Jesus is the Answer – Wait…What was the Question Again?

I have been contemplating this often touted Christian belief that “Jesus is the Answer”. It seems simple enough. Easy to dance to. Rolls effortlessly off the tongue. But, in light of the unremitting struggles and suffering in the world there is a glaring question for me. If God actually designated Jesus as the one and only “Savior of the world”, as is the belief of Christians who adhere to a stifling literalism of scripture, and so much of humanity has continually suffered all these thousands of years, is this mess on Jesus? Did Jesus not want to save all of creation? Reminds me of Jonah.

God: “Jonah! Wake up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Jonah: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA…NO!

God: “Fine. Get your trunks on. You’re going for a swim!” (Jonah 1:2)

Or did God mess up trusting this one guy; albeit a really AMAZING guy, with so much responsibility? Who knows, maybe the vetting process wasn’t perfected back then. Or is it remotely possible that God divvied up that job? What if Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad were all sent out in their time, within their culture, to draw followers to the heart of God? If you look into it it’s almost eerie how similar their lives were.

Or is it on us to not just rotely nod to church authority proclaiming the only truth of their particular faith? I have shared the words of Jeremy Weber in an earlier post.

Listen, I love Jesus with all my heart!  He’s the One who saved my sorry, pathetic self from my sorry, pathetic self so long ago and continues to love me in spite of my sorry, pathetic self.

Though I often mess up trying to emulate him, I keep trying because he has become for me a powerful manifestation of God! That said, I still respect the faith of those adherents of other traditions as well.

Consider that our faith could just be a matter of where we were born. If I was born in another country there’s a chance I would have been a Buddhist or Muslim.  Several years ago, we were in Morocco. Our son hired a cab driver to give us a tour. This lovely man enthusiastically shared things about his Muslim faith that nearly brought me to tears. We noticed before that day that so many of the buildings were unadorned; made of mud and earth.

Like this one we saw on our way to a Riad
Then you step inside and the beauty takes your breath away!

Our cab driver explained that the buildings are like that because it’s a metaphor for their very personhood. Their Muslim faith teaches them that what is on the outside is not important. It’s what is on the inside that matters.

In this country, because of 9/11, we have learned to hate all Muslims. What I discovered from that gentleman that day was the true essence of the Muslim people. Sure there are exceptions. But, if we have learned nothing else in 2020, we must acknowledge our own propensity toward violence and hatred that is escalating at an alarming rate.

I will never accept the belief of many Christians, especially church leaders, that if you don’t profess Jesus, and only Jesus, you’re doomed to eternal damnation. I am certain that does not come from God.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ says:

“If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is
not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus himself and not just some idea of him.

Jesus said, the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Who knows but that such love encompasses Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and all eternal truths humans conceive of to explain the mystery of God in every time and culture?”

Anywho…There’s definitely something seismic going on within American Christianity that screams foul and yet those leaders who claim moral authority seem to be oblivious to it as they finger wag to an empty church. Looks like the Emperor still has no clothes on.

For years, research has shown that people have been leaving the church in droves. We’re just waiting for the last guy to turn out the lights when he leaves.

Some church leaders seem to be slow-walking their supposed desire to understand what is happening, especially among millennials, while still operating within an outdated template. They have been focusing on new ways to rebrand Christianity and bring them back (if they were ever there to begin with): Perhaps a more casual atmosphere, a fun coffee bar or surround sound music with a light show.

Some may have even considered a more extreme threat of hell. Forgetting that that’s one of the reasons they left in the first place. You can’t scare these guys like you did their grandmothers!  They don’t even believe in hell. So, that’s an empty threat.

Rev. David M. Felten says:

The challenge is that most people in most churches (and many clergy) have their theological beliefs pre-set to the “oldies station” and are either insulated from or intimidated by what’s going on outside their comfort zone. So, they simply plod along in the isolation of their bubble of orthodoxy without a clue that there are people who practice Christianity and follow Jesus in radically different ways.

How many of these leaders of the Christian faith have thrown up their hands in frustration, choosing  to fill empty pews with cutouts that look remarkably like those numb pew sitters I mentioned earlier?!

I so appreciate the honesty of one millennial, Emma Cooper, in a recent article: Anything But Christian: Why Millennials Leave the Church.

 “We come after college begins, on our breaks. Then, we don’t come back. Why don’t we come back?”

Cooper tells how she was raised in the church and loved everything about it! She never imagined walking away. But, she did. She frankly and openly addresses the issues. One is that:

A separate group of people is speaking for us, explaining why we leave, and what it will take to bring us back. We don’t want coffee. We don’t want multi-colored stage lights. We want Jesus. And we can’t find Him in your churches.”

As if to say, “HELLLLOOO, we’re right here!”

 “No one’s asking us why we left!”

Sadly, they know non-Christians who seem to innately act on God’s call to love one another and care for the suffering. She says that:

If no-Christ has made them people we’d love to be, while Christianity creates people we beg to never be… then why should we be Christians?

What we’re looking for in religion is an experience so real, so gripping, it knocks us breathless. We want our lives to be overturned….We’re not interested in your churches because — as much as we need Him to be — God is not there.

https://emmacopper.medium.com/anything-but-christian-why-millennials-leave-the-church-ccae210dfb06

That is such open and unadulterated commentary on the state of American Christianity that no dogma, doctrine, canon of faith, or fun new latte, will ever penetrate. Perhaps that’s why so many church leaders refuse to acknowledge the truth of their failings to exemplify and teach the love of Christ. They must get stuck on the “exemplify” part. Which seems like an obvious failure since Jesus made it clear that those who are charged with the teaching of God’s truth but use their power to lead people astray will, well, end up in the very place they threaten others with. Many of them seem to continue their stubborn resistance to this reality at their own, and their blind followers, peril.  During his time right up to today, Jesus had no patience with those who claim such authority to rule over others; to mislead them right into the pit (Matt 15:14).  

Barna Research shows: 

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

But…if “Jesus is the answer” how is this happening? Where’s the disconnect?

 “What if it’s not a building or an attendance record that is at the core of God’s heart? What if it’s how we love?” Sam Eaton http://www.recklesslyalive.com/50-ways-to-serve/

Has anyone considered the fact that Jesus was a millennial himself – and a radical one at that? There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus LOVES these young people who have bolted from the cold stone buildings and have chosen instead to step into the muck and mire of the suffering and brokenness in their midst, just like he did. They want to make a difference. They want to know and fulfill their life’s purpose.

 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. -James 1:27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

I believe Jesus was exactly the one God prepared and sent at that time to infuse the lost with a love they had forgotten. Just as I believe that he is still the One so many of us love! People would not still be dying for him if that were not true.

“We dare to believe that the love manifest in Jesus reflects the authentic nature or character of the Ultimate Reality, which makes Jesus a great teacher, an inspirational philosopher, and someone whose words and example should be followed indeed.” ~ Brian D. McLaren

Consider how Jesus’ ministry began. Father Alfred McBride tells us:

Jesus began his public ministry. His inaugural address in the synagogue was a powerful statement on the need for justice and concern for the poor. (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus read from a scroll the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah. Those words were about the servant of the Lord that God’s Spirit had come upon. God sent the servant to bring good news to the lowly, to heal broken hearts, to announce freedom for those in prison and liberation for those suffering oppression.

Everyone listening thought those words to be the fulfillment of their longing for the Messiah that would come to set them free from their oppressors. An army would be raised up in rebellion against the government; a political and military revolt against Rome. It was gonna be epic. The stuff movies are made of!

Jesus knew what they believed about that reading in Isaiah. When he rolled the scroll up he sat down quietly and watched as the tension rose in the room. But, when he finally spoke again and said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20-21) they were gob-smacked! Wait…what?! Did Jesus claim that he was the Messiah God sent to save them? Jesus? For real? The kid who grew up in their midst!? He was a lover not a fighter! His message struck a nerve in them because they didn’t want to hear it. All that love, mercy, compassion, justice talk was too much for them. They were seething with anger to think that he wanted them to let go of their long held desire to get even with those who oppressed and held power over them. They covered their ears, walled off their hearts, ran him out of their midst and threatened to kill him. (Luke 4:29)

Even in our time, those who followed the non-violent precepts of Jesus and died for them are still etched in our memories: Mahatma Gandhi (that’s right, Gandhi loved Jesus!) Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Oscar Romero just to name a few. Like Jesus, all of them were well aware of the hatred that would likely cost them their lives, but they continued on in spite of the threats, until they too were silenced.

And now, this is our time of reckoning; a time for each of us to take a stand, to pronounce our faith in Jesus and then to act on that faith. Not in anger or hatred, but in love. This country is on shaky ground, but it is not a time to cower in fear.

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” Martin Luther King

“Seeing the suffering is only the beginning of change….to move not just our hearts into a deeper understanding but also our bodies into the work of greater change. Perhaps out of this comes, truly, every form of love.”  Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project

Thich Nhat Hanh offers another critical question that must be answered:

…what we say of Jesus, what we believe of Christ, determines how we live our lives.
To set our minds on divine things is to care about how everyone answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Because the answer is the heart of the matter.

The answer to his question, “Who do you say I am?”….is the key to our own lives. It calls our bluff about all the things we say our lives are about. All the things we say, but do not do. When historical people like the Buddha and Jesus, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. live out the call of who they believe God to be, the world knows it. If you and I live out the call of who we believe God to be, the world will also know us. Who we say Jesus is inspirits our lives.

Episcopal Bishop John Spong said:

I do not believe that God is a Christian or a Buddhist. Yet both Christianity and Buddhism have pointed hundreds of millions of people toward the mystery of God. Seeking faith is not about dogma and the mind alone, though it is about that. It is about the heart. It is about living as God inspires us to live.

So, I will leave you to consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is?

Yes, Jesus was radical…He radically loved, he radically touched lepers, he radically condemned the powerful for causing the suffering of those they considered “less than”.  Jesus did NOT hate and he did NOT empower others to do so. So, what do you feel deep down in your very being as you witness that hatred day in and day out?

Up  next:  The Agenda of Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals

Jesus 101

This post has been developing into a book! I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching massive amounts of material concerning the hatred and violence we have been witnessing for so long, not just on January 6, 2021. It began long before Donald Trump and those who monitor it, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, warn that it is getting worse. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch

While watching the violence escalate that day something shook me to my core. Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and reaffirmed my deepest beliefs about who Jesus is, who I am as a professed follower of him, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a country.

It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances but here we go.

This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding and sanity…mostly sanity, because trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates, without any doubts, can be likened to figuring out how birds know I just washed my car!

The need to know, to understand, presupposes that somehow, someway, we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” – that was not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. It is answered by first falling on our knees in awe and reverence before the magnificence that is God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus. That’s a great start, but, it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home and watch football. But, Jesus never said, “Worship me”, he said “Follow me”. OUCH!

 You may not agree with me when it’s all said and done and that’s fine. These are just my thoughts not any attempt to coerce or judge anyone who differs. If we were all meant to be robots marching lock-step through this life God could have easily made that happen. Although, I wonder if, for his own sanity, he may now regret not doing that!

Anyway, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to decide; to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. Rather be afraid of not being the person we claim to be only when others are watching. We should be more concerned that God is watching! And I am betting that it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.

The God I’m going to stick with tells us through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, spoken to the hard-headed Corinthians. I know these are verses we have heard so often our eyes glaze over. So, perhaps reading them again, slowly, one at a time, picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing we could see them as God intended:  

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud. 

It does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered.

It keeps no record of wrongs. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re still there.

“The greatest of these is love”.

From where I stand, it seems to have come down to two options if I claim to be a Christian: Either I stand with the Jesus who loves or the Jesus who hates.

I once would have said there was a third option of neutrality, but, not anymore. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16) Ewwwww…nothing ambiguous here.

Let’s say you agree that you need to decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. I believe  stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. Believe me; I have had that happen more times in my life than I care to admit.

So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides.  How I live that life, if I own up to being a follower of Jesus, is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.

Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new, but it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I believe at times we all need a wake-up call because too often we simply muddle through our days numb to what we’re even doing here.

And so, as I see it, the most important question to begin with must be: Just who is this Jesus I claim to follow? I think it’s fair to say that one of Western Christianity’s most espoused and fervent beliefs is that Jesus is the Answer. But, are we asking the right question?

Up next: Jesus is the Answer