Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jesus, Rob Bell and the Pharisees

Lately I have been personally challenged to rethink much of what goes on in "church" today. For too long I, like many others, had taken many things at face value rather than weighing them against the only anchor that we have for Truth, the Bible. As a result of my journey, I believe that there is a lot being done in the name of Jesus that He probably would not want His name associated with. I could go into a long explanation here, but quite frankly I am a bit tired and that is not the purpose of this post.

What I want to say is that I am not surprised in the least bit that many people today are walking away from the institutionalized "church". Religion has done a lot of damage in our day and there are many people, pastors and ministries that have given Christ and His Church a bad name. As a result there are scores of people who have become disillusioned with the organized "church".

That being said, I am not one who has lost hope. In fact I believe that there are those of us who God has called to help renew hope in our day. Not hope in religion or hope in the institutionalized church, but hope in Christ and His Church. When I say "His Church", I mean His people, those who are His followers and who live out the very example of love that He set before us. It is our responsibility to represent Him and we should represent Him well.

A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, and ask him a few questions. Although I may not agree with everything he says, writes or preaches, I must admit that I am in agreement with his answer to my question below...

As a pastor what would you say to someone who has become disillusioned with organized church or what they have seen of Christianity?

I would wager that the things that most turn them off are the things that most turn Jesus off. There is not one instance in Jesus’ teachings where he gets angry with somebody who isn’t a follower of his or someone who doesn’t love God. His anger is always for religious people who claim to speak for God but live in another way.

So if you find hypocrisy absolutely revolting so did Jesus. If you find people who think they are the moral police of culture repulsive, so did Jesus. If you find people who are ready to throw stones at the next sinner very hard to take, so did Jesus. And if you think that people who use Jesus to accumulate political power, to coerce people to live according to their laws, well Jesus had a problem with such things as well. I would say that your anger is shared by Jesus. He’s angered by all the same things.

Maybe it's hard for you to think of Jesus being angered by these things. I have been reading through the gospel of Mark recently and I found it interesting that on more than one occasion, Jesus did get angry at the stubborn, hypocritical religious people of His day. Read Mark 3:1-6 and you will see Jesus frustrated and angry with these people.

It is important for us to realize that Jesus was angry but never sinned. It's O.K. if legalistic people frustrate you. There is nothing wrong with being angry when people represent Jesus in ways that would not be true to His character or teaching. The key is to heed the words of Paul in Eph. 4:26, "...In your anger do not sin."

So when we meet people who have written off Christianity or have given up on the church we must be very slow to judge. They may be frustrated by some of the very things that frustrated Jesus. For this reason I would suggest that we follow His example. He showed unconditional love to all people and never once compromised the Truth. Truth expressed in love makes all the difference.

May we be people who hold fast to the Truth and love those who are desperately in need of it!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Codename Jesus

I know very well the Bible verses that talk about the opportunity that we have to represent Jesus to people around us. The Apostle Paul says that we are ambassadors (representatives) of Christ. Jesus' followers were even referred to as Christians, which literally meant "little Christ". Then there are people who will say things like "you may be the only Jesus that those people will ever see..."

I believe all of this to be true but even so, I must admit that there are times that I forget the deep reality of this. Do you know what I mean? You believe something to be true, try to live it out, and maybe even teach it to others but somehow you lose the depth of the reality of that particular truth. Then God does something to remind you in a powerful way just how real it is.

That is what happened to me today. I had the opportunity to sit and listen to testimonies of How God had used regular people to show Himself to others in the midst of difficulty, pain and struggle. One woman shared the names of those who had really been a blessing to her and went on to say that they were really just codenames for Jesus. In other words it was Jesus who met her in her time of need and He did it through these individuals.

Wow! Now that brings the reality of this truth home in a powerful way. When you hear something like that and see a person who has experienced the love of God expressed through His people, you cannot help but be both encouraged and challenged.

It is true that God still uses people today to accomplish His purposes! He often reaches out through regular, everyday people just like me and you. That being said, I can't think of anything more challenging. Not only do we have an opportunity to make an impact but we have a responsibility to do so. As those who know and follow Christ, we must consider the importance of how we use our time, gifts and talents.

Are we available to be used by Him? Do we make a point of purposely building relationships with those God has put around us? Lastly, is there anyone we know who might say that _______ _______ (fill in your name) is really just a codename for Jesus in my life? I am challenged to pray and strive to be this kind of person.