He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Here’s part of what Jesus said he came to earth to do. Assuming for a moment that his followers were expected to continue that work , it seems that Christianity is missing the mark and failing to engage people on real life levels, the levels that actually matter. The trend in many churches is to provide lifestyle support to help people survive the rigors of life. In the process we neglect the essential process and demands of transformation. Jesus didn’t come to make us feel better about ourselves; he came to make us whole. The concept of reaching out to provide support for people in need is excellent and valid but only so long as it embodies the power of the gospel for transformation. Without the transformation our best efforts merely serve to prolong the sickness. It’s hard to see how maintaining someone indefinitely on life support can be perceived as “setting them free.” It’s more like providing them with a life-sentence of misery. If that is what we offer as freedom we shouldn’t be surprised if folk prefer to be sick without our help.
But we are more subtle than that, we use faith as the justification for doing what we’ve always done. This avoids the frightening prospect of change and allows us to hide behind all those saints through the ages who “can’t possibly have been wrong.” Now let’s be clear that it is not our job to judge what others have done. We can spot the obvious mistakes so we don’t repeat them, but we are not the judges. We look back to such things as crusades and inquisitions in puzzlement about what they were thinking. We see their efforts as misguided and damaging; we realize they didn’t achieve great accomplishments by such actions and the echoes of the chaos they produced still reverberate today.Observation: don’t do what they did.
But that begs the question, “What are we doing instead?” It seems, particularly in recent years, that Christians have largely retreated from doing anything more than focus on keeping up with the pace of life. It is easier to do what we’ve always done without challenging ourselves with annoying questions like, “Why?” Somehow we’ve succeeded in inverting faith so that it becomes the justification for adopting some peculiar church culture which actually prevents us from reaching those who are outside of it. Being self-contained, we have no need for power or transformation in our own lives since we are muddling through just fine without all that messy stuff. Faith can be used to keep the lid on things rather than being the motivating force which drives us into transformative action. Conformity to others and the preservation of what we have matter more than taking the risk of discovering what we can become. Church becomes a meaningless social activity more like a concert to attend than a crucible for developing faith. We prefer to take insight captive before it can damage the status quo rather than running the risk of letting it loose. We imitate what others are doing (or not doing) rather than risk innovating to find ways to follow the trail of life in front of us. At this point we all begin to nod agreement and picture a church we don’t attend that behaves like this. Not so fast! This is not an issue of style of church or age of congregation or denomination / non-denomination . . . It’s an attitude of gospel containment and it shows up in all types of churches – even fast growing contemporary ones.
We avoid considering the impact of faith on our lifestyle and instead make faith conform to our lifestyle. Political correctness, the avoidance of extreme Christianity and lack of judgment on social issues leaves us supporting a club which has no genuine distinctives. At that point the value and appeal of our faith becomes irrelevant to our society and they forget about us. We have become harmless religious people who have no views worth hearing.
What would Jesus do? That was a real popular question for a while until we realized that we actually had no clue what Jesus would do. We could read what he once did but that was then and this is now. Life got a bit uncomfortable while we wrestled with that question and it was only when we realized that no one was particularly clear on the answer that the pressure came off. We were all thrashing around looking for convincing answers until we realized no one had any idea what Jesus would do. That gave us the way of escape. We could induce guilt in all around us by loudly asking the question and then, drawing ourselves up to the full heights of superiority, we could nod knowingly at the feeble confusion of our victims. Like we really knew! It worked so long as we could be the ones asking the question. Bumper stickers worked great for this – we got to leave the puzzled people behind. Our reckless acts of road rage left people behind us wondering what Jesus would have done if he had followers like us. Oh, wait a moment, he does!
When all else fails, we can fall back on the standby phrase, “Jesus is the answer.” Now all we have to do is figure out what question he is the answer to.
If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success. John D. Rockefeller
Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to. Alan Keightley
Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Paul
Short answer, essence! Johnny Cash used to sing a song about “A Boy named Sue.” The parents of a boy named him Sue and forced him to make (repeatedly) a choice: he could learn to value himself for who he was, sticking up for himself while he lived a distinctive life, or he could passively submit to the inevitable tirade of bullying and mockery from those who were too insecure to run the risk of being his friend. Submission would inevitably destroy his self-esteem and his ability to influence others. It was an “either / or” choice he would have to make in every situation throughout his life. It was an issue of survival as well as of destiny. Like it or not, he would change every situation he entered for better or for worse.
Cite: 1) to arouse, summon
2) to quote
3) to mention by way of proof
4) to stir to action
Simon: The disciple who was willing to rock the boat! He even got out of one in a storm – oh sure, it didn’t pan out so well but no one else had the courage to do anything more than sit there feeling sick and hanging on for dear life. He was the guy who saw stuff others missed and he was given amazing insights. He was one that Jesus trusted deeply, so deeply that he entrusted Simon with great responsibility in the formation of the group of believers. Simon had two names: Simon meaning hearing; and Peter meaning rock. When he met Jesus for the first time, Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Peter.” You are / you will be – but what makes the difference? Simon – you are the one who hears and that ability to hear will give you great opportunities and a huge advantage in life. Peter – you will become a rock, a bastion of stability for those around you, they will be able to build on you. The problem lay in the process needed to make this happen. Throughout the gospels, Simon’s actions were impulsive and unstable and in the book of Acts he had moments of breakthrough interspersed with vacillation driven by his uncontrolled fear of what others thought about him. Not so rocklike. His struggle was that he saw what others didn’t see yet he lacked the self-confidence and leadership skills to consistently apply what he saw to what he did. Apparently he didn’t have a problem with hearing and gaining insight – he knew the truth and what was required of him. His problem came in working out how to do it, especially when others would be likely to disapprove. So, he sat by the High Priest’s fire applying all his communication skills to the task at hand – convincing them he never even knew Jesus; the same Jesus he was going to fight to the death to defend a few hours earlier. Or how about the time mentioned in Galatians where he was happily mixing with the Gentiles until the enforcers from Jerusalem showed up (can you believe that Paul publicly challenged him over his hypocrisy?) Now let’s not get all mixed up over this; if we had been there we would know that these were huge struggles for Simon. He didn’t have any pattern to follow, his insight brought him into continuing conflict with those who couldn’t see what he saw, and he couldn’t rely on others to leap to his defense. The more he vacillated the less they were willing to stand up for him. We don’t want to appoint ourselves as his jury panel, sitting in harsh judgment on him. Right from the beginning Jesus said it would be a process of becoming “the rock.” And so it was.
His problem isn’t unique and it isn’t new. People today still struggle with what to do with the revelation they have. We know we have answers but we’re too frightened and unsure of ourselves to put them to work. We know when things aren’t right and we know we should do something about it but instead we look away and slip back into the ranks of the hypocrites. Always hearing but never being the foundation so that others can build on us. Leonard Sweet uses the concept of “marching off the map” to stress to us that we are often expected to go into unfamiliar territory. That’s what disciples are expected to do. The ancient maps often showed dragons and terrifying dangers when the cartographers ran out of facts. Only a fool would willingly go where there was no map! We live in a society that needs answers and we have those answers. We live among people who are hurting and wishing for a better deal in life and we have the means to help them. We too are in the process of being transformed from being merely hearers into the bastions of stability God wants us to become. We are the present day Simons, what will we do with what we have?
Now let’s put it together, to get where he needed to go, to become what he was destined to be, Simon needed to be stirred into action. When he was stirred, change happened and lives were utterly transformed. When he wasn’t stirred the “system” closed around him and “business as usual” took over. People suffered, the work of God suffered, no one was helped, no one was fooled, but there were no dragons! Mediocrity demands we be free from dragons. Irrelevance is best served when we slink away from challenges. How can you say we did nothing when we were faithfully doing what we’d always done (regardless of its effectiveness?)
He was in his last year before retirement and he knew every word by rote of the statistics course he had written and used for 40 years. He would stand with his eyes closed leaning against the whiteboard, reciting every word. Some of his students could read for themselves so they decided to skip class, some had no idea what statistics was about so they came to class and passed notes, read up for other classes, studied for other finals, or just hung out and had a good time. The professor must have peeped a little; he was later heard to remark that he didn’t know what was wrong with students today, “they won’t sit and listen like they used to.” To avoid the humiliation of ending his career in abject defeat he must have applied some mysterious statistical formula – the whole class passed his course without needing to sit a final examination. None of them understood any thing about statistics. He’d faithfully turned up at class for 40 years but he’d learned to shut his eyes. Effective or debilitating?
We need to Cite the Simon in each one of us! Hearing puts us on the path of becoming.
“After practicing dentistry for almost 40 years I’ve decided I can’t get it right so I’m retiring!” said my friend Norm (who was in reality a great dentist). Sometimes we feel like that and we are not joking about it like Norm was. We think of ourselves as the people with “the answers to life.” We think, “It must be true because we have the true faith that everyone else needs to accept.” In our saner moments we are sometimes forced to admit that we don’t have all the answers but we do have more questions than most people. Too often our actions produce the opposite of what we intended. In those honest moments it is time to join the dots.
Think for a moment about Simon, the one they called Peter. He struggled to piece together the provocative insights of Jesus in the context of his life and times. Sometimes he was right, sometimes wrong. He fought the other disciples – sometimes he was right, sometimes he was wrong. Perhaps the act of struggling is the most important part – is the judgment greater for those who never really engage the conflicts of faith than it is for those who wrestle with the realities of active faith and “get it wrong?”
This site doesn’t aim to produce “right answers.” It seeks to expose and legitimize the struggles, fostering healthy outcomes. Innovation and inspiration belong together . It promotes the pursuit of discipleship which engages with contemporary culture to produce an expression of Christianity which is vital and healthy. Comfort and conformity are no substitute for being intentionally real.