Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What if God was one of us?

In 1995 a song by Joan Osborne asked the question, “What if God was one of us?” The song was an instant hit, reaching Billboard’s Top 40 by November of that year. Its fame was not due to the popularity of the singer (Joan Osborne is now listed among music’s “One Hit Wonders”), nor did it have a particularly great or sing-able melody. The reason for the song’s popularity is that it taps into deeply held, universal questions about God: 

“If God had a name, what would it be?”
“What would you ask if you had just one question?”
“If God had a face, what would it look like?”

While I’m sure the song’s producers never intended it to be a holiday hit, “What If God Was One of Us” always makes me think of Christmas nonetheless. After all, Christmas tells us that God did, in fact, become one of us. One day while driving my then 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter home, my son asked, “Daddy, what does God look like?”

As a trained seminarian and ordained minister of the Gospel, I took a moment to contemplate how I could explain the attributes of God, the complexities of the Trinity and the intricacies of the incarnation to a four-year-old. This was a great teachable moment and I didn’t want to blow it! Before I could deliver my answer, however, my 2-year-old daughter said, “He looks like Jesus!”

My daughter was right. With all the simplicity of a child, she expressed the truth of Christmas perfectly: Jesus shows us what God is like. The Bible says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we beheld His glory.” Jesus is God “with skin on.” And because He was willing to come to earth and live among us, He understands the struggles and trials we face. God is aware of our pain and is willing to bear our grief and carry our sorrows. Had there been buses in first-century Palestine, Jesus would have been “just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.” But better yet, He would have been a stranger helping you find your way home, too.

Merry Christmas. May the Christ Child lead you home this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

T'was the Week Before Christmas

T'was the week before Christmas and all through the church
Every staff member hustled and felt in a lurch.
The deacons were busy, the grow groups atwitter,
Fresh paint on the steeple atwinkle like glitter.

Tonight there is music and dinner and laughing
For Christmas at Southside is sure to be smashing!
Sunday we'll continue with John 3:16
The truth from the Scripture we hope you will glean.

We're collecting for Lottie, our goal it is high;
We've a long way to go so I hope you will try
To dig a bit deeper into that small stash
And give it to missions, which always needs cash!

On Friday the garden will ring with glad sound,
as saxophone music and much fun abound.
Hot chocolate and popcorn and games we'll consume,
So come meet our neighbors and watch the love bloom
On the night before Christmas we'll gather inside
To sing songs by candles and welcome Yuletide.
The blood and the body of that little babe
Was offered on Calvary, mankind He would save.
So much of the season goes by in a hurry
We know that your eyes become clouded and blurry.
So take time to breathe and remind friend and neighbor
That Jesus has come for mankind He does favor.
From your pastor and staff: we all wish you good cheer
For a very Merry Christmas and most blessed New Year.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Moses: An Instrument of Purpose

Few people in history elicit as much respect as Moses. Hollywood has paid homage to him in movies and full-length animated features. Historians have credited him with the creation of a nation. Lawyers and politicians say he is the architect of the modern legal system. Theologians acknowledge his contributions to three of the world’s major religions. As if that were not enough, God’s word says this about Moses:

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Exodus 33:11

To be called God’s “friend” … now there is something to put on a resume! That verse alone should inspire believers to study the life of Moses. What about Moses made him such an influential figure in God’s redemptive story? Well, there are a few things we know it was NOT. We know it wasn’t his skill as a preacher or great orator. Moses himself confessed:

“I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Exodus 4:10

We also know it was not his confidence and keen leadership abilities (see Exodus 4:1). It certainly wasn’t his spotless moral record. After all, Moses was a murderer who had spent forty years as a fugitive in the desert (Exodus 2:11-25). What was the secret to Moses’ success?


Moses was willing to surrender everything to God for His divine purpose. He surrendered his past, his failures, possessions, reputation and future to God. Simply stated, he placed himself in God’s hands to be used as an instrument of purpose.

Planted within Moses’ story is a symbolic reminder of his function as God’s instrument. Throughout the Bible we read that Moses carried a staff. God used it to convince Moses that he would not be alone throughout the journey (Ex. 4:2-5). The staff was again used to prove to the Hebrews as well as the Egyptians that Moses was indeed God’s messenger (Ex. 4:30 and 7:9-10). It was used by Moses during five of the ten plagues (see Ex. 7-10), to part the Red Sea (Ex. 14:16), to wage war (Ex. 17:19), to bring healing (Numbers 21:9), and was probably useful for the 80-year-old man’s forty-year walk in the desert! Just as the staff was an instrument in Moses’ hands, so too was Moses an instrument in the hands of God. That’s what we are called to be -- instruments of purpose.

What is it you hold in your hands? Guilt, regret, shame over past failures -- God can use it. A speech impediment – He’ll take that, too. A life wasted in the desert – give it to Him. Whatever you’ve got, God can use. But you must be willing to surrender it to Him for His purpose.

Friday, April 26, 2013

In God We Trust

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. You will either hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13). It sounds like Jesus is drawing a line in the sand. We expect our choices for master to be God and Satan. We can love God and worship him or we can be devoted to Satan, but we must choose one. The two are obviously incompatible. It is a reasonable choice to be asked to make. After all, you can’t play for both teams! We understand that choice. In fact we often live our lives and make decisions as if this was the choice Jesus set before us. Each day I wake up and decide to serve God and spit in the devil’s eye. Easy choice. I’m on God’s team!

However, there is a problem with our assumption. Jesus did not say our choice for master is between God and Satan, he said, “You will either serve God or MONEY!”

Now wait just a minute. That is a little more complicated. You see, when I got up this morning – after spitting in the devil’s eye – I got ready for work, earned a fair wage, paid my bills, did a little shopping for some necessities, ate my dinner, enjoyed a little entertainment and went to bed. Tomorrow I’ll do much the same. Whom was I serving? Was that about God or the money I earned? Was I really serving God or a way of life I have chosen and become comfortable living? The choice suddenly seems much more complicated.

Jesus understands that his primary competition for the human heart is not Satan, but the love of money, the stuff it buys, and the false sense of security it brings. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Fifteen percent of Jesus’ recorded teachings were about money and possessions. That is double what he said about heaven and hell combined! Jesus’ understanding of the threat money and possessions present to his claim on the human heart are obvious by how much he talked about it. Why did Jesus talk about money so much? Not because he needed it, but because he knows the threat it presents to those he loves. We are always tempted to place our trust in our money. Wall Street and our 401K are what secure our future when we trust money. Jesus knows this is short-term thinking and a trap for those who would misplace their trust. He promises something more secure than Wall Street. What he offers yields a return that extends throughout eternity.

“In God We Trust” has been printed on United States currency since the Civil War. More than an expression of Judeo-Christian heritage, this statement is a reminder to every person who touches United States currency that the money we hold should not hold us. Join us for a three-week series exploring what Jesus had to say about money and faith beginning Sunday, April 7, at 9:30 and 11.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Live, Run, Finish Well

Six months ago today my friend, Jared Bynum died in a terrible accident. I have been asked by many to provide the text of his funeral service in printed form. Today seemed like the appropriate day to do so. As you read this, may the memory of Jared's life and faith inspire you in your pursuit of God.

Celebrating the Life of JARED CHARLES BYNUM

It’s my privilege, on behalf of Kelly and Jared’s entire family, to welcome you here today. It is the desire of this family – and I believe it would be Jared’s as well – that this be a celebration of life, because Jared loved life to the fullest. He lived a full and abundant life. And so today we gather and we give thanks. We give thanks for the life of Jared, and while we grieve the loss, we come together to share that grief, and divide it among the hundreds of people who are here today.

On the stage beside me, you see evidence of life – a life that was lived to the fullest. And there are no regrets when we live our life in a way that honors Christ and seeks to glorify Him through the way we love other people. And so as we gather for this time of worship, we do so with a sense of loss and grief, but we also do this with a great sense of joy and thanksgiving. And we bring all of those emotions, even those in conflict, together in one place, and we set them at the feet of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who loves us -- who loves Jared, and Whom Jared loved – and we seek to worship and honor Him. Will you pray with me?

Lord God, we pray that You would meet us in our grief, and that You, Holy Spirit, would bring comfort in the midst of our sadness. We thank you for the joy of life. We thank you for the privilege we have to share life together, and what a gift it is. And we ask You to forgive us that we so often forget. We take it for granted and we live moment-to-moment, always looking for the next moment, and never fully enjoying the one that You have given us in the present. And so today as we’re reminded of that truth, we seek to turn our hearts and our lives toward the greater reality that we have been created for more than time, but for eternity. And we pray as we come before You today, with this mixture of emotions, that You would meet us in this place, that You would comfort, that You would magnify the joy of life, and that You would give us the hope of eternity. We thank You for the life of Jared Bynum, for the way it speaks and will continue to speak. And we pray, Father, in the midst of this time of worship, the name of the Savior that he knew and loved would be exalted. And we pray in His name, Amen.

Many of you know and have commented how much Jared loved music. One of Jared’s favorite songs is Awake, My Soul, by Mumford and Son, and there’s a lyric in that song that says, “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” I think that’s true, and I know Jared believed that to be true. But that lyric wasn’t original to Mumford and Son. Jesus said it first, a long time ago. He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And if you want to know what a man loves, you should inspect how he invested his life.

Jared invested his life in several things. Kelly, he invested in you. The whole city knows now what a terrible waitress you were. So I’m really glad the law thing’s working out for you! Jared and I spoke a number of times – and he spoke of his deep, deep love for you, and as someone who has a job that often requires me to hear husbands and wives complain about one another, I can tell you what a refreshing experience that was. But he also loved his family. While I didn’t have the privilege of knowing you well, I feel like I know a lot about your story, because Jared spoke so highly of you. He loved you. He loved his friends, as is evident by what has already been shared, and by the turnout here today. Many of us feel like Jared invested something in us. If you had a conversation with him, he was fully engaged and you felt like he was investing in you.

Jared also invested in the things of God. Jared was a good man. At a stage of life when most people are completely free to be totally self-indulgent, Jared lived his life fully, but he still had time to share his talent, and his treasures to make this world a better place. He lived to fulfill the prayer of Jesus that heaven might just come a little closer to earth. I’d only been here a few months in the spring of 2009 when Jared and Kelly came to Southside. They immediately jumped in. Jared put his musical talent to use playing guitar in our worship service. Jared and Kelli sang in the choir, participated in an Easter program. I really began to know Jared on a much more personal level last summer when I’d invited him to be part of a men’s Bible study to be held early on Friday mornings. When I sent him the invitation, he replied with an email that was several clicks long. This very long e-mail contained all the reasons he couldn’t participate. He was giving me great excuses. I went back and found that email and I read it, and at the very bottom, after he listed all the reasons that he really couldn’t be a part of this men’s Bible study on Friday mornings, he wrote, and I quote, “Your proposal comes at a period when I’ve been seeking the Lord’s guidance more than ever. All this is to say, ‘I’m in.’”

Jared also served here at Southside as part of our Building Committee, using his skills as an engineer to help us re-engineer our atrium roof. That project will begin construction in the first few days of November. And so even though Jared was only at Southside for a few years, his fingerprints have been left as evidence of his love for his Lord and for his church. Because he and Kelly traveled so much on the weekends, Jared would often find me and say, “I must be the worst church member you have,” and to keep him humble, I would say, “Yes, you are.” Then I would correct him and assure him that wasn’t true. You see, there are many people who are part of churches or organizations or their companies for decades and decades and decades, and never really leave any kind of lasting contribution. Jared did so much in such a short period of time, and it’s a reminder to me, to all of us, that we should never confuse the quantity of life with the quality of life. You should never sacrifice quality for quantity. Because our impact is not measured in days and weeks and months and years, but in the way we invest our lives and the way we love others.

In the summer of 2011, we had a number of students at the church whose families were not going to be able to pay to send them to camp. The economy was bad, people had lost their jobs. I mentioned this at the end of a worship service. Jared and Kelly left church, found an ATM, withdrew enough money to pay for one student, and came back to find me to give me the cash. They said, “We want to make sure that one of those kids goes to camp.” Because of their generosity a student they would never know was able to go and experience something that had obviously made a difference in Jared’s life.

He loved people. He invested in people even if he didn’t know them. The influence of Jared’s life was not, nor should it have been, isolated to inside the walls of his church. When Southside launched a partnership with Julia Landon Middle School to provide mentors for at-risk students, Jared and Kelly were among the first to sign up. Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting with Jared, for what I now know was the last time, as we were waiting to be assigned our students for the new year. While we were sitting there, people were recounting stories of their experiences as mentors. Jared spent the previous two years mentoring the same student through seventh grade and eighth grade. Jared told the story about how hard that first year was, that this student would come and have lunch and it would be a very awkward and long lunch because the kid just wouldn’t talk. I mean, that’s really saying something because Jared could always get somebody to talk. So the boy was quiet, stand-offish, but Jared was persistent. He never gave up on that kid. And so the second year came around and Jared signed up again and went back and had the same student. And Jared told this story – he sat in the room waiting for his student to come in, and when the student walked in, the student said, “You came back!”

“You came back!” I don’t know this for certain, but my guess is that Jared was the first adult male that had ever come back for this boy. In that first year, while Jared would have never known it, I think this kid was trying him out, to see if he would come back. And Jared did come back. And it was in that second year that Jared was able to have his biggest impact on the life of that child.

I am most honored today to announce that we are beginning the Jared Bynum College Scholarship Fund that will be used to help students who complete the mentoring program at Landon and go on to finish high school in four years and are accepted to college. It will help them go to college and achieve their dreams. If you’d like to participate in that, you can do it through the church -- just write “Jared Bynum” in the memo line. We’ll be establishing that fund, and the first of these students is scheduled to graduate in 2014. I can think of no better lasting legacy for Jared than that every year one of those kids is reminded that there are people who come back.

“You came back” is a great phrase that captures much of what could be said of Jared. He did not easily give up – not in a marathon, not in life, and not on people. It would be interesting to me if I could be inside your heads to find out what you think about stories like these. My guess is that for some here it would be something like, “Well, whatever happens after this life, Jared has surely earned something good.” While that makes logical sense, I have to tell you that Jared would disagree. You see, Jared’s kindness, his generosity were not an effort to earn God’s favor. Jared and I talked often about issues of faith, and he believed that his life was evidence of the grace that he had received from his Savior, Jesus Christ. Jared would not have told you, “I’m a good man.” He would have told you, “I’m a forgiven man.”

For some, “religion” and “church” is about earning something, but for those of us who share Jared’s belief, we know that service in life is really an expression of gratitude for the grace we’ve already received. Perhaps you are sitting here today and asking yourself the question, “How could such a terrible thing happen to such a good person?” And I would be less than honest if I didn’t say those thoughts cross all of our minds.

I’d like to share with you a story from the Bible. It can be found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. And it’s the story of a family, two sisters and a brother – Mary, Martha and Lazarus. These were some of Jesus’ closest friends. The man, Lazarus, fell ill. Mary and Martha knew exactly what they needed to do. They needed to get Jesus there because Jesus could fix these problems. They had seen and experienced that themselves, and so they sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick. Jesus said something very odd when he heard the news. He said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And then we’re reminded that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet … yet – even though He loved them – yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days. Lazarus died and Jesus showed up four days later. He even missed his friend’s funeral. And so it was only natural, and one would only expect that the sisters would respond with questions. Martha goes out to meet him, and Mary shortly after, and they both make this statement: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And it may be tempting for us to ask the question, “Where was Jesus on Sunday morning? Where is God in the middle of our loss? How can you face this tragedy and believe what was sung earlier, that our God is in control?” It’s only natural that we’d ask those questions. And it’s okay to ask them. Even Jesus’ best friends asked those questions. “Where were you? If you had only been here …” Can I tell you that He was right there Sunday morning. That He had never left Jared’s side. In the beauty of a sunrise, God was present even in the midst of the darkest tragedy.

So Mary comes out, and upon seeing Mary’s grief, we’re given the shortest verse in the entire New Testament – you all can go back to work with a Bible trivia question, and this is it -- these two simple words stand out in this story, and it’s just this … that “Jesus wept.” Jesus wept. I find that very odd because Jesus knew that He was getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew that! So He couldn’t have been weeping because His friend was dead, because He knew what was about to come. Why did he cry? It couldn’t have been because of the grief of Mary and Martha because He knew that Mary and Martha were getting ready to experience unbelievable joy as their brother comes back to life.

And so it couldn’t have been because of the grief of Mary and Martha, so why did Jesus cry? I believe it’s because of the human condition. It’s because this is never how it was supposed to be. Parents were never supposed to bury their children. There was never supposed to be this kind of tragedy and this kind of pain in the world. That was never God’s intention. And Jesus understands and meets us in the middle of our grief and in the middle of the darkest tragedies and He shares your grief and He weeps your tears with you because this is never how it was intended to be. And even those among us who may not share Jared’s faith know deep down inside some-thing feels terribly wrong about this situation. And it’s because our hearts were created for eternity. And so Jesus weeps with us in the middle of our grief.

And so what is God’s answer? How do these two things coexist? The fact that this is not God’s intention and yet we sing and believe that our God is in control? How do they coexist? And the answer is that those two opposite truths meet at the cross of Jesus Christ, where through His death He was beginning the process of making all things new. And this is not how it will always be. There will not always be death and tragedy. There is something better coming. And there was evidence of that on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion, when He rose from the dead, and we are told that He was the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, that there is hope for something better, that God will have His way, and He is in control.

It’s interesting to me that on Easter Sunday morning, after experiencing the grief of losing Jesus whom she loved so much, Mary – this same Mary – went to the tomb to prepare His body. And on that first Easter Sunday morning she got there and Jesus was alive! And Mary said, “You came back!” Because that’s what a resurrected life does. That’s what someone who has been transformed by the power of resurrection as found in Jesus Christ does. They come back! And it began with Jesus Christ, and it’s because of His resurrection that everything changed. It changed for Mary in this story and it changed for Jared and it can change for you and me. It’s because of Jesus’ resurrection that Jared was able to live a full and abundant life, the same abundant life that Jesus had promised. It’s because of his faith in Christ that we know Jared is living even freer today, and an even more abundant life today in God’s presence.

See, some might be tempted to think, “Poor Jared, he was cheated out of so much.” And you might be tempted to have pity for him and feel sorry for him, but you would be wrong. See, I don’t think that’s the case at all. And after talking to his family, I don’t even think they think that that’s the case. And I don’t think Jared would believe that’s the case, because Jared lived well. And for that we can rejoice and give thanks, because after all, Jared was made to meet his Maker. You were made to meet your Maker. How true! And Jared has accomplished that purpose … not because of his death, but because of his life.

Jesus once said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it to the fullest.” Jared believed that, and that is what you all loved about him. For some, faith in Christ is only about what happens when we die. But that’s not what Jesus taught, and that’s not what Jared believed. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Jared brought glory to God through the life he lived, and he met his Maker both in this life and now beyond it. And the invitation stands for all of us to awaken our souls to life. And the question is left for us to answer, “What about us? Are we, are you, am I living a full and abundant life?” So you can engage in all kinds of activities and you can travel the world and you can run races and never experience a full and abundant life because the emptiness will always be there. Jared did not have that emptiness. And that’s the kind of life that comes when we fully understand and know that Jesus Christ is not merely hope after death, but He is the source of life itself. And He’s made it available to all of us … abundant and eternal life through Jesus Christ. And my prayer for you – and Jared’s prayer for you, I believe – is that you would allow your soul to awaken to that reality.

I believe it’s Jared’s life that has spoken to you today, but really the voice that you’re hearing is the voice of God as He speaks through the life that Jared lived. And I believe if Jared could say three things to us today, they might just be this …

Number one, Live! Live. Stop just existing and begin to truly live the full and abundant life for which you were created to live.

Run! The course that God has set out before you will sometimes be difficult and hard and long, and it’s a challenge, and there are times you will want to give up. But it is in the middle of the challenges and the struggles of the race that you discover that God has created you for a purpose and will sustain you to the finish line.

And finish well. There are people running beside you. Love them while you have the chance. Because unlike a race that is measured in kilometers where the finish line is clearly marked, you never know just how soon your race will end. So run in a way that you finish strong, wherever the finish line may be.

In 2 Timothy, chapter 4, verses 6-8, Paul says this, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” In God’s great faithfulness, He extends the same invitation to all of us … to live, to run, and to finish well.

Kelly, family, I know there is a lot to grieve, but I also know that you know there is much to celebrate. He lived well and he finished strong. Will you pray with me …

Father, we thank You for the testimony of life that we have seen in Jared Bynum, not just in this hour, but across a lifetime. And I pray that his life challenges us to live, to run, and to finish well. Father, we thank You for the gift of life, and we pray that after today we would hold it with greater reverence, to understand how sacred each and every moment is. I pray, Holy Spirit, that Your comfort would be with all of the hearts that are breaking today, and that even in the midst of the grief You will remind us of the hope – the hope of resurrection – that You are a God Who comes back. Thank You … thank You for that truth. Thank You for the privilege of being able to live in that reality. For it’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.

Gary Lee Webber
Southside Baptist Church
Jacksonville, Florida
October 11, 2012

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Invitation of Easter

Each year Christians around the world set aside a week to reflect on the death of a first-century peasant Jewish carpenter known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, like thousands of other citizens of the ancient Roman world, was executed by the authorities with a technique known as crucifixion. Today, the cross is universally recognized as a symbol of Jesus’ followers and the church established in his name. The question seems obvious: How does the death of one man launch a global movement that continues even two thousand years after his death? What was special about this Roman execution as opposed to the thousands of others like it? How does an instrument of torture (a cross) become a symbol of one of the world’s great religions?

The answer is found in what happened after the death of Jesus. We are told in the New Testament as well as in other first century literature, that the followers of Jesus claimed he was miraculously raised from the dead on the third day following his execution. To validate this claim, they pointed to an empty tomb and several encounters they claimed to have with their resurrected Lord. The truth of their claim was a topic of great debate in the first century. That debate continues. If Jesus was, in fact, raised from the dead, it explains why the death of one first-century peasant matters two thousand years later. If, however, Jesus was not raised from the dead, then his death on the cross should matter no more or less than any of the thousands who died the same way. The Apostle Paul said, “... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile ... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19 NIV). In other words, if the resurrection didn’t happen, we are wasting our time! If Easter is nothing more than a nice story or an annual tradition, all the claims of the New Testament and the Church are worth little more than the paper on which they are printed.

There are some, many of whom may identify themselves as Christians, who see the resurrection as nothing more than a beautiful symbol or story of God’s triumph over evil. While they may not believe Jesus literally came back from the dead, they celebrate Easter as a tradition of their hope in God. They, along with others, argue that Jesus is remembered not because he was raised from the dead, but because he was a great moral teacher, perhaps even a prophet of God. They do not, however, accept that his death on the cross serves as any universal means of salvation, much less that he was literally resurrected from the dead. C.S. Lewis once famously argued, “That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” (Mere Christianity, pg. 52)

As people around the world observe the celebration of Easter, it becomes an annual invitation to wrestle with the one foundational claim of the Christian faith … Did Jesus come back to life? If he did, then everything he claimed about himself and his offer of salvation is true. If he did not, then nothing else he said matters. Whatever our religious background, such a radical claim deserves our consideration.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Tough Sayings of Jesus

When my children were small and first learning to communicate, we would remind them to use their words. Rather than simply grunting or crying, we would encourage them express their wants, needs and feelings using words and phases we could understand. Their words weren't perfect. Their grammar was terrible, but we knew they needed to practice communicating if they were going to be successful in life. (They all know how to communicate now and sometimes we wish we had never given them that advice!)

Jesus used his words, but his words were more than simple communication. John tells us that Jesus was "the word made flesh" (John 1:1). The same words that spoke the light into being and formed the stars took on flesh and walked on the very earth he spoke into existence. Jesus didn't just speak words, he was, and is the eternal Word. Jesus used his words to heal. Like when he spoke to the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, "Get up!, pick up your mat and walk" (John 5:6). Jesus used his words to speak comfort; "Your brother will rise again," he told Martha as she grieved at her Lazarus's grave (John 11:23). Jesus used his words to forgive and correct; "Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-11). The words of Jesus have been the most scrutinized words in all of human history. For two thousand years, scholars and skeptics, saints and satirists have studied the words Jesus. For many, his words offer comfort. For some, they are the source of pain. For everyone, they present a challenge and an invitation.

The challenging words of Jesus are found in statements like, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Does Jesus really intend us to believe that he is the exclusive way to God? Other difficult passages include, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out" (Matthew 5:29), and "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear" (Matthew 6:25). These words sound impractical if not radical. These passages were difficult for Jesus' original audience and have been baffling audiences for generations since. Sometimes Jesus' words are difficult to understand, and sometimes they are difficult because we understand them all too well.

The difficult sayings of Jesus are also an invitation. They invite us to consider a God who's ways are not our ways and who's thoughts are not our thoughts. If we could understand God, he would cease to be God. Therefore, it stands to reason that we wouldn't understand all of Jesus' words. If we could, He would just be another great teacher or philosopher. But Jesus was much more than that. Jesus was the very Word made flesh.

As we approach Easter, let us consider some of the tough sayings of Jesus. I believe each difficult saying is an invitation to live a life more in tune with the one who designed life. Every time we wrestle with a difficult saying of Jesus, we are fighting for a better way to live. I pray you'll join us each Sunday for The Tough Sayings of Jesus. I also hope you will spend the days between now and Easter reading the Gospels for yourself. Make your own list of tough sayings and discover how God may be inviting you to a better way to live.

Grace and Peace,