Archives for the month of: March, 2013

“The magnificent madman.” That’s what Vincent Harding called Jesus.

I never thought of him that way but I think it might be a good description of our Lord. I mean no disrespect and certainly do not intend any sacrilege. But if you think about the things He said and did, it is easy to see that he was not in step with society. His life and ministry was extremely counter-cultural.

Harding grew up in Harlem. After completing his PhD from the University of Chicago, he was invited to be the chair of the History and Sociology Department at Atlanta’s Spelman College. He was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and occasionally wrote speeches for him.

After King’s assassination in 1968, Harding worked with Coretta Scott King to establish the King Center in Atlanta and was the Center’s first director. From 1981 until his retirement in 2004 he was professor of religion and social transformation at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology.

In an interview with Krista Tippett Harding was talking about the difficulty of transforming the world into the kind of place that God intended. He referred to Jesus as “that magnificent madman” who suggested that that if we really hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will find the way. We will be filled.

You don’t have to think very hard to remember numerous times that Jesus gave expression to some pretty radical ideas and actions.

Jesus was seen “having supper with a collection of disreputable guests” and “acting cozy with the riffraff” (Mark 2:15-16, The Message). He touched the untouchables (Matthew 8:3). He gave meaning and worth to the marginalized (Luke 10, John 4).  He forgave the sins of people (Luke 5). Certainly his actions were out of the ordinary.

One Sabbath day while he was teaching in the synagogue there was a woman there who was bent over and could not straighten up. Jesus healed her and the religious leaders got upset because he “worked on the Sabbath.” He reminded them that there were occasions when action was needed immediately and the need trumped the law (Luke 13;10-17).

Jesus’ replied harshly to the rich young man who inquired about what he needed to do to get eternal life. His answer, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor,” left the man startled and sad. And his explanation to the disciples that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” did not make sense to his disciples (Matthew 19:16-30).

“Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you” must have sounded strange (Matthew 5:44) and who could possibly understand if you “want to be first you must be least of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35)? And how can it be that “those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever” (John 12:25)?
When Jesus confronted the money changers in the temple He said, “My house will be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 12:15-18). He must have sounded like a foolish braggart when he claimed if the temple was destroyed he could rebuild it in three days.

Those kinds of words will get you killed! And that is exactly what happened to this “magnificent madman” but He had the last word on Resurrection Day!

Jamie Jenkins

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Last week I asked, “Is the faith we sing the life we live?” I suggested that perhaps Christians should pay closer attention to the words they mouthed when singing Christian songs.

The importance of music to the Christian faith (and to all of life) cannot be underestimated. We are deeply indebted to those who have written the lyrics and the music that help us to offer praise to God as well as challenges and inspires us in our efforts to follow Jesus. Songs of testimony, hymns of praise, and poetry set to music that captures the deep theological truths of Scripture are invaluable to the Christian Community.

The Summons* is a twentieth century song that has been running through my head for several days. One person called it “one of the most compelling, transformational, and missional songs that we sing!”

Rather than provide an opportunity to declare one’s faith or to offer praise to God, it poses some probing questions from God. Read it and ponder the questions. I hope that the final verse will be your honest prayer.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Jamie Jenkins

* Words: John L. Bell & Graham Maule, copyright © 1987 Wild Goose Resource Group/ WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland. Melody: ‘Kelvingrove’, Scots traditional. Websites: wgrg.co.uk & holycity-glasgow.co.uk

I often wonder if Christians pay any attention to the words of the hymns and choruses they sing. And if they do, are they honest about the things they say in song?

Words just roll off your lips when they are set to music. The tune moves them along in such a way that their meaning is often lost.  Remove the music and read the words as poetry and one can more readily sense the intended message that is often missed when music is added.

I don’t believe that people are deliberately dishonest when they sing the songs of faith. Rather, I suspect that they are just caught up in the tune and not really conscious of the lyrics.

I love “church music.” Next to the Bible, the hymnal has provided me with more inspiration than anything else. There are songs new and old with solid theology- and there are others that miss the mark. I find much strength and instruction in the songs of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, whether the songs are historic hymns of the Church or recently penned lyrics, it is easy to

  • make a lot of declarations that we don’t understand.
  • proclaim a lot of truth that we may not really believe.
  • express faith that we don’t really have- or at least are not sure of.
  • ask for things that we are not ready to receive.
  • make promises that we don’t plan to keep.

For instance, the second verse of I Am Thine O Lord says, “Consecrate me now to thy service Lord by the power of grace divine. Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope and my will be lost in thine.” Are we really ready to give up our desires and allow God’s will to take over?

We sing “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.” But I fear the truth is that while most of us may love “the story,” most of us don’t delight in telling it. It seems to me that most of us (note that I said us) who claim the name of Christ are rather timid about sharing the Good News of God’s love through Jesus Christ. If more Christians who sang those words were serious about telling “the story of Jesus and his love,” there would be many more people who would hear the story and believe.

We proclaim with much gusto that “Our God is an awesome God who reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love.” But are our lives a demonstration of confidence in a God who relates to all creation with “wisdom, power, and love?” Wouldn’t  fear and despair dissipate if we lived the faith we sing?

All to Jesus I surrender; all to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust him.” Really? Maybe that is the goal that we are aiming for but do our daily actions and attitudes reflect a spirit of full surrender?

Perhaps we need to pay closer attention to the words we sing. Or maybe when we give voice to the songs of the Church we are really declaring, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I hope that is so.

Jamie Jenkins

One of my least favorite times at church is when we are invited to “greet your neighbor.” You have probably experienced those moments during worship services when everyone smiles, and speaks to the people sitting nearby. In some congregations you almost have to fire a warning shot in the air to get folks to return to their seats in order to continue worship.

I have had the privilege over the last few years of visiting many churches on Sunday morning and have often felt very awkward and uncomfortable during the greeting time. Many churches (not sure I can say most) really are glad to have visitors (or guests as they are often called) but I am not sure this is the best way to make them feel welcome. What happens most of the time is that members of any particular church catch up on Aunt Susie’s health or celebrate their favorite sports team’s latest outing or maybe even make a good business contact during that brief chaotic time. I often wonder why those conversations didn’t take place prior to the signal from the worship leader.

Don’t get me wrong, I think people ought to feel welcome in church whether it is their first time there or if they have occupied that same pew for 50 years. Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors should be more than just a slogan. Everyone who comes to any church worship service should be greeted warmly. I’m just not sure that the typical greeting time is the best way to do it.

In spite of my comments and personal feelings about the greeting time, I have never been to a church that would not tell you that they are a friendly congregation. And in almost every case I believe they are correct. Churches attempt to communicate that inviting spirit with slogans that proclaim that at their church “Everybody is somebody and Jesus is Lord.” Or the sign outside will suggest that it is alright to “Come as you are. All are welcome.” 

Many churches make serious attempts to create a welcoming environment including a WelcomeCenter at a prominent place as people enter the building. Church bulletin welcome statements are carefully worded to communicate a caring spirit and appreciation that you have joined them in worship. 

The following welcome statement that is attributed to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community communicates openness to all people as children of God with sacred worth.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, filthy rich, dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more [Methodist than Asbury]*, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

Whether it is written or spoken or however it is done, let us intentionally create an atmosphere that welcomes all people to worship and encourages them to return often.

Jamie Jenkins