Why forgiveness?

Had an interesting FB exchange with friends Kevin and Laura Kowalchuk recently around a meme I’d posted that was borrowed from Brian Zahnd featuring this quote: “In all of the evangelistic sermons in the Book of Acts, none of them makes an appeal to afterlife issues. If you cannot preach the gospel without an appeal to afterlife issues (heaven and hell), you cannot preach the gospel like the Apostles.”

The comment thread brought this response from Kevin: “But in Acts 2 Peter preaches about Jesus ascending to the Father (in Heaven) and also about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In fact just about every sermon in Acts mentions the forgiveness of sins. So if Heaven doesn’t matter or is not implied, then why must sins be forgiven? If it is ‘sins’ against fellow man, then why is God emphasized?”

Kevin’s larger point is that the Gospel of Jesus, when preached like the Apostles, does necessarily include the forgiveness of sin, and both our work on earth as well as our reward in heaven. Taking inspiration from that little exchange, let me share my own thoughts a bit more as they reflect upon an important Biblical parable of Jesus that may clarify both the Zahnd and Kowalchuk points. It’s the parable of the sinful woman with the alabaster jar (see Luke 7:36-48).

The key verse in this parable is when Jesus says to Simon, his Pharisee host, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” From this, we find a sometimes surprising answer to the question of Why Forgiveness? Or, concerning Christ’s forgiveness as offered not from the cross or even requiring his crucifixion but in relation to this sinful woman who loved him, a question of why does God forgive sin at all?

I believe there are three possible answers. I’ll gladly receive your comments as you consider each one on its own merits.
1. Forgiveness is the highest measure of love. There can be no forgiveness without love, and no love without forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness releases us here on earth from the bondage of our judgmental anger. It carries a high value where human health is concerned. Prolonged anger is like prolonged hypertension (high blood pressure) in our human bodies. Forgiveness of sins, not just sinners, is a necessary tonic for our temple (where God’s Holy Spirit resides within our souls). Whoever said, “love the sinner and hate the sin” (hint, it wasn’t St. Paul and it isn’t in the Bible) had little regard for human health. I much prefer the biblical prescription to NOT let the sun go down on our anger. See also Matthew 5:21-16.
3. Forgiveness, at least according to Jesus (in case that should matter to any Christians), is reciprocal. It is relational. Not only so in heaven but here on earth. Per Jesus, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, your Father will not forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15. Also, ”From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Luke 12:48.

Taking into account the prayer of our Lord Jesus calling for God’s Kingdom not only in heaven but here on earth, his connection of forgiveness on earth and heaven as co-equals (see Matthew 18:18), and his famous parable of the unmerciful servant that followed (see Matthew 18:21-35), it would be hard for me as a Pastor to ever preach ANY kind of heavenly salvation that was not rooted here and now in our earthly acts of forgiveness and grace. Grace never shared (on earth) is grace never accepted (for salvation) to begin with.

Which places us right back in that room alongside Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and the young woman with the alabaster jar.

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Marketing Jesus

Perhaps you are among the many who disagree with my disuse (following widespread misuse) of the word “Christian” to describe myself. Or among the many who may disagree with my use of the word “marketing” in the context of sharing the true Gospel of Jesus. Many people think of “marketing” as a kind of secular way of making money from goods and services. In such a context, marketing Jesus would mean selling Jesus whereas to me it means sharing Jesus. So if you will read on, just know that what I’m writing about today is sharing Him, not selling Him.

Within the broader field of business marketing there is a well-known principle called “differentiating your product / service.” Failure to differentiate yourself from the competition means, basically, going out of business.  That said, I raise the awful question: is today’s Christian Church going out of business? What is your answer? Mine is a profound YES! It is in many respects going out of business, and rightly so, because it has failed to differentiate Jesus from all the world’s secular heroes. By secular heroes, I mean the likes of today’s leaders in political, military, entertainment, and other social affairs.

Here’s a case in point. How many of today’s church members have gone to see the movie, “American Sniper,” portraying the heroism of US Navy Seal, Chris Kyle? According to http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=americansniper.htm Americans have spent $338,215,533 already (through 3/11/15) to see this movie. Probably some church members somewhere in that mix, right? By comparison, how many church members went to see last year’s Jesus movie, “Son of God,” when it was out in theaters? It brought in $59,700,064 at the box office throughout all its theater runs last year.

But wait. It gets worse. If movie heroes point in any way to where America’s real business marketing is succeeding vs. failing, take a look at this number: $157,979,770. That’s the initial box office receipt (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=fiftyshadesofgrey.htm) for a movie about female bondage under a character named Christian Grey. Want to know where in America the market was booming for 50 Shades of Grey in its first week of release? The southern states. That’s right, the American Bible belt. I tried to warn you that it gets worse. Worse for Jesus, that is.

http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/mid/1508/ArticleId/1518/Default.aspx is a site where you can aptly read where Jesus ranks among America’s heroes these days according to the Harris Polls. Christian churches beware. We have more than just a brand problem going on here. We have a full-blown marketing problem starting with the brand name of Christian.

So what can we do about it? I would say with or without regard to brand, we as Jesus followers had better set goal #1 as being to differentiate Jesus from all other heroes, secular or sacred. I don’t mean just our family and military heroes, who Americans tell Harris outrank Jesus considerably. I mean all heroes secular or sacred, including other religious leaders. And, as churches, let’s start with our own Bible. Let’s differentiate Jesus from the actual writers of the Bible. Let’s further differentiate him from such sacred heroes as Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, Peter, John, etc. What made Jesus different from any of them? If we cannot market Jesus in this way, then, frankly, we churches deserve to go out of business.

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Why I am no longer a Christian

I no longer consider myself a Christian. The new identity I have chosen for myself is, more simply and humbly, “a Jesus follower.” Cringe, cry, or laugh at me for posting this, but please do hear me out. I want to tell you why I no longer answer to the moniker of Christian.

What the business world has understood much better than the church is the huge issue of branding for sake of product placement and marketing. Best practices in the field of business marketing have typically included brand analysis and, in many cases, rebranding in response to declining numbers. While some in the church may “get it” in relation to the Christian brand we produce under and market for, I suspect many do not.

If you have any doubts about how the Christian brand now fares in many western markets, consider the American market as researched by the Public Religious Research Institute (http://publicreligion.org/). Among other things, check out their American Values Atlas.  I have my own guesses as to why the Christian brand is losing market share in America, with the so-called “nones” or unaffiliated or unbelievers gaining shares most rapidly among the younger demographic especially. I won’t go into them here, except to comment later if you venture your own guesses in response to this blog and my Where Have We Gone Wrong? question. But suffice it to say we Christians are producing under and marketing for a tainted brand today.

So what would Jesus do? I wonder if he would not do as he did with Simon in changing his name to Peter, and with Saul in changing his name to Paul. I wonder if he would not say today, “Christian, Christian, why do you persecute me?” Oh, yes, we do so like Saul of old quite unaware. We bring others (liberals, gays, illegal immigrants, Muslims, etc.) into judgment thinking, like Saul of old, that we are thus doing God a favor. But many of today’s young people are seeing our judgmental persecution and are running, not walking, from Jesus and into the arms of atheism or, at least, secular humanism.

Therefore, I have changed my name. I am no longer a Christian. I am simply a humble 68 year old Jesus follower who wants only to become like Jesus when I grow up. I will no longer try to produce or market for this tarnished label now synonymous with judgmentalism (or what Jesus may have labeled phariseeism). You may call it rebranding, even as Jesus himself did some important rebranding of Simon and Saul. For me it is simply my latest transformation under the power of the Holy Spirit and in the precious name, and brand, of Jesus.

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