fire goes to represent what the Lady knows.

Oak in the forest towers with might, in the fire it brings the God’s
insight.   Rowan is a tree of power causing life and magick to flower.

Willows at the waterside stand ready to help us to the Summerland.
Hawthorn is burned to purify and to draw faerie to your eye.

Hazel-the tree of wisdom and learning adds its strength to the bright fire burning.
White are the flowers of Apple tree that brings us fruits of fertility.

Grapes grow upon the vine giving us both joy and wine.
Fir does mark the evergreen to represent immortality seen.

Elder is the Lady’s tree burn it not or cursed you’ll be.
Four times the Major Sabbats mark in the light and in the dark.

As the old year starts to wane the new begins, it’s now Samhain.
When the time for Imbolc shows watch for flowers through the snows.

When the wheel begins to turn soon the Beltane fires will burn.
As the wheel turns to Lamas night power is brought to magick rite.

Four times the Minor Sabbats fall use the Sun to mark them all.
When the wheel has turned to Yule light the log the Horned One rules.

In the spring, when night equals day time for Ostara to come our way.
When the Sun has reached it’s height time for Oak and Holly to fight.

Harvesting comes to one and all when the Autumn Equinox does fall.
Heed the flower, bush, and tree by the Lady blessed you’ll be.

Where the rippling waters go cast a stone, the truth you’ll know.
When you have and hold a need, harken not to others greed.

With a fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.
Merry Meet and Merry Part bright the cheeks and warm the heart.

Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow wear the star upon your brow.

Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you.

These Eight words the Rede fulfill:

“An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”


The Jesus Creed 10 – Peter: The Story of Conversion

Posted: August 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 10 – Peter: The Story of Conversion

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Luke 5:1-11.

Conversion, like wisdom, takes a lifetime.

McKnight has a whole lot more in depth on conversion in his book, Turning to Jesus. Nevertheless, Peter is a good story to explore. He’s nice and complex.

For some, conversion is like a birth certificate while for others it is like a driver’s license. For the first, the ultimate question is ‘What do I need to do to get to heaven?’ For the second, the question is ‘How do I love God?’ For the first, concern is a moment; for the second, the concern is a life.

The Jesus Creed is more like a driver’s license than a birth certificate.

The Jesus Creed is about the totality of life, and so conversion to Jesus and the Jesus Creed is total conversion — heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I think the present-day American church has failed to grasp that, for a lot of us, the question of ‘how to get into heaven‘ just isn’t particularly interesting or compelling. It’s not much of an incentive for conversion. And if you ask any sort of more complicated question, it becomes much harder to pinpoint an instant of conversion. Peter is a good example. Let’s start by asking what should be a simple question: When was Peter converted?

  • Was it when Shimeon was introduced to Yeshua and Yeshua tells him that one day his name will be Kephas? His brother told Peter that this man might be the Messiah.
  • Was it when Peter confesses he is a sinner? Remember? That’s the odd conclusion to the fishing story. I never have quite figured out how a big catch of fish prompts the declaration, ‘I am a sinful man!’ But there you go. Is this when he’s converted?
  • Or is it when Peter confesses Jesus is Messiah? Peter does get it right when Jesus asks, but then almost immediately screws up again.
  • Or is he only converted after the death and resurrection of Jesus? After all, Peter had flatly denied even knowing Jesus and had had to be restored by Jesus after the resurrection.
  • Or is his conversion only complete when he and the others receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? After all, it wasn’t until then that Peter was willing to publicly proclaim Jesus to others.

Two other events are of note. Peter receives a vision that converts him to the reality that the church will include Jews and Gentiles. And finally, there is the Peter who writes the letters to the churches. He’s surely converted by the time these occur, but they are still noteworthy.

Still, a credible case can be made for any of the first five as the point of Peter’s conversion. And then Scot McKnight says this.

No one doubts that Peter is converted, but we may not be sure when the ‘moment’ occurs, when he gets his birth certificate. And therein lies the mystery of conversion. Conversion is more than just an event; it is a process. Like wisdom, it takes a lifetime. Conversion is a lifelong series of gentle (or noisy) nods of the soul. The question of when someone is converted is much less important than that they are converting.

That was a very freeing statement for me. Of course, I could shape my story to fit many boxes, but none of them ever felt quite right. There were many points of ‘decision’ and all of them were legitimate and authentic. They were also mostly of the ‘noisy’ rather than the ‘gentle’ variety. McKnight was the first Christian voice I heard who basically said my story of conversion could be my story, whatever it looked like. I didn’t have to have a singular Pauline experience. I didn’t have to have a point where I turned and was forever different. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but “There is no reason to think Paul’s is the definitive model.

Moreover, even Paul doesn’t seem to fit within the context of what many today seem to mean by a Pauline experience of conversion. Paul, after all, still had a race to complete, a mark to keep before him, a finish to achieve. The thief on the cross seems to be the sort of conversion that many evangelicals really seem to have in mind. And while God can do all things, that was clearly an exception, not the rule. After all, most of us aren’t in the process of being executed.

McKnight outlines the seven stages that we see in Peter’s story as follows:

  1. Peter suspects Jesus might be Messiah.
  2. Peter recognizes Jesus as someone profoundly superior.
  3. Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. [But Peter disagrees with the Messiah on whether or not the Messiah ought to suffer.]
  4. Peter perceives the Messiah must suffer.
  5. Peter confesses Jesus is Lord.
  6. Peter realizes that Jesus is not just the Lord of the Jewa, but the Lord of all. Here Peter sees that the Jesus Creed is about loving all others.
  7. Peter embraces Jesus’ life as the paradigm of Christian living.

Peter illustrates a progression of conversion. And I would hazard that his example is more common than Paul’s.


The Jesus Creed 9 – Mary: The Story of Vocation

Posted: August 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 9 – Mary: The Story of Vocation

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat) (also Psalm 149).

As with Joseph, this chapter on Mary adds context to our reading of the story in the Holy Scriptures. McKnight finds in that story another theme. “Our vocation is to be what God made us to be.” Dwell on that for a minute. It’s not to be like Mother Theresa, or Daniel, or anyone else. “You are to be who God meant you to be.” If that’s not a tall order, I don’t know what is, especially for those of us who have almost buried what that might be.

Mary must instantaneously grasp that she will be labeled a na’ap (adulteress). But she also recognizes that God has something special in store. She is to be the mother of Messiah! And she responds immediately with a song of joy. However, in her song, McKnight sees evidence of more about Mary.

Joseph is a tsadiq, a man totally observant of the Torah. But Mary pokes her head out of a different nest, the Anawim (the pious poor). Historians agree on three characteristics of Mary’s people, the Anawim. These people suffer because they are poor, but they express their hope by gathering at the temple in Jerusalem. There they express to God their yearning for justice, for the end of oppression, and for the coming of the Messiah. Each of these characteristics of the Anawim finds expression in the life of Mary and especially in the Magnificat.

Mary is poor. At Jesus’ temple dedication his parents present two birds rather than a lamb. That is the offering prescribed in Torah for those too poor to afford a lamb. (Actually, if you dig into the history of first century Judaism, you’ll find that that’s not the only possible explanation. History, especially ancient history — where the data tends to be sparse, is often like that.) Mary is not hopeless though. Read the Magnificat and see the lines expressing a yearning for liberation from injustice.

Mary’s Song is actually announcing a social revolution. The King at the time is Herod the Great, and he is a power-tossing and death-dealing tyrant. Mary is announcing that he will be dealt his own due and have his power tossed to the winds. In his place, Mary declares, God will establish her very own son. Unlike Herod, he will rule with mercy and justice.

And then these very powerful words.

If spiritual formation is about learning to love God with our ‘all,’ then one dimension of loving God is surrendering the ‘all’ of our past to God. We dare not make light of our past — whether it was wondrous or abusive, reckless or righteous. All we can do, like Mary, is offer to the Lord who we are and what we’ve been. He accepts us — past and all.

Perhaps those words are less powerful for those who have a past that appears easy for God to accept. I don’t know. At the end of the day, I have only my own experience against which to judge. And I know more people with … difficult pasts than I do with wondrous ones.

Mary’s vocation, whether the ‘siblings‘ of Jesus were cousins, children of Joseph from an earlier marriage, children to whom Mary actually later gave birth (the latest developing and least likely idea — it’s an idea that’s actually only about two hundred years old), or some combination,  is clear. Mary assumes responsibility for these children, at least two girls and four boys besides Jesus. And since many scholars think Joseph died when Jesus was fairly young, that responsibility becomes even more significant.

McKnight points out that the names of the boys tell a story as well. Their names are the names of the patriarch Israel’s sons. Yakov, Yosef, Yehudah, and Shimeon. With Yeshua, they become five Jewish boys whose names tell the story of Israel’s liberation from slavery.

Mary’s vocation was also to teach the children. It should have been obvious, but I didn’t see the connection between the Magnificat and Jesus’ teachings until this book pointed it out. Duh. We often miss what’s right in front of our face. First, Mary blesses the holy name of God and asks him to fill the hungry. (Sound familiar?) Then, Mary is poor and from the Anawim. Jesus blesses and opens the banquet doors to the poor. Mary is a widow. Jesus frequently shows mercy to widows. (And his brother James speaks about taking care of widows and orphans in no uncertain terms at all.) Mary’s prayer emphasizes God’s mercy and compassion. What is Jesus known for? Mary’s own concern for Israel’s redemption is seen in Jesus’ wrenching prayer for Jerusalem. “These similarities are not accidents.

We modern Protestants tend to ignore Mary too much, I think.