Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stop Talking About Jesus

My friend Kenny and I often observe that if you gave the Bible to someone who had never read it, never been to church, never heard of Jesus, and was in a completely “secular” society and asked them- upon completing their reading- to list for you 50 rules that should be in a faith community attempting to live by these writings that person would never get close to the rules found in North American Christianity today. They would have really odd things on there such as, “Don’t drink blood or eat meat offered to pagan gods” (directions to early Gentile believers) but they would never dream to offer instructions on what kind of music was okay to listen to or to have in church. If they were a very astute reader they may gather that monogamy was God’s marital design… but movie watching probably wouldn’t come into that list. The reader would understand that we should treat the poor kindly.

Alcohol would never, ever, make that list.

And if we asked them, why not, they would probably point to the very person that our entire faith community and system is based around: Jesus.

These next weeks I will be looking at the teachings, acts, and sayings of Jesus that seem a little… well, odd. Since we are going in semi-chronological order we see the wedding in Cana where Jesus begins his ministry in the strangest of ways: by providing a party with more alcohol.

This story gets read right over, gets made “holy” fast without those of us who have read it dozens of times thinking it through from the eyes of someone who was there. Imagine someone in your church/synagogue/faith community who is about 30 years old and has been a part of your group for awhile. One day, you are all at an open bar wedding reception and they tell you it is closing time for the bar. In come some more servers who inform you that (insert name person you are imagining here) has just drove up with about 60 gallons of very good wine to keep the party going… you may find it strange.

Stranger still you think if this person came into church the next day and started smacking people around and telling them they better stop desecrating the House of God.

Stop. If you think this is hyperbole then you are not reading the same text I am. Jesus did not go into a church, he went into the church of the day. THE temple. And started violently correctly people’s behavior that was unacceptable to God. This is how that story looks to someone who was there.

The characters don’t know he is the Son of God, they don’t know all the church history- none of it has happened. This story cannot lose its shock and awe.

From the beginning Jesus seems way more concerned with people being invited in a party, into discussion, into living bizarrely different lives than he does in religious traditions. This really struck me this week as I heard Bill speak in the Summit at Heartland. He told about how much drama can be caused in churches by people sitting in the wrong row/pew/chairs and (as he puts it) hearing, “Well, that’s brother so-and-so’s seat. Who do they think they are?” In other words, they are far more concerned with their religious traditions- whether it be music, seats, events, ministries, and (gasp) rules- than they are with any type of authentic relationship.

If you are looking for a book to read check out Crazy Love by Francis Chan. In the book Chan suggests that for the next 25 years the church should not utter the name of Jesus- they have said too much about him and done too little. They should spend the next two-and-a-half decades attempting to love each other as Christ loved. The point of this challenge is not to take anything at all away from the person and work of Christ but instead as a type of “detox” period. You see, according to Chan, when the number one reason unbelievers will not accept Christ of even visit a church is the viscous backstabbing, gossip, and hypocritical ways of most believers we have a problem. We. You AND me. We are the problem.

Maybe we need a little more party and feast and a little less temple tradition.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The UnUsual

Over the next weeks we are going to be looking at the person of Jesus and some of his... well, stranger moments. By that I mean, that we sometimes pigeon-hole Jesus into this nice and net role from which he may not divert but the reality is that he met no one's expectations and actually frustrated them.

Since we are dealing with these chronologically we will first be looking at the "water into wine" incident (ironic because it is what my previous post dealt with). The reason it fits my "weirder" category is that right after Jesus make copious amounts of alcohol so that a party may continue raging he is shown going into the temple with a homemade whip and tossing people out. Seems strange to me.

But we gain some powerful insight from this incident and many others into what Jesus was and what Jesus was not.

If you would like to follow our teaching from the past weeks or tune into the future stuff check out "Crux KC Online" on iTunes for our free podcast.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Why Jesus Drinking Alcohol Is NOT the Issue But As Long As You Brought It Up...

It occurred to me a few years back that I kept getting upset with people "outside" the Christian faith for how they acted... and how ridiculous that was. They do not subscribe to my beliefs or convictions or faith so why would they act as I would? And in rereading the Gospels it also became painfully obvious that Jesus was constantly upset with the most "religious" people who encumbered people who did not know God with more rules than anyone could keep.

So whenever I run across someone or something that I feel is encumbering to the mission of Jesus by being overly "religious" and not loving I tend to get bent out of shape... as I did recently in reading an article by Denn Guptill entitled "Why Jesus Drank and I Don't". I was upset as a Christian, a pastor, a person, a scholar, and as a Wesleyan (my denomination)... you can read it here for yourself.

In short my response is: why do Pharisees feel so compelled to talk? In a longer way... well, you can read my letter.

"To Whom It May Concern:

For several years I have been an active member, student, and minister in the Wesleyan denomination, I have listened, watched, and read many stances- both past and present… I have never written in to or in regard to the Wesleyan Life but this last issue concerned me greatly. You posted an article entitled “Why Jesus Drank and I Don’t” by Denn Guptill with which I took great exception on numerous points which I will list for the ease of the reader:

Scholarly Work

As an ordained minister Guptill, I assume, has had the privilege of a formal education. However, throughout the article he utilizes the assumption that Jesus drank which is one from silence. We see him make wine, host the last supper, assume he participated in cultural “norms”, and get called a “drunk” but nowhere do any of the Gospels state that Jesus drank.

Even so, moreover the problem lies in Guptill claiming that the distillation process dates back only 500 years while it is a well known fact that the Babylonians in Mesopotamia knew about and used distillation. A simple search of the Internet will prove this and yet the author apparently was too lazy, inept, misinformed, or falsely motivated to claim otherwise.

Last point here: the cultural argument was horrific. Jesus makes “good wine” at the wedding of Canaan- and anyone who drinks or knows anything about alcohol will tell you “good” means higher alcohol content (hence patrons being upset over “watered” down drinks). The claim that the wine at the time was 3-11% alcohol is so unimportant it is stunning it is mentioned. At what point does a “drink” become a “drink” then, I wonder? If beer is “only” 5-7% is that okay, then?

The Weaker Brother

It would also seem to me that a pastor such as Guptill would understand that in Romans 14 the “weaker” brother is the one who has to keep more rules. That said, is Guptill then claiming that he is refraining from drinking so that other people who refrain from drinking won’t drink? So he is a “weaker” brother helping other “weaker” brothers be “weak”? This kind of circular rhetoric is logically unsound and a hermeneutic nightmare that has been promoted and tolerated in educated circles for far too long.

Romans 14 also says that we should leave our personal convictions between us and God. So why are we, as a denomination, not following the advice of Paul and simply being silent about our own opinions about food and drink?

The Slippery Slope

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” It evidently wasn’t enough to misuse Scripture but also the work of a famous author like Fitzgerald who was writing to a 1920’s flapper culture obsessed with overindulgence and greed. Any first year debate student will tell us that the “slippery slope” is a style to be avoided because it cannot be objectively proven and is one bred out of individual’s experiences and stories- not statistics.

Denominational Hypocrisy

It seemed to me that the 2008 General Conference granted local church voting rights to community members and allowed for personal conviction when it came to alcohol and tobacco use. If this is really our stance, that people who drink may be part of our membership then we cannot allow articles like this one to be printed without one on the other side of the page entitled, “Why Jesus Drank and I Do”. We are now talking out of both sides of our mouths.

Allow me to “weigh-in” on a related point that Guptill beats to death, that drinking leads to drunkenness. He is right… in the same way that eating leads to gluttony. It is true you cannot be a drunk without first drinking but by that logic we should all be anorexic. With the obesity and diabetes rate of Americans climbing annually I, for one, think it would be far more culturally impactful if we took a denominational stance against gluttony instead of alcohol… but that may hit a little to close to home. The point is the Bible speaks more to gluttony than drunkenness. We need to be against overindulgence on credit cards, possessions, money, alcohol, and food- not pick and choose to preach on just the stuff we don’t struggle with."