Thursday, September 30, 2010

Better Questions

Sometimes I really wish I could be a better teacher. To be honest with you, there are times that I don't try very hard. I usually go with the philosophy that when students don't want to learn from you, they just won't learn from you, there is nothing you can do. The best teaching technique is relationship. I saw this happen a lot when I was first teaching, which also coincided with a time in my life where I wasn't filled with the Holy Spirit. I would talk down to kids, out of fear of loss of control or whatever, I would make fun of them when I was angered by their disrespect. Sometimes I would scream down an entire classroom of students because I was frustrated or tired. I just wasn't a very good teacher and it wasn't because I didn't know the newest teaching method or hadn't implemented the perfect curriculum. It was because at times I wasn't the nicest person and some students just didn't want to learn from ME.

The craziest thing has happened the past few years. Now that I am teaching again and God has done a work in me, my students seem to love history. They enjoy learning what I am teaching. Yeah, I am a jerk every so often, most of you reading this know that, possibly from experience, but I really believe that my students like to learn about labor unions, the New Deal and President Nixon not because the content is thrilling to them, or that I have some really cool teaching strategies, but rather, because they like me.

Jesus was a master teacher. My colleagues and I could learn a lot from Him. Rabbi or teacher was what he was referred to by many of His followers. Jesus would rarely simply answer a question and then moved on, which is what I catch myself doing quite frequently, he would ask another question. . . . and then another and another. Jesus was asked 183 questions in the four gospels and only directly answered 3 of them! That means that he responded to 180 of the questions posed to him in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with either another question, or a parable.
"Oh my soul, be prepared to meet him who knows how to ask questions." T.S. Elliot
One particular passage stood out to me the other day. In John 8 Jesus is teaching in the temple courtyard and the Pharisees are attempting to trap him with questions.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Drawing in the dirt until everyone walks away, Jesus asks the woman a question they both know the answer to. He could have told the Pharisees what they wanted to hear, he could have taken some moral high ground and proclaimed the difference between right and wrong and answered their leading questions directly. Rather, He asks questions, good questions, transforming questions. All of His questions were rooted in love. People didn't want to learn from Jesus because He had some unique teaching style, or that He even had good curriculum, if anything, His curriculum drove people away in masses, people wanted to learn from Jesus because He taught with love. Why do we overlook this aspect of Jesus? Why do we want answers when Jesus gave us more questions? I think answers give us systematic theology and dogma while more questions force us to keep searching, to open our eyes and ears for deeper truths.

I pray that God will give us the ability to ask better questions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"We have done this ourselves"

"Go to the people.
Live with them,
learn from them,
love them.
Start with what they know,
build with what they have.

But of the best leaders,
when the work is done,
the task accomplished,
The people will say,
"We have done this ourselves."
This Chinese poem was written by Lao-Tzu around 700 B.C, but it was popularized more recently by Dr. John Perkins. Dr. Perkins is the founder of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and has been an inspiration to both Serenity and I. The CCDA has three "Rs" of ministry:


These have been behind much of the heartbeat of the Jubilee Food Pantry and Mustard Seed Ministries.

Relocating to the broken places of this world, much like Jesus did. As John 1:14 says: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (The Message). Reconciliation to God and our neighbors. And the easy one (at least easier than the other two): redistributing what the Lord has given to us because things are temporary (Matt 6:19-21).

What I love about the above poem is that it is embedded with humility. When all of this is said and done, when the Lord has transformed Hubbard through the Jubilee Food Pantry, community gardens, and neighborhood block parties, when God's Kingdom is more evident on our streets, everyone will look at each other and say "We have done this ourselves." No one will remember Andy and Serenity, rather, folks will just see God working through each of them.

When we place loving people at the center of everything we are about, God's Kingdom outshines anything we can do ourselves.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Beatitudes

Blessed are you when liberals declare you not politically correct; blessed are you when conservatives persecute you for asking questions and when they falsely say all kinds of evil against you because you talk more about me than about their doctrines. Rejoice and be glad, because you’re probably onto the radically unfolding kingdom of God. For in the same way they tried to nail all the prophets who were before you.”

-Paraphrase of Matt. 5:11-12 by Philip Clayton (American theologian)

This was on a friend's blog and it was just too good to pass up - thanks Eric.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

I recently finished Rob Bell's Jesus Wants to Save Christians. It was very good. It was similar in many ways to some other stuff that I have read recently, but it's basic premise is that most Christians have missed the point of the Gospel and have been blinded by The World, specifically lies that are perpetuated by the "American Dream." But there is hope - the true Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. Some statistics from the book:
America controls nearly 20 percent of the world's wealth and is only 5 percent of the world's population.

One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, while the average American uses four hundred to six hundred liters of water a day.

Every seven seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age five dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14 percent of the food we purchase.

Nearly one billion people in the world live on less than one American dollar a day.

Another 2.5 billion people in the world live on less than two American dollars a day, . . . while the average American teenagers spends nearly $150 a week.

By far, most of the people in the world do not own a car. . . . One-third of American families own three cars.

Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half the world does on all goods.
God bless America? Yes, God did, but is this what He blessed us for? How can we change this? How can our generation bring up the next with an understanding of the true Gospel? How can we teach all generations that God has called us to something better?

As a high school teacher I work with youth quite a bit. I teach U.S. history. Sometimes I think that my students are pretty mold-able, that we can do great things by teaching this generation what it means not only to live in a global society, with neighbors who care about your decisions even if they don't live next door, but that with or without sanitation, electricity, food, water or an education, the most important thing in life is to know Jesus Christ and then live that truth out by loving Him and loving others by making decisions in our lives that contribute to His Kingdom. Here is another quote from Bell that makes me realize this is quite the difficult obstacle:
Imagine the average youth group in the average church on the average Sunday. Imagine visiting this youth group and having the pastor say to you, "I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?"

How do you respond?

To begin with, the church has a youth group. This is a brand-new idea in church history. A luxury. Everybody in the church doesn't meet all together? All of the babies and older folks and men and women and widows and students aren't in the same room, but they've gone to separate rooms?

And there are resources for this? People and organizational structures and a budget? Let's imagine that in this case, this pastor, this youth pastor, is paid a salary for his or her work. A church with enough resources to pay someone to oversee the students? Once again, this is brand new, almost unheard of in most of the churches in the world, and in church history, a brand-new invention.

This salary can be paid and this building can be built because people in the congregation have surplus. They have fed themselves and their children and bought clothes and houses, and now, after these expenses, there is still money available. And this money is given in an act of generosity to the church, which disperses it to various places, among them the bank account of the pastor.

In many, if not most, of the churches in the world, immediate needs simply don't allow for such luxuries—too many people are hungry, too many don't have a roof, too many are sick—and so any surplus is spent immediately on the basic needs staring them right in the face,

people dying here,

right now,


But this particular church is blessed, and we should be clear about this—it is blessing. It is good. It is fortunate that this particular church doesn't have those issues. This church has enough resources to hire a pastor who had the resources to get training to gather these students in the student room to teach them about the way of Jesus. Many Christians around the world would simply stand in awe of that kind of blessing.

And the students in this church, these are good kids. They are from families who just want to see their kids become good Christians.

Imagine just how much is available to them. They have more at their fingertips than any generation in the history of the world—more information, more entertainment, more ideas, more ways to kill time, more options.

Many of them own more than one pair of shoes.

There are even some among them who have eaten at least one meal every day of their lives.

So, we are talking about a minuscule minority of kids in the world.

At the exit off the highway near their church is a Best Buy and a Chili's and a Circuit City and a McDonald's and a Wal-Mart and a Bed, Bath and Beyond, much like the other towns in their state and in their country. The music they listen to is distributed by one of five major corporations, which also own the movie studios that create the movies they watch, which are also connected to the corporations that create the food they eat and the commercials they watch, which also have significant ties to the clothes they wear and the cell phones they own, and the ring tone on their cell phones, the one by the artist who is signed to the record label that is owned by the same company that owns the cell phone company and the advertising agency that announced the artist's new album, which is owned by the same company that owns the beverage company in whose advertisement the artist appeared, drinking that particular beverage, singing the song that is now a ring tone on the students' phones that they purchased at the mall across the street from the Olive Garden next door to the Home Depot on the other side of the Starbucks.

And so each week they gather to hear a talk from the pastor.

Their pastor tells them about the Jesus revolution.

About Jesus resisting the system.

About the blood of the cross.

About many of the first Christians getting arrested.

About Jesus having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors.

About people sharing their possessions.

About Jesus telling a man to sell everything.

About the uniqueness of their story in the larger story of redemption.

How do children of the empire understand the Savior who was killed by an empire?

How does a twelve-year-old who has never had hunger pangs that lasted more than an hour understand a story about a twelve-year-old providing fish and bread for thousands of chronically hungry people?

How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity take seriously a Messiah who said, “I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor”?

How do they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when their church just spent two years raising money to build an addition to their building?

They gather, they sing, they hear a talk from the pastor, and then they get back in the car with their parent and they go home; the garage door opens up, the car goes in, and the garage door goes down.

This is the revolution?

This is what Jesus had in mind?

And so the youth pastor turns to you and says, again, “I just can't get my students engaged with Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?”

What do you say?

How do you respond?
How do we take the flannel board and empty worship songs, the irrelevant messages and an imposter gospel out of the Church? How do we convince the next generation, or for that matter all generations, that Jesus Christ is worth it? The only answer is to point them to the true Gospel. The true message of Jesus. One that stands in contradiction to accumulation, war and safety and one that asks each of us to embrace Jesus on a wild ride that will make sense to only a few. A Gospel that asks us to abandon riches, to hug our enemies and to risk our lives for His glory.