Tag Archives: Jesus
For the first time in over a decade I started work this past week in a non-ministry position. I am currently enrolled in the ADC (Arkansas Department of Corrections) Training Academy and will start work in the Tucker prison unit the end of November (after graduating the six week academy). I will tell you up front that it’s pretty stinking crazy! There is no question that I am a part of what us ministry folks would refer to as a “secular” or “pagan” environment. What that means is that its not a “religious” or “Christian” (as if environments could be Christians, they can’t, environments don’t have souls) environment. Profanity isn’t followed by gasps or cringes; subject matter does not include outright Biblical theology; not one person thus far has struck up a conversation with me about how to better make disciples. But you know what has come up? Generic religious jargon. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not being used in a mocking or even demeaning manner. It is for the most part being used in the exact same way that you would hear it on Sunday.
I’m not joking, one young lady when asked about her three kids responded, “Sh*t, He don’t put no more on me than I can handle.” Another time, at a point in the classroom when a profound humorous point was made, a gentleman in the back hollered out a hearty, “Amen!” I’ve tried hard to grasp why, in a seemingly very unreligious setting, these pockets of religious language pop up, and even more interestingly they aren’t scoffed at. My conclusion (which is only my opinion and I am in no way judging my fellow cadets) is that the religious dialog is culturally normal.
To give an example, there is a distinct culture to the prison world. We’re currently spending a great deal of time learning how to stay alive and how to not end up residing inside via drugs or sexual misconduct. The longer I am at the academy, the more the things I come home to tell Jules are normal parts of my day. Like for instance, when our instructor walks into our room, our former cheer leader class leader calls out “Officer Present” and the whole room stands up to attention until given permission to sit down. This is funny to Jules because the thought of her clean shaven, uniform wearing husband leaping to his feet at the command of a cheerleader is a foreign thought to her. It is however, normal to me because I am entrenched in the culture of the academy. Likewise, the pockets of religious talk are not mocked, nor laughed at because they are part of the culture of the Bible Belt. The “Amen”, and other church cliches are simply normal cultural expressions.
There are several ways to analyze this information but for me, the results seem to indicate that the Bible Belt has failed. It hasn’t failed in the way we would think, it has made Jesus, church and mostly religion household knowledge but where its an utter and complete failure is the picture of these things. What living in the Bible Belt has done is, it’s given us heavy doses of bad theology. It’s convinced us that salvation and more importantly Heaven can be had for as little as a walk down an aisle and dip in a pool. We repeat the preachers prayer, which is nothing more than a type of incantation, stand in the back where the entire congregation comes and shakes your hand, take a dunk in a baptistry a couple weeks later and we’re good. From time to time we’ll appease the God who “we invited into our hearts” by attempting to stay conscious through a Sunday service and dropping a twenty in the offering plate. The Jesus I know doesn’t work like that, and His life, that dwelling in me, isn’t obtained by simply doing that.
I want to give you one more example that I believe will help drive this home for us. Scientists are now finding that the fascination we have with rushing to antibiotics for every sniffle is effectively killing us. What they have discovered is that due to the high amounts of antibiotics we are taking that our bodies are building up an immunity to them. This is happening so much that they are convinced that when some people find themselves in a dire, life threatening situation antibiotics will be of no help due to the previous amount they had taken in the years proceeding, thereby giving their system time to become immune to their healing powers. What our Bible Belt culture has done to us is precisely the same thing it has inoculated us. We have been around religious talk, and moral “church” behavior so long that it’s effectively immunized some people to the power of the Gospel. The potent truth of Jesus has been replaced with a watered down, inaccurate, powerless religion that we’re convinced can help us.
Have any thoughts on this? Were there times that you’ve experienced the effects of our Bible Belt Culture? Please feel free to share them in the comments.
This past May I took my wife for a get away to the exotic hill country of Mena Arkansas (sarcasm galore). We stayed in a cabin, ate bad Chinese, and had a good time laughing all weekend. On the way to the cabin there was a little cemetery out in the sticks, and one time on our way in to town I caught a glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, of one of the headstones as we passed. It simply said “SELF.” Now I’m sure if you’ve been around church long you’ve already begun to guess where you think I’m going. “Oh no! Not another die to yourself rant.” Hang with me, I promise this won’t be your normal just die to yourself spiel.
I’ve been in ministry for awhile now, and to be honest where God has me now is the most exciting time of it, it’s also definitely the hardest in a majority of ways. Perhaps one of the ways its gotten the hardest is the intensity with which I feel compelled to study for messages. Now don’t get me wrong its a good thing, its just a hard, time consuming thing. I think currently the part that is the trickiest for me in this phase of life is trying to bring out the truth in a way that pushes it all back to depending on Jesus. The reason this is tough is that here in the south we’re accustomed to being told what God expects us to do. I think this is a big reason that my generation is leaving the church, and not for the reason that you’d expect. They don’t have a problem being told what “to do” they have a problem with the fact that they tried that and frankly their as empty, hurting and desperate as they were before. So they naturally conclude that being a Christian “doesn’t work”. And you know something? Their right.
It doesn’t work, simply going to church and doing the right things doesn’t work. It only frustrates us more. But get this, if you’ve gotten to this point you are closer than you think to figuring it out. The fact that it doesn’t work is the point. You can’t get your stuff in order well enough to please God and enjoy His presence. You simply can’t. Unfortunately though, what most people hear on Sundays around the country is a version of try harder, rather than give up. What I mean by give up is simply that you have to come to the understanding that without Jesus living through you, you are a selfish, wicked individual. Jesus tells us in Luke 14:27,
“27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:27
In the middle of this passage of discouraging people from following Him, Jesus gives this as one of the reasons. He’s basically saying “You pretty much can’t follow me and live.” It’s the Holy Spirit in us that is the life force that is capable of really living out this Christian life, it’s only when we stop trying to do it ourselves and surrender to the fact that apart from Jesus we have no chance, that we’ll experience the joy that He has designed for us. Only then will we truly live.
We’ve looked at the fact that we were actually created for something greater than this life, and that Jesus command to us is to take the truth about His saving grace to the world. Which means we’ve established that we are made for the adventure, and we’ve seen what the adventure is; leaving only the question of will we embrace our true role and get in the adventure?
Now if you’re like me and you’ve been around church for very long the command to make disciples isn’t some revelation to you. You probably aren’t sitting in your chair going, ” Wow! This Rothacher guy is just spitting new truth all over the place.” In fact you quite possibly were a bit let down by the revealing of the adventure and frankly feel like I gypped you. Let me tell you why I think that is. We associate the command to make disciples with an uncomfortable evangelism class. We have tried hard in the past to live that way, you know have the awkward conversation with the waitress, and it was just another thing you’re supposed to do as a Christian. What we’ve been trained to believe is that being a follower of Christ is following a big long list of rules without grumbling, because if you grumble or worse don’t follow the rules God will send you to Hell. So, you hear make disciples, and you instantly check out. It’s why more and more young people are leaving the church, it simply isn’t worth it. What if being a follower of Christ isn’t about following the list of rules? What if it isn’t about doing better or more? What if in actuality it only requires one thing from you? Die.
Jesus tells us in Luke 14:
“27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” -Luke 14:27
He says this multiple times, recorded by multiple witnesses. We like to down play these verses, and try and make it sound like Jesus is really saying to give up R rated movies, or alcohol and thats bearing your cross for Jesus today, but we’re wrong. Jesus is straight up saying, “You want to follow me? It’ll cost you everything.” This is certainly not the come down front, pray a prayer, fill out a card and stand in the back while every old lady in the church comes by and hugs you simplicity that we have made it. It’s a call to stop existing. You lay down your wants, your passions, your desires and you become something greater.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (the verses that follow are some of my favorites and give us more insight into how to accomplish the mission, so it’d be a good idea to go back after reading this and read them):
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.t The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” - 2 Corinthians 5:17
It’s very plainly telling us that when you are in Christ, you are a new creation. Look what happens to you, “the old has passed away.” Sometimes we like to apply some hyper spiritual application to the text when we’re reading the Bible cause all the words must have come from a different plane of thinking. So I’ll put it this way. If I told you that someone you loved had “passed away” what would you conclude happened to them? Exactly! They died! So we don’t try harder, we don’t do anything. We don’t exist anymore. Jesus in and through us is leading us in this adventure just like He led the heroes of the past.
Have you ever wondered why God didn’t save Paul for our generation? There are more people alive today than ever before, and with the internet he could have boldly taught thousands. How about Moses? Or Abraham? Peter? They could have done really well today. Why didn’t God save them for now? Because he has you! You are His plan for today, it is your time in the epic eternal adventure. You have the chance to take your place along the line of human history and make a difference. He has chosen you to carry the message of salvation to the world.
I want to point out one last thing, look at the scene in Revelation chapter seven:
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Do you see the picture of this amazing scene at the end of time? It says he saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne”. So here in John’s vision of the end of time there are people of every nation, tribe and language which means the word of Jesus’s salvation makes it to the ends of the earth. I want you to see that, because what that means is God doesn’t need you! He will accomplish bringing salvation to the world with or without you and me. Which leads me to the conclusion that His command to be a part of the epic adventure of saving the world is for me, not because he needs me. In other words, Jesus commands you to make disciples, because it is what is best for you. It is what connects that yearning in your soul with the divine purpose you have. Will you join up? Take your place in the landscape of human history, leave the rules and traditions behind and come and die so that you may truly live the fullness of life and adventure that He has in store for you!
In the last post we looked at the fact that we were created to be a part of an epic adventure. One that has been written on our hearts, and whether we are followers of Christ or not is deep at the center of our souls. The longing is always there, we just don’t identify it or want to acknowledge it (we’ll talk more about it in the next post). So this begs the question, what is this adventure that I have been created to be a part of? That’s simple.
“Save the World!”
Don’t believe me? Let’s check out scripture and see if we can find a bit more clarity by listening to the words of the One who created us, the One who put eternity in our hearts. We see Jesus in Matthew 28 walking up a hill getting ready to leave the eleven guys He poured His life into and He gets ready to give them His farewell address, His final charge to them. Check it out.
“16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them int the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ ” – Matthew 28:16-20
Did you see it? He says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” What He is essentially saying to them is, “Ok. I conquered sin and death and I’ve been teaching you all these things for the last three years. I’ve given you the tools you need to take hold of this task now go take word of my salvation to the world.”He literally charges them and by proxy us to take word of His salvation to the world! Not convinced? Look at Luke’s account of the moment before Jesus leaves in Acts 1.
“6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’7 He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ ” -Acts 1:6-8
There it is again, the whole world. He tells them “you will be my witnesses… and to the end of the earth.” So the epic adventure/battle that we are engaged in the middle of is literally a fight for the fate of the world. We as Christ followers, have the truth of Jesus’s salvation and we are expected to take it to the world. That’s a pretty daunting task if we really think about it, and my initial reaction is to dismiss it as impossible. “I’m just a _____________. I can’t reach the world.” You know something you’re right.
“What? Wait a minute, you just got done saying that our command from Jesus was to be a part of saving the world, and now you’re saying I can’t?”
“I don’t get it.”
Let’s go back and look at both of those again and see if it’ll make more sense. Look back at the verses in Matthew, and check out the parts that we like to skip over.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them int the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:19-20
So Jesus starts with the “All authority” then tells us to “Go and make” then closes out with “I am with you always…” What He’s saying is “Look, I beat sin and death on the cross and on account of being the perfect sacrifice all authority in heaven and earth is mine. Now go spread the word, pass on the good news, save the world. You can do it, because I am with you always ,to the very end.”
“8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” -Acts 1:6-8
This is part two of a three part series of posts click here to read the previous one.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up a Superhero fan (thanks Mom & Dad), and to this day love the idea of supernatural heroes. So when this summers blockbusters “The Avengers” & ” The Dark Knight Rises” were in theaters so was I. I feel like a kid watching the Hulk and Thor battle for the safety of the world, something in me soars watching Batman come to aid of Gotham yet again and secretly I walk out of the theater pretending that I am one of them with my secret identity being dad to three and McDonalds frequenter. There’s something inside me that longs to be the one wearing the cape, having the whole fate of the world on my shoulders. To be a part of some grand adventure that transcends my seemingly insignificant existence, and I finally know why. It’s what I was created for. No, I wasn’t given x-ray vision or a super soldier serum, but I was created in the midst of an epic adventure that is playing out unbeknownst to most of us. The grand adventure of eternity, the redemption of the world. Hear me out, I can explain to you my logic in hopefully three easy parts.
Without going into all the different reasons comic book heroes are heroes I want to examine one of the more common reasons. Let’s take the Hulk for existence (we could use almost any Marvel hero, especially any X-men), Dr. Banner basically tests a formula he was developing on himself which modifies his DNA causing him to turn into a giant green monster any time his pulse rate gets to high. It was the change to his DNA that caused him to become “the hero” he is. Spiderman; bite by a radioactive spider. The fantastic four; after exposure to cosmic rays during a scientific mission to outer space. All the mutants in the X-men universe were born with “special” DNA. Bottom line, these heroes are simply wired for a different type of existence. Guess what? So are we. Check it out, Solomon tells us in Eccleisastes 3:11:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
Clearly theres a lot in here, but for our purpose lets focus on the element of our DNA that I bet you didn’t realize you had. “he has put eternity into man’s heart,” in other words there is a part of you down deep on some subconscious level that knows that you were created to live forever. So, you have eternity planted in your hearts by God and as a result there’s this knowledge that things aren’t the way they were intended to be. That unsettling feeling, that desire for more, the part of the movie world that resonates in my soul is mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.
“22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23
Since the fall of humanity in the garden in Genesis 3, all of creation has been fractured and as a result is groaning, longing, waiting to be made right again. It’s waiting for the renewal of all creation, and Paul says “not only creation, but we ourselves”. We too are groaning, waiting, longing to be made right. We have eternity on our hearts and a sinful fractured world around us, our soul remembers what it was like to be whole with God and it yearns to be there. It’s our DNA that is setting up this call into adventure. You have actually been created for it, the question now is what is it, and will you become a part of it.