Lazarus: Historical Jesus or Cosmic Christ

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Lazarus, you can find it in John 11. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus who had died. Jesus shows up at Lazarus’ tomb a few days later and all the mourners are there along with Mary (Lazarus’ sister) and many of Jesus’ friends and disciples.  The short version is that Jesus weeps for a moment and then reminds people that he is the resurrection and the life and even though we die, if we believe, we shall live again.

My point isn’t to exegete the story. My focus today is to demonstrate that there are two common assertions that emerge within the story.

The first assertion is the historical aspect which details how Jesus’ disciples would have believed and how it would have impacted them. Most bible teachers are working to put us back into the story by way of leveraging the story as an imperative or directive for how modern people should believe. The idea is that if we can make our belief system like those in the past, then our experience will be more orthodox (right belief).

This approach creates a tension however, between an historical belief and a future resurrection. By focusing almost exclusively on a narrow point in history, many Christians miss the wider assertion and thus miss its implications for living. Proving historical accuracy is the only means to resolve this tension, and this creates problems.

The second assertion is the cosmic aspect of Christ. In this miraculous story, the power of Christ works through Jesus the man of history.  This teaching is indicative rather than imperative. It’s describing a reality rather than prescribing a way to live. For example, what does it mean for us to “Rise up, and come forth?” Just look around you and notice all of those whose lives have emerged from a state of brokenness or suffering or loss. Everywhere we look, on every continent, in every people group, in every religion, race, social class, and strata of life, we see story after story of people who have risen out of their adversity. What should have been a grave or a form of death became the birthplace of life. All of whom are having a Christ experience in the cosmic sense even if they do not define it that way.

This cosmic assertion means we don’t have to wait until one day to rise up or resurrect. It frees us to live. It calls us out of a deep slumber and wakes us to really live despite the worst of circumstances. It gives us a new disposition, yes a new life in the midst of the life we already have. This wide angle lens allows many modern people access to the resurrection language because it can be seen within our lives and it doesn’t constrain us to only see resurrection as a post-death event that remains unproven in modern minds.

These two assertions use the bible in very different ways and both are acceptable. However, the historical assertion ultimately truncates access to Jesus by requiring a historical experience to be imported into ours.

The cosmic assertion allows us to see Jesus in a new way rather than an historical way. It allows us to see the cosmic story being played out in our lives which makes it very real and immediate.

This is how I have come to recognize that even though a person can struggle with or even deny the idea of the historical Jesus, they can still very much believe and experience the power of the cosmic Christ. This profoundly widens the view of those who are a part of his Church and it makes the story very inclusive to all comers.

In the end, none of us alive today really have anything but a cosmic belief in Christ. None of us have ever seen Jesus in the flesh. If we are honest, it is the power of the cosmic Christ that ever really touched any of us. This should allow us a ton of grace towards others and hopefully allow us to see this cosmic work in ways that may ordinarily be diminished or even denied

Lazarus is all around us. We are all called out of our tombs into a bright world where we can shed our grave clothes and really live.

Local or Cosmic Church?

“Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, he does not keep the Sabbath.'”(John 9:16)

I hear the voice of the pharisee quite often, ever since I stopped attending a local weekly service and began living intentionally in the larger, global, Church. In the minds of most modern church goers, there is a clear and immediate deficiency in a person who isn’t attending a weekly church service. It’s part of the fear culture that institutionalized religion uses to maintain the economic engine of the Sunday big show.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am not against church or church goers at all. I simply believe that their purpose needs to grow mature Christians and graduate them into the Cosmic church rather than continuing to confuse them by equating the local church with the global or cosmic church. Yes the local or personal church is an aspect of the cosmic church, but it is not the same. They are not coextensive, but just like the church and the kingdom, they overlap on some points.

It does require maturity and intentionality to live and participate in the cosmic church.

  • It takes a different set of eyes to see it.  You can no longer stand in distinction between your local body and the one down the street.  If the differences create animosity, competition, resentments and nuances of belief rather than creating humility, openness, and service, then the local body may not have even entered into 1 Corinthians at all. How is such pride, competition, and disdain considered the fruit of the Spirit?
  • It requires a wide-angle lens.  The cosmic Church is truly a transformative and redemptive agent in the world. If Jesus is who he said he was and his Spirit is alive at all, then the by-product of people following after him and the Spirt dwelling in them is that in their wake is truly an incrementally better world. This means the cosmic Church is dwelling within the local church as well as outside it. Those who sacrificially give their lives for the sake of others in all fields of the world must then be considered to be in the church. Remember, Jesus said that the righteous are those who may not even know they are doing his work or who can’t remember doing it. They just did it. (Matt 25: 37-40)
  • Generosity is re-routed. In the cosmic church our giving does not need to be tax deductible. It is based on the need around our lives and our ability to help it in some capacity. Our giving of time and talent is equal to our money, and our money no longer has to go to pay a mortgage, insurance, staff or the light bill. Think of the hundreds of Billions of dollars that go to mortgages for big buildings and empires and what that could do to eliminate the pain and suffering in our world. Instead of giving money so our church can help the needy (which is usually a small percentage after all the expenses), we must be conscious of the needy and just give. It forces us to connect our life with those in need and in doing so we become the physical hands and feet of the cosmic Christ. If left in the local church model, we are always at least one generation removed from our gifts, we are forced to leave it to the professionals. Perhaps that is what some people really want.

There is much more to finding and involving ones self in the cosmic church. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to break free of the systems (not unlike leaving an Amish or Mormon community) in order to pursue the free and liberated body of Christ. But once you see it in your life, once your eyes realize who all is there and how amazing and powerful it really is, you will never go back to the local body other than to visit and to celebrate with those coming up. It’s like revisiting your elementary school. It’s nice to go back and see the next generation coming up, but your knees no longer fit under the table.

That’s exactly how I think is should be. The cosmic church should volunteer and serve when called in the local church and be catalysts to ensure that the people are not tricked into a lifelong servitude of the local model. Mature Christians must give the others the eyes and appetite for a bigger vision. Like the visiting missionaries, we need to go in and call people out and then go back out ourselves.

Does God Love or Hate His Enemies?

Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19). 

This verse got me thinking. When Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount and is establishing what the “New” kingdom is like he makes a very clear distinction between the way things were, and the way things are now going to be. Multiple times in the sermon he repeats the phrase; “You have heard it said…BUT I SAY…”  This is how he re-defines the law of the past without abolishing it. He takes a punitive system and retools it with greater personal responsibility but also greater freedoms. He includes the past but transcends it.

In the Old Testament there are countless verses and stories of God destroying people. This means that as a modern reader of the Bible, you must make a choice.

  • Either the Bible is seen as a document in which every verse is 100% inspired and perfectly true and perfectly applicable to our modern life. (Those who do this begin to develop very nuanced theologies or ideas about God and create distinct subcultures that our modern world struggles to understand)
  • Or we can see the Bible as an historical narrative that encapsulates the ideas about God that were present at the time of writing. (This is where most modern people fall.)

Quick side note: I’ve never met anyone who believed every word of the Bible as true, even though many say they believe that way. Just ask such a person if they use bleach to remove mold from their bathtub or if they call the priest. If they use bleach then they are not believing the bible as perfectly true. Ask if they believe the mustard seed is actually the smallest seed.

Ok, back to God’s enemies.

When Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount and say’s: “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:43-44) 

Isn’t Jesus establishing the pattern for the new Kingdom where the Spirit of Christ will reign? If so, isn’t this also to be present now and not just jettisoned to some distant and remote future? I think most people would say “yes.” But if Jesus can only do what he sees the Father doing, then his command for us to love our enemies must be something that God is doing first.

In other words, God loves his enemies.  If the expectation for us is to show gestures of goodness and mercy to those who abuse us, then it must mean that God himself is also showing tremendous mercy and goodness to those who appose him. Is our experience any different than Paul’s? Isn’t it fair to assume some of us, like Paul, are “prior” to our blindness experience and some of us are “after” our experience? Is God’s love then only on Paul after and not before conversion? Think about this. The implications are profound.

Now tie that idea to heaven.  Is God asking us to do something he will not do? Will God see a sinner, a person as an enemy and then punish them to eternal punishment? Or is the enemy something else? Sin perhaps. Are the sinner and the sin the same thing? Is it possible that God’s revelation through Jesus is to show just what it looks like to love an enemy? Wouldn’t this kind of love displace a fear of Hell? If so, why is this fear so prevalent in most theologies? Control perhaps?

This kind of inclusion isn’t taught enough. Instead we are given the “exclusive” picture of God giving this kind of mercy only “IF” we think a certain way, believe a certain way, or do certain things. That however is salvation by works, not grace. It’s fundamental religion, not the love of God. Jesus seems to be saying that the love of God is up to something else. It doesn’t need to be an either/or perspective. Salvation is as narrow as Jesus and as wide as the Universe. Both.


Facebook disagreements and Perspective

Within the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a couple of posts from friends who were trying to promote the Christian faith. In both cases,  I quickly realized that I disagreed with the message they were promoting but not because I was on the opposite side.

The first post was a sincere and well-meaning pastor who made the statement that if your life doesn’t include weekly and/or regular involvement in a local church, then you are not living the life that Jesus intended for you. I immediately wanted to ask if there were any exceptions for invalids, people in rehab, prison, or parts of the world where a local church doesn’t exist. Of course we all know that any pastor will tell you there are such exceptions, and in those cases people can do a variety of things to share in the greater body of Christ even if they are not participating locally.

This begs the question as to whether any of us are free to follow the leading and model of Jesus by not going to a local body by instead participating in various ways in the greater body. The answer is that we are indeed all free to do so and thus the exception in this case proves the rule can’t be true.

Of course, church leaders don’t like this reality, because they struggle desperately to keep any and all people in the weekly fold, because that has a direct impact on their economic well-being. And while most pastors are authentic by saying that economics is secondary, economics always considered when making these statements.

I used to be this pastor and I used to say the same things. I now have a different perspective.

The second post was a forward of blog from a young reformed church planter who was blasting Joel Olsteen as a heretic. Joel and his ministry is always a target and I think its highly unfair. In the case of this article, the writer was taking the usual, hard core, fundie approach of “doctrinal precision” (read sarcasm) in conjunction with taking Joel’s comments word for word.

It was obvious this young pastor struggled with church attendance and finances and most certainly resented the success of Joel’s ministry. But implicit in his comments is a judgement on all Joel’s followers. They were somehow naive, stupid, foolish, or victims of heretical teachings. It’s all a big quagmire that could be sorted out if the just followed this guy instead. Really?

I used to be that guy. Except I was much more of a critical ass. I now have a different perspective.

You see, as we mature and evolve, we are no longer sucked into the polarities of life. Anyone who has true humility and has endeavored to find and follow the truth quickly comes to a place of personal bankruptcy and realizes how very little truth they actually possess. This allows us to give so much grace to those who are experiencing other aspects of the truth that we aren’t. Rather than try to diminish, erode or invalidate another’s experience, the maturing person can appreciate the different perspective and see the good that it brings and celebrate the light that it is shining in the world.

At what point did Christianity become so satisfied and puffed up with certainty that taking pot shots at a fellow brother or sister is now the pathway toward growing an audience? Yes, I know it is all in the name of “Defending the Fatih” because that is how I sustained years of my “assholeness”, but humility has taught me I wasn’t defending anything by my pride. Seems like angry Christians are probably missing something-doesn’t it?

True faith needs no defense. It doesn’t argue. It doesn’t take sides. Human faith can not be completely right or completely wrong. Faith is mixed with frail, broken, messy humanity and it exists in all people in all places and at all times. Whether it be an undeveloped embryo of transcendence or a heavy weight beacon of light, we all have it, touch it, experience it. Anyone who has the truest aspect of faith will have no problem recognizing and celebrating even the smallest kernel of it in someone else. And when we do that, we ARE the Church.

In my perspective, the pastor, the angry blogger, church planter, Joel Osteen, the invalid, the nomad, the skeptic and the fundy are all in my Church. There is no need to play “Red Rover.” Only a need to invite all comers into a deeper more meaningful faith that the one they possess today.