Jesus is the Savior of the World not from the World

Earth Picture

Sometimes when Jesus is referred to as our savior that gets reduced to a one way ticket out of this planet when we die.  We find this kind of idea preached in sermons today and in both traditional hymns and contemporary songs sung in our churches.  When Jesus is just our savior from this world then Jesus is just our ticket out of Hell pass and not the redeemer and restorer of God’s creation.  When our focus is just about Jesus being our savior from this world than our faith just becomes about our individual lives and saying the sinners prayer instead of Jesus being the hope of our world.

As Brian Zahnd shares in his book “Farewell to Mars” and in N.T. Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope” we see a much better and hopeful of redemption for us and our world through Jesus Christ.  We see through the scriptures that God’s plan through Jesus is much bigger than an elaborate escape plan, but it is about bringing God’s creation back to its original intent.  Or as Zahnd says, “God is restoring all things through Jesus Christ.”

So when we begin to see Jesus as the savior of the world and not from the world ,then we stop waiting around to die so we can fly away to heaven, and we begin engaging in God’s mission right here and right now!

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Whose Image?

Mirror Reflection Pic

In church on Sunday we sang the song, “Spirit of the Living God” and in the song we sang these words to God, “melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.”  I think this is a powerful song and a very bold prayer to lift up to God.  I think this is not just a bold prayer, but this is crucial for us to be able to experience life to the fullest in Jesus.  This powerful song gives us the image of a potter molding their clay into the exact shape that they desired to create, with God being the potter and us being the clay.  God the Father molding us into the likeness of his son Jesus Christ.

Yet, as I thought about us being formed into the image of Jesus I reflected on how many times instead we try to form God into our image.  Not only that many times we try to form God into the image of our great and powerful nations, such as in the nation I live in many people try to form Jesus to look just like the American way.  As Pastor Brian Zahnd says, “Great and powerful nations project God as a personification of their own national interests.  And for the most part, they don’t know they are doing it.  This is not to say that everything great and powerful nations do is evil-far from it.  They maintain order, provide security, produce industry, maintain civility, educate the populace, preserve culture, and so on.  But neither are they to be confused with the kingdom of Christ.  And neither can they claim that the God revealed in the crucified and risen Christ is their God, committed to their interests!  No! There are no “Christian nations” in the political sense.” (Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd).

When we begin to think that God looks exactly like us in the way God thinks, the things God likes, the things God hates then we have to ask ourselves have we made God in our image or are we being made in the image of God?

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Why don’t you speak up about _______?

Lions Head Picture

Over the last several weeks, there have been some pretty horrible things that have happened in the world and in our country. On July 16th, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., which left 4 Marines and 1 Navy petty officer dead. Then Cecil a very popular lion in a Zimbabwe national park was recently killed by Walter James Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota. We also saw the very disturbing video of the Planned Parenthood luncheon where babies organs were talked about very non-nonchalantly. Then just yesterday a video was revealed of Samuel Dubose, who was an unarmed black male and was killed at the hands of a University of Cincinnati police officer. Clearly there have been many other horrible incidents that have happened in the last several weeks but these are the four I have primarily seen talked about on social media.

Something that I have noticed when several horrible incidents happen in a short amount of time is social media explodes with information about the events that have occurred. If you have been on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media outlets in the last several days there is no way you didn’t see at least one person talking about these recent events. People will share their views on the events and then the discussions and sometimes arguments will ensue.

There is one thing I have tended to see during this time when many people of various backgrounds and cultures comment on the Tennessee shootings, Cecil the Lion, Planned Parenthood and Samuel Dubose. Yesterday I noticed (and thankfully later he addressed) that when popular rap artist Lecrae commented and shared the Samuel Dubose video very quickly other white Americans responded by saying, “Why don’t you speak up more about the Marines who were killed?” Or people would say, “Why haven’t I heard you talking more about Planned Parenthood harvesting organs?” Lecrae went on to explain that he has talked about these things in the past and has addressed his thoughts on these incredibly important issues.
My thoughts on this are:

1. Why must someone be chastised when speaking up about an injustice they see because they didn’t speak up about all injustices they see within that one post or tweet?

For me acknowledging one injustice does not mean that we think the other injustices are not important (such as Tenn. shootings, Cecil the Lion, or planned parenthood). It is not a competition to prove which injustice is worse or which one deserves our attention more. When someone shares about an injustice can we just acknowledge that something needs done about it and then work together to see it end? It reminds me of the #blacklivesmatter movement because it is inevitable that if you see someone share #blacklivesmatter you will see someone very shortly say #alllivesmatter or #policelivesmatter. To acknowledge that black lives matter does not mean others do not, but it means there are people who are precious to God that continue to be harmed and killed and we need to address the issue.

2. We are missing the consistency in our outrage.

What I mean by that is when you see people (no matter what color they are) share a video of the Samuel Dubose shooting you very quickly will see a white American say, “Why don’t you speak up more about the Tenn. shooting? Don’t you care about our military?” Or, “Why don’t you speak up more about the horrible things going on with planned parenthood?” But what you notice is we don’t see those same people speaking up when others are sharing about the Tenn. shooting or Planned Parenthood by saying, “Hey, black lives matter too! Why are you just talking about planned parenthood or the Tenn. shooting?”

I think we need to be honest with this situation and be willing to call it what it is, which I believe is an attempt to silence others from speaking up. I think we can stand up and say what happened to Samuel Dubose was horribly wrong, just as the killing of the Marines and Navy officer in Tennessee, just as the planned parenthood video, and the killing of Cecil the Lion. It is not a competition as to which one is worse, they are all wrong, and we need to fight for others, to speak up, and to love others as we love ourselves.

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I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.

   Anxiety Picture

You might be asking yourself what does Dave mean by “I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.”? As I have shared before I fight at times with Anxiety. I recently have gone through some pretty big changes in my life as we have moved from a small town of 2,000 to a city of around 283,000. I have been reappointed as a Resident Pastor at Epworth UMC in Toledo, which I am very excited about and thankful for. It has been a big change to go from being the lead pastor of a church of 90 on a Sunday morning to being one of five other pastors on staff at a church that has around 600 on a Sunday morning. It is a lengthy process of trying to learn expectations and roles in a new position, to figure out where I fit in. This move also comes with my wife having to find a new job (which thankfully she has found one and will be starting on the 21st), our daughter adjusting to a new location and people, meeting new neighbors, learning where things are around the city, and getting to meet all the people at our new church. These changes are not bad things at all, they are actually very good things that I am extremely thankful for; Yet, while these changes are good things this does not mean these things come without stress and anxiety.

Thankfully the anxiety I am experiencing is not the panic-inducing, vomit producing, shutting down and sheltering myself from others that I experienced numerous years ago. However, because I have experienced that in the past I know the signs to watch out for and then I try to be extra careful and proactive in taking care of myself. While the stigma of mental illness is getting better within Christian circles you still hear the occasional, “Have you prayed about it?” or “There are Bible verses about that have you read them?” or “If you had faith then God would deliver you from that.” To which I would reply, “I have prayed about it, I have read those verses and have several of them memorized, and I have faith in God but at times this is an ongoing battle in my life.”

Unfortunately, there are those times within the Church that Christians are either told or made to feel like they always have to be O.K. or at least pretend to be O.K. I think this does a disservice to our faith journey and is inconsistent with what we see with Jesus or others in the Scriptures. I think when we pretend to be O.K. we make those outside of the Church feel like they cannot relate to us, and it eventually makes us look like hypocrites because the facade cannot be maintained forever.

You may be asking the question, “So do we just give up then?” To which I would emphatically reply, “No Way!” While I would say, “I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.” it opens the door for me then to surrender that part of my life to Christ more fully. Instead of having the John Wayne “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality I look to 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul had a thorn in his flesh that he had asked the Lord three times to take away, but the Lord responded to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which the Apostle Paul responded, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, that Christ’s power may reside in me.” So I encourage you today to say, “I’m Not O.K. and That’s O.K.” and then be willing to fully surrender yourself to Christ so that in your weakness you may be strong.

I want to close by saying that if you are currently struggling with mental illness please know that you are not alone.  If you are having suicidal thoughts please check out this website http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call them at  1-800-273-TALK (8255).

In Christ,

Dave Pettengill

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What should it mean to be Pro-Life?

Man Praying

    Want to get into a fiery debate?  All you have to do is bring up the issue of being pro-life and pro-choice.  Harsh words will be said, stones will be thrown, and people will leave angry and unsatisfied. I am pro-life, but there are times that I get discouraged with people’s limited focus on what that means.  Usually when someone asks if you are pro-life they are just referring to if you are for or against abortion; yet, while I am not supportive of abortion, I also think being pro-life is much deeper than just that issue.  While I think it a great tragedy that even as I was writing this article there have been 1,500 abortions just in the United States today but I also think to be pro-life not only means we fight for those who are not born yet, but we also fight for those who have been born as they have been made in the image of God.

    So in a snapshot what does being pro-life mean to me?

  • It means we fight for the lives of the unborn because they cannot fight for themselves.
  • It means as Christians we need to be more active in taking care of the needs of children who have become a part of the Foster Care system or need to be adopted.
  • It means when a mother makes the choice to give birth that we don’t just applaud that choice, but we find ways to help them if needed.
  • It means that we look around and see the many single parents who are doing their best to raise their children, but also understand their children could use other Godly mentors in their lives and we step up to the occasion.
  • It means we fight so that families are able to afford the health care they need to adequately take care of their family.
  • It means we work so that children of any age, race, or socio-economic background are able to get the best education possible.

But being pro-life also goes beyond babies and children…

  • It means doing what we can to make sure that all people are treated with love and respect regardless of their age, race, religion, or gender.
  • It means we do what we can to tear down unjust systems that keep people in poverty.
  • It means we don’t just deal with the symptoms of those who are hurting financially or emotionally and offer a quick fix, but we seek to find solutions to deal with the problem.
  • It means we seek to be a people of peace over a people of retaliation.
  • It means we seek to love others even those we may consider our enemies.
  • It means we seek to come together with those who are different than us as we identify what we have in common more so than tearing one another down because of our differences.
  • It means we seek to love those who are forgotten, who are outcasts, and the downtrodden because that is exactly what Jesus did.

This is by no means an exhaustive list as there are plenty more things we could add to what I have shared; yet, I would encourage us to remember that being pro-life is not just about fighting for the life of a child before they are born, but being pro-life also involves us caring for those who have already been born.

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Gott Mit Uns…What does that mean?

Gott Mit Uns

The phrase “Gott Mit Uns” on this German military belt buckle that includes an eagle and a swastika was a new phrase for me and I was unsure of what it meant. After I did some digging I discovered that this phrase “Gott Mit Uns” means “God With Us”. This phrase was engraved on the German Wehrmacht soldiers belts but not on the SS soldiers. The Wehrmacht who wore this symbol “Gott Mit Uns” were the standard military force of Germany while the S.S. where a special unit of bodyguard and fanatics who protected Hitler who eventually grew to become a great force. While the S.S. forces had a different motto we cannot deny that the regular military force of Germany became highly influenced by Hitler and this elite military force.

I think this naturally leads us to ask, “How could the German army have the phrase ‘God With Us’ on them while committing so many horrible crimes against humanity?” While I think this is a very important question it is also something we have seen done throughout history. People have used God’s name time and time again to show that God is “on our side” no matter if what they are doing is consistent with who God is. We can look back throughout history and see the devastation that happened in the Crusades over many years that killed an estimated hundreds of thousands of people. While the Christians, Muslims, and Jews were fighting to take back the Holy Land it was being done in the name of God from their standpoint, or another way to put it would be Gott Mit Uns, they believed that God was on their side and a part of their cause. We have also read how Muslims have yelled, “Allah Akbar” which means “God is Greater” while killing innocent people. We even fall into this trap in America today where we call ourselves a Christian nation, we continue to say, “In God We Trust”, and at the same time we commit atrocities that are so unlike Christ.

Before people jump through their computer screen at me and accuse me of saying Americans are the same as the Nazi soldiers or Muslim Extremists please understand that this is not my point. My point is that throughout history in both secular and religious cultures God’s name has been used to support causes that honestly are not that Godly. Around this point, people are usually pretty quick to point to the devastating destruction that was done in “God’s Name” in the Old Testament. Yet, we need to remember to view who God is and what God does through who Jesus is. In the New Testament in the book of John 1, it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The text goes on to later say, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us! So if Jesus is God in the flesh then we look to him to see how we are called to live.

I think one of the biggest challenges we see with this calling is when Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon would have been incredibly controversial because of a simple phrase, “You have heard it said…”. Six different times Jesus says this phrase and points out something that had been passed down from generation to generation from Moses that needed to be understood in a different and more challenging way. Think how many times we as a people do something because we have been taught that is what is right even if it not truly the best picture of who Jesus has called us to be. Think of how many times acts are called Christian yet fail to reflect Jesus. Jesus went on to say that he did not come to destroy the law, but he came to fulfill it. Jesus not only met the requirements of the law but in the Word of God becoming flesh he was completing the law. When we look at Jesus we see him ushering in a new kind of kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world. The way of Jesus is the way that leads to healing, redemption, and restoration. The way of Jesus is not an eye for an eye, but of seeking to pray for and love our enemy. Instead of Jesus’ kingdom being brought in by force and dominating others it was ushered in by him dying on the cross so sin and death could be conquered!

So when we say “God With Us” I fully believe this is true because Jesus has come and dwelt among us; However, I think a more accurate thought for us to reflect upon is are we with God? As Christians are we seeking to form God into our image and desires or are we seeking to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ? When we read the words of Jesus in the Scriptures and we see how he called his followers to live are we choosing that path? Are we picking up our cross and following him or are we asking Jesus to follow us? So once again, yes God is with us but are we with God?

 

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God’s Not Dead…but the movie is a swing and a miss

Crown of Thorns Pic

There seems to be a smorgasbord of “Christian” moves out this year from Son of God, Noah…I know, I know it was not Biblically accurate, and God’s Not Dead.  There is also one coming up called “Exodus:Gods and Kings” that I definitely want to watch.  If you have not seen the trailer yet check it out…

https://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=UTF-8&fr=crmas&p=exodus+gods+and+kings+trailer

However, the movie I want to talk about today is “God’s Not Dead”.  I know that just from the title of my post some Christians are probably angry, annoyed, or disappointed that a pastor doesn’t like this movie.  They may even be wondering, “Is he really a Christian?  Is he really a pastor?”.  I resisted watching this movie at first because of other Christian movies that I had watched in the past…cough…Facing the Giants….Love Dare…cough that I thought were very cheesy and super cliche. Yet, I had a lot of Christians ask me, “Have you seen ‘God’s Not Dead’?  It is so good!”  I was a little unsure but I was at the movie store and I thought, “Hey, why not see what all the fuss is about.” Well needless to say I was disappointed in many parts of the movie.  I know that they did not have near as much money for production as big companies, but that honestly is not my chief complaint about the movie.  Yes, the acting was kind of lame but here were some of my main issues…

  • Was this a movie about God or a promo video/infomercial for the Newsboys?  I know the Newsboys helped fund this project and I have nothing against their music or message, but throughout the movie I just felt with the posters, t-shirts, the concert that the movie’s focus was a little till much of an infomercial to buy one of their cd’s or go to a concert of theirs.
  • Are all atheists jerks?  One thing that really stood out to me is that every person who was in the movie who did not believe in God or did not follow God were either super condescending, insensitive, mean, or just plain jerks.  Is that reality?  I don’t think so.  There are plenty of people that I know who would not call themselves Christians that are kind, caring, and considerate people.  Are there atheists out there that are insensitive, condescending, and jerks?  Yes, just as there are those out there who unfortunately call themselves Christians who act the same way.
  • Super-Cliche!  As a Christian I sat watching this movie and several times I just shook my head and laughed out loud at the way they portrayed the professor, the main Christian guy, his girlfriend, and various other characters in the movie.  Does this mean that people in real life don’t act this way sometimes?  Of course not, but I think the movie portrayed those not of the faith and those who were Christian in a very stereotypical way.  It is funny that as Christians we get upset when movies portray us as “Overly judgmental, hypocritical, narcissistic jerks” but then we portray others in that same light.
  •  The freshmen student stumped the long standing professor?  Let me say that I believe God is Alive, I believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and while I believe there is support for these claims I also acknowledge that it requires us to have faith to follow Jesus.  The funny thing to me was that this 18 year old college freshmen was able to completely stump a long standing philosophy professor.  The illustrations that the young man gave in class were good, but I also think the professor would have had more significant rebuttals to those ideas.  I don’t think the professor would have let the student off the hook that easy. I know this is just a movie and they had to wrap things up so the movie wouldn’t be 4 hours long but I also believe they too easily tied a pretty bow on the topics and quickly solved all of the issues.
  •  Are people just atheists because of past traumas?  This seemed to be the case that the movie was making.  That it was not because of science or well thought out ideas that people were atheists, but it was because they had some hidden trauma that they had not dealt with in their life.  That they “really” believed in God but they were just mad at him.  As I said I believe Jesus is real, I believe Jesus is alive, I know that God has changed my life, yet I also know others still sincerely struggle with this or believe it not to be true.  While for some trauma might have caused those beliefs, yet for some it was because they do not believe there to be proof to support the claims of Jesus Christ.  Why did the movie have to portray people who do not believe in God as people with unresolved trauma and not just someone who disagrees with the Christian point of view?

I am a Christian, I love God, and I am a pastor.  I believe that God desires for us to be reconciled to him through Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ we are forgiven our sins and have new life in him.  Yet, I also believe this movie is a poor representation of Christianity and a poor representation of atheists.  God’s Not Dead but as for the movie I believe their are plenty of other movies out that give a better portrayal of God, Christians, and Atheists.

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