Jesus

The Sweet Kingdom of Jesus

The Sweet Kingdom of Jesus

“Listen to what your heart is telling you.”

I had the delightful experience of attending a middle school play recently: Cinderella and the Candy Kingdom. It’s the usual Cinderella story, but set in a world of chocolate, sugar and sweets. Plenty of puns made it a very fun show: the wicked stepsisters of Cinderella were named Kit and Kat. The prince of the kingdom was named Reese, who rarely appeared without his squire, Hershey.

While Hershey won the audience with his consistent jokes and eager banter, it was Prince Reese who brought home the underlying meaning of the play. In the world of the Candy Kingdom, everyone loves sweets: first dessert, second dessert, third dessert. Whip cream and chocolate syrup on everything. You get the idea. Yet the young prince has a secret: he doesn’t like sweets. In other words, he’s not like everyone else. He doesn’t belong. Not only that, he’s in line for the throne, but isn’t the “right kind of prince.” Continue Reading..

Why I Can’t Agree to Disagree

Why I Can’t Agree to Disagree

The Gospel Coalition posted a piece today asking whether or not Christians can “agree to disagree” on the issue of homosexuality and marriage. I deeply understand the desire for unity in the church and share it myself. I have quite a few friends who hold to a conservative view on these matters. I disagree with them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t have a relationship. But can we be in the same worshiping body? [By which I mean denominational/institutional affiliation—not a worship service] That is another question.

I am inclined to not want to “agree to disagree” on this issue. There are a couple of points at which unity is very difficult here.

1) Understanding of the Bible. Most who have an “open and accepting” view toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have evolved in their understanding of Scripture, based in large part upon biblical scholarship, personal study, experience, reason and prayer. Some of this scholarship is recent, much has been around awhile. Continue Reading..

The Parable of the Ten Servants

The Parable of the Ten Servants

A new take on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Bryan Berghoef

And he told them this parable:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten servants who went out to meet their master. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took no weapons nor did they take any means of defense with them. The wise ones, however, took care to bring swords along with their concealed knives. The master was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: “An intruder! Defend yourselves!” Continue Reading..

Say My Name

Say My Name

Pope Francis is being widely hailed for his historic appearance before a joint session of Congress yesterday. But some are taking him to task for one glaring omission: he didn’t say the name of Jesus.

A professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary noted the “pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday.” Perhaps an oversight? Like, hey, I’m the vicar of you-know-who on earth. Did I forget to mention him?

Perhaps such an oversight is forgivable, right? I mean, what with all the focus on caring for the poor, embracing the stranger, denouncing violence, caring for creation, and reverencing all human life—in other words, some of the very teachings of Jesus—can we not overlook such a small omission?

Apparently not.

This professor goes on to write: “Now the whole country is talking about the pope and the pope’s politics, but no one is talking about Jesus or the gospel. What a sad day. What a wasted opportunity.” Continue Reading..

A Parable for Labor Day

A Parable for Labor Day

A Parable for #LaborDay, by Chris Lubbers

Once upon a time, a billionaire company owner decided to take an extravagant business vacation with some of his friends in politics and finance. To test his lowest-paid employees, he put three of them in charge of parts of the operation. He gave the first new manager $2 million, the second $800,000 and the third $400,000 to improve the company.

“Do well and you shall be rewarded,” he promised.

The managers were given access to private internal documents making explicit the full extent of the business, which profited primarily from political corruption, exploitation and theft. Understanding how the owner’s money was made, the first manager, a quick study, doubled down. He closed two domestic plants and outsourced the work to countries with weak labor laws and no environmental regulations. The second manager decided to cut wages and benefits of the poorest workers. By doing so, each manager increased profits in proportion to the amount he was given.

After reading carefully through the company documents, the third new manager was devastated and struggled about what to do.

When the owner returned from vacation, he called in the three managers to report to him before the executives of the company. The first manager explained his plan and the profit reaped, as did the second.

“Well done, good and loyal workers. You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Welcome to the good life–“

“Sir,” the third manager interrupted, “You run a cruel and dishonest business, profiting from illegal and inhumane practices. In short, you reap where you have not sown. You haven’t earned anything. I’m returning the money you gave me.”

“How dare you!” screamed the owner. “I’m cruel and dishonest?! I am a job creator! Do you fancy yourself a whistleblower? You’re a traitor! The least you could have done is sent that money to my banker friends to invest! Now, give my money to the first manager!”

Turning to the other employees, the owner announced, “I hope we’ve all learned something from this: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Now, throw this worthless bum into the dumpster.”


Based on William Herzog’s scholarship on the Gospel According to Matthew 25:14-30.

 


chrislubbersChris Lubbers is a graduate of Calvin College (BA, Philosophy and Math), has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Florida, has done doctoral research at UF in philosophy of language and metaphysics, and is currently ABD. He teaches philosophy at Muskegon Community College. You can find Chris advocating for justice and compassion in Holland, MI, or philosophizing over a pint at Pub Theology.

Our Best Life Now

Our Best Life Now

“Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.”

“God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment.”

“When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.”

“Don’t simply settle for what your parents had. You can go further than that. You can do more, have more, be more.”

“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.”

        —Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now

Focusing on how we can better ourselves is a popular industry these days. Best selling books often focus on self-improvement, on self-image, on increasing wealth. There is even a niche within Christianity called the “prosperity Gospel” or the “health and wealth movement.”

If you do X, God will bless you with Y.

A simple formula. Enticing, even.

I wonder, then, if Joel Osteen is almost on to something. No really. Hear me out.

A question by a friend came up recently. He asked, “What is the gospel?”

An obvious answer seems to be: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” As in, you will go to heaven and live forever in peace. For many folks, it seems obvious that Jesus came to die so that you could live. I recall one of the first pub theology sessions I ever attended, where someone was adamant that the only purpose of Jesus’ life was to die on the cross.

As I’ve reflected on my own view on these things, I’ve realized that such a cosmic-formula approach to the gospel is not only not very compelling to me, but that it is hard to find in the pages of the Gospels themselves.

In fact, Jesus is asked directly on several occasions: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

His responses range from: “Obey the commandments” to “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself” to “Sell all that you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.” And in these encounters, Jesus often adds: “Do these things and you will live.”

In other words, Jesus doesn’t seem all that concerned with what happens after we die. He’s concerned with what is happening while we are alive. This was a common focus in Jewish thinking at the time—not to mention today—so it’s not all that surprising.

Yet it is surprising to many of us, because we’ve been so indoctrinated with the view that the gospel is primarily about going to heaven when we die.

Even when Jesus does tell stories or parables about heaven, they nearly always are rooted in how one is living a justice or other-centered life in this present existence. Think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) or the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25).

When Jesus begins his ministry, he began to say, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Or the “kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, God’s presence is unfolding right now all around you. Time to open yourself up to that reality. Time to live in that presence.

And what does living in that presence mean? It means things like, “loving your neighbor as yourself” and “giving to those who ask” and “loving your enemies” and throwing parties where the very least in society are given a seat at the table. It means good news to the poor.

Joel Osteen is right.

So Joel Osteen is right. Or at least, almost right. I just hadn’t seen it before.

He famously tells folks how to have “your best life now.”

Jesus, it seems, was about our best life now. And by ‘best life’, I mean, a life where we together, as community, live generously and peacefully with one another in light of God’s gracious presence. Where we seek to care for and make space for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Where we creatively re-imagine the world as one where there’s enough for all, where we respond to enemies with love and forgiveness rather than violence, and where seating at the table isn’t determined by wealth, or societal position, or if it is – it’s the poorest first, and the lowest on the ladder who get the best spot.

Jesus wasn’t about an easy life, which is what one might take from the prosperity preachers. He told us to take up our own cross—in other words—to oppose the unjust structures and powers that be and fight the injustices of our own day. It may well cost us something. But if we’re committed to it, it really could turn into our—all of humanity’s—best life. Now.

I’m in. Who’s with me?

 


bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch.

4 steps for talking about Jesus at the bar (or coffeehouse, or anywhere else)

4 steps for talking about Jesus at the bar (or coffeehouse, or anywhere else)

This post originally appeared in Toast Weekly, a newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC.

If you’re like me, you’ve been told once or twice that being a good Christian includes occasionally telling other people about Jesus.

Your reaction might go something like: “Ewww. Yuck. I’m not that interested in evangelism, or selling something, or anything like that.”

But there is another part of you which senses that if more people knew the Jesus who was a radical for peace, forgiveness, love, and justice—the world would be a better place. So how does one go about doing this, without feeling like an unwanted door-to-door salesperson or an awkward friend? Continue Reading..

Reclaiming Holy Week through Revolutionary Resurrection

Reclaiming Holy Week through Revolutionary Resurrection

Holy Week reflections by Jorge Juan Rodriguez V
(this post was originally published at HolyWeekofResistance.net)

For many Christian communities in this Empire called the United States, Holy Week has been largely commercialized, commodified and sanitized. Profound themes present in Holy Week of state violence, murder without recourse of marginalized individuals and communities, and the subverting of oppression through revolutionary acts have been diluted for the comfort of the masses and the maintenance of power. Continue Reading..

The Last Week Tonight: What Will It Take?

The Last Week Tonight: What Will It Take?

Holy Week reflections by Chris Lubbers

Have you ever repeatedly uttered a word until it just became a meaningless sound? Try it for one minute. Love, love, love, love, love, love, … At most, you’re left with a familiar, comforting noise. We often fail to notice what is familiar. The fish don’t see the water or understand its significance–if that expression isn’t itself too familiar to make the point.

Continue Reading..

We Must Listen AND Respond

We Must Listen AND Respond

“Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.”

Ouch. That is the opening line in the position statement on homosexuality of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. I wonder how many gay individuals had a chance to review that before it went to press. I’m guessing not too many. That is a hurtful and embarrassing statement. I am ordained in the CRCNA. This statement does not represent me.
Continue Reading..

Close