Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

While working on my masters degree I had a conversation with another student about the resurrection of Jesus. She made a statement that at first might indicate an incredibly strong faith in God; “If the body of Jesus was found in a tomb somewhere, it would not shake my faith at all”. Far from this being an example of incredible faith, I found it to be the height of both hubris and folly. Hubris because it dared to claim a greater faith than even the Apostle Paul could admit for himself. Folly because that same Paul said that if Jesus is in fact NOT risen from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men.

Paul put it this way when he wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”. 1 Corinthians 15:14-18

The woman who said that her faith would not be shaken if Jesus never had risen, did not understand the absolutely crucial, linchpin place, that the resurrection has for followers of Jesus. Paul understood that the resurrection was the game-changer. Because Jesus rose from the dead, everything was now different. It was the resurrection that vindicated Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross. It was the resurrection that demonstrated his victory over sin and death. It was the resurrection that lead to his being seated at the right hand of the Father and at whose name every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

If the resurrection had never happened then Jesus was simply one more religious teacher who led people astray, only to disappoint them in the end. Rabbi Gamaliel understood this when he told the religious leaders to leave the disciples alone. He said that if Jesus was a nobody who was still in the grave then this talk of him as a messiah would fade away, just like it had so many times before with other religious zealots. Paul understood that if the resurrection had never really happened then the whole Christian faith was a sham. It was people preaching lies about God. It meant that their faith was only a faith for this life and that was a huge waste of time and effort.

But Paul was adamant that the resurrection was real. Jesus had risen from the dead. His resurrection was the down payment for us, the guarantee that all who had faith in Jesus would also rise from the dead one day. Jesus is the pioneer who leads the way for all who trust in him and in the reality of his resurrection.

My friend from graduate school is someone who Paul would say is to be most pitied. She has a faith that really has no future. It is a faith that does not need a risen savior. Without a risen savior, one who is still in the grave, there is only the grave for us. Our faith is for this life only. If Jesus had never been risen then there is no reason to follow him. He is just a guy who died 2,000 years ago and is still dead. And no matter how much we believe in him, when we die, we will be just as dead for just as long and stay that way. No hope. No future. No life eternal. If Jesus is still in the grave then Christianity is a giant lie.

But because he is risen, we have life and hope, and a future that is beyond our most vivid and beautiful imaginations. We have a purpose in this life that will find it’s fulfillment in the next. We have a God who is worthy of our adoration and praise. We have a message to take to people that can change their lives, now and forever. We have a relationship with a very real God who loves us enough to pay the ultimate price for our reconciliation with Him. We have the power to bring that reconciliation to the world, healing to the broken, dignity to the oppressed, joy to the grieving, laughter to those who weep. I could go on and on because the resurrection changes everything. From the moment He burst forth from the tomb, nothing would ever be the same again. A world that was spiraling down into darkness and oblivion, became a world that could be lifted higher and more glorious, all because He is risen.

The headline reads “Episcopal Minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim”. I suppose it should not really come as a shock that someone would convert from one religion to another. It should not even be a shock that someone who was a minister in a Christian church would convert. It happens. What is incredible to me is that they would think that in converting from Christianity to Islam that they were really not making a change of any significance and that they thought they could still be a Christian minister and a Muslim.

Anne Holmes Redding was a minister in the Episcopal Church. Three years ago she attended an interfaith gathering and was struck by the humility of the Muslim Imam as he led chants, meditations and devotions. That started her on a journey the resulted in her conversion to Islam. You can read more about it http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/02/muslim.minister.defrocked/index.html For a couple of years she continued to be both a Christian minister and a practicing Muslim. For some incredible reason she saw no contradiction in this. “Both religions say there’s only one God,” Redding said, “and that God is the same God. It’s very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven’t shifted my allegiance.” I’m sorry but this just flabbergasts me. Fortunately the Episcopal church was equally flabbergasted and required that she either recant being a Muslim or give up her ordination. She refused and was then removed as a minister.

I get it that many people think that all religions are ultimately the same and that they all worship the same god. But I also recognize that most people have never really bothered to look closely at various religions to see if this “cultural truism” is in fact true. But a minister in the Episcopal Church and most churches for that matter, has at least a Masters Degree that includes a heavy dose of Bible, Theology, and Comparative Religions.

In order to believe that she has not “changed allegiance” I can only assume that she never had an allegiance to Jesus to begin with. The understanding that Christians have of who Jesus is as Lord, fully God and fully man is in complete contradiction to what Islam teaches about Jesus.  To be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus is the Messiah. It is to deny that His death on the cross was a substitution for us and for our sins. In fact to be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus even died on the cross at all. It by implication also means that you have to deny that He rose from the grave. The Apostle Paul made it clear that without the resurrection of Jesus, we are to be pitied as people following a lie and are lying about God. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Being a Christian means that you are a follower of Jesus. It is not about having a religion that meets some inner need for spiritual fulfillment through prayer and meditation. It is about an allegiance to Jesus above all else. It is a giving of your life completely and totally to Him. We can talk about God in a generic sense and people will rally around that as being a unifying idea. But we can never speak of God without making sure that we understand who that God is and that our faith is really all about Jesus. As Paul told the Philippians, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Is there a lesson here? I think so. As followers of Christ we must be willing to stand fast on the truth of the supremacy of Jesus. It is the hill we die on. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Mohamed  is not “a way” to God. Neither for that matter is Buddha, or Krishna, or any other human being. Keep your eyes on Jesus. It is He who is the author and finisher of your faith.

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.

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.