Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: jesus

Words

Word.
An expression of an idea.
Thoughts dwell in abstract – barely real in their ethereal domain.
They are conceptions, pregnant with power.
They take form through movements in the invisible, yet tangible, air.
Those who have ears and minds can grasp and be grasped.
Here they are impregnated.
Here the thought – the conception – is aborted or allowed to come to term.
And it is reborn and reborn a million times with a million mutations.
And here is power.
A word.
A Word.
But a word from the Transcendent cannot exist as subtle movements through air. Air cannot sustain the expressions of the Airmaker.
So the Word was made flesh.
The Word screamed in birth and death.
Have you heard it?
Did it impregnate?
Will you abort? Or will you give birth?

The Man Jesus

You know what’s funny about this picture? How completely out of place Jesus seems. Check out the disciples. They are crammed together, vigorously communicating with each other and engaged in action. Jesus sits above all that, with his own generous portion of personal space and with his hands held out, as if he is perfectly still and at perfect peace.

What a silly painting.

We’ve always emphasized the deity of Christ at the expense, I think, of his humanity. We can see this in nearly all traditional Christian art. Jesus is always serene with a couple fingers in the air and halos and flaming organs and whatnot. But as I read the gospels, I don’t get the impression that he had a halo or any body parts in flame.

We forget that Jesus was a man. And that’s tragic.

  • When we forget Jesus was a man, one of the most important reasons for the incarnation is destroyed. That is, to show God in a way that we can understand.
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we make him into a transcendent, ethereal being worthy of worship and reverence, but not imitation.
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we allow ourselves to follow him only until the point where we no longer want to. At that point we say “Oh, well he was GOD and this act and that act are not really meant for me to imitate.”
  • When we forget Jesus was a man, we begin to follow an entity that simply does not exist.

Let’s not forget that Jesus was a sweating, eating, drinking and sleeping man. A man with hair. A man with a nose and toes. A man of a certain height and build and smell. Otherwise we’ve lost sight of him.

The Slightly Off-Centrality of Scripture

Evangelicals are a Bible-centered bunch and they ain’t afraid to say it. They go to Bible camps and Bible chapels. They hold Bible studies and attend Bible colleges. They make their churches Bible based and crack Bible jokes. Whole lot of Bible going on.

And I think it’s real, too. Seriously, I do. The evangelical sub-culture is set apart by its mission to make the Bible the centre of everything they do. They wear that as a badge of honor. Like the song goes, they ‘stand alone on the Word of God! The B-I-B-L-E!’

But I don’t really think they should.

I guess this may sound funny, but the Bible is not the thing upon which my spirituality is based. Not at all. Because my spirituality and my searching for God is focused on Jesus. The Bible is just a glass. A slightly dirty glass through which I see some of Jesus. It’s a tool. It’s a bridge. It’s a thing.

Of course, pretty much everything I know about Jesus comes through the Bible. So why make a distinction? I want to make a distinction because the difference between having a Bible-centered life and a Jesus centered life is bigger than you’d think. The Bible-centered life is like an astronaut studying the Hubble. The Jesus-centered life is like and astronaut studying stars. And then visiting them!

A Gentle Dogma

The root of dogma carries a bit of a gentler feel than it does in English. The Greek root is simply opinion. Do you find that interesting? I do. Mostly because today dogma is a principle or belief that someone tells you that you have to believe or something bad will happen. It’s not opinion anymore. It’s an order (as if you can order someone to hold an intellectual position). And there’s usually a threat attached to the order. “Hold this opinion, or God will kill you” and such. Seems harsh.

I have opinions. I have dogma. But I feel like I want to strive for a gentler sort of dogma. A dogma that, to borrow from a dear friend, says three main things.

  • Jesus is the best. Worship him. Believe in him.
  • Jesus’ death freed us from sin (though I don’t really know how) but we must still fight remnants through the Spirit’s power.
  • Let’s do tons of good things.
  • Kind of reminds me of a fellow who made a lot of waves in his day. He had the wild idea that all of the prophetic stuff and legal stuff of God could be boiled down to “Love God, love your neighbour.” They didn’t respond well to that.

Easy Growin’

Dane Ortlund of Crossway Books recently asked 26 evangelical leaders what each thought the key to growth in godliness was. Read them over, if you’re at all interested, and see if you can tell what is similar about nearly all of them.

Did you catch it? Did you see it there?

Nearly each one is abstract, intellectual and conceptual. They are focused on a certain point of view or a point of fact or belief. Generally they are things you can do in bed. Read this book. Think these thoughts. Take this view.

Not all of them, of course. Carl Trueman says the key is going to church. Some of them say it’s reading the Bible. A few, like Steve Nichols’, are just plain confusing.

I don’t mean to nitpick, of course. They only had a sentence or so to respond and I’m sure they’d elaborate if they had the chance. But isn’t it telling that the first thing to come to mind, for these leaders of the evangelical movement, are things we do in our head or things that involve benefitting ourselves? Is there something wrong with that?

Didn’t God say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual health (Is. 58)?
Didn’t Jesus say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual cleansing (Luke 11:41; 14:12-14)?
Didn’t Paul say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual treasure (1 Tim. 6:17-19)?

Maybe I’m being a little jaded. Maybe I’m blowing this horn again because it’s trendy or because I’ve been disillusioned by my upbringing or because I have a bit of a malicious streak and I like to imagine fundamentalists squirming in their seats. Maybe I’m preaching a social gospel and since I am for helping people on earth I don’t care about their souls. Maybe.

I have never understood why folks perceive a conflict between social justice and spiritual welfare. In fact, doesn’t Jesus seem to suggest that the two dance together? Wherever he went he helped bodies and helped souls. So when a group of evangelicals can all give different answers on the ‘key’ to spiritual growth and not a single one mentions anything that has to do with our relationship with our fellow man and the way we treat them, I think it’s a symptom of something yucky.

Am I saying there is no mysticism with Jesus? Am I saying that a metaphysical view of Christ does not change us for the better? Nope. In fact, most of those keys seem useful. But not as keys. Not as the deep secret to spiritual growth. If they were, we might as well become hermits. A spiritual life that is not holistic, I think, is not spiritual at all.

He Won’t Invite You Back…

Luke 11:37-54

So a Pharisee invites Jesus over for lunch. It seemed like a good idea. Jesus had been stepping on many religious feet and maybe a friendly meal would help bridge the gap that had sprung up between Jesus’ followers and the fundamentalists. It looked like a good PR move. Except that Jesus forgot to wash his hands.

But somehow, I cannot imagine that Jesus actually forgot. I mean, he was raised in a nice, religious Jewish family and would have been taught from a young age about the importance of hand-washing. To avoid washing his hands, Jesus would have needed to go against his upbringing. He must have done it on purpose. He wanted, I think, to pick a fight.

But his host was too gracious! He kept his thoughts to himself and didn’t say a word against Jesus. Maybe he wanted to secure a bit of unity before getting Jesus to fall in line. He was astonished, to be sure, but he seemed to bury it inside and hoped to move on to more productive topics.

Jesus didn’t want to move on, though. As soon as the Pharisee shows his surprise, Jesus jumps into action and starts insulting and belittling his host. Fool! Grave! Dirty dish!

A lawyer tries to calm the situation down, reminding Jesus that he is being rude and insulting.

It doesn’t work. Jesus rounds on the lawyer and calls him an idiot, too. No, not an idiot, but a murderer of prophets and holy men.

I don’t think he was invited back.

Dora the Lover

    For a while I was despairing about finding children’s media that I felt good enough to share with my kids. Ponyo was a great film, to be sure, but I was looking for something smaller and repeatable, like a TV series. But the vast majority of them are empty and mindless. Shows like Spongebob strike me as the unfiltered imaginings of an insane ten-year-old.
    Then I found Dora the Explorer. My kids love it almost as much as I do. It’s about a bilingual brown girl who runs around with her best friends exploring and discovering. Here’s why I love it:

  • Dora explores and embraces racial diversity. Her skin is dark and she speaks more than one language. She takes part in different cultural celebrations. Difference is good in Dora’s world. Not something to be hidden, but something to be celebrated. She doesn’t try to make us all the same, she rejoices in all our differences. This is wild because just recently Joseph noticed that I am a different color than Ruth and that we are both different from him. For a second, as he was asking about it, I saw a glimmer of confusion on his face. I told him he was right, that we are all different, and I acted excited about that. “Isn’t it neat that we are all different colors?” And Dora backs me up on that, whatever the kids at school might say.
  • Dora is a hard-working helper. Like the time when her friend Boots lost his truck and they had to climb a mountain to get it. Or the time her parents asked her to help with the babies and she spent the entire episode reading to them and feeding them banana baby food. While most children’s programs have heroes doing everything they can to get out of school and work, Dora embraces the tasks she gets and even asks for more.
  • Dora loves her enemies. Swiper is the villain of Dora’s universe. He goes around swiping Dora’s toys and food and anything else he can get his foxy hands on. He’s a klepto, I’m sure. He never gives Dora a moment’s rest. He’s a punk. But when Swiper, through his own crimes, was trapped in a magic bottle, Dora was quick to help. She didn’t say a word about Swiper’s swiping or about his guilt. She dropped everything to travel across the world and get the king to release him. And when Dora gets anything good that she can share, she tracks down Swiper to make sure he gets some of it. She doesn’t fight her enemies, she embraces them. Reminds me of a Man I know.
  • Dora never hates. She never has a harsh word for anyone. She holds no grudges. She only works against the ‘bad guys’ when to do otherwise would compromise her own high moral standards. And even then she does it gently, without anger.
  • Dora loves to sing and dance. She isn’t content to sit and sleep and eat. She wants to get up and move. She wants to dance. She wants to explore. She wants to get out of the place she is from and achieve and carry her unique light into the world.
  •     So if you have kids, go check out Dora. She’s a hero.

    No Longer Slaves

    I came across this neat news article, just in time for the fourth of July.

    It seems that when was drafting the Declaration of Independence, he was struggling for the right word to describe the American people. He settled on ‘citizens’, but originally he had written ‘subjects.’

    I find that wild. In the beginning Jefferson was going to confirm the convention that all men and women are slaves to the monarch or the state. But with one stroke of the pen he changed all that. No longer subjects, but citizens with rights and privileges and information.

    It made me think of the Bible. When you read the Old Testament you get the feeling that God is looking for subjects. That he’s looking for a bunch of people who will just do what they’re told without asking too many questions. But then Jesus came and made it clear that he was not after slaves at all, but citizens. Indeed, fellow citizens. People he could tell his plans to. People who could share the inheritance he earned. In a real way, brothers.

    As You’d Be Done By

    So as Jesus is closing off his famous sermon he encourages us to do to others whatever we’d have them do to us. And he backs it up by saying that this wild ethic is the embodiment of the Law and Prophets (which, I imagine, would have bothered the religious people listening).

    It got me thinking about how I’d like other people to treat me. If I could work my way in the world and dictate how people treated me, I think my list of demands would look something like this:

  • Love me. Give me attention when I want it. Give me affection. Show me respect. Speak of me in a positive way.
  • Help me. Bend over backwards to help me whenever I need it. Support and encourage me and my wild ideas with consistently positive energy. Heal me when I hurt and own my dreams.
  • Empathize with me. Rejoice when I rejoice. Weep when I weep. Do your best to see things from my point of view, even when you disagree with me.
  • Pretty selfish list, eh? But I guess that’s the point. If you were to make a list it might look different from mine in some point, but the basic foundation would be the same. We want the world to revolve around us. That’s just the way it is.

    And so, when Jesus tells us to treat others the way we want to be treated, it’s a pretty tall deal. That list is no longer and expectation or a hope to be called on from others. It’s a model of how I should treat those I am in contact with.

    Thank you, Jesus, for such a wild ethic that proves you’re different from everyone else!

    How to Get to Heaven According to Jesus

    How do you get to heaven? How do you get to God? How do you get mercy and forgiveness? How do you get whatever it is that our hearts are yearning for? Jesus knows. He’s clever about stuff like that.

  • Be born from above (John 3:3). The classic answer to the age-old question. And it’s still a good one. Be new. Be new from above. Change.
  • Be spiritually destitute (Matthew 5:3). Not nearly so classic, but it’s still what Jesus said. It’s neat that he doesn’t say the kingdom of heaven is for people who know they are poor in spirit, but for those who simply are. Only the spiritually impoverished are eligible for what Jesus has to offer. Only the broken. Only the screw-ups. Thank God for that.
  • Be pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). Is that all?
  • Be more righteous than religious people (Matthew 5:20). At first glance this seems tough. I mean, look at all the stuff religious people do to stay righteous! But, when we take a first and second glance, we see that religious does not mean righteous. Religious does not mean good. In fact, I’m tempted to say that religion and righteousness are mutually exclusive.
  • Do the will of God (Matthew 7:21). And then Jesus went and lived a life that shone with the will of God. Thanks for the good example! I’ll need a hand with trying it out, though.
  • Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, invite the homeless into your house (Matthew 25:31-40). This is one of those sayings where I want to say ‘Hold up, Jesus! That doesn’t sound like justification by faith! What do you mean by that?’ But I’m not really going to ask Jesus that. I think he’d rather me assume that he meant what he said. I know I like it when people assume I mean what I say. I figure I ought to extend the same courtesy to Jesus.
  • Obey the commandments, sell your stuff, follow Jesus (Matthew 19:16-21). Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. What am I supposed to do with this one? I want to say that you were joking with this guy! I want to say that you were trying to be really subtle and, in your subtlety, didn’t actually mean what you said. But how can I say that? I cannot assume that you would be so subtle as to mean something other that what you said, can I?
  • Go through Jesus (John 14:6). Jesus is the enabler. He’s not the obstacle in the way. He’s the unlocked door. He’s the moving staircase. He’s how you get there. Yay for that.
  • There’s more, y’know. Jesus talked about how to be spiritually successful a lot. I wonder if all the different way he talked about it are really just the one way looked at from different points of view. In my circles we focus on rebirth and belief. But what is rebirth if there is no re-lifestyle to prove it? Maybe feeding the poor is a part of rebirth. Maybe shedding the superfluous is the arm of faith.

    But do you know what he never said? He never said to invite him into your heart. He never suggested to pray a prayer and sign a card. No matter how you slice it or define it, the Jesus way is a lifestyle, not a conversion. It may look like a conversion. It may start with a conversion. But, following the language Jesus used, it’s something that starts and lasts and grows and moves until we die.