It is Really All About Jesus

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.

What is the Direction of Your Relationship With Jesus?

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.

Provocative Bible Verses: Is Jesus God?

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.