In this century, the Christian faith seems confrontational at its core. The issues we stubbornly choose to tackle and emphasize--whether creationism, theism, eschatology or any culture war on the political scene--indicate that we feel threatened and may be missing the point.
Conservative Christian culture is producing increasingly overweight, capitalist, isolated men and women with little care for migrants, the marginalized, the environment, and transformative health and spirituality. How is this not a reactionary and short-lived response to the twenty-first century? If all we have to offer is a “No” to every question people care about, how will churches keep from imploding like the Soviet Union?
The world continues to spin and others explore and live out these essential matters. I am not a fatalist, and will not give up my Christian faith (and the church) that easily. Though our future is unknown, I am hopeful that the community started by Jesus of Nazareth will come to fruition and His Kingdom will triumph. To be on the same page with Him, Ekklesia the church must be able to identify with two relentless sister-realities. Their names? Consciousness and Suffering.
What is consciousness? Is there purpose at work in the universe? How does one tap into it? These soul-searching questions—and the paths that lead to them—lead to tomorrow’s spirituality. Science and secularism have yet to come up with convincing answers to these questions.
Jesus said: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This verse confronts our world which has much bread and little Word. Christians should be at the forefront in providing prayer centers and spiritual retreats, and practicing the presence of God to anyone who is seeking transformation.
What is suffering? Why does it exist? What is our responsibility in alleviating it? For whom and for what? As we become less self-centered, we are realizing the importance of caring for our planet and the fullness therein, from the “least of our brothers” to animal and plant welfare. Let’s not react to this, as it can be used for good in the Kingdom of God.
What we do with suffering will impact how we care for the poor among us and for God’s creation. What if we would teach and live out Philippians 2--self-emptying, servant stewardship instead of criticizing people and ridiculing them for taking care of their surroundings?
In the twenty-first century, how can we get involved in God's great work? By caring for and fostering life in all its dimensions; by demonstrating mature spirituality and prayer; by worshipping God and obeying the commandments of Jesus Christ without reacting to our neighbors through passive-aggressive isolation; and by giving full attention and care to Muslim refugees in particular.
Jesus of Nazareth has much to say about consciousness and suffering. Our response will be the deciding factor in whether the church contributes to this age, or dies and makes way for others to take on this great work. After all, God can use stones to accomplish His purposes (Matthew 3:9).
“Salt is good but if it loses its flavor, what is it good for?” (Matthew 5:13). This is the great work: “Building up the Temple of the Lord. Brother, won’t you help me? Sister, won’t you help me?”
Written by: Y.L.
In John 19:21 we read, “Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, 'Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate refuses and at first glance, it seems as if he were saving Jesus a little bit of dignity. His being reluctant to consent to the crucifixion in the first place, offering Barabbas in His place, and then washing his hands of the matter, appears sympathetic to the plight of Jesus. To me, this text seemed to imply that Pilate believed. Is he (Pilate) saying he believes Jesus is King? In studying the context of the story the resounding answer is "no."
The cross was a scandal, a punishment reserved for slaves and rebels. It was not talked about in polite society. Therefore, Pilate is inferring that Jews were inferior to the Romans and that crucifixion is what one could expect for a Jewish king. He is mocking them, by juxtaposing the regal splendor, authority, honor and wealth of a king, to this naked, suffering, pitiful Jew who claims to be God. How spiteful, then, is his refusal to grant their request.
Now let's go back and notice a few things about the request. The chief priests were granted a certain civil power by the controlling Roman government and their power was challenged by this Jesus. They beg Pilate for His crucifixion, something that is not lawful for them to carry out, yet they are offended that he besmirches their nationality with the sign above Jesus' head. Beggars can't be choosers. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
Ok, enough with the clichés.The sign served to tell the passersby what crime the malefactor had committed. The chief priests wanted Jesus crucified, sure, but they also wanted to preserve national honor.
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 says, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
As the priests squabbled over the minor details of what they thought was a victory, and as the rulers of Rome made their point and breathed a sigh of relief that the oft-violent and rebellious Passover week was finished, both groups, using the world's system to monopolize power, had no idea that they had crowned Jesus as King. Later, Rome would fight valiantly to extinguish the quickly-growing movement. The Jewish leaders would fight it, too. In retrospect, how ironic that sign. "The King of the Jews."
Throughout Acts we see the apostles struggling against incredible odds, yet one senses their faith in the sovereignty of King Jesus. Jesus said that all power had been given to Him in heaven and earth. Yet He uses the weak of this world to show His power. If Jesus is willing to empty Himself of power, how much more should we? In closing I leave you with Jeremiah 9:23-24:
"Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."
--Written by T.F.
When I was much younger, my friends and I would often drive our motorcycles at dangerous speeds, seeing how low we could get as we went around curves in the road. I wrecked my bike one time, with only minor injuries. Some of my friends were not so fortunate however, and experienced serious injuries. Some are still suffering today from the injuries they received back then.
There I've finally introduced the topic - suffering. All of us have suffered from ill-made decisions, be it relationships, how we spend our money, extreme sports, cheating at school and in our taxes. I think most of us would say there is little merit in suffering for the causes we mentioned above, other than helping us learn valuable life lessons. It does little to help point people to Jesus and to see His kingdom advanced.
The next tier of suffering is one most of us are also familiar with. It is suffering from the hard things that life brings: death, sickness, loneliness, etc. These sufferings are often difficult for us to understand because we can't quite see how this could be part of God’s good plan for us. And so we struggle to understand how God could be good in the midst of our suffering.
But there is yet another tier of suffering that I think we need to keep in mind. So far, both kinds of suffering I have mentioned are experienced by both believers and non-believers alike. In fact, the believer has the advantage over the unbeliever when experiencing these kinds of sufferings.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We grieve, yes, but in the midst of our grief we can still have hope. Not only do we have hope, we have a loving Father that uses these painful situations to refine us, to make us more like Jesus. When we respond to these extremely difficult things with hope, the world takes notice; it can be a powerful testimony to point people to Jesus.
But unfortunately, many believers stop right here. We are grateful that Jesus walks beside us in our sufferings, but we don’t often ask ourselves how we might walk alongside Jesus in His sufferings. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
These sufferings seems to be different from the first two types of suffering in one main way – they come as a direct result of choosing to follow Jesus. Somehow, we have come to think that simply trusting in God’s goodness despite the hardships we face, is taking up our cross and following Jesus. But we have already seen how that following Jesus actually gives believers a distinct advantage over the unbeliever. Can we call having an advantage in life, cross-bearing?
What if the kind of suffering that is precious in God’s sight looks a lot more like Jesus’ own journey? J.H. Yoder in The Politics of Jesus writes: “The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly reiterated free choice. He warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs (Luke 14:25-33)” (p. 129).
What is our view of suffering? Do we follow Jesus mainly for the help He provides us to get through the hardships of life (and He does!), or do we, like Jesus, like Paul, see the way of the cross as the means by which His kingdom advances? How we answer that question will dramatically affect the course of our lives.