Conforming Jesus to our Own Image, Part 2

facesofjesusEarlier today I posted some thoughts on how some recent surveys indicate that students (and adults, too) conform Jesus to our own image. The prompting came from a book I started reading called The Jesus Gap. The book takes a look at what teens believe about Jesus.

A few hours after writing it, a Facebook friend shared a link to an article that was written somewhat in response to a video posted by BuzzFeed called “I’m a Christian, but I’m not.” I had not yet seen the video (I have watched it since) and there was a link in that article to another blog post talking directly about the video. One particular point in the article echos what was shared in The Jesus Gap.

Mollie Hemingway shared five observations regarding the BuzzFeed video, but her first one was dead on. While the BuzzFeed video may have had some good intentions and helped communicate a message to a particular group of people, it left out one thing – Jesus.

Here’s what Mollie Hemingway wrote:

When you build your faith around what type of Christian you’re not, your faith is not built around Christ. Below is the text and transcription of the viral video. Note the absence of any mention of Jesus.

Text: “BuzzFeed presents, I’m Christian but I’m not…”

I’m Christian but I’m not homophobic;
I’m Christian and I’m definitely not perfect;
I’m Christian but I’m not close-minded;
but I’m not unaccepting;
but I’m not uneducated;
but I am not judgmental;
but I’m not conservative;
I’m not ignorant;
but I don’t place myself on a pedestal;
I’m Christian but I don’t have all the answers.

Text: “What are you?”

but I am accepting;
but I am queer;
I am gay;
but I am a feminist;
I’m a feminist;
definitely am a feminist;
but I do believe in science, in fact I think science makes God look really cool;
I’m not afraid to talk about sex;
I love me some Beyonce;
but I love wine;
I do believe in monogamy before sex but I will give you sex advice if you need it;
but I do go to church on Sundays;
I was a YoungLife camp counselor;
I do listen to Christian music, Christian rock, Christian rap, T-Mac, all the cool kids;
I have friends from all walks of life and different religions, and I love them all.

Text: What do you want people to know about Christianity?

I guess what I’d like people to know about Christianity today is that we’re all kind of not crazy;
We shouldn’t be judged on just the people that you see in the media, or just the people that you’ve met in everyday life. every Christian is different, and we deserve a chance to explain ourselves;
A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal;
But at its core it’s really about love and acceptance and being a good neighbor;
Just because we prescribe [sic] to a faith that has some really terrible people in it doesn’t make all of us terrible;
I don’t think that Christians should judge people for who they are or what they do, I think everybody is in different part of life on their own path to wherever they’re trying to go. we’re all people and love is the most important thing.
Not a single mention of Jesus, the author and finisher of the Christian faith. In fact, you could easily switch out all references to “Christian” with any other religion or belief system and it would have the same amount of meaning.

I don’t question the intent of the people making the video or their desire to communicate what Christianity is to people, but it is somewhat disturbing that within all of what was said, there was no reference to Jesus. I think this is one example of many that seems to indicate that we can be guilty of conforming Jesus to our own image. Jesus is this or isn’t that based on the fact that I am (or am not) certain things.

In the opening pages of The Jesus Gap, Jen Bradbury shares a story told by Donald Miller in his book, Searching for God Knows What. Miller is teaching a class at a Bible College. He shares the Gospel with his class, but leaves out one element. The class has to determine what he leaves out. He talks for quite a while about sin, repentance, the promise of forgiveness and heaven. After a rather lengthy explanation, he asks the class what was missing. They have no response. The missing element: Jesus.

Miller doesn’t berate the class, but makes the observation that sometimes we get caught up in our own approach to Christianity, that we miss Jesus.

I found it interesting that this the video and subsequent articles came across my news feed on the same day I started to digest the information in The Jesus Gap. Perhaps God is gently nudging me (and obviously others) to make sure Jesus is the center of my faith, life and teaching.

Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey

Vanishing GraceIt’s been a few years since I’ve read a Philip Yancey book. Reading Vanishing Grace reminded me why I appreciate him as a writer. He is an intelligent, yet humble author. It is obvious throughout the book that he has spent a great deal of time in research. He quotes a number of different writers and speakers that span a variety of academic disciplines and faith backgrounds.

Reading his past works makes it clear that Yancey is a follower of Jesus and in this offering he discusses how the modern church is doing representing Jesus to the rest of culture. In the final chapter of the book, he writes this, “I care about vanishing grace, the erosion of a gospel that, for many, sounds less and less like good news.” While it is clear that he comes from a specific point of view regarding Christianity, he doesn’t allow that to blind him as he explores the topic. In one chapter of the book, he shares about an experience attending a New Age seminar and listening to a well-known speaker in that arena. Yancey took that as an opportunity to not judge the beliefs of those attending the seminar, but rather to seek to understand.

In one candid moment in the book, Yancey shares a bit of guilt he feels as he sits in an office wrestling with words for books while there are others who are serving on the front lines. While he sees the value in what he does as an author, he maintains a humble perspective on his role.

Vanishing Grace seeks to address how the church can continue to live out the good news to those in our culture. He references a list of complaints about Christians in the magazine Christianity Today: Christians are seen as those who don’t listen, who judge, whose faith confuses people and who talk about what is wrong instead of making it right. Yancey shares stories of those who are doing a good job engaging culture and modelling the good news while also identifying where the church is falling short.

In the book he talks about three different roles Christians can play – as pilgrims (those who live authentically), as activists (those seeking to address various social issues), as artists (using art and creativity to share the good news). Near the end of the book Yancey writes this: “Pilgrim, activist, artist – whatever our calling, we join together to proclaim the good news that God has commissioned us to announce to the world.”

Vanishing Grace was a though provoking book and challenges those in the church to take a look at how we represent the good news to our culture.


question marksWhy do you do what you do? If you go to visit a friend in the hospital or sign the book at a funeral visitation or prepare a meal for someone, do you stop long enough to ask yourself why you are doing it?

In preparing for this Sunday’s lesson in our high school class, I came across this quote – “People are always motivated by at least two reasons: the one they tell you about and a secret one.” (O.A. Battista)

I’ve had to think through that a few times. Granted, there are times that we do something for other people out of the kindness of our hearts. They have a need that we are able to meet and we are moved to meet whatever that need is.

But I think there are also times where we might do something without the purest of motives. We may offer to meet that need knowing that we are supposed to do that or it presents a good image of who we are. We want people to think we are generous or selfless or compassionate so we do something for others that helps create that image.

In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about our motives when we give or when we pray or when we fast. Those are all good things, but Jesus warns against doing them to be seen by men.

I think the hardest work God has to do is in the human heart. I know I sometimes do what I know I should, even when my motives aren’t the purest. God not only needs to work on our behavior, but especially on the motives behind the behavior. I think that’s why God is so concerned with the heart. He keeps coming back to our motives. Some days it feels like we have a long way to go.

Where Is Your Kingdom?

casteThis month in our High School class, we’ve been talking about the Kingdom of God and what Jesus meant by what He said about the Kingdom. One of the first questions we needed to answer is “What is your kingdom?” While we don’t live in a monarchy or look to someone who wears a crown, we all have our kingdoms – places where we exert control or influence. Our kingdom could be our set of friends on Facebook or our followers on Twitter. We determine who makes the list. Our kingdom could be our real-life relationships. All our decisions hinge on what our friends think or say. Our kingdom could be our job, our bank account, our hobbies…pretty much any part of our life where we maintain control. Once we established what our kingdom is, we had to think about what we do when our kingdom bumps into the kingdom of God. What happens when what we want doesn’t match up with what God wants for us.

One of the first verses we looked at was Matthew 6:10, a portion of the Lord’s Prayer: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” The writers of the material we are using made an interesting point about this verse. They point out that Jesus is using a parallel statement here. Your Kingdom come = Your Will being done. If it really is God’s kingdom, then He is in control. He has the final word on what is done.

Where we struggle with the idea of kingdom is when we aren’t willing to submit our own personal kingdom (or kingdoms) to God’s Kingdom. Rather than His will being done, our will is done. I maintain control, I make the decisions, I determine the direction I go.

It’s an interesting question to wrestle with: “Where is your kingdom?” What area or realms of your lives to do you seek to maintain the control? Then, what does it look like for me to live in God’s Kingdom?

“No Religion” Third Largest Religious Group

churchI saw a link to this article come across Twitter today. It is posted on the Huff Post Religion page.

The article shares that people who claim no religious affiliation make up the third largest segment of the world’s population. Christianity is listed first, followed by Muslims.

There are also some interesting stats about belief in God or a Higher Power. My initial thought is that it points to that fact that people, especially in the US, consider themselves spiritual, but not necessarily connected with a church or religious group.

Interesting article and something for the church today to think about.

People with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest global group in a new study of the size of the world’s faiths, placing after Christians and Muslims and just before Hindus.

The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects.

It showed Christianity is the most evenly spread religion, present in all regions of the world, while Hinduism is the least global with 94 percent of its population in one country, India.

Overall, 84 percent of the world’s inhabitants, which it estimated at 6.9 billion, identify with a religion, according to the study entitled “The Global Religious Landscape” issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Tuesday.

The “unaffiliated” category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith.

“Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs,” the study stressed.

“Belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30 percent of unaffiliated French adults and 68 percent of unaffiliated U.S. adults,” it said.

Days With Jesus review

I was given the opportunity by author Jim Jackson to review his book Days with Jesus.  It is a book designed to help the reader understand the life and times of Jesus through the eyes of John.

Each day begins with a passage of scripture from the Gospel of John.  After reading the selection, Jackson then offers a brief story that introduces the theme of that day’s passage and then gives some devotional thoughts and teaching, which are followed up by questions the reader can answer to apply the truths from that day’s reading.

Along with the book, the website Days with Jesus offers other resources including videos shot on location in Israel, a blog page and a devotional page.  I watched a few of the videos and thought they added a nice visual touch to the readings in the book.

As far as the book, I thought Jackson’s writing style made the material easy to read and understandable.  The stories that were used at the beginning of each chapter introduced the topic well.  Many of those stories are from Jackson’s life and personal experience and it helps the reader relate to the subject matter.  He used a good mix of humor throughout the chapters.

Since Jesus lived among and spoke to a group of people who lived under Old Testament guidelines, it would be important for the reader to understand things like Passover, what a Pharisee was and what it meant for the Jews to live under Roman rule.  Jackson did a good job of providing background information without boring those who already understand that context and also not speaking over the heads of those who don’t.  A section in the back of the book called For Your Information provides additional information for those who would desire it.

As one who serves in youth ministry in the local church,I think  Days with Jesus would be a  good tool for students who are seeking a devotional resource or for a small group who desires to study the life of Jesus together.

If you are looking for a study of Jesus, looking for something different for your devotional time or wondering what to add to your reading list, pick up Days with Jesus.

Here is one of the videos from the website.  Jackson calls them docuvotionals.


Awakening – a review

Prayer and fasting are sometimes seen as activities done by the deeply spiritual people in the church.  Perhaps it would be fair to say that a majority of Christians would see those activities linked together as reserved for only the mature minority.  In his book, Awakening, Stovall Weems invites all Christ followers to participate in these disciplines.

Weems leads Celebration Church in Jacksonville, FL, and has made fasting and prayer a part of his church’s culture.  In the recent past he has invited churches all across the country to participate in 21 Days of prayer and fasting and shares how these practices have benefited his church, both corporately and individually.

In his book, Weems shares the purpose for prayer and fasting and also some specific practices the reader can take away to make these disciplines a regular part of his/her life.  Throughout the book he has included Awakening Stories — experiences people in the Celebration Church have had as they have participated in the 21 day experience.

One of the primary things I took away from the book was that prayer and fasting are designed to bring the individual into a closer relationship with God.  It isn’t so much about the food you do or do not eat, how long you decide to fast or what plan you take.  The primary goal is to align oneself with God’s will and purpose for your life.  I know as I have thought about fasting, it is easy to get hung up on the what of the fasting experience, and not the Who.  As he states several times in the book, the purpose is to make room for God to work in the individual’s life.

Within the book, Weems provides some resources, ideas and even basic menus for those considering taking up the challenge of fasting.

For the Christ follower interested in deepening his or her walk, this book would be a helpful tool.  You can find more information about this book and read an excerpt by clicking here.

( I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review)

You can offer a rating on this review by clicking here.


At different times in teaching, I have handed out note cards and have asked students to write their own epitaph, to put on paper what they would want said about them at the end of their lives.  Not necessarily the most cheerful way to kick off a lesson, but in essence, that is how Craig Groeschel comes out of the gate in his book, Chazown. In fact the first sentence of his book says this, “Most people take a long time to die.”

His purpose is not to be morbid, but to challenge the reader to consider the end of his or her life and thus provide motivation to make the decisions now that will impact how one’s life will be remembered.

Chazown is the Hebrew word for vision.  In his book Groeschel offers a challenge to live by our God-given Chazown and he also provides readers with tools to discover and live out that vision.

Throughout this writing he encourages a posture of asking God and listening to what He has to say about what His vision for our lives is.  While it is different for each person, Groeschel offers a process each individual can go through to help pinpoint God’s vision for his or her life.

He uses three circles; one circle representing your core values, another representing your spiritual gifts and a third which representing past experiences.  Where those three circles converge is where a person can identify his or her Chazown. It is a good visual to help people identify the vision God has for each one of us.

The rest of the book lays out what he calls the “Five Spokes of Chazown.”  Those are the chazowns (or “little c’s”) that apply to all Christ followers.  As we are obedient to God in the areas of our relationship with God, our relationship with people, our finances, our health & fitness and our work, we are able to live out our individual Chazown (“big C”).

One phrase that Groeschel uses throughout the book in various ways is this: Everyone ends up somewhere, but few people end up somewhere on purpose.” He applies that phrase to each of the Five Spokes and at other times throughout the book.  He continually underlines that we don’t achieve much accidentally; it is only as we focus on key principles and practices that we can achieve God’s purpose for our lives.

The book provides opportunities to stop and answer questions, to journal and consider the three circles and the five spokes.  It lends itself to both personal reflection and group discussion.  It is broken down into short sections that provides the reader opportunity to think about one particular area before moving to another.

While set up in an easy to read fashion, Groeschel provides plenty of principles and practices to challenge readers to apply what he is trying to communicate.  Chazown can help you identify what God’s vision is for you or help you celebrate and elevate the God-given vision you are already living out.

“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.”  Check out an excerpt of Chazown