Tag Archive for Jesus

10 Faces of Jesus

Our culture presents us with so many versions of Jesus, letting us make Him in our own image. Maybe you’ve come to depend on a false Jesus and didn’t even realize it. If you are struggling to find peace, read about these false Jesuses with an open mind. Consider what Jesus said about Himself, and test your beliefs against the truth from Scripture. Here are 10 false Jesuses we keep falling for:

1. Mean Jesus
Perhaps this image of Jesus comes from social media and the rants we see from devoted churchgoers. Maybe it is our constant news sources bickering over who is better. Or it could be you had a hellfire and brimstone pastor growing up, and this became your earliest depiction of Jesus — mean and angry, full of wrath, ranting and raging about how sin would destroy you. But balance this image of Jesus with the story of the little children gathering to him, with his compassion for the sisters of Lazarus, with his acceptance of the woman at the well. While Jesus called out sin when He saw it, He was never cruel. Jesus, the lamb, went to slaughter so that you would be free.

2. Political Jesus
How would Jesus vote? Since there were no Democrats or Republicans in His day, we don’t know. What we do know is that He loved. The side He took was the side of those in need. Today, we are all in need in one form or another, and we all need Him. As a believer in Jesus Christ, He is on your team. He is for you. He is for your redemption. He is for your sanctification. He died for you while you still sinned. Right or left, wrong or right, He is for you. He is patient with us as we learn and grow and understands the frustrations that we face. He walks with us through the valleys, and He delights in our newfound wisdom and growth.

3. Genie in a Bottle Jesus
Your wish is not necessarily His command. We’re often mystified when we clasp our hands tightly together and summon Jesus to answer our every request and nothing happens. We become deflated by what we believe is unanswered prayer, allowing our faith to increase or decrease by what we perceive. If you’re a parent, chances are you desire a good relationship with your child. But if your child asks for $10 and you say no, does that mean they stop believing in you and the relationship is destroyed? Of course not. In the same way, you must consider what you are asking of Jesus. What are your expectations? And are you still going to believe in Him even when you don’t get your way?

4. I’ll Teach You Jesus
Imagine what your relationship with your child would look like if these were some of the requirements: You will meet me at 5 every morning, I don’t care if you didn’t sleep. Now tell me what you want. I may or may not give it to you. If you have been completely impossible to deal with, I might sprain your ankle or give you a brain tumor to teach you something. Laughable? Sure. But how many of us believe in this works-based and punishment-loving Jesus? He died while we still sinned. He came to bind up the brokenhearted, not break our hearts and spirits to keep us in line.

5. You Can Take It Jesus
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Do I look like I can handle cancer? Or bankruptcy, a natural disaster or the death of a child? Do I even look like I could handle an itchy rash? Scripture teaches that we can’t handle anything apart from Christ. Far from doling out sickness or discomfort or tragedy, He promises to be with us in times of need. In our weakness, He shows Himself strong.

6. I Couldn’t Care Less Jesus
Sometimes we feel like He is nowhere to be found. We call, and there is no answer. This Jesus is not the compassionate Christ who laid down His life for ours. Still, in times of heartache, it is hard to understand why He doesn’t answer. He has shown me it is OK to question Him. My most favorite prayer in these seasons? “Lord, help my unbelief.” A relationship with Jesus is a journey.

There will be ups and downs. He can take the heat — He proved that through the cross. It is OK to ask why. He always shows up, every time. Ask, seek, knock. He will answer.

7. Church Jesus
“The Law is Holy and Good, but it doesn’t make me Holy and Good,” says author and teacher Tricia Gunn. No matter how good a church and its teaching of the Word of God, it does not make me holy. Paul reminds us, do not neglect the assembly (Hebrews 10:25). Yes, hold each other up, hold each other accountable, and by all means encourage one another. But if the pew is shaken, guess what shouldn’t be? You and Jesus. Your relationship with Jesus is separate and not dependent on the church. No matter what unexpected challenges happen in the church, you and Jesus should still be on solid ground. The church is made up of imperfect people, while Jesus is perfect and holy.

8. Rule-Play Jesus
This Jesus and I have been super tight for many years. I obeyed all the rules. I even laminated a list and used color-coordinated markers to check off my accomplishments, believing they counted me worthy. Beloved, salvation is the Cross plus nothing. The thief on the cross was asked only to believe. There was really nothing left for him to do. He couldn’t attend a service, memorize Scripture, sing in the choir, take a meal to a neighbor, volunteer or wash the altar clothes. He was made righteous because he said yes to Jesus. There was no other requirement to fulfill. There is nothing that can make the perfected work of the Cross any more perfect. Your yes to Jesus counts you as righteous. Toss out the rules of religiosity and bask in the refreshment of relationship.

9. Confused Jesus
A couple of years ago I went to a pastor and asked some questions about the Sermon on the Mount. The pastor laughed and said, “Yes, ours is not to understand. Ours is just to obey. Jesus was a confusing guy.” I lived with this, heavy on my heart. It would be two more years before I heard a sermon by another pastor and was undone by the revelation that Jesus was not confusing. Jesus fulfilled the Law and set us free from this heavy burden of condemnation. Jesus died to set me free. There is nothing confusing about this. We walk free from condemnation in the grip of grace.

10. If/Then Jesus
This is the most elusive and deceptive Jesus. If I do such and such, then Christ will do what I expect. But Jesus cannot be manipulated, and our works do not make Him move. Our good deeds do not make him love us more. And most importantly, nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. The belief that “If I do or do not do, then Jesus will or won’t do” is a Jesus of colossal works. This Jesus keeps us in bondage to busyness and striving that keeps us apart from the good nature of a Jesus who just simply loves. He loved perfectly so that we might be together for eternity. That was all. Simply Jesus.

Was there a twinge or flutter in your spirit? One that said, “Oh, that is the Jesus I have been serving?” I know as I came to a place of knowing and loving the real Jesus I saw pieces of the false Jesuses falling away and more of His natural and good character shining through. Will you pray this prayer with me? “Jesus, I said yes to you. I want only you. The real you. All of you. You promised that if I seek I will find. Help me seek the truth and keep my eyes wholly fixated on the true you. Amen.”

Jami Amerine, M.Ed., is author of “Stolen Jesus an Unconventional Search for the Real Saviour”

RELIGION and RITUAL

The crowd stands and sings the national anthem. Someone throws out the first pitch. People wear goofy outfits, take a seventh-inning stretch, sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, and buy overpriced hot dogs. Most of them will never know that what they are doing is religion.

A nonbeliever asks, “Why do Christians need to do all these rituals, like Communion? Why don’t they just preach what they believe?” The ball game comes to mind with thirty thousand people or more singing, reciting creeds or pledges, and feeling a sense of unity — even with the opposing team — as they sing about buying “peanuts and Cracker Jack”. It must have been similar more than two and-a-half millennia ago, when the ancient Greeks gathered for the first Olympics, a series of games and rituals designed to give glory to their gods. Rituals are simply what human beings do. They make us feel close to one another and to God. They take away our guilt. They comfort us in times of stress. They remind people of what they believe, and teach them the values of their culture. Regardless of which team we root for, we love the game itself; and we don’t care if we ever go back.

It must have been the same way in the temple. The psalmist says that one day in the temple courts is better than a thousand elsewhere, and he envies even the sparrow who makes its nest in a corner of the building (Psalm 84). This was the place where people could come to formally wipe the slate clean, to start their relationships with God over again.

We are far away from the smoky slaughterhouse smell of the ancient temple, the sound of bells and the bleating of sheep. Our Christian churches have a different smell: wood polish and flowers, carpet and candles. So when the author of Hebrews starts talking about high priests, blood, goats, bulls and sacrifice, some of us have a hard time relating. We’re much more comfortable with baseball and the Olympics.

Blood has always been a symbol of both life and death. The ancient Israelites believed that a creature’s life-force was in its blood, and therefore blood was holy to God. If someone was murdered, God was supposed to be able to hear their blood crying from the ground. If you killed an animal for food, you were forbidden to drink its blood; instead, you had to offer its blood back to God. When the Hebrews escaped from Egypt on the night of Passover, the Hebrews painted their doors with the blood of a lamb so that the angel of death would know which houses to avoid and pass over.

When we sing about fountains filled with blood and about being washed in the blood of the Lamb, it is best not to actually try to picture such things. A fountain filled with blood? It sounds like a scene from a horror movie! Yet we have hymns like, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus”. This fascination with blood seems pretty grisly, but in the ancient world, blood was viewed as the divine source of life.

Actually we haven’t come so far in our thinking. We still say someone is hot-blooded if they are passionate; we refer to a cold-blooded killer or a blue-blooded noble. We ascribe cultural attributes to blood: “He has Irish (or Native American or African) blood”; we speak of people having musical or athletic talent “in their blood”. It’s the stuff that beats through our hearts and fuels our passions. Abraham Lincoln had the audacity to stand up at the podium at Gettysburg and call a battlefield holy, because it had been hallowed with the spilled blood of fallen soldiers. Pouring out his life willingly, Jesus enacted an ancient ritual that changes who we are.

Sometimes Christians, hearing so often about how Christ takes our place on the cross, think that sacrifice and punishment are the same thing. It’s important to remember that the animals slaughtered on temple altar were not being punished for the sins of the people. When we talk about Jesus as “the perfect sacrifice for our sins”, it does not mean that someone had to be killed in order to appease an angry God’s thirst for vengeance. It’s something far deeper — a blood ritual that reminds us of where life comes from and where it goes.

Jesus’ death on the cross was more than just a terrible injustice. It was more than just an inspiring act of nonviolent resistance. It was more than a ritual that makes us feel better. It was cosmic. It altered the very fabric of reality. Jesus’ action of offering his own blood — that divine, life-giving substance — somehow made possible a new relationship between human beings and God. Our faith is not in a set of rituals and dramatic actions that make us feel better. Our faith is in a God who has acted once and for all on our behalf.

So we are invited to imagine Jesus as the cosmic priest, performing a glorious ritual outside of time. The cross becomes not merely an ugly upright pole upon which Jesus is nailed. It is an altar; crude but beautiful, surrounded with the smoke of incense. Although we may see Jesus bound, naked and bloody; when we look through the eyes of the ancients, Jesus wears the robe of a priest, and he ascends the steps to the altar of his own free will. The blood falling from his wrists, side, and torn back is no longer a reminder of pain and injustice, but the life-giving substance that Jesus offers back to God — his own essence and life-force — and by doing, so he purifies the world. Watching this spectacle are not only his mother and a few courageous followers but every human being who has ever lived and who will ever walk our planet. Like the crowd at the baseball game, root, root, rooting for their home team, those standing around the cross and watching the execution of Jesus have no idea that what they are doing is religion.

World AIDS Day – Into the Light

December 1 marks World AIDS Day and the start of this year’s Advent season. “Comfort, yes, comfort my people, says your God,” (Isaiah 40:1).

In the most neglected regions of the world where the HIV epidemic has raged for over 30 years, the reality of this epidemic is evident with its disproportionate impact on children. The number of children affected by the HIV epidemic increases each year almost as if the numbers are simply meant to convey what we already know — that not much is being done to care for those who are orphaned or to slow one of the most neglected complications of the HIV epidemic.

As one looks into the faces of the orphaned children, one wonders what they are thinking as they struggle each day to survive. What is it like, to get up as the sun rises and realize that it is unlikely there will be enough food for the day, or that you will again stand and watch all the other children go to school with their books and uniforms while you remain still and staring. When they look at any visitor, do they see an individual who might, just might, change their daily lives and their future. Or maybe they have gotten so used to visitors from foreign lands who come, look, listen and then never return, that their hopes never reach the level that creates disappointment. These orphans are frequently the most impoverished, and yet, somehow, they manage a smile that breaks through their obvious poverty. It’s moving to see so many orphans in need and to watch individual children jockeying to the front to get a space where they will be more visible to the visitors. It reminds one of the scene in the movie Cider House Rules adapted from the 1985 novel by John Irving, where the orphan children line up waiting to be adopted and shout out to the potential parents, “Look at me, look at me.” Today the HIV orphan epidemic needs to be made visible and needs to be seen as individual children who deserve the love and care that all children long for.

On this year’s World AIDS Day we continue to worry more than ever about the HIV orphan epidemic. Perhaps we shouldn’t. Maybe some big international organization or some large non-government organization or a benevolent government will take up the cause. But in reality there are too many orphans and so someone’s got to worry, and in fact, a lot more people need to be moved to worry. We all need to recognize that there is an entire generation of children orphaned by the HIV epidemic that are in desperate need of being rescued. Just as Jesus recognized the potential of the children who sat at his feet and refused to send them away as his disciples urged, we need to acknowledge that orphans are also welcomed inhabitants into the kingdom of heaven.

In 2013 the orphan crisis looms large. So large, in fact, that many will turn their eyes away, overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. Currently it is estimated that there are over 16 million orphans worldwide, with 6 million added to that number each year. Fewer than 20% of the orphans are infected with HIV. The majority have escaped HIV infection but not orphanhood. In two to three years there will be more orphans as a result of the HIV epidemic than there are adults living with HIV.

Every life is important, but over the last decades the priorities for the HIV epidemic have been to provide education to adults to help them to protect themselves from getting HIV infection, or if they are already infected, to provide them with drugs to control their infection so that they will have a normal life expectancy. All this is extremely important. But the orphan crisis is a direct consequence of placing their needs at an unacceptably low priority. Children do not choose to become orphans of the epidemic, nor is there a magic medicine that will erase their orphan status.

Worrying is the beginning. There’s a lot that we can and should do. Women need to be protected from unwanted HIV infection that destroys their lives and that of their family. If infected, they need access to life-saving medicines to keep them healthy so that they can provide for their children and prevent them from becoming orphans in the first place. Pregnant women can also be given medicines to keep the virus from being transmitted to their infants. Advocacy is required to protect women from physical violence, the major source of unwanted HIV infection. Donations will help provide medicines to keep mothers healthy and prevent children from becoming infected. Donations can also purchase food to provide severely malnourished children with nutrition so that the medicines work. This can be done for one orphan, or for two, or for five, or for 10, or even for 100 children, providing orphans with the comfort that there are individuals who believe that they have a responsibility to care for the widows and the orphans of this world.

The severity of the orphan crisis may not be on the radar screen of all of the big organizations or for that matter most Christians. Orphans need advocates because they cannot advocate for themselves. Any new direction will not come from inside the political process. Politicians love to make speeches about families and children, but when they get back to Ottawa and budget battles, kids are the last to cross their minds. Kids don’t vote. And political leaders respond to three things: threats to their re-election, potential embarrassment in the media, and the promise of campaign contributions. Children don’t make campaign contributions, and many of their parents are too busy struggling to make ends meet to get involved in campaigns. If change is to come, it will happen because people like you respond in an aggressive, sustained, and even outraged way.

We are in good company when we advocate for orphans. We join with God, the prophets and Jesus in urging the Christian community to care for the widows and the orphans of this present world. It will be a tragedy if the Christian community looks back years from now and says that more should been done to rescue the oppressed.

In Isaiah chapter 40:11 we read, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” In the flock I see not just individuals, couples and families. I also see widows and orphans. God has given us the privilege of gathering them together and bringing them close to his heart. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27.

  

ABOUT THE LIGHT

It’s always been about the light with you,

hasn’t it, Jesus?

Magi, braving distance and desert to find you,

and bewildered shepherds, compelled by an angel’s invitation,

allowed light to be their guide,

And it is still the light that calls us to you;

the light of beauty that whispers its truth

in surprising ways and places;

the light of compassion that kneels,

and washes road-soiled, life-battered feet;

the light of joy that glows

even in the darkness of grief and suffering;

the light that seeks to shine within us,

and through us into the dark corners of our world.

It’s always been about the light with you, Jesus;

and its always about the light for us.

Please lead us, now and always, out of darkness

and into your marvellous light.

                  … John van de Laar