a christmas message

i was given a strange opportunity this past christmas eve, and i am uncertain how to react to it, or process the experience. i was given the opportunity to teach at a modern church and share a postmodern message of christ. i was asked to give the christmas message as i was giving it to a postmdern/emerging group, and to be honest i did not give it much thought until a few days later.

my message was on "christ in us" and i based it on colossians 1:27 and the switchfoot song "meant to live" and called the message "more then this world has to offer." it was about seeing christ in ourselves and seeing christ in others - it centered on how when we allow christ to move in us, our lives change and we start to do thing differently. it also had a call to the fact that we are all called to share our faith in christ - if we are believers, we share our faith. as part of the message, i mentioned that we needed to be more then one hour christians, and that we needed to put our faith into action - well, as i found out this past few day (via the modern gossip mill), that did not go over very well with some of the "older" people - here is what i heard was "wrong" with my message:

1) i mentioned the word "tattoo." i guess this is the worst sin that i committed. i have been told by the pastor that one elderly women was very upset that i mentioned that a tattoo was a sign of being committed to something. she was "offended" that a pastor would ever say it was ok to get a tattoo.

2) some of the other older people had problems because one of the pictures of jesus i used during a slide show was black (african) - and this was "very offensive." they felt that showing such a picture was an insult to jesus - when i asked the person who told me a person was upset, "is the insult that jesus was black?" i was hit with the, "you know what they meant" answer. so i said, "yes, i do know what you mean. seeing jesus as black pushed them past their comfort zone and that bugged them. they are unable to process a jesus that is not blonde haired and blue eyed." i was told i did not understand the "bigger picture" and that i was one of those "liberal ministers" who wanted to change the true jesus.

3) but the jesus slide was not the only one to cause a problem. some of the other slides i had used were of homeless, poor, unkept, unclean and unwanted - some felt that by my showing the pictures of "those" people i was "making fun of jesus and insulting why jesus came to earth." i guess, for this white, old, middle-class church the idea that jesus came for the hurting and the sick was not part of the way they saw things. i guess, jesus came to save the white-middle class only.

4) a few were upset because i used a song that was not a "christmas hymn," and (as i heard one person claimed) was not even song by christians, in my message. i thought about this and felt that if they had no idea who swithcfoot was, and they did not see the message of christ in the song - i could not bring them to seeing the message.

5) a few people were upset because i suggested that when we are walking in christ we desire to put our faith into action. i was told that one elderly man said that "we are not saved by works, only by faith." when i tried to explain to the person who mentioned this little fact was that my message was not "on salvation" but one that calls us to ministry, and action - the conversation turned to why my message was not calling people to salvation. this conversation was a crazy one, and it confused me to no end - finally, i thanks them for their words and i moved on.

6) some were upset with the fact that i did not use the luke narrative and speak on how cute and cuddly the baby jesus was. i did mention that one of the traditional hymns did not register with me - because it had jesus laying in a manger with a cow in his face and it says "and no crying he did make" - what? show me a baby that would not be screaming his little head off - that was not popular because it seems jesus never cried, never pooped, never gave mom and dad a hard time, and was just the perfect little baby. the idea of a human jesus was just no in the room.

the funny thing of all this, was that out of all the people who complained only two actually were at the service; and non - none - came to me directly. the others were simply going on their words.

yet i do need to express hope in all this. out of all the people who attended the service, i received more comments from people who thought the message was great - some of the people that were there even commented on the fact that it challenged them to move in faith and move into action.


dsm said...

It sounds to me like you preached a relevant message to the masses. There are some people who are just not into relevant.

Keep up the good work. I did like the thought process.

fatwrath said...

First, it was a good message. Thank you.

Second, you knew you were going to rock the boat, so be happy that at least two people complained. That people who were not at the service, came to you with complaints/questions is a good thing.

Last, IMHO - Being Emergant means becoming all things to all people, so that some will be saved. That means we are a Post-Modern to Post-Modern's and a Modern to Modern's. We want salvation for the unsaved, and health and Wholliness for our brothers and sisters who are enured in weakness. It means being secure enough in Christ to be foolish or weak or confrontational or patient.

john o'keefe said...

well, thank you - but we are not called to be "moderns for moderns" - being "all things to all people" is not what paul tells us - paul says he is all things to all people - different. being postmodern does not mean we become modern to minister to the moders - that is being closed to who we are - sorry, i disagree with that :)

fatwrath said...

That's OK, I (like you) am used to people disagreeing with me.

"that is being closed to who we are" ??? PM's and M's are a lot a like - just the newest episode of Us vs Them.

john o'keefe said...

that's cool - but you are the first person i know of to say that moderns and postmoders are alot alike - heck, not even colson thinks that :)

fatwrath said...

Really?? The first? It's a gift.

Anonymous said...

jok, lol where do you find these people? By the sound of it, I do not understand why anyone would have a problem with what you said. Do you have an outline and/or your slide presentation to share?

my comments:

1. Tattoos: Recently I was talking to a seminary professor who told me about his Hermeneutics class. He put up a slide of a guy with a big tattoo across his back along with the text of Leviticus 19:28. He asked the class how many felt that this gives a prohibition against tattoos. Over half the hands in the class shot up. Sad. He went on to try to teach about context and the dangers of eisegesis. One of these days I need to write a paper, from an academic Biblical Studies perspective, demonstrating that the Bible doesn't prohibit tattoos any more than it prohibits blue jeans and appendectomies.

2. Black Jesus: What color did they think Jesus was? God created man in His image. I do not think He intended us to return the favor and insist that Jesus's complexion matched ours. His skin may not have been as dark as a Nigerians, but it sure wasn't lily white. A few years ago, the Discovery Channel (or was it Popular Science?) did an interesting computer generated composite of what Jesus may have looked like. Those who had the Renaissance portraits etched in their minds put up a stink.

3. Pictures of the homeless: How can someone read the gospel narratives without recognizing Jesus' compassion and his relationships with the down and out? People were actually offended at this? I can almost understand reactions against tattoos and a black Jesus, but objecting to compassion towards the poor blows my mind.

4. Non-Christmas Song: Well, jok, you know I'm a Switchfoot fan, so rock on bro. :)

I'll never forget a few years ago I took a group of kids to a Third Day concert. An elderly man in our church heard we were planning to attend a Christian concert and expressed an interest to go. I said, "Bro. Ed, you are more than welcome to come, but you do know it's um ... Rock and Roll?" He looked at me like a deer caught in headlights and said, "Well, I'm sure they will play some 'gospel songs' too, won't they?" He's cool and although he decided not to join us, he made sure his grand-daughter did. She had a great time.

5. Faith vs Works: Faith without works is dead.

6. Sweet Baby Jesus. Modern day Marcianism and sappy sentimentalism thrives in a culture bent on hiding the harsh realities of human existence. Admitting Christ's full humanity means those that claim to be His followers must take up a splintered heavy human cross and actually move. What better time than Christmas, when God became flesh, to hear Jesus' haunting challenge, "I dare you to move."

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

john o'keefe said...

don -

so very right bro - so very right :) thanks for the comments


fatwrath said...

Praise God that Post-Modern churches don't have any bigots, or people who think their way is the only way, and everyone has a perfect understanding of Scripture.

Yeah, it's only the Modern Church that has the market cornered on arrogent SOB's

corey davis
sacramento, ca

john o'keefe said...

corey -

not sure how to respond, or if to respond - no one said anything was perfect.

fatwrath said...

Normally, I would be happy to join in and bag on those ignorant (non-emergant) Christians, but in this case you (and now Mr. Elbourne) are talking (to the whole world) about my church, and its that "white, old, middle-class church" that is providing the facilities for your church plant, and that "elderly women" is a jewel who is trying very hard to understand and be humble and open to what God is doing.

john o'keefe said...

hey, thanks for the commnets - very cool :)

in no place in the post will anyone find any mention of a church name or location, or any names of people, or any connection to anything that would express where the church was - because that would be wrong and make it more of a personal attack, and that is not what the post suggests. people have the right to express their story as it plays in life.

please notice that eveything commented on came throught gossip and rumors (as mentioned) - the post is responding to those. people have a right to stand-up for themselves. so, why did no one approach me? we spoke once by the phone, because of a request made via a email to call - so, out of respect i called.

no request was made of me for the lesson. i took the steps to record the lesson, owned the tape used, and controlled the content. yet some went past me to get and distribute copies. even though they were told by denomination heads that they had no authority to do so. when we spoke i was informed that they did not want a copy of my lesson but they wanted a tape of the "other pastor's part." so, why are people distributing copies of my lesson? why did no member of the board approached and asked for a copy?

i am sure we would agree that "secret meetings" are wrong and against scripture, and the rules of the denomination. it is well known that i stand by jesus' teaching in matthew concering these matters. i have stood by that teaching and even told people i would leave the church when others desired to take action agains another person if matthew was not followed. so, who the primary force behind the meeting? christ? man? money? power? keep in mind that no one involved approached me, not then, and not now, which is not in support of the teachings in matthew.

some questions can be asked; are there lies in anything posted? no. is there anything in the post that directs an insult at any person? no. is there anything wrong with expressing an experience? no. everything is as it happened. i believe there is nothing in the post that could be taken wrong or insulting.

we need to keep in mind that the "board chair" who heard the lesson on cd, in a conversation with a denominational official told them that there was nothing scripturally wrong with the lesson, and that lesson was sound - so, the problem had to do with style and not content.

again, thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

My name is Alan. I introduced myself to you a few weeks ago but our conversation was short and without substance. I was in attendance at the Christmas eve service where you preached. I did feel challenged by your exhortation to not be "one hour Christians" and I am heeding the call to reach out more. Forgive me for my poor memory, but I'd like for you to clarify for me, a few things I think you said. If I misquote you, please correct what I think you said. I am also commenting on most of your summary points.

1. "Christ is in all" or "Christ is in everyone"? I think that is the phrase you used based on Col 1:27. I think you alluded to "the mystery" Paul cited therein. The verse itself, NKJV reads in part, "...which is Christ in you..." Please clarify what you mean by "all" or "everyone." Does that represent the 6 billion people living in the world, or something else?

2. In your first point you recount that by merely mentioning the word "tattoo", that this was considered a major sin. I believe you did much more than just mentioning "tattoo"; that further you said something to the effect that if we as members of the congregation truly wanted to demonstrate our allegiance or loyalty to Christ, that we needed to go and obtain a tattoo of Christ on our person. If this is what you indeed said, this would suggest to me that if we did not want to get a tattoo of Christ, that we are not children of God.

3. In your second point, you maintain that "we" "are unable to process a jesus that is not blonde haired and blue eyed." Scripture teaches us that Jesus was a Jew. Shouldn't his skin color be darker than a caucasian white man but much lighter that an african american?

4. In your third point you state, in part, "...this white, old, middle-class church the idea that jesus came for the hurting and the sick was not part of the way they saw things. i guess, jesus came to save the white-middle class only." I am a middle-aged Japanese man, my wife is a middle-aged caucasian. We have a variety of ethnic groups in our congregation. Why do you portray us as you did? How many is some? I would venture to say that we probably have no more than 20 white, older people in a congregation of about 175. How can you characterize our congregation as holding to that perspective?

5. I don't have a comment on your fourth point.

6. Your fifth point states in part, "the conversation turned to why my message was not calling people to salvation. this conversation was a crazy one, and it confused me to no end - finally, i thanks them for their words and i moved on." I can only surmise that this older man feels that all messages should contain a salvation message, which many people feel. You have the prerogative to choose not to do so. Why would this confuse you to no end?

7. In your sixth point, again how many is some? How can you characterize the congregation by the conclusion that "the idea of a human jesus was just no (sic) in the room", based on the feelings of some? I don't purport to know whether Jesus cried as a baby or not, but crying has nothing to do with a sinless person who was fully man and fully God. To me, your comment seems to be condescending. Please tell me that was not your intent.

Finally, do you ascribe to the tenets espoused in the book, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey by Brian D. McLaren, wherein McLaren states, "The Bible contains history, he acknowledges, but lacks the modern “concern for factual accuracy, corroborating evidence, and absolute certainty” (56). Dan claims we should read the Bible “less like scholars and more like humble seekers trying to learn whatever we can from it.” We should be less critical and read it in a “postmodern fashion,” which is “postanalytical and postcritical” (56). Neo also asserts that the Bible is not our “foundation” (53), nor is it “authoritative” in the modern sense. It is, rather, a collection of useful stories to guide us (52). The old theological distinctions between liberals and conservatives, who fuss over biblical inerrancy and authority, no longer matter. What matters is seizing the postmodern moment (148; see also 145)."

I look forward to your response.

john o'keefe said...


let me see if i can address your questions:

1) christ in all - col 1:27 says, "God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message.

keep in mind that paul was talking to the jews - because there were no "christians" as of that time - they were just jewish followers of jesus.

christ is in them, regardless of their "religious standing" so, it is a mystery -

also, when jesus says (in matthew 25) that when you do a kind thing "to the least of them" you do it to me - is he saying only those who believe in him? not at all, it is to all - and then, how can you do it to the least (even people who do not believe) and to "Him" if jesus was not in them?

the idea that it is a mystery means that we do not "get it" nor do we have to - it simply is, and i am very comfortable with that expression.

2. the idea of the tattoo came when i was speaking about being committeed to christ, it was an example of being totally committeed to something.

3. i have since been approaced by many who have told me that seeing a "black" jesus was insulting - and others have told me that others have said the same to them. if you remember, i believe i did mention that the jesus' being show were from different cultural views and different time frames. and yes, some of the people got mad because i did not have the "traditional" painting of jesus (the blonde hair blue eyed one)

4. you may not be "white middle class" but the reality is that over 90% of the church is, and remember i see the same. it is not a "multi-cultural" church by any streach. i see it as i see it, and if you see it another way, fine - i do not.

5. cool

6. if you notice, the #5 deals with them not making their point, and then chaging what they had to say. the first response was on my call to telling people that their faith requires them to "do" something and not just write checks and sit on sunday mornings - this person was upset with me telling him that the faith requires that it produce "works" - then he said "saved by faith and not by works" - my reaction was to say that my message was not "the save" part but the "do" part - then, because he could not argure with the fact that a "faith without actions is dead" he changed the subject so he could "win" what he saw as a debate - so i did not desire to "fight" so i thanked him for his time and moved on - basic bibical stuff :)

7. that jesus was fully human - 100% human with all that that carries - you may noit have a 100% human jesus and then remove some of that humanity if it makes you uncomfortable - if you do, then the 100% human jesus is less then human - and then that denies the scripture - if we believe that jesus could not be tempted by sin, then the 40 days in the wilderness if of no value - my statements in context say, "see jesus as fully human and know he walks with you" -

i make no comment on a few lines of brian taken out of context to make a point - i stand on my words and what i believe jesus teaches.

Anonymous said...


1. I agree that God wants everyone to know Him. I agree that Paul was talking to the Jews. I agree that Paul said that "Christ is in you." However, contrary to your statement that "there were just Jewish followers of Jesus", there were indeed now many gentile followers of Jesus of whom Paul says will inherit the kingdom of God. That is the mystery to what Paul is speaking to. Paul wasn't speaking to their religious standing; he was speaking to the peoples of the Jews and the Gentiles, sharing inheritance in the kingdom of God.

When you bring in Mt 25 (Sheep and the Goats) to support your position, and you say "how can you do it to the least (even people who do not believe) and to "Him" if Jesus was not in them, you do so in error. Yes the sheep "did for me", not "did to me." The sheep were obedient to Christ's call to reach out to 'everybody' in love, not that the sheep reached out to Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit indwells only the believer; not in everybody.

If you are correct, then why does that same Mt 25 say that the goats will go away into eternal punishment? If everybody has Jesus in them, then nobody can be a goat.

However, you did answer my question by saying "it is to all."

2. So if I refuse to get a tattoo, I am not totally committed to Christ? Am I still in the flock, even though I'm not totally committed?

3. Can you quantify many? I'm sorry for those who had a problem with the black Jesus, but I am offended that you characterize our whole congregation of believing in a Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes. I know that my family and I don't.

4. Apparently you want to see 90% white middle class. I would probably agree it is predominantly middle class, but in addition to probably half white, there are Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hispanic, African American, South African, Czech, Russian, Italian, Portugese, Irish, and I'm sure others as well. It would probably be fair to say that at least half are white. So, by a 50% stretch, I believe we are indeed multi-cultural, that's different from "any stretch." You dropped the old agers in this response. Even if we were 90% white, how can you state that we beleive in redemption only for the white middle-class, base on the "some"?

5. cool

6. If that was what transpired, I'm sorry but reality shows that in any congregation, modern or post-modern, people will have varying degrees of understanding of the truth according to the Word of God.

7. I'm not removing any of Jesus' humanity by saying I don't know if he cried as a baby. I wasn't there. Were you? I would guess that he cried as a baby, just as He wept at the news of Lazarus' death. The song writer was probably off base, but how do you get that Jesus didn't scream, poop, or mis-behave out of this one song. It sounds pretty condescending and judgmental that nobody in that room shares your view of a fully human Christ.

The mystery to me is that He is fully God and fully man and know that He walks with me in that duality of nature, but I accept it wholeheartedly. In the wilderness, He was tempted, but He did not sin. Again, how can you say that "the idea of human Jesus was just not in the room"?

I would venture to say that idea is held by many. How many is many, I don't know but God was prepared to spare Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous. There may or may not be a majority of mature, on fire, Christians in my congregation, but I leave the judging to the Lord. I and others can only exhort them to a deeper walk with Christ.

Since you make no comment on anything taken out of context, please respond directly to these two questions.

Do you believe that the Bible is the fully inspired inerrant Word of God?

Do you believe that the Bible is the one and only authoritative foundation for your life?

Finally, the nature of your comments lead me to believe that you have a great disdain for at least my church body, maybe all modern churches, maybe not. You sound to me and a couple others who have seen this website to be condescending of our body and prone to labeling us as a group in unloving terms. By doing so, it seems you are chastizing and condemning us instead of "doing unto the least of these"; if so, are you being the Goat in Mt 25.

Trying to be more than just a "one hour Christian,


john o'keefe said...


bro, i am stoked that you desire to be more then a "one hour christian" that, and your commments, show me a desire to know my heart - and that is cool and i like that greatly - thank you. as a pastor, i love it when people desire to go deeper and be challanged by the word of God - so very cool. to walk in faith with christ can be hard, but to know your heart is a desire to learn and grow - very cool.

i still stand by the teaching that christ is in all - as paul says it is a mystery. in matthew 25 when jesus is talking about goats and sheep he is talking about the day of judgement. i believe christ is in everyone as scripture teaches, and i also believe that anyone at any time can reject the call of christ in there hearts - when they reject the teachings of christ they are "goats" - but until the day they die, they can come back to christ and become sheep. i stand firm on the cross, and all that glory shares with us. i accept the mysteries of our faith and i strive not to "explain" them because if the holy spririt did not see it fit to explain it via paul, then it is no my place to try :)

i still stand on the fact that when jesus asks those before him of their actions (vs 41-46) and they reply, "when did we do all that to you jesus?" and he says, when you did it to the least of those, you did it to me" - i see that as christ being in all people, because if not then we would see that teaching as helping only christians - and that is not how that scripture is viewed.

alan, you can disagree with me, but that does not make me wrong and you right. a blog is a personal expression of the metanarrative and as such expresses the feeling and experiences at that moment - so, if you disagree that just means we disagree, and i have no problem with that. keep in mind, many people over time have disagreed, and that did not mean either was not a christian.

as far as the tattoo goes, i need to ask are you upset because i mentioned a tattoo? are you thinking that having a tattoo is wrong? do you have concerns about committent? keep in mind jesus himself says that if we are luke warm he will spit us out. so, yes we must be on fire, 100%, in the treanches go for jesus all the way committeed - that is as he calls us. no one is called to be a bench warmer and do nothing.

you can see the church as a "multi-cultural" group is you desire, but i do not accept your defination. i am looking over the same people you are on sunday morning and sorry, i do not see what you see. again, that simply shows we experience things differently - not that one is right and the other wrong.

alan before i close this i need to share my voice on your statement you made that "If that was what transpired..." concering anything i have said, is insulting.

you have no right to question my experiences and express that they did not happen - or imply they did not happen. you have never spoken to me about any of this, face to face, and yet you question my honesty - that is insulting on many levels and is a personal attack - and you will notice that i never mentioned anyone by name to make this personal. if you disagree, you have that right and all is cool on my end - but just to let you know that that statement was out of order.

while i encourgae dialog, i will not encourage it if there will be personal attacks involved. be in his peace, and in his word :)


Anonymous said...


I am not upset that you mentioned the word tattoo. I am disappointed that you suggest that the mere mention of the word brought the wrath of the congregation upon you. As I stated earlier, you went far beyond mentioning tattoo. Why do you correlate "sold out for Jesus committment" as requiring a tattoo to prove it? Where is any scripture that states that a believer is to acquire tattoos?

I apologize for my poor choice of words, "if that was what transpired." I didn't mean it to imply that you were lying or being dishonest about your experience with that gentleman.

I believe that as far as recounting conversations you had with people in the congregation, that you are being honest about what transpired. I don't doubt this. Again, I apologize for my poor choice of words there. I'm sorry you took it as a personal attack; I did not mean it as such.

However, as I've already noted several times, I am upset that you generalize a characterization about our entire congregation based on the comments of some, and for which you have yet to at any time justify said sweeping characterizations.

I again ask you.

Do you believe that the Bible is the fully inspired inerrant Word of God?

Do you believe that the Bible is the one and only authoritative foundation for your life?

In His service,

john o'keefe said...


if you did not mean to offend, then i accpet that and know that is where you stand. very cool.

i do not believe i i did make such generalizations - in each point i did mention that only one or two people said what was said - in fact, if you reread the closing, "yet i do need to express hope in all this. out of all the people who attended the service, i received more comments from people who thought the message was great - some of the people that were there even commented on the fact that it challenged them to move in faith and move into action." i think that expressed my feelings pretty well and showed just the opposite of generalizing a "bad" thing about the congrgation.

i never said "go and get a tattoo" i asked, in connection to a statement concerning committment that "if you are committed, whould you come and get a tattoo with me?" if you listen you will notice it was done in connection and as a metaphor - just before i was speaking about whereing our faith on our sleeves - did you think i meant that you needed to sew the words "i am a christian" on your sleeve? why take one metaphor out of context and not all of them? after all, where in scripture does it say in scripture that any christian is to have the words "i am a christian" sown on their sleves?

now for your other questions:
i have to be honest with you - i see those questions as "traps" - not that you are trying to trap me into anything, but the words are loaded and have different meanings to different people.

it is not a trust thing on you, it is a trust thing in general. most postmodern/emerging people do not trust, because we are tired of having our words twisted to mean something we never meant them to mean; or being asked questions to be "traped" into some modern logic that does not compute with us - it is something we as a collective community are deailing with, but something we ask others to understand :) so, i am trusting that the questions are not designed to "trap" me or to "trick" me into something else - and that your heart is pure and christ centered and honest.

when you ask, "Do you believe that the Bible is the fully inspired inerrant Word of God?"

i have to ask, what do you mean by "fully inspiried" and "inerrant?" this is because most add "in the original autograph." if by "fully inspiried" you mean that humans wrote the scripture with the guide of the holy spirit, and when you say "inerrant" you mean "without mistake in it's original autograph" and not a particular version then i would say "yes" - but i would add that the interpertation of scripture is in the hands of humans and qualify my answer based on your meanings.

when you ask "Do you believe that the Bible is the one and only authoritative foundation for your life?" i get concerned because what most people who ask this mean is, "are you willing to see the scripture the way we see it, even if you disagree?" if, there is not hidden meaning and hidden agenda to the question, and it is straight foward with no strings, i would say yes, and add "and my walk of faith."