All posts by "Nick"

Jesus and his Message



Jesus, the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, the Jesus who was raised by his parents Joseph and Mary, the one who grew up as all good Jewish boys did memorizing the Torah, attending the synagogue and pilgrimaging to the temple; this Jesus began his public ministry with a simple announcement, “The Kingdom of God is near!”

For Jesus of Nazareth, from that point on forward, what began as his opening announcement remained his central message in all that he said and did.  He stayed on course with his Kingdom of God motif right through to the very end of his life.

If this was Jesus’ main message then we might ask: “What is the Kingdom of God?” and “how is it near (at hand)?” Many did ask Jesus these questions and other questions just like them.

Now, Jesus had a peculiar way of communicating his message when people would ask their questions. Many times he simply answered people’s questions with another question.. He had a way of seeing behind people’s questions to something deeper and quite revealing.

He also wasn’t nearly as literal and precise as we are today. Our modern sensibilities seem to prefer describing things in more of a straight forward and direct approach.  In contrast, Jesus chose to explain his message through simile and short stories called parables. Jesus went about saying such things like:

The Kingdom of  God is like a mustard seed..

The Kingdom of God is like yeast the a woman mixes into flour..

It is like a man who scatters seed on the ground..

It is like.. when a certain man was preparing  a great feast..

If Jesus were around today we could imagine Jesus being interviewed on the TV show Larry King Live. Larry might ask Jesus if he could explain more about his main message.  Jesus would begin explaining, “The kingdom is like this.. or the Kingdom is like that ..”  Larry King might ask Jesus in the closing 15 seconds of the show to simply break down his message into a headline or soundbite, something short, concise and clear. Jesus might say, “Well Larry, the Kingdom of God is like..”

You probably get the point already.

I have been on a journey of following this Jesus. The one who was born, lived, died and resurrected a couple millennia ago. When at first I started following Jesus, it was for a variety of different reasons and motivations (I could talk to you about those reasons some time in greater detail.) The point I want to make now is that I now find myself following Jesus for a different set of reasons. Some of the orignal reasons  remain, some have evolved, and many are brand new reasons altogether.

Paula and I are learning together what it means to follow Jesus. Recently we have been learning about and deeply exploring this central message of Jesus; the Kingdom of God. There are four accounts of the life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When I first seriously started reading the story of Jesus I began in Matthew (because it was the first book in the New Testament). Matthew has Jesus going everywhere talking about the “Kingdom of Heaven“. At the time when I first started reading Matthew some people told me that Jesus came to teach people how to get to heaven when they die. Therefore, I used to read Jesus’ parables explaining “the Kingdom of Heaven” and think that he was describing what Heaven will be like for us one day after we die and escape this earthy physical dwelling. I assumed he was talking about a place somewhere else, not here.

Kingdom Of Heaven, Kingdom of God

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean 19th century

In contrast, Luke’s and Mark’s Gospel’s tells us Jesus was talking about the “Kingdom of God”. Even though these Gospels had “Kingdom of God” instead of “Kingdom of Heaven” I hadn’t really asked myself why the language was different in their account of things. I just assumed that all of these stories and parables were Jesus’ attempt at describing what Heaven was like and what we needed to do in order to get there some day.

Originally my motivations for following Jesus was more about getting to heaven, escaping this life. My hope was for a distant spiritual place far away from this physical place.

Recently, my motivations have been changing. I am waking up to the reality that actually Jesus wasn’t going around teaching people how to escape this world, rather he was planting creative stories in the minds and hearts of people which were explaining how God’s Kingdom was breaking into this one, the here and now, with renewing and transforming power.

I have been discovering that Jesus’ Kingdom of God Message is about the present, not simply the future. It is about what God is doing through us, not only what he does in and for us. Following Jesus and living for his Kingdom is not the least bit about escaping this world, rather, it is about shaping our world.

Our Lord teaches us to pray for the reality  of God’s-realm (heaven) to become meshed with our-space (earth).

“May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This has become our prayer. May the reality/life of heaven become reality in your life today. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Harrowing of Hell/ 15 c. Hermitage

Harrowing of Hell 15 centurey. Hermitage

 

Walter Brueggemann: What is Justice?



I was just watching this short vimeo video from The Justice Conference where Walter Brueggemann is discussing what biblical Justice is and the challenge for those who follow Yahweh to work towards the alleviation of injustices.

I am encouraged how Brueggemann is bringing much needed attention to the often separated notions of our “declared love for God” and our “social activities”. I also appreciated how he highlights the truth that there can be systemic conditions within communities that lend to the oppression of people.

Watch this video below and lets discuss what he is saying here. Is it helpful to you?

One of the misfortunes in the long history of the church is that we have mistakenly separated love of God from love of neighbor and always they are held together in prophetic poetry.

Covenant members who practice justice and righteousness are to be active advocates for the vulnerable and the marginal and the people without resources and that then becomes the way to act out and exhibit one’s love of God.

So love of God gets translated into love of vulnerable neighbors. And the doing of Justice is the prophetic invitation to do what needs to be done to enable the poor and the disadvantaged and the neglected to participate in the resources and the wealth of the community.

And injustice is the outcome of having skewed neighborly processes so some are put at an unbearable disadvantage.

And the gospel invitation is that people intervene in that to correct those mistaken arrangements.”     -Walter Brueggemann

I have read his book about the both the vocation and influence of the Prophets within the scriptures titled, “The Prophetic Imagination”. It was very interesting and quite stimulating to say the least.

I do recommend it if you are interested to study about the prophetic literature within the Bible. It is only 150 pages but full of prophetic challenge for the faith.

To hear more about what I have been reading and being encouraged by, visit readingtheology.com

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The Beginning



Welcome to All Things New, the personal website of Nick and Paula Watts. We will be blogging here regularly of our experiences and stories from Africa. But until we have real Zambia-sourced posts, here is our story thus far..

A Short Story

Beginning from Bend in January of 2008 Paula and I (Nick) started out on a 3 month trip around the world. Our planned points of destination were: Thailand, Cambodia, India, South Africa, and parts of South and Central America. We planned on this being a mix of adventure, research, and world-education all in one. It was that and much more. While in Thailand, Cambodia, and India we saw great opportunities for us to get involved in church work and justice initiatives. On our fourth major stop we had arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. Our initial experience within South Africa was such that we decided to simply scrap the rest of our planned trip which would have taken us to South and Central America. In its stead for the remainder of our time we stayed in S.A. As we began to fall in love with the work we found ourselves in, what began as a 3 month trip turned into 6 months in total. We spent those months in South Africa assisting in disaster relief in a community called Red Hill, the southernmost informal settlement “township” on Cape Peninsula. The residents of Red Hill had just suffered from a wildfire which had burned down hundreds of their homes. We moved in and took part in the rebuilding process. We shared our labor, friendship and our Love for Jesus with many of the people there. It was in one word, Amazing.

A Bigger Story -All Things New

While our own story is one of a growing passion for community development initiatives and justice issues around the world, we have found that our personal stories are getting caught up within a much bigger story than our own. We have been captivated by a Voice telling a bigger story.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This bigger story is the narrative that God has been telling. The story begins with life and beauty. The middle chapters have involved separation, pain and death. But the end of the story speaks of all things being made new.

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’Rev 21:5. This Voice we have been listening to is telling a story where all things are being made new, and a story where we are invited to participate. This Big Story is resounding in our minds and hearts and imagination.

Making New Things

After our trip, we came home to Bend and have been enjoying living, working, and playing with great family and friends -old and new. As much as we have loved our days here, at night our dreams have been of Africa.

Yet the time has come and we are now able to relocate to Livingstone, Zambia where we will be joining up with a Christian Non-Profit called All Nations, working in a rural village called Singanga. We will be the hands and feet of Jesus:

  • Teaching the Way of Jesus in discipling communities
  • Resourcing the many orphaned children due to the AIDS epidemic.
  • Planting sustainable gardens
  • Starting micro-finance business loans
  • Raising awareness through the art of Photography