The Real Jesus Is…

  • Part of the triune God, who eternally exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – coeternal in being, coeternal in nature, coequal in power and glory, all three persons having the same attributes and perfections (Deuteronomy 6:4, 2 Corinthians 13:14)
  • The one who was conceived by the Holy spirit and born of the Virgin mary (Luke 1:26-31)
  • He was a Jewish rabbi (John 1:38; “rabbi” = “teacher”) who astonished people with his insight and authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:28-29)
  • One whose heart broke with compassion for people (Matthew 9:36)
  • One who wept even for people who rejected him (Luke 19:41)
  • An advocate for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19; Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 14:13; Matthew 25:31-46)
  • One who stood strong against religious legalism (Luke 20:19-20)
  • One who hung out with sinners and ate with them (John 2:1-11)
  • One who was tempted and understands temptation yet was sinless (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22)
  • One who was sent by God because of his great love for humanity to take on our sin (John 1:1-2, 14, 29; 3:16-21)
  • One who accomplished our redemption  through his death on a cross as a substitutionary sacrifice and then was bodily resurrected from the dead (Romans 3:24; 1 Peter 2:24)
  • One who appeared to his disciples and said they have a mission not to create an inwardly focused community and to complain about the world but rather to go out and with the power of the Spirit live missional lives, bringing the light of Jesus to others (Acts 1:8)
  • One who see the church as his bride, and loves the church even when we disappoint him (Revelation 21:2, 9)
  • One who ascended into heaven and is now exalted on the right hand of God where, as our High Priest, intercedes for us and serves as our advocate (Acts 1:9-10; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24)
  • One who will one day come to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5; Romans 14:9; 2 Timothy 4:1)

(Adapted from Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, pp. 56-57)

Followers of Jesus – Think Like a Missionary!

Dan Kimball, in They Like Jesus But Not The Church, writes:

“It’s important that we think like missionaries. Instead of viewing our towns and cities as Judeo-Christian and feeling like everyone needs to automatically adhere to what we believe, we need to act like missionaries do when they enter a different culture. When missionaries enter a different culture, they listen, learn, study the spiritual beliefs of the culture, and get a sense of what the culture’s values are. They may try to discover what experiences this culture has had with Christians and what the people of the culture think of Christianity. Missionaries in a foreign culture don’t practice the faiths or embrace the spiritual beliefs of that culture, but they do respect them, since the missionaries are on the other culture’s turf…

…Christians are now the foreigners in a post-Christian culture, and we have got to wake up to this reality if we haven’t.” (p. 30)

Followers of Jesus Need to Be “Missional,” and Not “Send Missionaries”

(Monroe)

Dan Kimball, in his book They Like Jesus But Not the Church, understands the true church as not being a “missionary-sending institution” but a “missional people.” What does this word “missional” mean? Kimball writes:

  • Being missional means that the church sees itself as being missionaries, rather than having a missions department, and that we see ourselves as missionaries right where we live.
  • Being missional means that we see ourselves as representatives of Jesus “sent” into our communities, and that the church aligns everything it does with the missio dei (mission of God).
  • Being missional means we see the church not as a place we go only on Sunday, but as something we are throughout the week.
  • Being missional means that we understand we don’t “bring Jesus” to people but that we realize Jesus is active in culture and we join him in what he is doing.
  • Being missional means we are very much in the world and engaged in culture but not conforming to the world.
  • Being missional means we serve our communities, and that we build relationships with the people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelisitic targets.
  • Being missional means being all the more dependent on Jesus and the Spirit through prayer, the Scriptures, and each other in community.

We Live In A Post-Christian World

(Mackinac Island)

I was recently part of a leadership conference the goal of which was to envision new ways of bringing renewal and transformation to churches in Michigan. During the conference I was at one point speaking to the other 65 pastors and leaders and made the comment that we now live in a post-Christian world. Some agreed with me, a few disagreed, others didn’t comment, and a few asked what I meant by that.

Today I’m reading Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus But Not the Church. Kimball defines this thing pretty well. He writes:

 

“We are living in an increasingly “post-Christian” culture. America was more of a “Christian nation” whose influences and values were aligned with Judeo-Christian valuesw and ethics. Even most atheists had a good sense of the story line of the Bible and its main characters, and usually respected the Bible and Christian pastors. Movies and media generally taught values and ethics that aligned for the most part with the Bible.

However, the world around us has drastically changed over the past thirty years or so. In our increasingly post-Christian culture, the influences and values shaping emerging generations are no longer aligned with Christianity. Emerging generations don’t have a basic understanding of the story of the Bible, and they don’t have one God as the predominant God to worship.” (p. 15)

I could not agree more. Anyone who thinks our culture is “Christian” has blinders on. And Monroe is no exception to this. Monroe County has a lot of churches, but the impact of transforming Monroe’s post-Christian culture is minimal. 

This is not necessarily all bad. Remember that in the book of Acts the first Christians were in a totally non-Christian world, and look what happened there. Needed: a new empowering of the Holy Spirit to set real Jesus-followers aflame with love and power and grace and mercy and righteousness and humility. Kimball’s book points us in a direction that helps us speak in this new cultural context without compromising the truths we hold so deeply about Jesus and God.

Integrity

(Mackinac Island)

Long ago, as a freshman in college, I declared my major to be metallurgical engineering. I didn’t end up as a metallurigical engineer, but there are still things about the science of metals that have fascinated me. One of them is called “metallurgical integrity.” Metallurgical integrity concerns the consistency of a piece of metal. Structurally, if we have a block of metal, we want the metal to be the same at every point. If it’s not, the metal will be weak at the point of least consistency. So when stress is placed on the metal block the chances are greater that the block will dis-integrate at the point of least integrity. Metallurgical integrity is extremely important. If the metal on a Boeing 777 lacks complete integrity there could be problems at 35,000 feet at 600 mph. I think the same is true of persons. When the pressures of life come on us we will crack or fail or crash and burn at that place where we lack integrity. 

I define a person of integrity as someone who has moral character, or moral “fiber,” in every situation of their life, whether in the workplace, the marketplace, the sanctuary, home, or when alone. A dis-integrated life is the life of someone who is polite and friendly and gracious when you see them at Meijer but impolite and cynical and legalistic in their home towards their family. In one environment they are a friendly and sociable Dr. Jekyll while in another environment they are a misanthropic Mr. Hyde. Such a person lacks “integrity,” being like a piece of metal that’s strong in one place and weak in another. They are morally and spiritually inconsistent.

What does a truly integrated life look like? How can we live as integated people today? Here are some of my thoughts about this.

Measure your character not by looking at other people, but by looking at God. For me the classic b iblical text is Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah, arguably the most spiritually-together person in Israel, has an excounter with God. In the face of the holiness of God Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me, I am undone!” Or, “I’m in big trouble, I thought I was integrated but I see I am dis-integrated.” The fibers of Isaiah’s moral and spiritual life were unravelling in the presence of The Perfectly Integrated One.

When we compare ourselves and measure ourselve over against other people, we can eventually find people more disintegrated than we are, thus making ourselves look pretty good in comparison. It’s only when we measure ourselves against God that we see who we really are; viz., as people who don;t have it as much together as we thought we did.

This is a very good thing for us to see. It’s the beginning of real, authentic integrity. It’s a healthy dose of reality.  But God wants us to see this, not to leave us disintegrated, but to begin to knit together the moral and spiritual fabric of our lives. The brokenness thing Isaiah experienced is the necessary precursor to a truly integrated life.

So – consistently place yourself in the presence of God. Get broken before God. This isn’t something you need to force or worry about faking. In the real God-encounter brokenness just happens, inexorably. This feels painful but it’s also refreshing, since it’s not about religious game-playing and posturing but about the Real God who loves you and me and wants to rebuild our lives so we bring glory to God.

Buddism & Monism: A Response to S. Dhammika

(Mackinac Island)

Yesterday Buddhist scholar S. Dhammika made the comment below re. my blog post “Buddhism as Atheism.” I’m grateful he responded. Here’s his comment, plus my comment back to him. This discussion gets really technical. One reason it does is because Buddhism is so counter-intuitive to Western thinking.

If you want to read further, note two points:

1) S. Dhammika agrees with me that Buddhism is atheism. Of course he is correct about that.

2) S. Dhammika does not find my understanding the Buddhism is metaphysical monism sensible. I think he is incorrect about that.

S. Dhammika writes – “I am a Buddhist convert from Christianity and have been for 36 years, I have a degree in Buddhist studies, I read the scriptures in their original language and have written some 15 books on the subject. I can assure you, Buddhism is atheistic, in the sense that it gives no significance to the concept of a supreme deity. As for being ‘metaphysical monism’ you have completely lost me there. What one or One? I know of no place in the scriptures where the Buddha says anything like that or that this idea can be intimated from what he said. But keep trying and you’ll get there one day.
Kind regards

Here’s my counter-comment back to him:

 “S. Dhammika – thank you for responding. I am certain that you understand the Buddhist scriptures far better than I do, so I’m listening to what you have to say. But I’m a bit surprised that you feel lost re. the idea that Buddhism is metaphysical monism, also called dialectical monism. Let me explain.

Dialectical monism is based on the idea that duality and unity are identical – unity always appears as duality, and duality is always reducible to unity. As the Heart Sutra says, “Form Does not Differ From the Void, And the Void Does Not Differ From Form. Form is Void and Void is Form.”

But note that unity is primordial. Duality is an epiphenomenon of unity. Unity is the reality, duality an appearance, or epiphenomenon. Unity, in Buddhism, prevails. Ultimately, everything that is, is One. Surely Buddhism, as a philosophy, is monistic rather than Western-philosophical/Cartesian-dualistic.

So what about our dualistic experiences, to include our experience of an “I” that now sees objects outside of my own “self?” Here is where I find Buddhist philosopher Owen Flanagan helpful. In The Problem of the Soul, he likens the philosophy of phenomenology to Buddhism’s philosophy or worldview. Flanagan writes, “Many Buddhists are master phenomenologists.” (209) This means that Buddhists concern themselves with appearances, and not with any things that might or might not correspond to those appearances outside of their minds “in an objective world.”

Note this Flanagan quote, which expresses Buddhist philosophy well: “What Buddhism calls “bare attention,” which is hardly bare, involves scrupulous attention to the way things – both the world and our own minds – really seem. Bare attention allows things to reveal themselves as they seem when carefully attended to, and it yields and grounds these observations. But it provides no grounds for speaking about much more than appearances.” (211)

Here the Western subject-object experience evaporates, and experience becomes non-discursive. Here is where Christian mystics like Thomas Merton find connections with Buddhism, and where Heideggarians find “Being” as similar to what Buddhists seem to be saying.

It’s this view of ultimate reality that I find interesting but ultimately incoherent, and false. Surely, it is debatable. And, it’s about a philosophy, or a worldview.

Blessings to you,

John Piippo”

Freedom & Authenticity

(Monroe sunset, 6/17/08)

“Freedom” is always relative to constraints. There is no such thing as freedom without boundaries. Boundary-less “freedom” is “anarchy,” which is a severe bondage and a great limiting of freedom.

One example of freedom-with-constraints is the game of chess. Arguably, chess is the greatest board game of all time. The reason for this is, precisely, its rules. I’ve never heard a chess master complain about the rules of chess being too limiting or constricting. In chess, it seems as if no two games, at least among chess masters, are the same. It’s a brilliant set of constraints that allow for such great freedom.

The same is true of sports and science and culture and life itself. It’s true of your personal life. Are you a free person? This question is about one’s inner self, and is not, essentially, about external constraints. One could live in America and be in deep inner bondage; one could live under a repressive government and be free within. Every government constrains. All constraints bring greater or less freedom, running on a continuum between bondage and liberation.

The answer to your own inner freedom relates to the kind of things that constrain your heart, which things have to do with the purpose of your soul. Find out who made you and for what purpose you have been made, live within these purposeful parameters, and you will experience freedom. You will also be who you were intended to be, which is to say you will live authentically. (Note: if atheism were true there would be no constraints, and hence no true freedom.)

Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In Luke 4:18 Jesus spoke his own life-purpose as he said: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Paul wrote, in Romans 8:21, that one day “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

You are a child of God. Created by God. Made by God and for God. Find your true identity and the result is “glorious freedom.”

Authenticity & Freedom

(The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island)

The word “authentic” comes from a Greek word, autos, which means “self.” We get a lot of other English words from autos, like “automobile” (a self-driven vehicle), “automatic” (runs by itself), “autograph” (a self-writing), and so on.

We could translate “authentic” as meaning “the real thing,” “the genuine article.” When it comes to Christianity, an “authentic” Christian would be someone who actually, genuinely, follows after Jesus. An “inauthentic” Christian would be someone who fakes it in front of other people (like on a Sunday morning) but in their own home or in their workplace is someone different.

My own feeling is that who you and I are in our own homes is who we really, authentically, are. And who we are when no one is looking is who we truly are.

It’s important to note that authenticity is not about perfection. No one is perfect (Jesus was, we’re not). It’s what we do with our imperfections that gives clues to authenticity. For example, I’ve at times met people who are self-admitted jerks who pride themselves by being consistent in their jerkiness. Authentically, they are the real thing when it comes to being rude or abrasive. A difference between them and a real follower of Jesus would be that the authentic Jesus-follower would be internally broken and saddened by their non-Jesus character and would cry out for more heart-transformation.

The question of authenticity thus has two components: 1) the goal – “real-ness” = “Christlikeness”; and 2) integrity – which means the reality of a growing Christlikeness is evidenced in every environment, whether alone or with others, whether at home or in the sanctuary.

The result of authenticity is nothing less than freedom. Acting and faking it takes a lot of energy. It’s a tiresome thing to try to be someone you were never intended to be. And “freedom” is not just being anybody or anything, but being like Christ, who was the truth, and whose truth sets us free.

On Mackinac Island

(Straits of Mackinac)

Linda and I are staying on Mackinac island for a few nights. We came up here to do the wedding of Sue Baker and her now-husband Randy Mielnick.

We’ve been on the island before but never have stayed the night. Being a yooper myself (born in Hancock) I love it when I get way north in Michigan.

We may not have a lot of jobs in Michigan but we’ve got great natural beauty. As we road the boat across the straits of Mackinac to the island I stood at the front and watched the dark blue-green water rush beneath. I thought of crossing the straits of Bosphorus in Istanbul a few years ago, or looking at the blue-green waters in the Mediterranean at Caesarea Philippi. Right here in Michigan it’s just as beautiful as it is in those far-off places.