Good reasons to reject Jesus

A friend shared an opinion piece this week that discussed several reasons Jews don’t accept Jesus as Messiah. It caught my attention because this is a question you’ll hear from time to time in Christian circles. Since Jesus was Jewish and knew Jewish scripture and culture, why don’t those who share his tradition believe in him?

Many followers of Jesus make wrong assumptions about Jewish people who do not. One response I’ve heard repeated is that their allegiance to their faith blinds them to the truth of Jesus. It’s the same reason the Pharisees rejected Jesus. They were too invested in their way of faith. That was the accusation Jesus made toward them.

An unfortunate perception permeates our Christian talk about Jewish beliefs. Many of us think they dismiss Jesus out of defiance of God’s grace. To be sure, many people, Jewish or not, probably do. We all are like that at times.

There are, however, several pointed reasons a Jewish believer may reject Christ as Messiah. I’m not going to bring up all the reasons. I’ll leave that to your own Google search.

But two reasons stand out to me. They connect to each other, and they shape a big part of how I view ministry and discipleship.

The first is a big-picture reason. If Jesus was God’s Messiah then the world should have been redeemed after his anointing. The world, though, is still full of suffering and pain. What’s more, we cannot get through world history without recognizing how Christians have often added to the world’s suffering and pain. That is the second reason.

We tell people to follow Jesus because he is Lord. We also say that he loves us and transforms our lives. Amen! I affirm that with all my faith.

But we can miss how our witness can lead others away from Christ. The way we live matters. Hiding behind the edict that “nobody’s perfect,” we think that others shouldn’t look to us as examples. If people reject Christ, then, they’re rejecting his truth. Not our witness, we assume. That makes them stiff-necked and hard of heart.

Again, maybe they are. I’m not saying people cannot learn about Christ on their own. But neglecting what your personal witness as a believer and our collective witness as a church says to the world does not bring glory to God. And we think it lets us off the hook.

There are sinful, prideful and selfish reasons to reject Christ. Let’s consider, though, there might be good reasons, too. If we haven’t shown the world that a life lived in supposed fear of God isn’t any different than any other life, whose fault is that? What if we’re the ones spewing racist language and hateful commentary? Instead of shining like stars in the world, many of us carelessly and foolishly add to the noise of destruction around us.

Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this more than a few times. You and I don’t get to choose to be a witness to Christ. You are a witness. Period. The only choice you make is what kind of witness you are.

Stay blessed…john

Sex and stuff

We need to talk about sex.

Well, not right now, but it should be a more comfortable topic. This weekend, our online Sunday School delved into 1 Corinthians 6. When you do that, you get around to sexual immorality. Our class leader and I acknowledged the discomfort many Christians have with this conversation.

The old adage was: We don’t smoke. We don’t chew. We don’t run with those who do.

I’d add to that: And we don’t talk about sex.

The problem with that is the world is talking about it. If you pretend to not have opinions or don’t make room for those with questions about such matters, where do you think they’ll find answers?

That was the point I made. I see it all the time with young people.

We don’t make it a priority to offer Christ-centered answers about matters like sex because we’re so uncomfortable with the topic. When our young people find their answers in their music or media, because they will, we blame the young people and the media for what they learn.

Confession.

I was never going to talk about sex in today’s devotional, but it got your attention!. The larger issue I want to reflect on is our willingness to open avenues for people to question.

What do people have questions about?

Sex and stuff. Really, everything!

Now, maybe I’m wrong. The way I see it, we’ve done our best to keep inquisitive minds treed up where they cannot spread their doubt or confusions. In many ways, our response to such people is, “Here’s your answer. Here’s your only answer.”

If we want to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation with newer generations, we’re going to need to rethink our approach to their questions. 

On the liturgical calendar, March 25th marks the Annunciation of the Lord. Read Luke 1 and you’ll find bits of everything we’ve already talked about today. There’s the announcement of God’s work in Jesus–that’s the reconciliation. There’s Mary–she’s young. And March 25th is nine months before December 25–in a weird way, there’s the sex part.

There’s also something else.

Many Christians look to Mary as a perfect example of obedience to God. She is among some of the most prominent people of scripture who responded to God with, “Here I am.” Abraham, Jacob and Moses did and they stand as spiritual giants of our faith. Mary’s response was the same as theirs. She’s right there with them.

Do you know what she did before her Here-I-Am proclamation?

She questioned.

First, she pondered in her heart the angel’s greeting. When the angel announced God’s plan for Christ’s birth, she questioned him, saying, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

I’d like us to imagine how we can help one another by making difficult conversations less rare. Some of these conversations will probably never be less awkward, but there is a way to lovingly walking with others as they share their questions and even their doubts.

I’m not an alarmist. But I do recognize our unwillingness to do so will hamper our ability to share Christ with the world.

We’ll have to concede our own shortcomings and discomforts along the way. But don’t worry. Growth happens when we do that together.

Stay blessed…john

The gift and mission

Eternal life is both a gift and a mission.

It was a mission for Jesus. Our Lord knew God sent him to proclaim eternal life. That mission was the fulfillment of all God’s law.

Remember that powerful text from Deuteronomy. In it God says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

God offered life to the people of God. We know that sometimes they took advantage of such a promise and other times they squandered it. They didn’t listen to the prophets’ words. Time and time again they turned to their selfish ways. That’s just like us.

In the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to offer a completed promise: eternal life.
Jesus understood and made it clear that God’s purpose for his life was to share that message. And so he did.

He did when people loved what he had to say. He did so when people wanted to throw him off a cliff. He did as more and more people followed him and as he was executed on a cross.

Eternal life was Christ’s mission and it is our gift.

People assume I love my name so much that I chose John as my favorite book of the Bible. Yes, that would be a John thing to do. After all, John refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Growing up, I always wanted a more flashy name. John sounded pretty boring and I never thought of myself as boring.

Then I understood the meaning of the name: Yahweh has been gracious. There’s nothing boring about that!

I love the book of John because it centers on eternal life. And who am I without that? God has been too good for me to not accept such a gift. 

Eternal life, then, remains both a mission and a gift.

Christ offered us eternal life. We received it; we receive it every time we pray. Now, his mission becomes ours. Just as Jesus used signs to show that he was God’s promise, we have signs, too, that point to Jesus.

We may not walk on water, but we forgive. We do so because the love of God compels us. Besides, actually forgiving someone these days may be more of a miracle. We may not be able to make a blind man see, but we can offer compassion and care for him. You and I may never see complete freedom and equity for all people, but we can stand up for the people we do know who face oppression and persecution now.

And our mission isn’t predicated on whether people believe us or not. Again, Jesus took his mission to the cross. We share the news of eternal life simply because it’s the gift we have received.

Stay blessed…john