Missing the Point

Well, I just got back from Mexico last week. I took 18 senior high students to do VBS and paint. We had a really good time and the students really came together which was good. However, I felt that the big thing missing both in me and them was a sense that the gospel could really change anything. When Jesus was walking the Earth 2000 years ago, He walked with a sense and message that life on this planet could be redeemed and lived differently. Are we instilling that in ourselves and our students? Do we read Revelations and see a future that can be brought to this planet? What is our part in bringing this about?
We need to regain a sense of what the gospel is about, what the kingdom of God is about?


Branded, Labeled, and the Gospel

Recently, I have been exploring with my students the idea of redemption, forgiveness, healing, salvation and the living out of the gospel. The idea of "what it means to be a Christian" has been taken captive by our American Way and American dream (i.e. consumerism, McWorld-- to use Tom Sine's phrasing) that it is hard to explain to students what seems to me to be simple concepts.
This brings us to labeling. Teenagers understand the power of labels, brands, groups, etc. In the past, we in youth ministry have talked about peer pressure, conformity, and the negative influence of the brands we associate ourselves with and the labels that we place upon one another (geek, loser, prep, jock, etc.). We have talked about such ideas in such moralistic terms.
As I began to explore the realm of the gospel (redemption, forgiveness, etc.), my attention began to turn towards the concept of labeling and branding. As we pay attention to the life of Jesus, we see him walking amongst labeled peoples and persons-- adulterous women, tax collectors, Samaritans, Zealots, Pharisees, etc. Jesus extended love to these people and groups. He saw past the labels. He "re-labeled" the individuals he came in contact with. He helped them realize their true identity. He transformed the way that individuals saw themselves. In doing so he brought healing, redemption, and salvation.
Dallas Willard chides the idea that Christians are "just forgiven." I agree with him. It is interesting that this is the primary message that we send our students. Talks about forgiveness abound-- either about God forgiving me or about me forgiving those who have offended me. However, the idea of being a follower of Jesus and sharing the good news is about spreading forgiveness, not just to those who have offended us (although this is noble and right), but also to those who have been labeled and branded. Following Christ is about healing the deep wounds and scars that exist in people. It is about helping them understand their identity in Jesus. It is about a transformed understanding of humanity, existence, community, and Earth.
Our students deserve good theology that can be lived out in real life. Our moralisms must be chucked. Our consumption-laden values must be burned. We must experience forgiveness and share that experience with others. It brings true freedom, restoration, and salvation.


Scripts, Language, and the Labeling of the Soul

We all have been scripted. In fact, we are all being scripted by multiple ideas, products, messages, words, and actions every single second of our day. These scripts even continue in our minds long after we encounter them. Each script speaks a language, some of them speak in multiple languages and dialects. Each one seeks to be seen as fresh, new, and exciting. Each one wants desperately to control our lives.
We script the people around us as well. The past two weeks, I have been teaching my students about the power of labels. The bible talks about labels a whole lot. Practically the entire book of James is about labels. Jesus is constantly tearing down the labels that society has placed upon people and he turns them upside down.
Scripting can never go away, nor should it ever go away. God is scripting us as well. In fact, it could be said that His big script takes into account all of the smaller scripts that we encounter each day. His language reinterprets the smaller languages of society. We see this in the gospels. When the widow puts her mite into the money bags, Jesus reinterprets what it means to live out the gospel. He doesn't suggest a new way of practicing the gospel, he just turns on its head the typical notions that humanity as about the world, life, and God. God does this in the book of Job as well. He looks at Job's friends and let's them know that their knowledge is incomparable to God. He also let's Job know that it is okay not to know.
Perhaps one way to teach the gospel well is to go through our day reinterpreting the events we see looking for moments that teach about the gospel. This is what Jesus did. Are we willing to challenge the status quo of our religion? Are we willing to break out the stereotypical boxes that we have put around our Christian faith? Watch your language! It is scripting people.

A Matter of the Spirit

Romans 8 is a powerful chapter. It states unequivocally who a Christian is. For Paul, a Christian was anyone who had the Spirit (the same spirit that raised Jesus from the grave) living inside of them. This spirit empowers them to truly live life without being destroyed. It gives peace. The spirit itself is pleasing to God. Without the Spirit we are doomed to be controlled by death bringing things. It's like working for the mob. Even when they ask you to do something that seems good, in the end you are controlled by people who will kill you.
Interestingly enough, I just looked at the title and saw the words Matter and Spirit in the same phrase. Just a random observation. That is the spirit of the matter.

Where Are We When God Hurts?

Tedd (the associate pastor at my church) was talking with me today about his sermon for Sunday. We chatted about statements such as "I can't find God in this situation" or "Where is God when everything is going wrong?". As we chatted, he asked me a very poignant question, what is wrong with these statements. My response turned the statements around. Perhaps, God can't find us when everything goes wrong. Perhaps, God is wondering what happened to us while he is hurting inside. Perhaps, just maybe, it is we who ran off and left God alone. Our Lord loves relationship. Where am I when God is hurting? I think I am usually off causing the pain.