Archive for April, 2009

I made the mistake of asking a friend for some book suggestions related to the chapter on worship for the Provocative Christian Living book. He suggested a book that connects our worship of God to our doing justice for the poor, oppressed and enslaved. It was not what I expected but more than I could have hoped for.

The bottom line of Mark Labberton’s book, “The Dangerous Act of Worship”, is that we can’t say we love God if we do not love our neighbor. I know, that comes right out of 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” How we treat our neighbor, especially the poor and oppressed has a direct connection to our worship of God. In short, it is not possible to worship God if we are not concerned about the issues of pain and suffering that are faced by people made in God’s image.

I am reminded of a story of a congregation that was confronted with a dilemma one Sunday morning. Just like every other Sunday morning they made their way from their cars to their seats in the sanctuary. Each one was dressed in their Sunday best, including their obligatory Sunday morning smile and greeting for the other worshipers parading in to worship. What made this Sunday morning different was the man huddled in a corner near the bottom of the steps, outside, near the street. He was dirty and had his own uniquely unpleasant aroma. His hair was greasy and knotted, and covered by a dirty brown beanie pulled low over his eyes. An over-large tattered trench coat kept him warm while one arm remained hooked around a shopping cart loaded with the totality of his worldly possessions. No one spoke to him. Most turned away and made sure not to lock eyes with the man. Children who embarrassed their parents with overly loud questions about the man where told not to pay any attention.

Inside the sanctuary the service was about to begin. Everyone was seated in their normal places, the ones they always sat in, waiting quietly for the pastor to step onto the platform. To the shock and dismay of the entire congregation, the dirty, homeless stranger from outside came stumbling down the middle aisle and took a seat in the front row. No one dared move or say a word. A few minutes of uncomfortable silence felt like an eternity. Just when people expected the pastor to come out to begin the service and maybe deal with the man who was so out of place, the man stood up. He slowly walked up to the platform and had the audacity to step into the pulpit. To the gasps and bewilderment of the congregation, he removed his cap, took off the knotted wig, removed the tattered coat, wiped the grime from his face and revealed himself as their pastor in. All he needed to do was stand there. The Holy Spirit did the rest. People were confronted with their rejection of someone in need as they prepared to tell God how much they loved Him by worshiping as they always did.

It really gets back to what Jesus said about what we do for the sick, the prisoner, the naked, the hungry and the rejected. To the degree we serve them and care for them, we are serving and caring for Jesus. If we fail to serve them and care for them, then we really are not serving and caring for Jesus no matter how many songs of praise we sing or offerings of resources we make.

Buy caring about issues of justice and loving our distressed neighbor, we take worship out of the exclusive realm of the sanctuary or church auditorium. Instead, we find ourselves on the road to making worship a 24/7 act of giving ourselves to God. When we care for, and show love to others, we are honoring God who made them. You cannot honor the creator and dishonor that which he created. If I say I love Picasso but I slap graffiti on one of his paintings, then I am really making a statement about what I truly think of Picasso. If however I really love Picasso, then I will cherish and care for that which he painted. The same is true in our worship of God. If I really want to honor God, then I must cherish and care for that which He has made in His image. It is in that context that doing justice is what God wants from us in our worship of Him. It is summed up in these words from the Prophet Micah:

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

A recent post on the topic of submission in the Bible has received a fair amount of response in the way of readers and comments. A couple of those readers pointed out a missing piece in what I said. Put simply the question would be, is there ever a time when a Christian should refuse to submit? Is there a situation when submission to those in authority would be a bad thing? The answer is clearly yes. There are times when a Christian should refuse to submit to a human authority, but those times are few and specific and we must be prepared to face the consequences for our rebellion.

Shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven, Peter and John where arrested for preaching the name of Jesus and taken before the religious rulers. They were commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and stop trying to convert people to him.  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19 & 20

The decision was between obeying God or obeying man. Peter and John had received a clear and specific command from Jesus, “Go and preach the Gospel to all the world”. The religious leaders gave them a clear and specific command to not preach the gospel. The choice was clear, they had to obey God rather than man. So they continued to preach. The result was that they were arrested and beaten and the Apostle James was executed.

A similar event takes place in the Old Testament. The prophet Daniel was forbidden to pray to anyone accept King Darius. God had made it clear that only He was to be the object of our pray life and that we should never pray to a false god. Daniel had no choice but to continue to pray as he had always done. As a result he is arrested and thrown into the Lion’s Den. God in His mercy rescued Daniel from the lions.

In both cases there was a clear command from God about what we are to do. When those in authority tried to require God’s people to violate God’s command, the only choice was to rebel against the human authority and obey God. But it must not be forgotten that refusing to obey the human authority and follow God does not come with a guarantee that you will not suffer for your rebellion. Daniel was thrown to the lions and God saved him, but James was beheaded for insisting on preaching the name of Jesus. We make a grave mistake when we think that obeying God rather than men should result in things being wonderful for us. Often that is not the case. If your boss wants you to do something illegal or unethical and you rightly refuse, he may still fire you. In that case the Bible would actually have us rejoice in the blessing of suffering for doing good. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:20.

No it does not say “Sacrificing Your Enemies” as good as that might sound at times. Jesus instead was pretty clear and adamant about us making sacrifices on behalf of our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount he hits this hard.

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41

Imagine this scenario if you would. The country in which you live has been conquered by another country that is steadily taking over the entire world. Everywhere you go there are foreign soldiers patrolling the streets. They are proud and boastful. They take what they want from anyone and arrest people whenever they feel like it. On a daily basis people are executed by the soldiers. Women live in fear that they may be violated like their neighbor was last week. Men live in anger and shame over their inability to do anything to protect their family and their possessions. In the midst of all this the occupying army has a law that any soldier may, at any time, grab any citizen and force them to carry their gear for one mile.

That is the context for these words from Jesus. This is not just some theoretical sermon on his part. This was life as faced by his followers everyday. The Roman army had conquered Israel years before. Soldiers were everywhere. In fact a unit was posted in a fortress right next to the Temple, the most holy of places for the Jews. Even when they went to worship they were reminded of being a conquered people. There was even the law about carrying a soldiers gear for one mile. You simply had to do it.

So now imagine that you had a son who was killed by the Romans, or a wife who was raped by them, or a husband who was beaten senseless by them. Then one day as you are heading to the market to buy food for your family, you see some Roman soldiers coming towards you. You keep your head lowered, avoiding eye contact at all costs. You move to the side of the road hoping to stay well out of their way and their notice. They move past you and you let out a quiet sigh of relief that nothing happened and you can move on to the market. Suddenly your heart sinks when you hear one of them shout, “Hey, you! Carry my pack and supplies”. The natural human reaction is to be angry, upset, maybe even a little afraid. You are being forced to go a mile in the wrong direction. In order to get back to where you are now means a total of two miles out of your way. You need to carry the very supplies that this soldier uses to keep your people in subjection and you need to do it so he is not worn out from doing it himself and has more energy to fight your people if need be.

Jesus makes it clear that when you get to the end of the one mile requirement of the law that you should offer freely to carry the pack a second mile. That means a four mile total for you to sacrifice for and serve your enemy and then get back to where you started hours earlier. This is clearly going above and beyond that call of duty. It is in fact where we get the phrase, “going the extra mile”.

In all of this Jesus is giving us a real life example for the principle of loving your enemies. It is a hard principle to follow but that is what makes it so provocative. Picture the response of your enemy at the end of the first mile when you freely offer to go a second. No one has ever done that before. Always in the past they dropped the gear as fast as they could and went rushing back the way they came. Maybe they even mumbled a few choice words as they did so. But you offer with a smile to serve this enemy. He is going to ask, “Why would you do that?” At which point you are given an open door to say, “because I love Jesus and I know he loves you too”.

It really is a matter of what you value most. If you value your agenda, time, pleasure, need for revenge, sense of justice or anything else more than you value fulfilling the call that Jesus has placed on your life, then this is an impossible task. Your reaction will default to complaining, anger or disgust. But if you have as your primary reason for being, to honor Jesus and see more people become worshipers of him, then you will set aside your need for revenge. You will give up your right to grumble and complain over the unfairness of it all. You will avoid the pity party of why this has happened to you. Instead you will, with joy, look at the opportunity that Jesus has given you to show someone what it means to truly follow Him.

That is what it means to be a Provocative Christian. So what is the extra mile you can go for someone? What is the thing you can do for another, even you enemy, so that they ask why you did it and you can point them to Jesus?

Okay, I never thought I would ever write about something that happened on “The View” but as they say, “never say never”. The subject of Mel’s divorce came up and he was called a hypocrite because of it. The reason is that he has a very public and very conservative Roman Catholic faith. Clearly divorce is not something that the Roman Catholic church condones. It is assumed that Mel Gibson must then also have a position, at least before his own divorce was filled, that said divorce is a sin or at least wrong. So out comes the hypocrite charge.

Now I must confess that I only saw a two minute clip of the debate but it was pretty clear that the reasoning behind the hypocrite charge was that if you do something that you have said is wrong to do, then you are a hypocrite. That certainly seems to be the popular usage of the word. If I agree with that usage then I must conclude that everyone, everywhere is a hypocrite. After all, who among us has never, ever, done something that you knew was wrong and had previously said was wrong? We all have done things that we knew were wrong and said were wrong. Have you said that lying is wrong and then when you got a phone call you did not want to take said, “Tell them I am not in”. Have you said that stealing is wrong and then not returned the extra change that the cashier mistakenly gave you, money that is not yours and will need to come out of her pocket at the end of the night? You get my point. None of that is hypocrisy. It is plane old everyday sin. We all sin. We all do things that we know we should not and we don’t do things that we know we should. Read the seventh chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans and you will see that even the Apostle struggled with this.

To call someone a hypocrite is far more serious than being your garden variety sinner. Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word hypokrisis. It meant the act of playing a part on stage. It meant to pretend to be something or someone you are not. In order to be a hypocrite you have to know that you are not what you claim and you are intentionally deceiving people into thinking you are that. Jesus called people hypocrites on a number of occasions.

Matthew 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Matthew 6:16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Jesus was speaking out against people who were pretending to be spiritual. They prayed so people would see them pray, not so they could get closer to God. They practiced fasting, not so they could grow in holiness but so people would think that they were holy. They even gave money to the poor, not so the poor would be blessed or God would be honored, but so people would honor them for being generous. They pretended to pray to get close to God, and fast to get more holy, and give in order to serve others. But all the while it was so people would praise them. That is hypocrisy.

Is Mel Gibson a hypocrite? Nope, I don’t think so. Is he a man who has deep convictions about some things? Absolutely! Does he always have the strength to live up to those convictions. Absolutely not!

Can you take out Mel’s name from the previous paragraph and insert your own? I know I can. I am not the man Christ wants me to be. I am not even the man that I want me to be. I suspect that you are not the person that Christ wants you to be or that you want to be. That is called being human, being a sinner in need of God’s forgiving grace. Since we are all in the same boat, maybe we ought to all be giving each other a little bit of that grace. That doesn’t mean we never say that something is right or wrong. We must do that. But we must do it with grace and mercy. Why? because Jesus said to love others the way you would want to be loved.

I came upon this quote recently. It was written by Dionysius the Bishop of Alexandria in 260AD. He wrote at the conclusion of a five year plague that at its height killed 5,000 people a day and by the end two out of every three inhabitants of the city.

“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty,
never sparing themselves
and thinking only of one another.
Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need,
ministering to them in Christ,
and with them departed this life serenely happy;
for they were infected by others with the disease,
drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and accepting their pains.
Many, in nursing and curing others,
transferred their death to themselves
and died in their stead.
The best of the brothers lost their lives in this way”

My friends, that is how we change the world. That is how people are drawn into following Christ. It makes no human sense that people would want to give themselves to a religion that asks them to serve people they don’t even know, even to the point of death. And yet, that kind of service was a major reason why the Roman world was turned right side up. Our love of our neighbor, with that kind of devotion and sacrifice, is exactly what tells people that this whole thing of following Jesus must be right. There is no other explanation for an action that is so self-sacrificing. Jesus must really be who he claimed to be if his followers live with such a radical love for God and neighbor. There is substance to our words when our actions are so provocative. Oh that we would have that kind of faith again. Oh that I would have that kind of faith.

\”Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ\” Ephesians 5:21

Since the 1970\’s one of the mainstays of pop-psychology has been that in order to be an emotionally healthy human being you absolutely must look out for yourself first. You must make sure that you have a strong sense of self esteem. Most importantly, you must never put yourself in a position of considering others to be more important than yourself. That is seen as degrading and demeaning. You should be strong, positive, stand up for yourself, and rise above the others. In the corporate world that translates into winning by having people serve you, getting the corner office, making people bend to your will. In the marriage relationship it becomes, taking care of yourself, making sure that you are being fulfilled.

Certainly the last thing on the minds of pop psychologists and the liberated 21st century human being is that in order to really be fulfilled we should actually submit to others. Yet that is exactly what the Bible teaches, over and over and over again. The wisdom of God is completely counter-intuitive. Jesus said that if you want to gain your life, you must lose it. He said that if you want to be the greatest among people, then you must become the servant of all. The Bible says that if we want to truly live, then we must die to ourselves. In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul says that if we want to be truly fulfilled, then we need to empty ourselves and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Somehow in our vocabulary, to submit means to give up and be the ultimate loser. It means that someone else is dominant and rules over you and you have no control of your life. Most recently being submissive is defined in terms of \”having no voice\”. It is the image of a person who, cowering in such fear and humiliation, that they can\’t even speak to defend themselves. What a sad and pitiful definition of a wonderfully powerful and empowering biblical concept.

Mutual submission is not about one person winning and everyone else losing. It is not about having no voice or no power or no control. The reason it is none of these things is because submission as a biblical concept is fulfilled when everyone submits to everyone else because we love Jesus. Submission is never a one way street. Paul tells wives why and how to submit to their husbands. But he also tells husbands why and how to submit to their wives, and children to parents and even parents to children.

You see, what Jesus wants to see happen is that we never have to worry about guarding or building up our self esteem. We should never have to worry about ourselves because others are loving and serving us, even submitting to us with the result that we have every confidence that we are valued and loved. When we in turn submit to others and esteem them, not only are they built up, but we are too. We are built up because in submitting ourselves to others and deferring to them out of love for Christ, we end up being like Jesus. Whenever we live and love like Jesus there is an empowering as well as a blessing that comes our way.

But let me give you an even deeper reason to submit to others. It is not simply in order to be a part of God\’s plan to feel better about yourself and have your esteem built up. The real reason to submit to others is given in the text. we do it out of reverence for Christ. So what does that mean? Jesus made a big deal out of saying that whenever we serve the poor, visit the prisoner, comfort the sick, and so on, we do these things for Jesus and in fact do them to Jesus. When you feed a hungry person, you are feeding Jesus. When you clothe a naked person, you are clothing Jesus, when you house a homeless person, you are housing Jesus. Likewise, when you submit to a brother or sister in Christ, you are submitting to Jesus. You submit to Jesus as he lives in them. So out of reverence for Jesus in them, you need to consider them before yourself. You need to honor them instead of yourself.

When we submit in that way, it is not about us putting ourselves down. It is really about lifting them up. When a husband submits to his wife it is in order to help her become the most wonderful person in Christ that she can be. He lifts her up. And in the amazing way that God works, that husband ends up being lifted in the process. How? Well he is one with his wife so if she is lifted up, so is he. As Paul says, \” if one of us is honored, we are all honored\”. When a parent submits their own desires for the sake of a child and the child is lifted up in love and esteem, then the parent is too, because they are a part of one another. In the Body of Christ, we are all part of one another and when we lift one another up by submitting to one another, in a miraculous way, we are all lifted up.

But the flip side is also true. When one of us is put down, we are all put down. If my wife suffers humiliation, so do I. If my kids suffer, so do I. If my brother in Christ suffers, so do I. So if I try to raise myself up, by putting others beneath me, what I really end up doing is pushing all of us down. By trying to raise myself up, I actually lower myself, because I am spiritually tethered to those I am pushing beneath me. I don\’t even realize that as a result, we are all sinking. How much better is it to willingly submit myself to the task of raising others higher and being pulled aloft by the upward momentum of my connection to them.

We have been reminded of and celebrated the fact that Jesus conquered sin and death and rose from the grave. Churches around the world did their best to worship God and inspire people. Choirs burst forth in song, preachers gave their all, the faithful dressed in their best. And with that, Easter for this year is over. Now what? What will you do differently in light of all the assurance, hope, and inspiration you received on Easter?

We focus a great deal of understandable attention on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. But we should never stop there. As important as those two events are, there is a third that is connected to them that when left out or ignored, has a huge impact on our thinking, attitudes, and actions. That third event is what we call, the Ascension. Luke tells us about this all important event in Acts 1:9. We are told that Jesus spoke to the disciples, gave them their marching orders to take the Gospel into all the world, and then was raised up, ascended, into the clouds and out of sight. At that point an angel spoke to them and said that we would one day return in the clouds just like they saw him depart.

Okay, fine, what is so important about how Jesus was raised up into the clouds that it absolutely must be spoken of in the same breath as the Crucifixion and the Resurrection? Simply this; it is not how Jesus ascended that really matters but where he ascended to that is all important. In the Apostles Creed we state that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father”. We get that idea from numerous places in God’s Word. Perhaps the most complete and compelling of those passages is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:18-23

The theological capstone on the Crucifixion and Resurrection was that Jesus was raised to glory in order to take His place at the right hand of the Father. The imagery of being at the right hand is that Jesus is now reigning over creation as Lord and Christ. He has gone from being the despised, suffering servant, to being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one to whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. He has been vindicated and is now ruling over his kingdom.

For us that means we can go through life with a confidence that is beyond measure. We can go forth into the world carrying out the mission of taking the Gospel with us and have no fear. We need not fear because Jesus has conquered sin and death. We need not fear because Jesus is enthroned in glory. We need not fear because he has sent the promised Holy Spirit to lead us and strengthen us and comfort us in all things.

We can also live in a constant sense of wonder. Easter is a day that reminds us of that wonder. It is a wonder that the tomb was empty and Jesus appeared alive to the disciples. From the empty tomb, to the angels, to the grave clothes lying inside, to Jesus appearing to Mary, then to the disciples, then to Thomas who doubted, every detail is a wonder to behold. We rightly feel that sense of wonder and joy on Easter. But we can and should feel and walk in that sense of wonder everyday. Everyday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Everyday can and should be an acknowledgement that our King is ruling over all the universe. Such knowledge should take our breath away. It should constantly impact our decisions and actions. A picture of Jesus on the throne as King should cause us to live each moment as an opportunity to love and worship him like never before.

He is risen. He is Risen indeed! He is risen not only yesterday, but everyday and is ascended on high and rules and reigns over all creation! Live like it.

What do you do the day after the person you have surrendered everything for, followed night and day for three years, were convinced would be the liberator and savior of your nation, is brutally executed like a common criminal? Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, there was Saturday. We are told next to nothing about what happened that day and what went through the minds of the disciples of Jesus.

We know that when Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples scattered in fear. John the youngest, followed after the crowd as they took Jesus away and he was able to get into the court yard where Jesus had been taken. Because he knew someone in the High Priests house, he was also able to get Peter inside, just in time for Peter to deny even knowing Jesus. By the time Jesus is nailed to the cross later that day Peter is hiding in shame. Only John along with a group of women, including Jesus mother Mary, are there to watch Jesus die.

Somehow the disciples manage to gather together for the next forty hours. We know that they are together because on Sunday morning the women who found the tomb empty, rush to the place were the Apostles were gathered to give them the news. Peter and John run to the tomb and from that point on the whole mood changes. But until then, during that seemingly endless forty hours, it had to have been the longest, loneliest, and most frightening time of their lives. They were certain that the religious officials would come for them next. After all, didn’t Jesus tell them that if they persecuted Him, the Master, how much more would they do to them, the followers.

As they huddled behind the locked door of the upper room the memories of the meal just hours before would have been fresh in their minds. They would have been running through their minds the memories of Jesus words around the table, looking for some clue as to what had happened and why. Accusations would have flown as to who was to blame. Anger at Judas Iscariot would have been at a fever pitch. Off in the corner, Peter would have been silent for maybe the first time in all the years they had known one another. From time to time, moans and sobbing from a man racked by guilt would be heard coming from his direction. The bewilderment of having lost Jesus, Judas being a betrayer, and Peter the second in command in an emotional puddle on the floor would have been nearly impossible to deal with. Every bit of security and familiarity that they might cling to had been rocked and crumbled.

I wonder how many of them thought, “I should have never left my fishing boat”. Were some of them even now trying to find a way to slip back home unnoticed and try to take up their anonymous life hoping that no one remembered them being with Jesus? Were they in such shock that such plans and ideas were still beyond their capability? Were they paralyzed by the possibility of finding themselves on a cross at any moment? Were they like the proverbial deer caught in the onrushing headlights just before being crushed to death?

For us, that Saturday before Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection is almost a spiritual pause. It is a day of anticipation of celebrating the victory over death that Jesus achieved and has promised for all who love and follow Him. It is a day of looking forward with expectant hope. For that first band of followers, it was a day of dread. They had no grasp of the promises of new life that Jesus had given them. His statements of being raised after three days made no sense to them prior to Easter morning. This day for them was a day of fear, hiding, shame, bewilderment, and recrimination. It was a day when each one looked deep inside himself and felt very alone, in spite of being in a room crammed full of other people who were in exactly the same emotional and spiritual state.

After the reality of the Resurrection sunk in, they were a completely different group. Their boldness in the face of opposition became legendary. Their willingness to sacrifice for Jesus and one another is a model for all who would come after them. Their joy even in the face of hardship would become something at which we marvel. It seems to me that in many ways we are the complete opposite of that hardy little band. On the day before Easter we are relaxed and anticipating the Resurrection. They were in hiding, fearful and uncertain. On most of the days following Easter, we can quickly become Christians in hiding, not letting our faith shine before others. We become afraid of what we will loose if we to openly follow Jesus. We live with doubts and uncertainty about the truth of who Jesus is and our own future resurrection. On the days following Easter, they lived and loved boldly. They had no fear. They refused to hide. They were as certain of their own future resurrection as they were of that of Jesus whom they had seen and spoken to and eaten with.

It is odd that it works that way. One would think that living in the light of the Resurrection, living Post-Easter, we would be much more like those early followers were on Easter Monday, Post-Easter. Instead we are often more like they were the day before that first Easter morning.

Today is what many followers of Christ refer to as Maundy Thursday. Have you ever wondered what Maundy actually means. You would be stunned to find out. I know I was. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum from which we get the word mandate. In the Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures, after Jesus washes the feet of the disciples it says, novum mandatum, a “new mandate” or “new command” do I give you. That command was that we are to serve one another and love one another as Jesus has served and loved us. Maundy Thursday was named as a reminder to all followers of Jesus that we are to serve and love one another just as He did. Somewhere along the way we have completely forgotten that aspect of being Christ followers, at least as it relates to Maundy Thursday.

With the expection of the ritual washing of feet performed by the Pope each year on this date, you rarely if ever hear of foot washing as an act of service for others. I have had the privilege of being on both the receiving and the giving ends of foot washings and can tell you that it is humbling from both directions. But it is also incredibly freeing. To serve and allow yourself to be humbly served is an amazing experience.

When I look at our contemporary methods of holding communion services I have often wondered why we simplified it down to a piece of bread and some juice when it was originally a full blown meal. I sometimes also wonder why we have simplified it by eliminating the foot washing. This may be the only instance in all the history of the church in which we simplified something instead of complicating it. We would have been better off to have left it in it’s original form.

Every year churches around the world with commemorate the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. They will have a simplified communion service that will point them to the coming crucifixion and the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. In many cases churches will have a Seder Meal, a Christian interpretation of the Passover, focusing on Jesus as the unblemished lamb that was slain. We will rightly look to the suffering savior and the incredible and unique way in which he served us.

Yet in spite of the name Maundy Thursday and the clear example that Jesus gave as a servant, and his New Mandate that we serve on another and love one another as he has demonstrated, I rarely hear us being called to that outward focus on this day. For some reason we have taken this event that Jesus intended to be used to direct us to the serving of others and we have truncated it into be about how he has served us. Yes it is about how he has served us by his life, teaching, foot washing, serving the meal, and eventually going to the cross. But it must not stop there. He said that he has given us, his followers, and example to in fact follow. We are to look to Jesus as the one who so sacrificially served us and we are to in turn do likewise for others. The day was given the name, New Mandate in order to remind us of that crucial truth. Maybe if we still had to learn Latin we would remember that. But I suspect that in our self-centered way we would still find a way around the New Mandate to serve on another. After all the first disciples did just that at the Last Supper. Jesus rebuked them because none of them were willing to serve one another. Not only would none of them wash the feet of the others. No one so much as got water for them to wash their own feet. Each one sat around waiting for the other to be the servant. So Jesus became the servant and showed them a better way.

Maundy Thursday is the day of the New Mandate, the New Command that Jesus gave. Love one another as I have loved you. Serve one another in the same way that you have seen me, the Master, serve you. In this way you will glorify my Father in Heaven. It is not just about remembering a last meal. Today is about remembering the last commands given us by the Lord.

The headline reads “Episcopal Minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim”. I suppose it should not really come as a shock that someone would convert from one religion to another. It should not even be a shock that someone who was a minister in a Christian church would convert. It happens. What is incredible to me is that they would think that in converting from Christianity to Islam that they were really not making a change of any significance and that they thought they could still be a Christian minister and a Muslim.

Anne Holmes Redding was a minister in the Episcopal Church. Three years ago she attended an interfaith gathering and was struck by the humility of the Muslim Imam as he led chants, meditations and devotions. That started her on a journey the resulted in her conversion to Islam. You can read more about it http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/02/muslim.minister.defrocked/index.html For a couple of years she continued to be both a Christian minister and a practicing Muslim. For some incredible reason she saw no contradiction in this. “Both religions say there’s only one God,” Redding said, “and that God is the same God. It’s very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven’t shifted my allegiance.” I’m sorry but this just flabbergasts me. Fortunately the Episcopal church was equally flabbergasted and required that she either recant being a Muslim or give up her ordination. She refused and was then removed as a minister.

I get it that many people think that all religions are ultimately the same and that they all worship the same god. But I also recognize that most people have never really bothered to look closely at various religions to see if this “cultural truism” is in fact true. But a minister in the Episcopal Church and most churches for that matter, has at least a Masters Degree that includes a heavy dose of Bible, Theology, and Comparative Religions.

In order to believe that she has not “changed allegiance” I can only assume that she never had an allegiance to Jesus to begin with. The understanding that Christians have of who Jesus is as Lord, fully God and fully man is in complete contradiction to what Islam teaches about Jesus.  To be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus is the Messiah. It is to deny that His death on the cross was a substitution for us and for our sins. In fact to be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus even died on the cross at all. It by implication also means that you have to deny that He rose from the grave. The Apostle Paul made it clear that without the resurrection of Jesus, we are to be pitied as people following a lie and are lying about God. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Being a Christian means that you are a follower of Jesus. It is not about having a religion that meets some inner need for spiritual fulfillment through prayer and meditation. It is about an allegiance to Jesus above all else. It is a giving of your life completely and totally to Him. We can talk about God in a generic sense and people will rally around that as being a unifying idea. But we can never speak of God without making sure that we understand who that God is and that our faith is really all about Jesus. As Paul told the Philippians, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Is there a lesson here? I think so. As followers of Christ we must be willing to stand fast on the truth of the supremacy of Jesus. It is the hill we die on. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Mohamed  is not “a way” to God. Neither for that matter is Buddha, or Krishna, or any other human being. Keep your eyes on Jesus. It is He who is the author and finisher of your faith.