This is the third post, after Richard Jacobson’s, and Keith Giles’, in a blogalogue on the topic of “Encountering Jesus: Inside and Outside the Meeting”.
Talking About Jesus
I had a conversation recently with a fellow who is well-connected in the Christian scene here. He knows and interacts with leaders of the various gatherings of believers, preaches occasionally, and generally has a good grasp on the big picture of what’s happening in the Christian world in Corvallis. I try to understand the big picture, too, so I like to talk to him when I have the opportunity.
The conversation the other day started in a curious way. After brief greetings, he started talking about the mass movements of Israeli citizens back to Jerusalem.
I was a bit surprised he had jumped in there. He talked more, and I asked some questions to get a better idea of his interest, and finally I remarked that I was discouraged that so often people put their focus on world events rather than on Jesus.
He said that everything that is happening is about Jesus, and that Christians are not misdirecting their attention when they are tracking the goings-on in the Middle East. I really didn’t want to talk about what was going on in Israel right then, especially if it was going to turn into a debate, so I held up my hand and said that I really wanted to talk about what he was seeing Jesus doing in our city.
He began telling me about how the uptick in deaths of the Boomer generation was affecting people, about increased interest in the subject of suffering, about shifts in leadership in the various church gatherings as older leaders were retiring, and about the dramatic decrease in giving to Christian organizations of all types.
Interesting stuff, all. But, I wonder if any of that is about what Jesus is doing, or if is just about the status of the Christian machinery in our city.
So, what does it mean to be focused on Jesus?
I’ve been mulling over that bit of the Gospel of John that we call the Upper Room Discourse. In chapters 13 through 17, Jesus gives a long, almost unbroken monologue, in which he talks much about what was coming immediately (the cross), and what would follow. He sought to encourage his disciples, and to give them the layout of the new territory they would be entering.
In John chapter 14, Jesus is talking to his disciples – these guys who have been listening and watching intently for a long time. He tells them “…where I go you know, and the way you know.” To which Thomas responds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?”, setting Jesus up for that memorable declaration: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
More remarkable to me, or at least more curious, is what Jesus says a few verses earlier. In responding to Peter’s consternation that Jesus would be going somewhere that Peter would not be able to follow (John 13:36-38), he says in John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And, if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
This bit is often taken to mean that someday Jesus will return and take us to a wonderfully prepared heaven. But, I don’t think that’s what’s in view. I think Jesus is talking about going to the cross to prepare a place in God’s house for all who trust in him; a place in the very walls of God’s house, as living stones being built into a temple, a dwelling place for God. Jesus has received us to himself. Where his people are, he is. (Eph 2, 1 Pet 2)
To be focused on Jesus, we need to get that. Jesus is in his people. And, he is entirely about seeing his people being conformed into his image, not just individually, but corporately, so that God in all his beauty is made manifest to the world. Together we are his dwelling place, and together we glorify God.
This requires that we shift our gaze from world events and ponderings about how the end-times are going to unfold, to give our attention to the people around us. We need to see that the little kingdoms that have been constructed – the little Christian kingdoms, even – are a distraction from the kingdom. We need to see that our dividing and denominating and forming cliques puts us at odds with God’s intentions.
Street Level Focus
From where I am sitting and typing this, within a half-mile radius there are six church buildings representing at least ten congregations. The denominations include Evangelical Free, Foursquare, Presbyterian, Baptist (x2), Church of Christ, and Assemblies of God, along with a Spanish-speaking Foursquare, a Korean Presbyterian, and a Chinese (Baptist?) congregation.
There is little interaction amongst the attendees of these buildings, and the majority of these attendees travel to their building of choice from out of the neighborhood. And, of course many of the Christians that live in the neighborhood travel out to go to some other building.
There are a lot of Christian buildings visible in my neighborhood, but I don’t know that there’s a lot of Jesus visible.
How do we shift that? How do I, and other Christians around me, focus on Jesus? At a street level, I think that focusing on Jesus means seeking to make connections with all those around me who affirm him as Lord.
It means encouraging them, and bearing with them. It means speaking words of truth to each other, teaching and learning. It means confession and forgiveness, loving and serving. It means doing these things without respect to position or ethnicity, breaking down barriers in ways that demonstrate to a watching world that Jesus, indeed, is Lord.
For this to be visible, it will happen outside of church buildings, spilling over into houses and yards and parks. It might mean that rather than a once-a-week gathering, we are connecting in simpler ways more often.
For the building to grow, the living stones must be available. For Jesus to be Lord of the neighborhood, he must be Lord over me.
I have an individual relationship with God through Jesus. I have the ability to listen and follow, or not. I can spend time reading, listening, and praying, or not.
But my personal focus on Jesus, if it doesn’t translate into interaction with others, is of limited value. For good or ill, my individual relationship affects others, and others affect my relationship with God.
Walking It Out
I’m challenged by my own observations. It is much easier to ‘focus on Jesus’ by reading news, doing word studies, attending religious events, and working through checklists. It is much more comfortable to find ‘like-minded’ Christians to gather with, wherever that may be. But I don’t think those easier, more comfortable approaches will get us where we want to go, if we want to really focus on Jesus.
Here are some ways I’m seeking to walk out a renewed focus on Jesus:
- Deepen my personal interaction with Jesus, recognizing that it is not about knowing things, but knowing him, and that everything centers on knowing him.
- Get really, really local, and apply all of this first with my nearest neighbors – my family.
- Be present, with my family, in my neighborhood. Get to know our neighbors.
- Connect intentionally with other Christians in my neighborhood and workplace, keeping in mind the many ‘one-another’ passages.
- If there are reasons to continue going to a church building, recognize that the people there are just part of the church. There’s only one church in Corvallis.
- Look for ways to encourage other believers, including the leaders of the various congregations in the area, to connect with each other.
I am a ragged work in progress. I’m only on the edges of walking all this out. I’m continually thankful for the long-suffering grace of God, and continually thankful for those who encourage me along the way.
What do you think? Can a focus on Jesus not involve other people? In what ways have you seen Jesus more clearly as you’ve interacted with others? In what ways have you found Christian structures (buildings, programs, etc) to be a help, or a hindrance? I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below. Feel free to correct me, if you think I’m off somewhere!
I hope you’ll read through the other posts in this blogalogue, and help us connect the dots.
Richard Jacobson: Week of Feb. 9
Keith Giles: Week of Feb. 16
Neil Cole: Week of March 2
Jon Zens: Week of March 9
“…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…”
Trinity is now about 4.5 months old and we have begun working more and more on training her. Right now, it’s basicly just to get her to sit, lay down, and not jump on us. We have also been working on some more challenging manunvers; such as to have her walk beside us on a leash and a new one where she focuses on us. The goal of the focus training is to get her to pay attention to us despite various distractions such as treats or other toys.
This reminded me of our realtionship with God. Life is full of distractions. Chores, school schedules, sports activities, and church commitments. It’s very easy to let these daily activites get in the way of our time with God.
So, how do we make sure that God stays at the top of our priority list?
I believe that there are three simple steps to keeping our minds focused on God each and every day.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus for you.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Look for the good in everything that you do in a day. Expect God to show up and do something wonderful. Continually look for Him and wait for Him. He will be there, we just have to be ready for Him.
2) Pray Always.
This one seems a little challenging; but so rewarding and life changing. Keep a continual conversation with God during the day. Thank Him for what He has given. Ask Him for what you need. If you think about a friend or family member pray about them too! Ask God to help them through the day and guide them in their decisions.
3. Give thanks.
Thank God for all that He has given you, all that He has done for you. Thank Him for the good parts of your day and the challenges. Remember that the challenges you face make you more like Jesus. Thank Him for molding you into the person that He created you to be.
Although the steps listed here are not easy they are well worth it in the end. Fixing our eyes on Jesus enables us to live in the here and now.
Until next time,
The Power of the Cross
Genesis 1-3; Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 13-21 The relatively short early ministry of Jesus Christ (three to three and a half years) culminated in the most beautiful act of undeniably selfless love that the world has ever known. While reading scripture can give us knowledge of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, it is still difficult for our human minds to fully comprehend all that Jesus accomplished during those few days that marked the end of His earthly ministry.
To gain a greater understanding of what Jesus did, we must go back to the Garden of Eden and take a look at what was lost so very long ago. The very first words that we read in the book of Genesis explain that God created the heavens and the earth. As we read from there, we see over the next six days that God created every living creature, every living plant and every other thing that exists to make the world complete. At the end of each day, God looked at all He created and saw that it was good. On the sixth day, God created man and woman, and His opinion on the sixth day was that it was very good.
Adam and Eve had it all! The whole of creation was theirs to enjoy, but even more than that, we see in Genesis 3, that Adam and Eve could walk and talk in the Garden with God. At the point in time when they both chose to mistrust their Creator and believe the lies of the serpent, they separated themselves from the close, intimate contact that had been theirs to enjoy with God. I am sure if Adam and Eve had realized the full weight of their choice, not just for them, but for those that would come after them; they may have made a very different decision, but then again, maybe not, because just like you and me, they were human.
After the Israelites escaped Egypt, God instructed them to build a tabernacle (sanctuary), as a place for God to dwell. “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:8-9) Within the tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelled and the only furnishing was the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was separated by a veil or curtain and once a year the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to make atonement not only for his own sins, but also the sins of the people. The Holy of Holies was replicated in the Temple in Jerusalem.
On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that at the moment of His death, the veil was torn. And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. (Matthew 27:50-51) Not only did Jesus take our sin from us so that we can appear before God as righteous, He also removed the barrier that separated us from God. No longer must we rely on a high priest to make atonement for us, Jesus did it once and for all. From that moment on, we have been enabled to go to God on our own through Jesus ~ there is nothing separating us! We can live in communion with God our Father. We can experience His presence daily, see His hand in our lives and listen for His tender voice speaking to our hearts. As Paul spoke to the Corinthians, he explained it this way: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19) That is very good news for all those who believe on the name of Jesus Christ!
Shortly before His death, the Gospel of John records Jesus praying, not only for His disciples but for all the people that would come after them and believe on Him. In other words, right before His death, YOU were on His mind. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Over the next few days the world will celebrate Easter. Retail stores will sell mountains of candy and plastic eggs. Children will hunt eggs and there will be appearances of the Easter Bunny. All across America, churches will be filled to overflowing as folks make their way to visit one of the two most highly attended services of the year, Easter and Christmas. But the real truth is this: Bunnies, eggs and candy have nothing at all to do with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Setting aside one day a year to celebrate seems cheap compared to His sacrifice. As Christ followers, we have the joy and privilege to celebrate all He has done and continues to do each and every day until that glorious day when we shall see Him face to face!
May the Lord bless you as you seek Him!
Value, Worth & Riches
I am not a rich man by the world’s standard. I can not buy a house but I know that I have a home. I do not own any land upon this earth but I am going to a homeland in a heavenly country. I will never get to go on a trip to a foreign exotic country, but I am going on a journey to a land where I will walk upon streets of gold. I do not have a savings account but I have an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away. To this world I am just an unknown rural pastor to a small country church, but I am known by the ONE who owns it all, the ONE who controls it all, the ONE who knows all things knows me by my name. He calls me His son! I call Him my Father! He is the King of the kingdom of which I am an heir. Who is this King of Glory? His name is Jesus! Do you know Him? More importantly does He know you? Where is your treasure today? What do you value the most? What do you focus on the most; the here and now or your life to come in eternity? Jesus asked the question,(Matthew 16:26) For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Jesus answered like this. (Matthew 16:27) For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. The King is coming back some day! What will we cherish then?
(Colossians 3:1 NLT) Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
3:2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
3:3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.
3:4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.