Who is Jesus, Really?

Matthew 16:13-16, “”13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

One thing was true – whever Jesus went people were always talking about Him. He always found a a way to draw large crowds to hear Him speak – even to his disciples. People recognized that the miracles He could do meant that He was here with God’s blessing.

When people said that He was John the Baptist – they expected him to pave the way for the next guy.
When people said that He was Elijah – they expected an even greater show of God’s power against His enemies.
When people said that He was Jeremiah – the expected Him to speak to the nations of and surrounding Israel.
When people said that He was one of the prophets – they expected him to bring a message from God.
When Simon Peter said that He was the Messiah, the Son of the living God – he expected Him to be the anointed one, the future king who would ultimately bring peace to the world and restore the Jewish people.

Perhaps this is why he fought so hard to keep Jesus from being arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane – going so far as to chop off a servant’s ear during an altercation. Perhaps this is why he followed Jesus, even to the proceedings – where he would deny that he even knew Jesus three times. Perhaps this is why he ran to the tomb of Jesus a few days after his death on the cross. Perhaps this is why Simon Peter got the chance to speak to the post-Resurrection Jesus about his love and the future of his ministry in Jesus’ name. And what a ministry it was! He was called to speak with Cornelius – a centurion who believed in God, He helped the others to accept the Gentiles into the Christian faith, and He later wrote the letters we now know as the books of 1st and 2nd Peter.

So who is Jesus? My teacher who prepared me to learn about the Holy Spirit. My priest who showed me God’s power. My representative whose foreign policy is without equal. My instructor who always has a word from God that I need to hear. My King whose kingdom is at hand. My friend who will never betray me. My substitute who took the punishment I rightfully deserved. My everything – and more.

What does it mean to you to be a Christian?

I’ve been thinking about this question. It’s the sort of thing that I never get asked because the people around me either all consider themselves to be Christians our would never presume to approach the topic of religion – especially when it crosses from general areas of conversation to personal stories.

First though, we need to figure out the origin of that term, Acts 11:19-26, “19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Lest we forget – Saul, soon to be known as Paul, had lent a helping hand in more ways than one when Stephen was stoned. Here we find out that the believers of The Way took to the road telling everybody they met about the good news of the gospel – there was one way to salvation – through belief in Jesus Christ. Here the grace of God went out to all – including Gentiles and Saul himself who spent a year here meeting with the early church. If you look at Galatians 2:11-21, you can see one incident that profoundly affected the early Christians who were still trying to figure out just what it meant to believe in Jesus Christ.

To be a Christian, to me, is to believe that one man died so I could live forever – and that He rose again so my death would be more of a temporary condition and not an everlasting one. It’s to believe that I belong to a tradition of people who have true hope in the most hopeless of times. It’s to believe that I shouldn’t put myself above the well-being of others. It’s to believe that as small as I am, I’m a precious daughter to God – whose love for me is as profound as the depths of the ocean and the heights of the mountains and the beauty of everything in-between.

Excel

2 Corinthians 8:1-7, “1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

When was the last time that a church gave God the occasion to brag about His people? It’s easy to glaze over a passage and miss all the little miracles. Let’s start with the Macedonian churches. From this passage, we can gather that we’re talking about more than once church building in the area of Northern Greece. We know that they were facing “a very severe trial”, possibly some sort of persecution. We also know for a fact that they were extremely poor. This didn’t deter them from being joyful, generous, and down-right Godly people.

Now Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, who are by contrast, a bustling center of trade where many cultures have come to call home. There is a reason why they deserved not just one letter to set things right, but two. They certainly sound as if they’re getting along well, excelling in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love – but they haven’t quite gotten the giving part down just yet.

Are we any different? We could draw some parallels between the Corinthian and American churches, but I can’t name a modern church that I could compare with the Macedonian ones. It’s time to learn how to excel in the grace of giving, fortunately with this economy we have more opportunity than ever before.

Loving ourselves less and others more

(We’ve had two birthdays to celebrate this week – so we’re trying not to over-do it on sweets for now. We have pretty much everything gathered for Thanksgiving. Just recently, we’ve discovered a documentary about using Christian principles in – of all things – gardening. It sounds promising, but to apply what we’ve learned will neither be cheap, quick, nor easy. Meanwhile, I’m try to implement good habits – the last time I sort of fell off of the bandwagon and I’m almost back to the point where I was just in time to try not to fall off again. Anyway, I don’t really have anything to say.)

I’ve lived in a few states and in twice as many cities. I’ve been to many churches over the years and I can’t help but think that so many of us have allowed ourselves to be tricked into thinking that things are different than they actually are. We live in a way that is disconnected from the world and from each other. We should never treat another human being as if they are nothing – they were obviously valuable enough to God be worth sending His son to die so that they ( and you, too) might be saved. Walking on as if they are invisible to us doesn’t go unnoticed by God, who asks that we simply relate to one another on a basic level. (We can work on up to friendship later on, once you have that part down.) We shouldn’t see others as – “Just what we need to make our college applications / job resumes look good.” We should see them as individuals who are loved by God, who deserve to have their basic needs met, and a hand up so that in turn they can help others once our time is up.

When it comes to what we own, we have turned the tables so that our possessions own us. We’re a nation that is in debt, we’re families that are in debt, and we are churches that are in debt – these chains will keep us from going very far or doing very much to glorify God who has given us so much more than we can ever imagine. I remember reading about a book where an average family was asked to take a picture of the food they usually buy when they go shopping and to have another picture taken of all of their possessions laying in the front yard of their houses. In some of the poorer countries of the world you could describe both pictures as “not much” – but when you look at the pictures of the average American family you can see that not only did they get the necessities – fruit, vegetables, meat, pasta and bread items – but they could afford soda pop, chips, snack cakes and other ‘junk’ food. The pictures just oozed “excess”. What if Americans learned to not waste our “extra” on “junk” but to help our poorer brothers and sisters worldwide get three square meals a day? Could we also help cut the horrible statistic – 1/7 not getting enough food to eat – by half or more?

Worse of all – we just assume that others have it all figured out for themselves. We never stop them to ask if they know Jesus. If they’ve heard about the difference between Heaven and Hell. (I’m certain that there won’t be any good parties going on in the latter.) So many people think “Hey, I’ve been pretty good all my life. I don’t do anything out of the normal. I even behave myself. I have friends that are way out there – but I’m all good.” Good isn’t anywhere near good enough – some of the very best good people can’t earn their way into heaven, why would you be an exception?

The truth is that it all boils down to:
 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

John had quite a bit to say about love:
 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12)

Owe

Romans 13:8-10, “8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The chains of debt weigh heavily upon its captives. It keeps the individual bound to pay a price that is designed to charge them as little as possible for as long as possible. It trips up the church whose debt for it’s buildings cannot be met by its debt ridden regulars. It forces nations to make decisions that will not strengthen the status of the generations to come. Our whole world is in debt, we’re financially sinking. My pastor says, “If you do what everybody else is doing, you’re going to get what everybody else got.” It certainly isn’t pretty. Let us stop owing money and start paying down that debt of love before we forget what love really means.

Sent

Romans 10:14-15, “”14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I like this verse – if you look at it backwards you would have: “How can anyone preach unless they are sent [to the lost]? How can [the lost] hear without someone preaching to them? How can [the lost] believe in the one of whom they have not heard? How can [the lost] call on the one they have not believed in?”

I know that most people think that they are good. They haven’t done anything particularly bad, lately. They’re as honest as they can be without hurting other people’s feelings and doing whatever it takes to get by. The thing of it is that even the world’s best philanthropist or most caring political figure can’t do enough good to earn their way into Heaven – none of us can. Our salvation depends upon us calling upon the Lord for salvation, having heard about the Lord from somebody preaching to us, and somebody being sent to preach to us.

We see this situation played out in the Book of Acts, where in chapters 10 and 11 the Lord tells Cornelius to send for Simon Peter and He sends Simon Peter to speak to Cornelius. Cornelius already loved God – but he needed to hear the truth in order to be saved. I think there are lots of us out there that are pretty much in the same boat – we love God, but we don’t know the truth that leads to salvation. It’s time to send for a preacher.

You don’t say …

We have so much going on in the day that how our actions make another person feel is below our concern – or so many people seem to think. Every action we take can break a person’s heart, wound their spirit, drag them down emotionally – and can a toll over the long term. I remember that old rhyme, “Sticks and stones / May break my bones / But words will never hurt me.”

It’s wrong you know, words do hurt people. They can cut down to the core and wound the spirit of a person. But there are some powerful words that are strong enough to heal such wounds.

“I’m sorry.”
“You’re forgiven.”
“I love you.”

These are the words we don’t say nearly enough.

James 3:9-12, “9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Let us strive to be a blessing and speak blessings to those around us – it certainly can’t hurt.