Tacitus, 120 AD, speaking of Christ

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea,"
Source: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt../ah/Tacitus/TacitusAnnals15.html

On our own, this is impossible...

http://bible.com/97/LUK6.31.MSG
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them ! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. Bible.com/app

Conversations on Death

This morning I attended a bioethics lecture where representatives from Carle Hospital, Urbana Theological Seminary and guest lecturer of moral philosophy from Union University addressed some of the questions facing our society today regarding aging and end-of-life care for medical and religious professionals as well as a more potent perspective for us each as humans who will face our own and family member's deaths. 

In the midst of the research, surveys, data and trends discussed, a common thread stood out like a scarlet strand amid a complex tapestry of medical, economic, social, spiritual and familial concerns: a growing expression of desire to provide & receive care in a manner which is more compassionate and humanizing and attends to the spiritual, relational and emotional needs of those who are facing death. 

Dr. Cranston, a neurologist, shared that elimination of pain is actually not at the top of the list of why patients seek assisted-suicide: it's because they are lonely, abandoned, depressed, hopeless, conflicted and don't want to be a burden on others. The panel spoke of the curious trend in which sons and daughters want medical professionals to "do everything" to save their parents from pain and death. What is "everything" possible? Do we really want that? Rather, would we do well to give attention to how to die well. 

Dr. Mitchells shared the ancient Latin prayer, "From sudden and unprovided death deliver us, Lord" which stands as a bullwark against the cultural tide - both within the church and without - where the conversation of death and preparing for its arrival has become concealed amid other more seemingly pressing concerns. All three representatives let their sleeves down in the Q&A and spoke frankly about the pressing need for us to break the cycle of silence regarding illness and death in our communities. Medical professionals can only go so far in the process of care. Remember the early church who was known for putting her own life at risk in order to remain behind in plague-ravaged cities. The ministry of simply being with people as they near the end of this physical life seems to be forgotten. Perhaps my generation needs to remember that our faith - one firmly planted in the death and resurrection of our Lord - is a faith which is not shy about death. We can speak boldly of our hope and do not need to be afraid of death, nor of sitting closely and compassionately with those who nearing the end of this earthly sojourn.

As one who lives and works among many who are young and vibrant - "far" from death it is believed - this conversation on death could seem marginal, but I am reminded of the faith of Christ-followers who have been martyred. It was not at the point of martyrdom that they prepared to die, for they had prepared much earlier. For when Christ calls a man to come and follow him, He calls him to come and die. The tragedy for our generation, for our society, would be to pretend that death is not coming for those around us and that it is not coming for us. Our earthly life is vaporous. In Christ alone, we have a victorious hope in the face of earthly death and we are called to come along side our neighbors, our families, our communities, and show them the compassion we received while we were still dead in our sins, as well as share the good news of hope which is theirs in Christ alone.

Teach us to number our days, O LORD, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Autumnal Splendor on this Misty October Morn

Thankful I snagged my camera this morning as I biked into campus. Couldn't resist snapping a few shots of this idyllic end-of-October morning.

7 Words that changed a Party and History

As students of Jesus, unfortunately we can easily drift from regularly and consistently looking closely at the actual stories of the days when Jesus feet strode the streets of Palestine, found in the four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). At least I can. By God's grace, the Spirit has drawn me back to John's biographical telling of Jesus' life (the narrative which I most personally connect with.).

As I re-read the story of the wedding at Cana, I closed my eyes and visualized the encounter. I tried to hear the festive wedding sounds, see the celebratory atmosphere (difficult, admittedly, for my 21st century eyes). I meditated on the words found in John 2 and tried to open up my spirit to receive the story, to let it shape me. Rather than analyzing it, I tried to let it rule my heart and mind. This is the difference in Christian meditation: we let God's words - his voice, his Scripture - fill us and form us into the likeness of Messiah Jesus. Yes, we empty our flesh, but we seek to simultaneously receive the life of the Spirit, lest we be like the man who wound up with a new host of evil spirits in the chambers of his heart. 

John recounts the story like this (with my reactions written in line):

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 

(The humanity of Jesus confronts our sensibilities about the transcendent YHWH God mixing himself in with this party. It is so important that John tells us this story.)

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

(Mary's faith is matter of fact. This party is going to go downhill and the bridegroom/host is going to look bad if the wine runs out!)

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

(Jesus thinks about kairos time, not chronos time. He is testing her, too, probably)

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

(Mary's faith and stubbornness persist. What I hear from her: "Look at Jesus and listen to him." Those seven words will change the face of this wedding, the bridegroom, the bride, the party, history and your and my life.)

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

(In case you missed it, that's a LOT of wine.)

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.
10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

(Jesus is a lavish host. We can put faith in the one who brings better wine. The advent of Christ was the better wine. How much more will be the second advent and consummation to come!)

11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

(The glory of God has come to us!)

12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

7 Words to change us...''Look at Jesus and listen to him.''

Everyday on Our Campus


The advent of each Fall semester never ceases to shoot an arrow of wonder into my perspective as I watch the campus fill to the brim with 44,000 students from around the world. Hundreds of student organizations litter the campus, representing a mosaic of sub-cultures which make erase any notions of homogeneous UIUC persona. Point in case: this year, 9,400 international students from 115 different nations call UIUC home, pushing the campus to the top of the list of international student enrollments.

Tucked here in the cornfields of east-central Illinois is a crowded campus where young travelers roam, each whom is deeply loved by our Father, each who needs the transforming grace and power of Jesus Christ.

Recently, I had the privilege of sharing a message at our Saturday worship meeting about an "everyday radical" perspective on the subject of mission (We did a five-part Everyday Radical series on sex, money, Sabbath, emotions and mission - you can find the messages online at illinilife.org/#/media ).

Are you just waiting for your ideal "GPS coordinates" for where you'll live on mission someday, I asked? Are you focusing too much on the destination and not enough on a missional orientation each day?

Pulling out a somewhat dated piece of technology, I encouraged students to take out their "compass" and let that be an image of what it means to have a missional orientation everyday as a follower of Christ in college. Begin with abiding in Christ everyday, listening to his voice, meditating on his words from Scripture, and opening your eyes to the needs and desires of those right around you here in the hem and haw of collegiate life.

Here amid the countless subcultures of the University of Illinois we pray that we, as the body of Jesus Christ, might make manifest the gospel of Christ among the thousands of "people groups" right here on our campus.

 

Tuesdays at Our House

 
Sitting on couches, chairs, stools and on the floor, we gather around one another. Having just finished up another homemade meal, our home fellowship continues a semester-long conversation on the subject of "getting to know the God whom Jesus reveals."

This night, we’re discussing: "What are the significant words, images, relationships and experiences which have shaped your beliefs about who God is? What are the words of Scripture which dominate your thinking about who God is?" Whether seasoned disciples, baby Christians or spiritual investigators, these questions compel each of us to evaluate our thinking, beliefs and actions about the fundamental question: "Who is God?"

One student talks about his history with his dad and how he is tempted to think of God as a demanding judge who is never satisfied. Another talks about the way media has unhelpfully shaped her thinking about God. We open Scripture and reflect on passages which students suggest. Feeling prompted to share from one of my favorite sections of Scripture - chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel - I begin reading in John 14:1 and we let the words of Jesus instruct us. Significantly, this night, two international students are visiting. Both are far from Jesus and are curious about this Jesus they encounter in the words of Scripture.

At the end of the evening, as I stand at the door and thank everyone for coming, I am freshly struck by the peculiar nature of what get to do so regularly: to create a crowded house where college students from near and far can encounter the hospitality, grace and truth of Christ and his Spirit-filled community. Some nights, as students arrive, I feel exhausted and don’t really want to do it again. But after the last person exits the front door, I consistently turn to Amber and give thanks that we get to do this.