Christlike: Being Crucified

Mar 282013

I think it’s about time for another in the ‘Christlike’ series. So far, I’ve suggested being Christlike is more to do with embodying the overarching story of Jesus’ (life, death, resurrection) than to do with copying his actions, and I’ve explored what being incarnate might mean.

Next, what about being ‘crucified’?

“Come Die with Me”

In Mark 8, having been identified as messiah, Jesus tells His disciples what that means – death and rising again. Awkward. Peter challenges Him, and receives some very strong words form Jesus: “Get behind me Satan!” (v33). The cross was so central to the purposes of God that any diversion from it is rightly seen as part of Satan’s plan to thwart God’s plans. The cross is crucial.

But Jesus makes plain to His disciples straight away that the cross is not just to be central in His life, but theirs too. He tells them, in some of the most challenging words of the Bible:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

If I am to follow Jesus, I too must pick up a cross. In our day, this phrase is stripped of it’s meaning to become a mere inconvenience (“My neighbours are so inconsiderate, but we all have our cross to bear”). This drastically misunderstands Jesus’ words.

The only reason to pick up a cross is to die on it.

In calling us to be cross-bearers, Jesus calls us not to inconvenience, but to give our lives, to die. His call to us is ‘Come die with me’. I do not believe this necessarily to be physical death – though God may call us to that – but something far deeper.

The Essence of being Crucified

If we in our own small ways are to embody what Jesus did in huge ways, we must ask what Jesus’ death achieved and seek to apply that to ourselves. I see two main ways in which this works.

The first concerns sin. Ultimately, the cross is God’s victory over sin. Into a world bent on rebellion and sin, God – compelled by love that I will never understand – sent His Son to bear the weight of that sin at Calvary. Through Jesus’ atoning death, the bonds of sin were broken, and humanity no longer needs to serve their sinful natures. Paul describes this well:

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 5:6-7

If Jesus’ crucifixion led to the conquering of sin, then for us to be crucified means no longer serving sin. Where the constant refrain of God in the Old Testament to Israel was ‘Be holy as I am holy’ (Lev 11:45), the essence of the New Testament teaching on holiness is: ‘you are already holy, so act like it!’

If we embody the crucifixion of Jesus in our lives, we will strive to shun all sin.

The second element of Jesus’ crucifixion and ours, is to do with worldviews and how we think. Jesus achieved a victory on the cross – by dying. That’s not normal. We see death as a defeat or an ending, not a victory or beginning. It’s why Peter couldn’t stomach Jesus’ plans – it didn’t compute. In our (sinful) nature, we would rather follow a mighty military leader than the crucified messiah.

But a crucified messiah we follow nonetheless! Again some words from Paul will be useful:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25)

The cross is scandalous. It throws ideas of power and victory on their head. It is a world gone topsy-turvy. Or, more accurately, it is the truth of how things should be, and what the world continues to accept is topsy-turvy. Through the cross, Jesus demonstrated that God doesn’t function how the world does. So in calling us to ‘Come die with me’, Jesus asks us to die to all the ways the world thinks, and to all the false ideas and conceptions the world has.

If we embody the crucifixion of Jesus in our lives, we will have a radically different picture of the world, of right and wrong, of everything.

What might that look like?

Again, this is not a ‘how-to’ guide for being crucified. Attitude trumps action in this, but here are a few thoughts on what being crucified might look like in practice:
  • Being meticulous about rooting out all sources of sin in our lives.
  • Accepting God’s views on what is sin and what is not.
  • Not settling because we sin only in ways that ‘aren’t so bad’, but striving for holiness in every aspect of our lives.
  • Regular confession, both private and corporate. And repentance with it.
  • Evaluation of all we’re told and all the ways we think through the lens of the cross, not through the lens of our own lenses.
  • A rejection of human ideas of power and empire.
  • A willingness to be spurned and ill-treated in service of others.
  • A desire to stand with those who are suffering, and an ardent determination not to be the cause of others’ suffering.
Any other thoughts?

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Keeping things fresh

Mar 252013

Out of the last seven Sundays, I have preached at a church service on six of them. This has been new for me. In the past, I have usually had around a month between sermons, which has allowed each one to fester, for me to be able to mull it over and prepare over a longer period of time.

So these last almost two months have been very different. I’ve had to keep up the pace of studying, planning and writing. I’ve had to be quicker, and I’ve had to keep going for longer. It has been a fantastic learning opportunity, I’ve enjoyed it very much, and I’m very grateful to the leaders of the three churches who let me loose in their pulpits.

The danger of becoming stale

But it has also made me aware of what I guess I’ve always suspected. The danger that through the repeated process of doing something you enjoy, it can become less exciting. Or that it can lead to not taking it seriously, thinking it less important.

Please don’t misunderstand. During these weeks, I have not found preaching less exciting. Nor have I taken it seriously or thought it less important. In fact quite the opposite. But I wonder how much that is because I knew this opportunity in itself was a great opportunity and I relished it. If the next seven Sundays were the same, the seven after that, and the next seven, and so on… What then?

The answer is I don’t know. I might never fall into monotony or become stale. But I might – I see a danger. Things could become dry. There could seem to be less urgency. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a little lax in my prep this week – I’ll always have next week…” I feel it could be a slippery slope.

I’m sure this danger of things becoming stale – or lifeless – is true no matter what it is that one’s gift is or whatever role one plays. I suppose this is why Paul, when giving instruction to the Romans (chapter 12) urging them to use their gifts encourages some attitudes that will stop things getting stale. For the gifted giver (who’s giving could become a duty), they must remain generous. For the gifted leader (who could stop taking her or his role seriously), they must be diligent. For the person with the gift of mercy (who could so easily get so bogged down with the weight of the world on their shoulders), they are encouraged to pursue cheerfulness.

I wonder what the corresponding advice should be for those who preach?

How to stay fresh?

So, once again I have no real answers as I near the end of my post. But I do have some questions. I am tremendously grateful to those who have allowed me to preach, especially to my own pastor who has really invested in me and been such an encouragement. Not least because it’s helped to open my eyes to what it may be like for me in the future if I do end up in a position where I am teaching or speaking regularly and over a sustained period of time. I want to keep my eyes open and be proactive in making sure things stay fresh. So, some questions…

Do you preach or teach regularly? If so, is there anything you have found helpful in warding off these tendencies?

Is there something else which you do so regularly that it can become stale? Have you got any advice?

Have you gone through periods where your job or your ministry has felt like it is just going through the motions and there was no life in it? How did you get out of that rut?

Are you in that place now and have no idea what to do? (Please tell me, even if not publicly, because I’d love to pray for you and try to be of some support and encouragement.)

Or anything else you think might help…

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I am sorry

Mar 212013

I was going to post another in the ‘Christlike’ series today, but instead want to do something else. In one sense, this post won’t include anything original from me, because I want instead to bring to your attention a series of four very moving videos, all posted below.

They are four poems, written and performed by Joel McKerrow (whose website can be found here). In them, he offers four apologies, for four different parts of him: the white part, the rich part, the Christian part, and the masculine part. I have a few reflections, but please watch them too.

I, also, am sorry

I’m white, rich (at least on a global scale), Christian and masculine (male, at least), so these poems are as much about me as they are about Joel. From what I’ve seen of him, I don’t believe he is an active perpetrator (in his words, he didn’t ‘pull the trigger’) of any of these four atrocities: white superiority, rich oppression, Christian oppression or male dominance.

I don’t think I am. At least not in the big ways he talks about, and at least not often. And yet as I watch each of these videos I associate far more with the perpetrator whose confession he voices than I do with the victims to whom he pours out his heart and his apology.

And, like Joel, I wish to say that I am sorry.

The Power of Confession

On one level it isn’t for me to say that. Having not taken part in the crusades, having not lived my life handing out racist slurs, and so on, it isn’t for me to confess to those things. They are not my guilt. They are not my sin.

But for two reasons, I feel an apology is appropriate. The first is that, really, I’m sure that I am guilty. In small ways, I am certain that I share some of those attitudes of white pride, wealthy entitlement, Christian ‘holier-than-thou-ness’, and male brutishness. I’m sure I do. Even in ways I don’t even realise, I am certain that in these areas I must fall, because it is so easy to. And rather than carrying on and saying ‘These videos must be about other people’, it is important to stand up and say ‘I’m sorry’. If only because an important part of confession is repentance – a change of direction – and it will help to strengthen my resolve not to feed into such oppressive mindsets or systems.

The second reason isn’t about me. It’s about non-white people, the poor, non-Christians, and women. Most people (if not all) in these four categories will at some time or another have suffered at the hands of people who share my colour or wealth-bracket or faith or gender. I don’t think I am a large part of the oppressions they will have faced, but I can try to be part of the solution. And they need to know that white, rich, Christian men aren’t all out to get them. Some of us – many of us – are there to stand with them, to love them, to treat them the way they should have been treated all along. For people who have all their lives been subjected only to people like me who would treat them like dirt or like second-class citizens or like a project or like a thing, my apology could mean so much. They need someone to say ‘sorry’, and that person could be me.

So I stand with my brother Joel and say: “I am sorry.”

Here are the videos…

For the WHITE part of me…

For the RICH part of me…

For the CHRISTIAN part of me…

For the MASCULINE part of me…


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3 hours, 7 minutes

Mar 192013

This is a little story about me.

Two days ago, on Sunday, I wasn’t feeling very well. I’ve been having back problems for a couple of weeks, and the medicine I was taking helped the pain but had the side effect of quite bad nausea. So on Sunday I had stopped taking them. The back pain was returning, but the nausea was still there.

Sunday was also a busy day. I was leading a service in the afternoon, and preaching at our church in the evening. During the afternoon service I felt very sick indeed – I had to step out for a little bit. As I got into the car to drive back to pick Mel up and head to our church to preach, I did not feel good at all.

I looked at the clock in the car. 4:53, it read. I knew the service in the evening would be over by 8:00 and I really wanted to be able to preach well. It felt very important to me. So I prayed:

“God, you know the discomfort and pain I’m in, and the sickness I feel. Please can I have 3 hours and 7 minutes without back pain and without nausea. That’s all I really need to get through this.”

Over the next couple of minutes as I drove, my stomach settled and I felt at ease. I started to forget the sickness, and think instead about the upcoming task of preaching. I picked up Mel, drove to our church building, and prepared myself. The odd flutter of nerves, but nothing more. I felt ok. Our senior pastor prayed for me. Mel prayed for me.

The service went on, I preached, and it went extremely well – I believe people were genuinely moved and helped by what I said, and I was able to speak and move freely. The service ended. Mel and I decided to pop in on some friends who live just next door to the church building on our way home. As I walked into their sitting room and sat down, my back started hurting again. I looked at the clock:

8:00. 3 hours and 7 minutes after I had prayed. (Part of me wished I’d asked for 4 hours and 7 minutes.)

The Moral of the Story

So, why tell this story? I like this story, and it encourages me, but we often hear these little stories of God’s provision, of answering prayers. But what is the moral of this story?

That God is good? Well, not really. If I only believe God is good because He did this for me, what does that say? That He wouldn’t be good – or would be less good – if my symptoms hadn’t been held at bay for a few hours? That He won’t be as good if I ever have to preach while in severe pain or while very sick? That doesn’t sound right.

Maybe it’s that God answers prayer? It certainly is an example of that, but surely that’s something I should believe anyway, whether or not He has said a very obvious ‘Yes’ to something I have asked of Him in the last few days.

Or I could draw from my story evidence that God values the preaching of his word. He wanted to protect me so I could preach well. But does that mean He doesn’t value the ministry of others who have to serve in the midst of pain, or that when preachers do get and stay ill then they are bad preachers?!

I don’t think any of these is the lesson to draw from the story.

No Morals

In fact, I think there are no morals. Not in that sense anyway. Stories are wonderful, and they show us examples of all these things which are true. But they are never the reason that something is true.

God isn’t good because He helped me. God doesn’t answer prayer because He answered prayer. God doesn’t value preaching because He valued mine on Sunday.

He just is good. He just does answer prayer. He just does want His word to be proclaimed.

God is God. If something is true of Him, it is true of Him, whether I see it or not, experience it or not, feel it or not. I really struggle with something I see quite a lot – our theology being shaped or defined by our own experiences. Instead, our understanding of our experiences should be shaped by what we know to be true anyway.

Stories are good. Testimonies are fantastic. I share this story, hoping it will be some encouragement to others as it was to me. It is an example of God’s grace for sure, but not the only reason we should believe in God’s grace.

We believe things because they are true, not because we feel them. But if they’re true, we can expect to feel them every so often.

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Christlike: Being Incarnate

Mar 142013

Last Thursday, I posted some thoughts on what it means to be Christlike. I suggested it may have less to do with copying what Jesus did in certain situations, and more to do with embodying the fundamental life of Jesus, as displayed in His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. The post can be found by clicking here.

Today (on another Thursday – maybe I’ll start something called ‘Christlike Thursday!’), I want to explore those thoughts a little more. If I’m suggesting we should be trying to be incarnate, be crucified and be resurrected in our lives, I probably ought to explore what each of those means.

And today… being incarnate.

Jesus has a head start, right?

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Living in the spirit of the incarnation was easier for Jesus in some ways though, right? He stepped into all the mess I experience every day, and that can’t have been easy. He has a bit of a head start.

He stepped into something from outside of it. He was fully God and became fully man. Every step, every breath, every bite He took, Jesus would have been intensely aware that He had stepped into something, humbled Himself and entered our condition, our situation.

He didn’t have the choice of waking up one morning and deciding not to be in our situation.

Right? No, wrong. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Jesus decision to humble Himself was a huge thing and something He would have had to constantly – every day, every minute, every second – commit, own and choose to continue with instead of calling Dad and calling it a day. If anything, it was harder for Jesus. He stepped into something that in His very being He was not. He is God and He became human, whereas for us to be incarnate I believe means us as humans entering into the situations of people who are, like us, humans.

What Jesus did on a massive scale, we are called to do on a smaller scale (I sense this will be a theme.)

The essence of being Incarnate

There is one passage in the New Testament which stands out to me as I consider what it means for us to have the same attitude Jesus had in the incarnation. It is Philippians 2:1-11

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”       (Philippians 2:1-11)

The essence here is humility. If the fact Jesus was in very nature God did not qualify Him to think more of Himself than of others, if He was willing not to look to His own interests but associate with humanity, as a servant, associating not just with the life that is mine but with the death that should have been, and if we are to have the same mindset…

I think this is a huge call. To embody the incarnation means associating with anyone in any situation and never having that attitude of condescension. I am not stooping down to serve you. I am not better than you. I am not too good to be seen with you. If Jesus – even Jesus – didn’t have that attitude, then we mustn’t either.

And it’s not that in the end He gets the glory. The glory is all for His Father. From start to finish, however Jesus was serving and whoever He was with, He only ever points away from Himself, toward the Father. This, I believe, is what it means to be incarnate in our lives, to embody this aspect of Christ’s being. This is the spirit of the incarnation.

What might that look like?

This is not mean to be a ‘how to’ guide. This is more about attitude than outworking, but here are a few (non-comprehensive) thoughts about some things which might demonstrate this aspect of Christlikeness:

  • Willingness not to be thanked, or to carry out thankless jobs.
  • Spending time with people who our society or our peers would consider ‘less’ than us.
  • Choosing to be a servant (of whomever and in whatever situation that leads us), rather than choosing to serve in ways that are convenient to us and retaining power for ourselves (this distinction comes from Richard Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline).
  • Caring what God thinks more than what those around us think.
  • At times, being taken advantage of (though abuse is abuse and should not just be ‘taken’).
  • Continuing to try to help people even when they reject our help.
  • Entering into situations where we are not comfortable ourselves because there is a need.
  • Standing with the marginalised and forgotten of our world.
  • Not spouting on about our own successes, but pointing to the success of others and, ultimately, to God.
Ultimately, to be incarnate (in humility, service and dedication) is to be able truly to say and mean the words of John the Baptist:

“He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

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Lies we tell ourselves

Mar 092013

A week ago, I posted an article called ‘Politics, Jesus and Us’. It was sparked by the first half of a document called The Lies we Tell Ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty. I was basically saying it is a good thing – though a sadly rare thing – that major Christian denominations were speaking up about the issue of poverty. If you haven’t read that post, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

That post wasn’t so much about the content of the document – published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church – as it was about the fact it had been written at all. Today, the content!

Lies and Loud Voices

The paper begins with some introductory bits and pieces, as it seems is required. There is then an excellent section on the overall problem – everyone, from politicians right on down to the person in a pub, seems happy to make assumptions about those living in poverty and present them as fact without any kind of evidence.

If you read it (and you really should!) you will be presented with a speech David Cameron made which begins with “We have all known for some time…” With those seven words, the Prime Minister gives himself permission either not to use or to misuse statistics and facts because, after all, we all know this to be true anyway so why waste time proving it. You’ll then be taken through what he said in the rest of the speech and shown how he consistently misuses facts and figures to drastically misrepresent those in the country who are in crippling poverty. Those who haven’t got a loud enough voice to counter with “Well, we’ve actually known for some time…”

All of this means we can keep believing the lies we’ve told ourselves. And if you keep saying this lies in loud voices, they’re going to catch on and carry on.

We have as a nation constructed a view of our poorest which is comfortable for us, because if ‘they’ are the cause of their own problem it isn’t our job to help them out. Even if it were true they had caused it, I can’t imagine Jesus just imposing stringent measures and waiting for them to help themselves. I think He’d die to help them. In fact He did. But that’s all academic really…

Six Myths Busted

The document then outlines 6 myths we have constructed about those in poverty:

  1. ‘They’ are lazy and just don’t want to work
  2. ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs
  3. ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly
  4. ‘They’ are on the fiddle
  5. ‘They’ have an easy life on benefits
  6. ‘They’ caused the deficit
Anecdotally and intuitively, I have had a problem with such statements for a while. But that hasn’t been very useful, because the people propagating the myths are also doing so on the basis of anecdote and intuition.
So what is wonderful is that the report takes each in turn and shows how thoroughly baseless and unfounded they are, using proper data and statistical analysis. It is my sincere hope and prayer that those in government (and church leaders who are often just as guilty) will read this, recognise their error and stop using their public status to tell these lies.

When there are no more lies to lean on

But my main hope and prayer is that we’d do something. One of the main problems about these lies, aside from the fact that they get in the way of truth and truth is good, is that they produce lethargy.

It makes it seem as though the problem isn’t so bad, or at least not our fault. So we are excused from really acting to make a change in the situation. That surely has to change once we’ve realised the basis of our inaction was wrong in the first place. When there are no more lies to lean on, the truth must compel us into action.

I fundamentally disagree with the current governments policies in cutting the welfare budget in so many ways. You may disagree with me. You may even disagree with me after reading this document. That is fine. I just hope it’s for different reasons.

But those in power who are using these myths to sell their policies are going to need to find some better reasons. Reasons that don’t involve lies. Reasons that don’t prop up a culture of judgment against those most in need of support. Reasons that are based on truth.

So let’s all stand for the truth. Jesus is the ultimate Truth, and any lies we cling to dishonour Him. Let’s not speak these lies. Let’s challenge these lies when we hear them.

Because I’d rather limp into truth than stride into lies.

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Christlike: Imitation or Embodiment?

Mar 072013

There’s a lot of talk about being Christlike in the church. This is a good thing. We hear of Christlike mission, Christlike service, Christlike priorities, Christlike preaching, Christlike everything really.

Like I said, this is a good thing. We are meant to be striving towards Christlikeness, each day becoming more and more like Jesus.

The big question we need to work out is this: what does it mean to be Christlike?

Imitators of Christ

I think a lot of the prevailing thinking is that we should copy Jesus. We should study the example of his life and seek to adopt his practices for our own lives. It’s what we see in the whole WWJD movement (which is wonderful), always asking ourselves what Jesus would have done in a particular situation.

There is definite merit here, and I believe this to be an important part of Christlikeness, but there are inherent weaknesses. The main one is that there are all sorts of situations we face which Jesus either couldn’t have faced or just didn’t.

How am I to be a Christlike dog-owner? (This may seem a silly question, but if I am seeking genuinely to surrender my whole life to God’s ways and his kingdom, then nothing is not a part of that, including our little Ralph.) It’s a questions the Gospels cannot answer – Jesus didn’t have pets.

So this idea of copying often ends up getting qualified something like this: “Being Christlike means acting as Christ did when we are faced with the situations He faced, and in the rest we must just try to be more ‘like’ Him.”

This is easy when it comes to teaching – we uphold the Bible, but open up its life-giving message in ways that are creative, engaging and enticing. It’s easy when it comes to leadership – we love and serve those we are leading, seeking to release them into all God has for their life and ministry. It’s easy a lot of the time, but there are massive gaps. And can we better define being ‘like’ Him please?

Embodiment of Christ

I have another idea. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for years, and I want some thoughts! (I very much doubt it is original, but I’ve never seen it expressed this way before. If you know that someone has, please point me their way.)

The fundamental flaw, I believe, in just trying to copy Jesus life during the three year ministry He had is that we can forget He wasn’t just a great guy to be more like. He is the Son of God who became human in order to live that life. He is the Son of God who willingly died in order to win His great victory over sin and death. He is the Son of God who rose again bodily, displaying great power and showing His enemies to be powerless.

The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are the things which truly define Him, not His parables or His humility. Without these three things – each totally earth-shattering in their own right – the rest of His ministry couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened. Each was necessary.

My thoughts is that it is these parts of Jesus which we should try to embody in our lives, not just his activities that we should imitate.

We must be incarnate – entering into the lives of others and coming alongside, not keeping our distance and looking down on the world that so desperately needs our help. We must be crucified – not accepting the world’s ways of working (who dies to win?), but surrendering our whole lives to God’s kingdom, dying to ourselves. We must be resurrected – that death to ourselves must lead to a new and vibrant life, one that is defined by resurrection power, enabled by the Spirit, to live within God’s plans and purposes, His will not ours, all things we can never do if ruled by our old selves instead of by Him.

And this is where it gets interesting. What if instead of saying we need to do X like Jesus, we say that in everything we do, including X, we must seek to be incarnate, crucified and resurrected. Not one in this scenario and another in another. All three, all the time, in everything. I believe that’s what Jesus was like – everything He did was marked by the humility of the incarnation, the surrender of the crucifixion and the power of the resurrection.

That way, if we’re doing something Jesus Himself did, then great – we can see how He was all those things and try to embody them too. If we are trying to own a dog or do things He never did, we can still ask the same question.

Is this a better way?

What do you think? Is this better? Worse? Actually the same, but with different words? I personally think this is more demanding, and it leaves us no excuse for not being Christlike in any situation. But it also opens up a wonderful and beautiful opportunity for us to follow Him more and more of the time.

I think a lot of this needs fleshing out – defining more clearly these three ideas of being incarnate, crucified and resurrected will be important. I plan to blog more into these ideas, but I would really value your thoughts. I sense that Christlikeness is a pretty important thing, so worth wrestling with what it means and what it looks like.

Also, anyone got any ideas about Christlike dog ownership?

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Politics, Jesus and us

Mar 022013

I am halfway through reading a document put together jointly by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church. It is called ‘The Lies we Tell Ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty‘. The full document can be found here.

Like I said, I’m only halfway through. So far it’s brilliant, and I’m sure I will be posting some thoughts and reflections after completing it (update: I now have, and they are here!). But even the fact it has been written is worthy of comment!

A bold move

Four large UK denominations have grouped together to write a report on poverty in our nation. But not just about poverty in general – rather they discuss the ways in which poverty is spoken of in our public and private discourse, targeting that as one of the biggest barriers towards alleviating poverty. This is an important move, but also a bold one.

They are challenging not policies, institutions, or individuals. Rather they are challenging our culture, our entire society to commit to truth, not just our own (pre)conceptions of what poverty is and what causes it. This is good – we should be about the truth.

An unusual move

It might just be me, but I was slightly surprised by this report (deeply encouraged and excited, but surprised nonetheless). I feel as though the issues the church tends to mobilise over fall into two broad categories:

  • Explicitly ‘Christian’ issues, affecting churches, individual Christians or things like religious education.
  • Issues traditionally seen as ‘ethical’, whether this is to do with sexuality, issues of life (e.g. abortion) or anything else.

The issue of this report (poverty, welfare systems, benefits, etc.) does not seem to fit easily into either category, because it affects everyone, not just Christians, and is a political issue rather than an ethical issue.

Or so we sometimes kid ourselves. But it doesn’t require much thought to realise it is a deeply ethical issue, cutting to the heart of issues of human dignity in the midst of horrible situations and great pain. And it must certainly be seen as a Christian issue, one which Christians have a duty to care about. God consistently tells Israel that the way they treat those in most need is a matter of huge importance. Jesus certainly doesn’t do away with that, and gives very strong words about what God will think about those who do not serve those in poverty (see Matthew 25). And it is a given in the New Testament that the church will look after those in need.

We must care about how those in poverty in our country (and elsewhere) are looked after. We must stand up for them when their reputation and character is being maligned in order to score political points or perpetuate systems of attitudes of injustice.

We need more moves like this

Christians are known for certain things. The non-Christian world has heard Christians time and time again make clear their views on some things. This is not wrong. It can hurt our reputation, but in itself it is not wrong. If we have views, we should express them. I do not believe we should expect to be listened to anymore than anyone else based on this endlessly perpetuated idea of Britain being a ‘Christian Nation’, but we should express these views.

But we have done ourselves – and Jesus – a disservice in the narrow range of issues we have chosen to care about. We have given the message that they are all Jesus cares about.

But they are not. When legislation comes up in Parliament about discrimination based on mental health issues, Jesus cares. When Housing Benefits are discussed, Jesus cares. When education reform is proposed, Jesus cares. And if He cares, we must care also.

I believe we need to be more politically engaged as Christians. Not in a party-political way – our allegiance is not to any political leader or group, but to Jesus. Not in an angry and aggressive way – in His dealings with political leaders, Jesus was far quicker to lay down His rights than demand they be recognised.

Perhaps the nature of our political engagement should be the topic of another post (comments deeply welcome though!). For now, I’m very pleased about the subject matter that four major denominational leaders have chosen to address, and pray that more Christians will make more moves like this more of the time.

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