What's the Point?

Rather, who's the point?

I don't believe in this day and age the Church can stress enough that the "point" of Christianity is Jesus himself. The point of Scripture, the point of prayer, the point of faith -- all Jesus.

We have not done a great job at making Jesus the point of the enterprise of faith. We take the Gospel notion of "faith alone," a belief many Reformers died contending for, and make it about us. We turn perseverance into personal empowerment and sanctification into self-improvement. We've made religion a bad word by turning Law into legalism and grace into license. We make Jesus our buddy, our co-pilot, our sidekick. We don't have sin -- we have "issues." We say we have bad habits rather than admit we have sinful hearts. We look to Scripture in general as a toolbox of pick-me-up quotable quotes and to the Gospels specifically as a chronicle of warm-fuzzy behavioral aspirations.

But if the point of any of it is not Jesus, it will not, cannot, and does not work.

Let's look at a few highlights from the Gospels, how 'bout?

Last week at BCC is Broken, someone critiqued my understanding of the story of the woman caught in adultery. (Doing so is fine, of course. I make no claims to be the end-all, be-all of biblical interpretation. I'm just a dude trying to do my best to make heads or tails of stuff that convicts and challenges me daily.) My understanding of that story is that "don't be a hypocrite" is not the main point. It is an application and implication of what Jesus said, but I don't see it as the point. If you want to know what I think the point of that story is, it is this: Jesus forgives adultery.

Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.

Some examples:

Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church (or some variation of such). As I've pointed out in an earlier post, that cannot be the main point, as at that time, foreign Jews needed to exchange currency to be able to make the required sacrifices in the temple, and they probably needed to buy the objects of sacrifice, since very few packed animals for travel. So the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. No, the point of that story is that Jesus replaces the temple system.

Similarly, people look at the Beatitudes and see a list of behaviors to aspire to. That's all well and good, but Jesus didn't come to show you how to be a better person. He came because you can't be. The point of the Beatitudes is that that list is what the kingdom of Jesus looks like. Those are the promises of Jesus to those who will enter his kingdom.

The point of the parable of the man who built his house on the sand is not "be prepared" or "have a solid foundation" or "think ahead." The point is that building your life on anything but Jesus is making rubbish of your life.

The point of the parable of the lost son is not some generic "God allows u-turns" sentimentalism; the point is that Jesus brings reconciliation to sinners.

The point should and must be Jesus. In all we say and do. In our churches we can have the best quality presentation, the most dynamic speakers, the greatest list of helpful tips for successful living (in convenient alliterative format), the most talented musicians and worship leaders, the nicest greeters, the most enthusiastic congregation, and the best coffee in the fellowship hall -- but if the point is anything other than Jesus, we've all missed the point.

Jesus cannot be periperhal. He cannot be merely included. He has to be at the forefront of our message and ministry. It's not everything and Jesus; it's Jesus, and everything else will be added unto us.
Look, provided you are far enough south, you can be charting a measly 2 degrees off due north and still end up a thousand miles from your destination.

N.T. Wright, who has revolutionized my exploration of Jesus more than anyone, says this:
But since orthodox Christianity has always held firm to the basic belief that it is by looking at Jesus himself that we discover who God is, it seems to me indisputable that we should expect always to be continuing in the quest for Jesus precisely as part of, indeed perhaps as the sharp edge of, our exploration into God himself.

As individuals and as the Church, we have to commit ourselves to "continuing in the quest for Jesus as the sharp edge of our exploration into God himself."

It's Jesus + nothing, folks. It really is.


Such as These

As the family sat down to dinner the other night, a couple of us (Daddy and Gracie) were poised to dig in, when Macy said, "Aren't we going to pray?"


Kids, eh? They are such a reliable barometer of my spiritual priorities.

"What are you worried about, Dad?" Macy asked me yesterday.
"Huh? Why do you think I'm worried?"
"You have a worried look on your face."
"Oh. I didn't know."
"You should put a happy smile on!"

I'll tell you what, the times I remember to not think of my girls as little religious projects of mine, to stop thinking in terms of making sure they "turn out right," and start seeing them as reflections of my own religion, are the times I most have a handle on what it means to raise kids in Jesus' kingdom. (Gary Thomas's incredible book Sacred Parenting was a great help in this regard.)

I have known and still know, that in all of the challenges in my five years of stay-at-home dadding, the biggest challenge has been to see my parenting as refining of me as much as of the girls. I desperately want them to grow up loving and following Jesus; but they have worked this ministry in me as much, if not more than, I have worked it in them. Sometimes I believe their healthy discipleship occurs in spite of my parenting as often as it does because of it.

Like marriage, parenting is not a project -- it is a spiritual discipline.

How Jesus-y my girls become is not a result of the effectiveness of my techniques but a reflection of the quality of my own Christlikeness.

Macy writes and tells a lot of stories. Lately they are more and more retellings of Bible stories. Grace has taken to evangelizing all her stuffed animals and talking so much about "the Lord Jesus" it makes even me uncomfortable.
These activities are colored by childishness. But I take them as indicators their parents are doing something right.


Anybody left reading Shizuka Blog may have noticed a couple of new menu features.

First, I have expanded the blogroll to belatedly include some very worthy links.

And perhaps more noticeably, I have added a reading list feature under the heading "Influences." This list is a representative sample of the works that have most influenced the thinking and style that direct the unique approach of Shizuka Blog. (Thanks, as always, to Thinklings web-shaman Bill for working the code that makes the list possible.)


Your Worst Life Now --> Abundant Living

I encountered this quote for the first time this morning, and it rocks my world.
Abundant living is sometimes on account of, but more often, perhaps, in spite of. When circumstances are against us, we must be able to set the sails of our souls and use even adverse winds. The Christian faith does not offer exemption from sorrow and pain and frustration -- it offers the power, not merely to bear, but to use these adversities. The secret of using pain and suffering and frustration is in many ways life's greatest secret. When you have learned that, you are unbeatable and unbreakable.

The Christian "can take it," because he can take hold of adversity and use it. Christ bore the cross, for he could use the cross. You cannot bear the cross long -- it will break your spirit, unless you can take that cross and make it serve higher purposes. The stoic bears the cross; the Christian makes the cross bear fruit.

Any movement that has learned the secret of making the bitterest tree -- the cross -- bear the sweet fruit has learned the secret of abundant living.

-- E. Stanley Jones


The Scandal of Grace

Imagine you are one of the early church's first members. You are sitting in a home with a few other believers, sharing a meal. You pray together. You sing a few Psalms. Someone recites a bit he's heard of Jesus' biography. Then someone gets up to read a letter to you from some guy named Paul.

Paul is a guy who used to go by the name Saul. It's possible he is responsible for the murder of someone you know, perhaps even your parents or one of your children. Now you have to sit and listen to someone read not just words from this guy, but instructions from this guy. Since his conversion from Christ-hating enforcer of the Law to card-carrying Jesus freak, he's not just one of your fellow Christians. He's an authority over all Christians recognized by nearly everyone.

It is possible this arrangement would not have sit well with you.

Imagine you're attached to Peter, a guy who has his problems, but who has been with Jesus from the beginning. And this newcomer Paul actually exerts authority over Peter! He seems to wield power over apostles who were actual disciples!

What in the world can explain the rise of Paul's recognized authority in the primitive church? The first explanation that comes to my mind is the authority over all authorities himself -- Jesus. If you were an early church member tempted to dismiss or disregard the teaching of a guy who used to push the killing of the ones you love, maybe you thought of something you heard Jesus said from the cross. In that excruciating place where Jewish officials like Paul had taken him, Jesus hung there dying and wished forgiveness even on the unrepentant revelers carrying out his execution.

The difference between Saul the persecutor and Paul the apostle was Jesus. The very road Paul was taking to kill Christians became his road to becoming one, because Jesus put up a roadblock and intervened. Revenge became repentance.
The difference between an early church member despising Paul's leadership and embracing it was Jesus. The same Pauline letter that might have irked became an encouragement.

Isn't that completely illogical? What weirdos this following Jesus thing makes us. C.S. Lewis was once asked what the main difference between Christianity and all other religions was, and he answered, "Oh, that's easy -- grace."
Grace isn't just amazing; it's ridiculous. It's revolutionary to our thoughts and feelings. It humbles the powerful and empowers the humble.
Jesus didn't die so you could learn how to be a better person. He died because you can't be. (That's grace offending your sensibilities right now.)

The grace of Jesus is a foolishness that, when believed, brings power to save (1 Cor. 1:18).

Grace is that bizarre missing ingredient that mucks up all human foibles, flaws, and fears. Grace is the thing that turns lives upside down. It is a sweet, beautiful irritant.
Grace is scandalous. It makes murderers into apostles, it makes victims into forgivers. It takes "never the twain shall meet" and makes "reunited and it feels so good." ;-)

Have you been scandalized by grace lately? Has Jesus shocked you through someone's granting grace to you?
When was the last time you offended someone's expectations by extending grace to them?

(Shamelessly lifted, but slightly altered, from a recent post of mine at BCC is Broken.)



I don't mean to be scarce here just as I've ramped up the posting again. The truth is that, in addition to general Dada-type busy-ness, I am a bit caught up in the dealings with our church.
If anyone is interested in info about that, I have set up a (I hope temporary) blog to reflect and comment on the conflict. You can reach it at BCC is Broken. I know several Shizuka Blog and Thinklings readers have been through situations like this before, so perhaps your insights, and for certain your prayers, will be valuable and instructive.

I do hope to post some things here enough to keep the site "active." And not just quotes either. ;-)
But please forgive the silence when it occurs. Thanks!