Jesus like you

A strange thing happens to the church sometimes. Before we get to that, let’s remember something.

Jesus was a Jewish man. That was his tradition and his lineage. As much as being an American defines so much about who you are and how you see the world, Jesus’ Jewish identity did the same for him. Not only that, in large part, the people he spoke to were Jewish.

In a big way, the Bible speaks to and from a Jewish perspective.

As a result, there is so much nuance in the biblical text you and I can miss. It’s not because God is hiding something from us. And it’s not because it’s beyond our comprehension. Every new generation creates or recreates its own lingo. As natural as that is, it’s bound to cloud our understanding of each other.

Most likely, today, a sixty-year-old is going to have a different interpretation of the phrase “No cap” than a twenty-year-old would. One thinks of truth; the other of headpieces.

In the same way, not being Jewish, we’ll misinterpret and disregard biblical themes because we aren’t always in tune with Jesus’ Jewish mindset. To me, that’s worth repeating. I have had people confess to me what their upbringing led them to think of Jewish people. Somehow, they were able to separate the Jewishness of Jesus from those beliefs. The thought that Jesus was a Jewish man never even crossed their mind.

In those moments of confession, I’ve probed a little. If Jesus wasn’t Jewish, what was he to you? That’s something I’d ask. The response was something like “He was just Jesus.”

What we tend to do is fashion Jesus after ourselves. The Lord begins to sound like us, look like us and care about the things we care about. You know what they say. If it’s too convenient to be true, it probably is.

And when we take this further, we realize that creating Jesus in our image limits how we see others. The church doors aren’t as open as we might believe. This is the strange thing that happens in church.

Those of us who are not Jewish are Gentiles. For Gentiles to be grafted into the family of God is a big deal. The fact that you and I are a part of this faith tradition is what Christ intended, what God desired for all the world. There were plenty others, though, that weren’t so thrilled about the idea.

After the resurrection, the apostles understood the expansion project Jesus commissioned them to. That’s not to say they didn’t struggle with its realities at times, but they recognized God’s love was open to other people. So, they built the most diverse, multicultural force in all history.

And what happens?

Sometimes, those grafted in take a foolish pride in themselves. In turn, they speak lowly of others. They judge outsiders as unworthy, even if they never say those words. They allow others to join their holy organizations, almost as an award to the fortunate ones they may reach.

What happens in the process is that our churches start to look more and more uniform. Everyone looks like me. They sound like me. If we’re really good at what we do, they even vote like me as well.

But that was never God’s intention for the church.

The blessing of Christ brought the grace of God to us. God blesses us by showing us how to repent and live the abundant life of Jesus. The church minimizes that blessing when it withholds it from the world, a world full of others loved by God that just don’t know it yet.

Stay blessed…john

Over-missioned

In the pursuit of effective growth, a large portion of the church learned about mission statements. We valued the wisdom of business gurus who said every organization needed a mission. The best way to get a mission was to form a mission statement.

Of course, the church has a mission. Jesus gave it to us.

But we set out to craft our personalized statements. Several years ago, I did some Internet exploring of church mission statements. I looked at over two hundred congregations from around the U.S. and from various Christian denominations. There were three things that stood out to me.

First, there was a boundary that most churches found themselves. The majority of churches said something about loving God and loving people. They tend to include the word disciple or some sense of following Jesus.

My second observation was a lot of churches get too wordy. We learned about mission statements and then tried to fit everything that sounded churchy into one sentence. Apparently, a lot of churches want to do a lot of things.

Finally, I noticed that many churches have several mission statements. There’s one for the church. The youth group has one. The older adult ministry has a separate mission, as does the women’s ministry and each committee of every possible event.

It feels like our adaptation of the business model needs some tweaking. If you try to do too much, nothing tends to get done. And if everyone is doing their own thing, is it any wonder why churches aren’t focused on what should be our first priority?

In today’s Bible passage, John writes to little children, fathers and young people. I read that to include all people of the church. Little children could be children and/or those who are young in faith. Fathers are those people who have walked with Jesus for a long time. Young people could be those who aren’t quite new to faith but also aren’t seen as the old, wise followers either.

This passage made me think about church mission statements because John’s purpose seems threefold: Know God; know God’s forgiveness; walk in God’s victory.

To me, it comes down to one mission. That is to know God. Depending on where we are in our walk with God, what we need to know about God might be different. But there is still one thing driving our faith.

If it’s hard to determine what’s the one thing driving our faith and ministry today, that’s telling. It could be we’re over-missioned.

There’s your work for this week.

Think about your church. How many mini-missions are running around? Spoken, written or assumed? What’s the one thing your church says they want to do? Do your activities and conversations prove that’s the one thing that matters most? Oh, and does what your church prioritize match what Jesus commissioned us to do?

Stay blessed…john

My first visits

Yesterday, I made my first home communion visits in over a year. I stopped visiting, of course, because of COVID.

Now that it’s been more than two weeks since I was vaccinated, I asked if members would be comfortable with me visiting. They were. I still wore a mask and used hand sanitizer.

What a blessing to see those saints!

Some didn’t remember or recognize me. But they perked up at the name of their church and knew what to do with the bread and cup.

I thank God for those who have loved God and the church. Now that they aren’t able to join the church’s worship or mission, they need the church to be present with them. That’s what these visits are all about.

Stay blessed…john