Archive for March, 2009

Think of it this way. Right now is your relationship with Jesus characterized more by Him coming towards you, or you going towards Him? Is Jesus pursuing the relationship with you or are you pursuing the relationship with Him?

My contention is that most people would have to answer that the direction of the relationship is one of Jesus coming to them. It is best described as Jesus heading in their direction and not them going towards Jesus in His direction. I think our language about our relationship with Jesus shows this and the passive state of most Western Christianity proves it.

Certainly the initial direction is that Jesus comes towards us. He begins it all by becoming one of us. The Incarnation is the Biblical doctrine that Jesus being fully equal with the Father according to Philippians 2, was willing to come into the world in order to make salvation available to us. He came to us. He came seeking the lost in order to rescue them. But we need to see that a shift takes place. Jesus comes to us, comes in our direction and then says, “Come follow me”. He says, I have come near to you, come in your direction, so that you can come in my direction. It is a crucial pivot point in our relationship with Him. We all are running away from God, going in a direction opposite Him. Jesus comes chasing after us and calls out for us to turn around, (read repent here), and follow Him. We are to be actively striving after Jesus, doing all we can to follow after Him and be like Him.

Much of our language about our relationship with Jesus demonstrates that we really don’t think in terms of actively following Jesus. We certainly don’t think of actively pursuing Jesus with a burning passion to be like Him. Think about it. When we call people into a relationship with Jesus how often do we say that you are to “invite Jesus into your heart” or “ask Jesus into your life”. The image is of us being where we are and letting Jesus have a place in our lives. We give Him some room. We accommodate Him where we are. The only thought of going in another direction is that now you can be assured of going to heaven when you die instead of hell. Even our language of believing in Jesus can be nothing more than an intellectual assent that doesn’t bring about any real change in life. Lot’s of people “believe” in Jesus. Even the demons believe that He is the Lord. But they certainly don’t follow Him. They are not heading in a direction of pursuing a deeper relationship with Him.

Most if the time when Jesus comes to someone in the Gospels the language He uses to call them to a new life is the language of following. It is an active thing. We are to be taking steps towards Him. He initially comes to us but then says, “Hey, start walking in a new way. Start walking in the direction I am going. Follow me”. That following is intended to give us a new purpose, a new meaning for life. Asking Him into our hearts and staying passive seems to have the purpose of making our life more comfortable and secure. We pray a prayer of salvation and think life is complete because now we have Jesus in our hearts. Jesus said that He will make our life complete if we follow Him. He gives us purpose. Follow Him and He will make you a fisher of men. He will make you a changer of lives, a restorer of justice, a comforter of the poor, a visitor of the prisoner, a healer of the sick, a chef to the hungry, a clothier to the naked, and a host to the homeless.

If the relationship is simply one of believing in Jesus and having Him in your heart then there is really very little about your life that needs to change. He came and now hangs out like a polite guest. You like having Him there because it is a comfort and He really doesn’t ask much of you. Life goes on. You just feel better about yourself because you have Jesus with you. But if the relationship is of following Him, then it is a matter of become more and more like Him everyday. Romans 8:29 says that we are to be conformed into the image of Christ. In other words, we are to become more and more like Jesus all the time. In order for that to happen we must be heading in His direction, pursuing becoming like Him.

In the corporate world you are either moving up or moving down the corporate ladder. There is no sitting still. The people who supervise you see you either heading up, or not. If you are not, then you are already on your way down. You just may not know it yet. With Jesus you are either heading towards Him or away from Him. If you think you are simply maintaining then you are sadly mistaken because like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, “Jesus is on the move”. That is why He says, follow me.

Paul says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. The great comfort is that God has you in His grip and is working diligently in your life. The great challenge is that we are to do everything we can to pursue Jesus and become more like Him. Look to Jesus and run after Him with all your might. Don’t just sit and give Him space in your life. Run to Him and give Him your whole life as a follower, becoming like Him in all ways.

The Bible is not nearly as complicated as people make it out to be. Yet, what I have learned is that it is simple enough that the least astute child can understand it’s depths and deep enough that the most skilled of scholars can never fully grasp it’s implications. This verse from Philippians comes to mind as one of the verses that so perfectly fits that reality.

12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13

On numerous occasions I have had people ask me about this verse and wondering if there is a contradiction here. People think that Paul is saying our salvation depends on our good works. They get the fear and trembling part because they usually start trembling when they realize they are not doing a very good job of it. But Paul is not saying that our good works, or being a good person is was gets you into heaven. The problem is, people usually read verse 12 and forget to read verse 13. The verse divisions are great for finding places in the Bible but terrible as a guide to understanding it. Verses 12 and 13 are a complete sentence. To read verse 12 by itself is to only read one half of the thought. We would never do that with any other piece of literature yet we do it with the Bible all the time. Not a good idea.

What Paul is saying is simply this, “When I was with you, you did a great job of living for Jesus. Keep doing this even though I am not there. Work hard at living out the salvation you have been given by God. Why, Because God is working in you and that should be made evident in the way you live.” Paul is NOT saying that you are saved by being a good person. He is perfectly clear in many other places that we are saved by God’s grace and the faith/trust we have in Jesus Christ. The life we live as followers of Christ does not save us, but it should be a life that is consistent with being a follower of Jesus who is saved by God’s grace.

Paul does not say, “work FOR your salvation” or “work AT your salvation” or “work TOWARD your salvation”. All of those would mean that in some way it is your efforts that gain you admission into eternal life. He says “work OUT your salvation”. In other words, live it out. Plan out your life, live out your life, work out your life in such a way that your salvation is obvious. And you need to be so committed to living out the Christ-like life that you are driven to it with an urgency that makes you tremble.

But why such urgency? Why such desperation to live out your salvation? Paul gives the reason, “For God is at work in you”. Why work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Because God is working in you, giving you the will to follow and obey Him. To fail to live out your life as a radical follower of Jesus is to actually work against what God is doing in you. That should cause fear and trembling in us. When we fail to love others in Jesus name, when we fail to be content with what God has given us, when we long for someone who is not our spouse, when we fail to love God with our entire being, we are not simply ignoring something that God has told us. We are actively opposing God and what He is doing.

To simply ignore God could be seen as a passive thing. It is like failing to exercise. We view that as passive. We are not actively trying to hurt our body, we are just not doing anything to actively help it. I think we often look at our Christian life that way. We are passive in it and think that this is somehow acceptable to God because at least we are not actively opposing God. What Paul is saying is that by NOT actively working at living for Jesus, we are by default, actively opposing what God is doing in our lives. In reality, failing to exercise means that you are actually actively working at getting fatter, weaker, and sicker. You have made a decision to do something that harms you. That something is whatever takes the place of healthy physical activity. The same is true of your spiritual well being. To fail to live a life that is committed to a radical love for God and neighbor is to actively oppose the work that God is doing in you. Every time I fail to love God with all I have and my neighbor as myself, I am actively fighting against what God is doing in me as He works to shape me into a more Christ-like follower.

The fact that God has worked in me to grant me grace and faith should motivate me to live for Him with all I am. The fact that God has worked in such as way as to pay the penalty for my sin should cause me to tremble before Him. The recognition that my sin is great but God’s love for me is greater, should cause me to work at living for Him like nothing else I have ever done in my life. I do it, not to earn salvation, but because I have salvation.

One of the most common practices in the early church was that of hospitality. It was radical hospitality. It started with Jesus never having a house of his own and most often staying in homes of people who demonstrated radical hospitality. It continued when he sent out the first disciples, telling them to preach the Good News and to stay in the homes of people who would offer them a bed. It culminated in the Letter to the Hebrews in which the author urges radical hospitality for a radical reason.

Be sure to welcome strangers into your home. By doing this, some people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

What an amazing statement. The writer is saying that some people have actually opened their homes to angels without knowing it. How incredible! Movies and television programs are full of the theme of angels stepping into the world and making an impact without us even knowing it. Movies like, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Angels in the Outfield”, and programs like “Touched by an Angel”, all revolve around angels in our midst. Put the writer to the Hebrews is not talking about fantasy. He is talking about real life.

It is mind blowing to think that people could put a sign outside their house saying that “An Angel Slept Here”. But what is more amazing to me is that there were probably some people who missed the opportunity by actually turning a stranger away. If people showed hospitality to angels without knowing it, then certainly people turned away angels without knowing it. What a missed opportunity that must have been.

What really is the challenge for us today is to consider the role of radical hospitality today. The move away from any kind of hospitality to a culture in which we hide behind out walls and separate ourselves from others is well documented. How often does the typical suburbanite drive home from work, hit the garage door remote, pull into the garage, put down the door and the walk into the house without ever engaging their neighbors? Most people don’t even know their neighbors names. What a radical shift it would be if Christians actually started inviting their neighbors over for a barbecue or Super Bowl party. But that stuff is not even close to being radical.

The early church was radical. Paul could travel anywhere there were Christians and always have a place to stay. It was so common for Christians to open their homes to others that at the turn of the first century there were already written down standards for such things. It was considered a privilege to open your home to people. Today we only see the extra work and burden of it all.

When I look at our family I can see that we have done some things of radical hospitality but we pale in comparison to those first generations of Christians. The past Christmas we opened our home for a week to two students from Taiwan whom we had never met before. They are not Christians but we had some great conversations about God. The best part was that they started the conversations by asking questions. An added blessing was that my youngest son, Garrett, got to practice his Mandarin with them and build an ongoing relationship.  In September we had three men from Zambia stay with us. Again we never met them before, but we provided a home for them for a few days. In that case it was so they could be part of a choir raising money to support a school in their hometown in Africa. There are more such stories but the point you would get from all of them is that every time we have opened our home to others, we have been blessed far beyond what we sacrificed.

The most common objection people give to opening their home to strangers is a fear for the safety of the family. Yet, if we really pray and seek God in this we should not fear. I have a friend in South Africa who opened his home to a man who was just released from prison. The man was on parole after having spent years in jail on a murder charge. My friend and his wife opened their home and as a result they are being used by God to change this mans life. That is the kind of hospitality God wants us to demonstrate because that is provocative and changes lives for His glory.

I am not a big fan of the WWJD bracelets, simply for the reason that a very good question, “What Would Jesus Do” quickly became a cliche’ and not a way of life. But with that said I have to ask the question about the current economic crisis, “What Would Jesus Do?” It is an important question, especially considering the current human response to it all. Politicians are posturing to get money funneled to pet projects that serve more to win them votes at home than to actually help the economy. Then they express outrage over things like AIG bonuses, only to find that one of their own put that loophole in the bill and they all voted for it. In the meantime people who have their jobs and have no hope that the government will ever really got to helping them, are left frightened and desperate.

Jesus gave His followers some very clear instructions about how to live and how to take care of one another. He said things like,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. And just how did Jesus love us? That is simple. He sacrificed whatever was necessary so that we would have all we needed to be in relationship with Him. He died so we could live. As Philippians 2:5-8 puts it,

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The early church figured out how to do this in very practical ways. The Book of Acts tells us that no one in that first gathering of Christians in Jerusalem ever went without having the basic needs of life provided for them.

44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Acts 2:44-45

This was not government forced socialism or communism. This was Holy Spirit led generosity and sacrifice for the sake of family. Those first Christians understood that they were family in Christ. They were brothers and sisters in the Lord. As family they took care of one another no matter what the sacrifice entailed. People have done things like that for family through out the history of mankind. But usually it was for family by blood. This was for family by Spirit. They didn’t just take care of family. They took care of anyone God put across their path, but they especially made sure that they took care of family. Paul said to “Do good to all men, especially to the household of faith”.

In that first church, if someone was out of work, they would be inviting into someones business to help out. If that was not possible the the people who had food would provide for those who did not. If someone lost their home then others would open their home and give them a place to live. No one was concerned with protecting his own little material bubble. Because they interacted with each other on a regular basis they refused to turn a blind eye to a brothers need. People like Barnabas sold property and had the money used to feed people.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Christians today are as infected by the virus of materialism as the rest of the world. Think of your gut response to the idea of opening your home to give people a place to live. Did you immediately go to the impact on your comfort. Did the very idea of it make you uncomfortable. Did you quickly come up with reasons why your life situation would not allow for that? Okay, what if it was your parents, or your child, or your twin sister who was homeless? Would that change the equation? I would hope so. Now, what about your father in the faith, or your brother in Christ, or your sister in the Lord? They are family too. The response should be no different.

What if you are faced with a need that is beyond you ability to meet. Maybe you have a spare room that someone can move into but you do not have the ability to provide food for them and you. You can’t provide transportation for them or medicine or clothing, then what. In the early church that was simple. They gathered together as the church, house to house. The typical church gathering would have been between 20 and 40 people who where the church at someones house. From time to time the various “House Churches” would come together for bigger meetings, but almost daily they would gather in their neighborhood in a House Church. So the person who was homeless, or out of a job, or sick, would be provided for by a couple of dozen people who shared the load. You might open your house, three other families would take turns providing groceries, someone else would make clothing, someone else would watch the children, someone else would you get their friend who was a physician to come and check on them. It was the people of God being led by the Holy Spirit to meet the needs of the family of God.

Those early Christians were so good at caring for their own that they quickly branched out and started doing the same for the non-Christians who lived near them. Eventually the Roman world noticed this as was put to shame by the sacrificial love of the Christians. Through that sacrificial lifestyle the Roman empire was turned on it’s ear as millions came to Jesus because of the love that we had for one another. Oh to see that happen again!

P.S. Props to Scotty Alderman for suggesting this topic and the next few that will follow the Church in Acts 2

How many times have you heard the statement, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget”? When I hear those words they are nearly always spoken with a tone that says, “I am holding on to the pain and I will deal with the offender accordingly”. What seems to be said is, I forgive, therefore I will not seek revenge, even though I could, but, I will treat this person differently as a result of their offense. If I am right and that is what often lies behind the statement, then we really do not understand the nature of forgiveness or forgetting.

If you are to truly forgive someone then you must never forget what they have done. Yes, you read that right. If you are to truly forgive someone then you must never forget what they have done. If you forget it, then you have not forgiven. Look at the encounter between Jesus and Peter following the resurrection. In John 21 Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” At the third asking, Peter is heartbroken. Why? Because the last time Peter was asked the same question three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus knew that and remembered that. In an incredible act of grace he out that event back on the table and let Peter know that it was alright. He was forgiven and restored. In order to truly forgive Peter, Jesus had to remember the betrayal. Then, in spite of the pain that the betrayal gave Him, Jesus then treated Peter as a brother whom He loved and forgave.

Forgiveness is about treating someone with the love of God, in-spite of what they have done. When you remember the pain of rejection, the anguish of betrayal, the shock of being sinned against, forgiveness becomes evident when you still treat that other person like Jesus treated Peter, like He treats you. If I never remember what they have done, I am not being forgiving. I am just absent minded.

Forgiving and remembering means that not only do I refuse to take revenge, but I also determine to do something positive. I determine to treat you with love, respect, and dignity and I will not hold your sin against you. That sounds and awful lot like the way God treats us because of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.

Finally, the person whom we are to forgive also needs to know that we know and remember what they did. If Jesus would have never brought the denials to the table, yet treated Peter well, there would have always been a lingering doubt. Peter would never have really known if he was forgiven or if Jesus simply forgot about the denials. He would have been eaten alive by guilt and doubt. But by putting it all out in the open Jesus makes it clear that He knows what Peter did and He still loves and forgives him. Forgiving and forgetting is not the answer. Remembering and forgiving is.

In fourth grade we had an incubator in class filled with eggs. Day after day we looked into the incubator to see if there were any tell-tale signs of cracks in the eggs that would be the sign that the chicks inside were beginning to hatch. When that first chick started to peck its way out of the shell we gathered around, mesmerized. Bit by tiny bit the opening got bigger. With its miniature beak the little chick worked and worked to get out. As more of the shell was broken away we could see the chick breathing heavy and straining to get out. One of the students asked if we shouldn’t help it and take away some of the shell. Our teacher told us that even though we thought that would help, in the long run it would actually harm the baby chick. She said that it was critical that the chick do this for itself because that helped it to develop the muscles and strength it would need to survive in the future. Our desire to help the chick so that it did not have to struggle and suffer as it worked its way out of the shell, while commendable, would actually harm the chick in the long run.

That lesson never left me. To my amazement, years later I came upon that same lesson in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He talks about the positive nature of facing hardship and struggles and how God uses them to shape our character.

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:1-5

How different is that from the common cultural value we have that says any and all hardship, suffering, struggle, or pain is bad and to be avoided at all costs? We cannot avoid hardship. We cannot avoid pain. It is part of life in a world infected with sin and rebellion against God. Being a Christian does not save you from hardship. In fact the opposite is promised. Follow Jesus and you will be persecuted, you will be called on to sacrifice. You will be called to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. The question is not, “How do I avoid hardship?” but rather, “How does God want me to grow as a result of hardship?”.

Paul says that God uses the struggles we go through in order to shape our character. It makes us people who are able to persevere in the midst of struggles. It will eventually shape our character into something that looks and lives more like Jesus everyday. Finally it will make us into a people of hope. That hope is the result of our relationship with Jesus. It is a relationship that will bring glory and honor to Him. It really gets us back to 1 Peter 3:15 that tells us we are to always be ready to explain the reason for the hope that is within us. If life is always wonderful, free of hardship, and filled with worldly abundance, you don’t need to explain the reason you feel so good. But if life is hard, and you still have joy and hope, then people want an explanation. They want to know why you are able to press ahead, be joyful, have hope. The answer should always point them to Jesus.

You see, when you have struggled in some way and Jesus helped you have victory, then the next time you face a struggle, you have developed some spiritual muscles that will give you the strength you need. Each time that happens, you get stronger. The strength is in many ways a stronger faith in Christ. You know that he saw you through before and you have the assurance, what the Bible calls hope, that He will see you through again. He won’t do all the work, just like as fourth graders we couldn’t do the work for the baby chicks. But Jesus will be with you in ways that give you the encouragement and strength that you need.

If he did everything for us in such a way as to remove any and all obstacles from our lives, removing all hardship, then we would never mature. We would never grow up and be spiritually strong. You see this in the way some parents work overtime to make sure that their children never experience any struggles in life. It is well meaning but in the long run it produces adults who are unable to handle hardship when it comes. And it will come. It is hard to watch them struggle, but it will be harder to watch them act like a twelve year old when they are thirty or even older. Colleges have a term for such parents. They call them Helicopter Parents because the are always hovering around their 20 year old to the point of making excuses for them to their professors. I would have been embarrassed beyond belief I my parents had done that. And I would never have matured to any degree.

We don’t like hardship or struggle and that is understandable. However we can not avoid it and God will not remove it from our lives. So we need to embrace the upside of it like Paul suggests and ask how the struggles of life can make us more like Jesus, more joyful, more hopeful, stronger, pressing ahead for the glory of God.

Tonight I spoke at a college class on World Religions. I was the guest speaker and given two and a half hours to explain Christianity. The class is taught by a Muslim whom I have become friends with over the past few years. He teaches this class a couple of times a year and this is the fifth time I have been invited to present Christianity. My goal in the class is always to get the people in the class to consider who Jesus was and is and how they should respond to Him. Pointing out the claims of Jesus and his uniqueness is a big part of the presentation, as well as Christianity being all about trusting Jesus by faith for salvation.

Since it was a class on World Religions and they have already had presentations on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism, with Islam yet to come, I asked the class this question, “Why does every religion want a piece of Jesus?”. Hinduism considers Jesus to be an Avatar, or incarnation of the God Vishnu. Buddhism honors Jesus as a Bodhisattva or enlightened guide who leads others to Nirvana before going himself. Some teachers within Judaism consider Jesus to be a moral Rabbi who pointed people to God. Islam honors Jesus as one of the five greatest prophets, even believing that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born.

No other religious figure is some revered by so many different religions. Buddhists don’t honor Mohamed as a Bodisattva. Jews don’t respect Vishnu as some sort of messenger from God. Jews don’t look to Buddha as a spiritual teacher. So what is it about Jesus that everyone wants a piece of Him? I think the answer is in some ways found in Romans chapter 1. In that chapter Paul makes it clear there God has made Himself known in creation. There is something about creation that points all people to God. We have this innate radar that sees the divine in creation. If that is true of creation in general, how much more so is it true of Jesus in particular, God made flesh. I am convinced that the reason so many religions want a piece of Jesus is because our built in God radar, as broken as it is by our sinful nature, detects the divine in Jesus and wants to know Him and lay some claim to Him.

Of course Romans also explains why we distort who Jesus really is. We can’t take Him as God in the flesh because our sinful nature is at war with God. So we twist Him into Vishnu or a prophet, or a good Buddhist, or a moral teacher and we feel good about that. We feel good about it because we have made our God manageble and twisted Him to fit our image. That fact that we go through all of that to keep something of Jesus, but make Him fit our image, tells me that Jesus really is who He claimed to be. He is the Lord God, come in the flesh, the Messiah, the Savior, the King of Kings. He is the one to whom we all know, we must bend the knee. The day will come when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Some will do so with joy because they love Him. Others will do so through gritting teeth and with anguished hearts because He will no longer be in the image the tried to force upon Him. But they will bend the knee and He will be honored.

Jesus is unique. He is the Lord. He will not be forced into our image of Him, not matter how hard we try take only the parts of Him we want. Bow down and worship Him. Honor Him. He is the Lord.

It seems that in the past few weeks I have come across a number of people who claim to be Christians but do not think Jesus was God. The real question I suppose is, “Did Jesus think that he was God?”. The short answer to that question is clearly yes. In fact, that is the reason why the religious leaders wanted to have him crucified. Consider this encounter with the religious leaders in John 8:54-58

54Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Jesus claimed that Abraham, who had died twenty centuries earlier had actually seen and been seen by Jesus. The religious leaders mock Jesus by pointing out that he is not even fifty years old so there is no way he and Abraham could have seen one another. They were convinced that Jesus was a demon possessed nut job. Jesus responds by saying, “Before Abraham was born, I AM”. What would have made sense from a word tense standpoint was for Jesus to say, before Abraham was born, I was. But he says, I AM. At that point they pick up stones in order to stone him to death. Why?

The reason they want to kill him right then and there is because in their minds, Jesus has just committed blasphemy. He has claimed an equality with God that in their eyes is as sinful a thing as there is. By using the term I AM, he is reminding them of the name God used for Himself when He spoke to Moses on Mt Sinai in Exodus 3

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

That story and the name I AM was ingrained in the mind of every first century Jew. It was God’s name for Himself. By using that phrase in the way he did, Jesus was saying as clearly as he possibly could, “I am divine”. I am the same one who spoke to Moses on the mountain. That is why they wanted to kill him.

There are numerous other places where he makes the case for his divinity in other ways. The Gospel of Mark, chapter 2, is nearly as blatant as John 8. In that event Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. The religious leaders are shocked and murmur among themselves that no one can forgive sins except God. Jesus then shows them that he is God, can forgive sins, and the proof that he has forgiven this particular mans sins is that he then heals the man of his paralytic condition.

In addition to Jesus own understanding found in the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament is crystal clear that he is God in the flesh as well. The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians makes the case that Jesus who was equal with the Father and in fact divine. He did not let his divine status keep him from also becoming a man. He did that in order to secure salvation for everyone who would believe in him.

Okay, so what? Jesus claimed to be God. What difference does that make for you and me? The so what is that you have to do something with Jesus and who he claimed to be. C.S. Lewis popularized the dilemma and the choices with his Lord, Liar, Lunatic options. Jesus claimed to be God. His claim is either true or it is not. If is is not true, then he either knew it was not true and thus he was a liar, or he thought it was true and thus he was a lunatic nut job with a divinity complex. The other option is that it is true that he is God, the Lord, and as such, we must devote ourselves to following Him, where ever He leads and no matter what. The command that He gave his followers right before He left them in Matthew 28:18-19 is that they were to make disciples, followers of Jesus who would obey everything He commanded. That is the implication for us. Jesus claimed to be the Lord and demonstrated that He is. We are then called to follow, love, and obey Him with everything we have and everything we are.

I find it very interesting to consider “worst-case scenarios”. A few years ago I even bought a board game by that name. (By the way, don’t bother getting it. It became the fulfillment of it’s own name) But thinking about the worst-case scenario recently I thought, what would the typical church going American do if attending worship at a church building with lots of other people was no longer an option? What would you do if for some reason it was no longer legal or possible to do so? What if it was still legal to be a Christian, you just could never gather in a group of more than a few people at a time? What if terrorist threat levels meant there were no longer any large group gatherings, not just churches, but sporting events, schools and theme parks and concerts. Sound crazy? Often worst-case scenarios seem to be crazy until they actually happen. Think, The Black Death, The Titanic, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina.

But lets just stick to the church gathering part of this scenario. What would you do? How would you continue to follow Jesus and grow in your faith if you could no longer gather in a “church building” with others? What would you do differently from the way you live your Christian life right now if you had no worship team to lead you, no pastor/teacher to instruct you, no large gathering to make you feel upbeat about your faith? I know that in some cases, maybe even a majority of cases, people would end up with a faith that withers and shrivels beyond recognition. The reason I am sure of that is that for large numbers of people that is the only activity that connects them to their faith.

For those of you who would keep there faith growing and vibrant in such a situation, I suspect that it would look something more like this. First of all you would have a radical commitment to spending a considerable amount of time each day in prayer, worship, and study of God’s Word. That prayer time would be less about giving God updates on you life since He already knows all that, and more about pouring out your love to Him and listening for His voice. The study of His Word would be systematic and not the Bible roulette verse of the day that is forgotten tomorrow. It would probably include writing your thoughts  a journal.

Then there would be the time spent with a couple of other Christians during the week, Maybe you would meet in your home or office or even Starbucks. But it would be consistent and a top priority. That time together would include sharing insights from your time with God, what you learned, what psalm or hymn or spiritual song really grabbed you in your worship time. It might include being honest about areas of struggle in your life and being prayed for, really prayed for, by the others in the group. In between those meeting times you would be on the phone to each other or email one another, urging one another on in love and good deeds.

There would be lots of time in your schedule to meet with that new follower of Christ whom you are mentoring since leading them to the Lord a few months ago. You would be talking with them about what the Lord is teaching them and about the obstacles they are facing recently. You would be encouraging them by letting them know that this is fairly normal after a few months. The early honeymoon of following Jesus, blessing that it is from God, is now winding down and the road is getting a little steeper. But you encourage them with the assurance that you will be with them every step of the way and remind them that the person they led to Jesus last week needs encouraged in the same way when the time comes.

You will head home to get dinner ready for the next door neighbors who you are loving for the sake of the Kingdom. It started when you cut their grass while they were on vacation and then invited them over for dinner once they got back. You thought of loving them that way, because last year when you went on vacation you wished someone had loved you like that. You came home to grass way too high and a refrigerator way too empty. One day while your neighbor was away you remembered Jesus telling us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.  When they ask why you did that, you are prepared to give a defence for the hope that is within you. You are determined to not say something lame like, “Oh it was nothing” and instead say something like, “Jesus said we are to love our neighbors”.

You would end your day praying for the people in your life who don’t know Jesus. You would pray for open doors to love them with Jesus love and for the chance to answer questions about Jesus that they bring up. You would spend a bit more time reading God’s Word, just as a snack before bedtime since you already ate fully from His Word through out the day.

Does that sound like how you would want to live out your faith if you could no longer go to a building on Sunday with lots of other Christians? Well let me ask the obvious. Why do you need to have a worst-case scenario in order to live out your faith like that, when that is exactly how Jesus wants you to live out your faith, 24/7, no matter what? How provocative would your life for Jesus be if that was the norm and the large gathering was just icing on the cake?