The Difference Between Jesus and Christianity

At Vision New England’s recent GO ConferenceCarl Medearis said something that I have been contemplating. He interviewed fifty random people at a mall in Boulder, Colorado, asking them, “We’d like to know your thoughts on Christianity.” Fifty out of fifty people responded negatively.

Then, he asked fifty people what they thought about the person of Jesus of Nazareth. All fifty were positive.

While the word “Christian” means literally “little Christ,” there is a major discrepancy in people’s minds between Jesus and Christianity. This is a problem.unnamed (1)

So, what is the difference between Jesus and Christianity? Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

  • Christianity is an institution, but Jesus is a person.
  • Christianity tends to form doctrinal systems and ideologies, whereas Jesus extends and lives in relationship.
  • Christianity says, “Believe this,” but Jesus says, “Come, follow me.”

I am burdened by the fact that people have such different impressions of the Christian Church rather than that of Jesus. During a book signing, I had the opportunity to ask Carl Medearis, “So, what do we do about this?”

He said that he has created entirely separate structures in his mind separating Jesus and the Church. However, I’m not sure that’s the answer, because the Church is called to embody the message of Christ. To separate Jesus from the Church would be the biggest tragedy of all.

What do you think? How can we help the Church look more like Jesus? I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, but I am certain that I want to be a part of this change in the world.

After Carl’s talk, I have a renewed perspective of the power in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “I resolved to know nothing but Jesus and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In these coming months, I am going to devote myself to studying the gospels, the stories describing who Jesus was and what He did. I want to know Jesus so intimately, as both savior and friend, that I can better carry his message in the world.

The gospel is good news because the person of Jesus has reconciled us to himself. While religion divides, Jesus unites. We don’t have to work to make unity happen, because Jesus is the uniter. All each of us has to do is live deeply in our relationship with Christ and point to Him.

 

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The Trinity & Ecumenical Relations

Hi everyone! I had the opportunity to speak last week at the Boston Theological Institute’s 2016 Orlando E. Costas Consultation on World Mission & Ecumenism.

The title of my presentation and paper was: “Mutual Indwelling: The Perichoretic Nature of the Trinity as a Model for Ecumenical Consciousness and Praxis.”

Yes, this sounds intense, but it’s really not so bad, promise! We have so much to learn from the Trinity.

Transcript:

God within God’s self is radically relational.

In 749, John Damascene began to propose the term “perichoresis” to describe the “cleaving together” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The fellowship of the Godhead is so intimate that the three persons not only embrace each other, but also enter into and dwell within one other in a divine dance.

The Trinitarian life is also our life; as followers of Christ we are called to become an “image of God” and take on God’s way of being. Yet throughout the 2,000 years of its existence, Christianity has splintered time and again, to the point that some estimate more than 33,000 Christian denominations. This disunity is a scandal and a public contradiction of the gospel.

Today, our parishes largely function as isolated autonomous entities, with some city blocks having multiple Christian churches with nearly identical goals yet little to no communication between them. This isolation leads to growing negative views and polarization between different cultural expressions and ideologies present in the Church. This is not who we are called to be, and this is not the way of the Trinity.

My thesis is that the self-giving nature of the Trinity must be reflected in our relations with other Christians. Christian unity is a process by which the church is brought to maturity. In going beyond our own Christian tradition, we find that our negative beliefs about other groups are overgeneralized and untrue. Thus, Christian unity reveals our hidden biases and matures our faith personally and corporately.

What we know about the Trinity must be reflected in our ecumenical praxis. We must go beyond our siloed independent church walls, towards those who are ideologically and culturally different than us. Ecumenical initiatives have traditionally consisted of inter-denominational worship events and high-level dialogue, but have neglected to build the depth of relationship between all Christians demonstrated by Trinitarian communion.

I’m the founding director of an ecumenical movement in Boston called UniteBoston which seeks to nurture these relational connections. We have a website and newsletter as an infrastructure for communication for Christian events happening around Boston.

Each fall, we also coordinate 10 nights of worship gatherings designed to reflect the diversity of Boston’s Christian community and promote ecumenical understanding.

Finally, we coordinate a team of UniteBoston Reps who work with pastors to identify shared missional goals and collaborate on joint service projects. Last October, over 200 Christians throughout Boston – Catholic, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical – served together on twelve service projects to tangibly demonstrate the love of Christ.

Iron sharpens iron, and we have found that through rubbing shoulders with other Christians, our perspectives are broadened and our love for one another is deepened. As the being-in-one-another nature of the Trinity emerges within us, we are becoming the Church and Bride of Christ that Jesus prays for, so that the world will see God’s true character and love. Thank you.

Grateful Abundance

IMG_1718I had the privilege of visiting my family in Arizona last week, and we drove to Albuquerque to visit my Nana in her elderly care home. She carefully escorted us down to the dining area, where we sat in wooden chairs amidst dozens of walkers and chatty old folks.

As myself, my sister, her husband, and her new baby son entered the room, all eyes were drawn to us, and remarks about the cuteness and sanctity of the new baby came our way: “Oh wow, look at him!” and “How precious!“ That’s the great thing about having a baby in your company – it instigates a conversation starter with perfect strangers.

(Side note: A few hours later I carried bundled baby Tyler around Trader Joe’s. I embraced the attention given to me per their assumption that I was the mother, taking their questions in stride until someone asked me his birthday. I had to fess up at that point. Yes, I hope that someday motherhood will be a reality for me, but until then I will have to live vicariously through my sister.)

Back in the elderly home, I was struck by the stark contrast between this small little one with perfect skin and the women and men with age-old wrinkles that filled the rest of the room. And yet, both my nephew and my nana have a lot in common. It’s been said that we begin life and end life on our knees: In total dependence on others.

Life is full of beginnings and endings. Tyler, only 7 weeks old with a whole life ahead of him. Who will he be? What will he do? What challenges will he face and how will he overcome them? And my sweet Nana, 92 years old, with an amazing life behind her of raising my dad and his brothers, a life serving and loving others wholeheartedly.

Moments like these are powerful because you begin to see the fragility of life. We are born, we grow up and live for a few dozen years, and then we die. What will you do with the life you have been given?

Personally, I can live with great hope because of my faith. I take heart in living not just for this life but for the life to come. I live for a day beyond the grave, a day where there is no crying or hardship or pain, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. And this redemptive vision enables me to live today with me great hope.

Seeing the generations together in one room helps you to appreciate where you are in the journey of life, and inspires you to intentionally live each day with renewed purpose: to love others with the love we have received from God.

But living in the moment is hard to do. For me, I tend to grasp after the “next” thing, longing for the next stage of life. I’m now thirty, which is maybe ⅓ of my life. What have I done so far? And what will I accomplish? It’s too easy just to run through life, looking towards the “next” to satisfy us, instead of embracing each day and finding the gift within it.

I recently stumbled upon a poem written by Jason Lehmen. There is great wisdom within this poem that was written when he was only 14 years old:

Present Tense

It was spring, but it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, and the great outdoors.
It was summer, but it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, and the cool, dry air.
It was fall, but it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, and the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, but it was spring I wanted,
The warmth and the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom and respect.
I was 20, but it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, and sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, but it was 20 I wanted,
The youth and the free spirit.
I was retired, but it was middle-age I wanted,
The presence of mind without limitations.
My life was over, and I never got what I wanted.

Ann Voskamp, author of an amazing book called One Thousand Gifts, writes that in the wake of all the rushing there are a thousand broken and missed things, that in the haste we think we are making up time but in fact we are throwing it away. She concludes, “Our fall was, has always been and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

So, my new year’s resolution is to appreciate where I am here and now, to savor the moment, to have the attitude that, “This is the good life.” We cannot live in tomorrow because the gift of today is all we have.

Someone recently said that we should live life like the way we appreciate a five course meal. When eating a delicious meal, you receive each course as it comes, savoring in the flavors of each and every bite. You don’t dwell on what dessert could be like, because all that you have in front of you is a delicious savory soup or a meaty steak. In a really superb meal, you are living completely in the moment, savoring each and every bite, as well as the rich conversation with the people around you. In this new year, I want to approach each day as a delectable meal that God has set out before me to enjoy.

My desire for 2016 is to grow in my ability to savor the gift of each moment laid out before me. Embracing the moment means that I am trusting in the sovereignty of God to lead me and provide for my every need, in His way and in His time. David writes in Psalm 23 that, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.” It’s as we understand God as our shepherd and our provider that we can live in the place of grateful abundance.

BostonServe Photo Gallery

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On October 24, 2015, UniteBoston hosted BostonServe, which encouraged Christians throughout Boston to serve in their neighborhoods together on one day.

It was the first time that UniteBoston held this event – and what a success! There were eleven projects taking place throughout the city.

Together, we can make God’s love for Boston visible in a way that one church cannot accomplish alone.

Check out the photos below to see God’s love in action!

 

Playground Clean-Up and Painting

With Symphony Church at the Jackson-Mann K-8 School

Cleaning up the Playground at the Jackson-Mann K-8 School

Trophy Cleaning and Painting

With Heart Change Fellowship at English High School

Cleaning, Painting, and Carpentry 

With People’s Baptist Church and North River Community Church
At Timilty Middle School

Codman Park Clean-Up

With Global Ministries Christian Church

Codman Park Clean-Up

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Harvard Square Homeless Outreach 

With Journey Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Boston, and others

Harvard Square Homeless Outreach

Visiting Elderly Friends

with the Community of St. Egidio, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Boston, and others

Ramsay Park Clean-Up

With South End churches, Friends of Ramsay Park, and Northeastern University

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10 Days Boston: Re-Igniting Fires of Faith

 

Above – 10 Days gathering at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston

10 Days Boston this year was amazing! But don’t take my word for it. :)

Christian unity comes down to our ability to see Jesus in one another. This year, we took videos of friends throughout the city sharing their story of how God changed their perspectives of the Church as they attended the various gatherings.

For example, a young man named Matt from Youth With A Mission felt led to share an encouraging word from God with a woman who was chanting at the Greek Orthodox gathering. Matt was hesitant to mention anything because he wasn’t sure if that was a doctrine that their church practiced. But, during the fellowship time, he shared what God had put on his heart about the gift that God had given this woman for worship.

After pausing to take in the words, she responded, “Sometimes I just go through the motions of singing, but because of what you said, you have just re-lit the fire of my faith.” 

With UniteBoston, our coming together across diversity provides an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to bring life to various parts of the church. We are individually ignited to see our own faith as a valuable part of the corporate whole. In fact, the original name that God gave me for this ministry was “Ignite.”

Listen to the whole story here:

More photos and video testimonies of changed lives are available on the full blog report here.

Yes, as the body connects together, we know that “We will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Truly, God is up to great things in Boston – Thanks for being a part of His great work!

Christ, Our Peace

We’re gearing up for 10 Days Boston! Check out the schedule on our website 10dayboston.com.

This is a devotional that I wrote for the 2015 daily devotional published by the national 10 Days movement. Through 10 Days, what an amazing opportunity we have to reconcile differences by remembering Christ as our Peace!

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For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

What a radical concept Christian unity is! The fact that in Christ, we are one!

This heavenly reality certainly does not appear to be true when we look around the world. We all come from various backgrounds and cultures, life experiences, and we have our own denominational distinctions. Each person sees the world very differently, and because of this, we are inherently prone to disagree with and distance ourselves from those who are culturally, denominationally, and ethnically distinct from us.

Yes, it is easier to worship with people who look like us, act like us, and have the same theological beliefs as us. But as Christians we are called to go beyond this place of comfort to see and value Christ in our neighbor.

Paul acknowledges the difficulty of extending Christian fellowship by exhorting us to “earnestly endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). According to Karl Barth, the Greek word here implies a “full effort of the whole man, involving his will, sentiment, reason, strength, and total attitude”. “Earnestly endeavor” is not simply an outward action of embracing the other, but is first and foremost an inward examination of our hearts.

When you look at your brother or sister, do you see Jesus? What might be hindering your view?

From my experience, one of the chief hindrances to Christian unity is my need to be right. This places walls between me and my brothers and sisters, resulting in a self-righteous attitude. At the end of the day, only God knows those who are His, and so the “right” answer is Jesus’ work and righteousness, extended to all.

During 10 Days Boston, we have the opportunity to step outside our comfort zones to get to know our brothers and sisters from various denominations and backgrounds. As we do this, we learn to respect those that disagree with us. We learn to be confident in the fact that the fellowship of the saints goes beyond a uniform doctrine to involve a unity of Spirit (Eph 4:3) based on the inward spiritual rebirth of those who confess faith in Jesus as Lord. We also learn to value the breadth of Christian traditions rather than promoting a particular expression as having greater spiritual authority over another. Indeed, the deep, difficult work of Christian unity is to respect and honor those with whom we may have significant disagreements.

When we step back, we realize that the one and only thing that makes us one is our revelation of Jesus Christ. It is what Jesus did in his incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection that has reconciled us to God and to one another, thus forming an inseverable and eternal peace. It’s as we all gaze at Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross that we are one.

Jesus, we confess our tendency to exclude rather than to include, to judge rather than to honor, and to assert our position rather than to love unconditionally. Lord, have mercy.

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Sermons galore!

Journey Church is in the middle of our “Glorious Perspective” series, where we are teaching each week from the Beatitudes, the beginning of Jesus’ famous speech “The Sermon on the Mount.”

It has been so awesome to dig deep into these scriptures and see how the beatitudes build on one another.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching two of them –

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”

Here I challenge us to consider what is filling our lives, and shares that righteousness, a desire to be like Christ, is the only thing that will truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls.

Click here to listen to “The Only Thing That Satisfies”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are sons and daughters of God.”

In this sermon, I share how we can bring God’s shalomic peace into the brokenness of our world by initiating, sacrificing and enduring in the likeness of Christ.

Click here to listen to “The Peacemaker”

Finally, here’s a sermon that I preached in March from our “On To Maturity” series, on the importance of repentance. Repentance isn’t simply feeling sorry for your sins, but also implies a change of mind and action to follow Christ:

Click here to listen to a message on Repentence