Pastor's Blog - Norm Byers
Watch out for mere imitation

10.12.11


When I was 22, I moved to the Republic of China, also know as Taiwan, to teach English to school aged children and businessmen and women. At this time in my life, I grew to have an affinity for diver’s watches, and so I spent some of my free time looking at different styles and pricing them out. On one particular day, an individual showed me a “Rolex” for only $30 dollars! A friend who was with me informed me that this was a copy watch, a counterfeit. This imitation looked real except for the second hand. It ticked unlike a real Rolex in which the second hand sweeps. Upon hearing that a few moments later, the “salesperson” brought out another copy Rolex with the hand sweeping just like the real thing! Its price was $50.


I never did buy a copy watch, but not for the reason you might hope for. I was such a cheapskate that I could not part with $50! But looking back on that experience, it got me thinking how it is human nature to try to get something great for a cheaper price. Or how we can settle for an imitation because we do not want the inconvenience of the full price.


We can also have that kind of a “bare minimum” attitude when it comes to our understanding of the God of the universe. As individuals that live in a highly consumeristic culture, we can avoid “hard teaching” or anything that has to do with the “c” word— commitment. This can open one up to or make one susceptible to teachings that are “prettied up” to gain our approval.


Last week in this column, it was pointed out that Jesus Christ is linked in one way or another to the major religions of the world. A summary of the world religions would teach that Jesus had great spiritual knowledge and insight, was a moral leader, a charismatic teacher and an altruistic healer. A leader in the early church, Paul, upped the ante about Jesus, advancing these thoughts in a passage from the Bible found in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Some may criticize these statements as being narrow and insensitive to other ways to God.


But what did Jesus say? Who did Jesus claim to be? In one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, John 14:6, Jesus communicates to his burdened followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Similarly, in John 10:9, Jesus expresses, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” While dealing with a woman who had just lost her brother in John 11:25, Jesus reveals, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” Jesus claims to be the answer to the “ultimate questions” in life.


And Jesus said even more difficult things. In John 8:58, Jesus said to a group of religious leaders, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” This claim of preexistence was not well received. On another occasion, Jesus plainly expressed his deity, “I and the Father are one.” In Matthew 16:15-16, when Peter states that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus not only accepts the titles but also calls Peter blessed and declares the profession as a divine revelation. Jesus, the man from Nazareth claimed to be God!


So what is true? Was Jesus just a good man, an interesting teacher and an insightful leader? Or is he the deliverer? Is he God? In the book “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis provides a great summary to the dilemma about Jesus — "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the 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 — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."


I encourage you when it comes to the ultimate questions in life do not settle for what might be a mere imitation. But do begin a quest and discover for yourself the real Jesus!


 
A touchy subject

10.5.11

 

You might have read the Peanuts comic where Linus comes up to his incorrigible sister, Lucy, and asks her if she prays. Lucy shoots back, “That’s kind of a personal question, isn’t it? Are you trying to start an argument?” Lucy continues in the next frame ramping it up, shouting, “I suppose you think you are somebody pretty smart, don’t you?” Later, Linus is being consoled by Charlie Brown and says, “You’re right, religion is a very touchy subject!”


Religion can be a very sensitive issue to discuss, but an important topic to consider. And so, at the risk of striking a nerve, I want to ask: what is religion and how does it relate to each of us? According to Tim Keller in his New York Times best seller, The Reason for God, “Religion is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing.” When we think of “religion” we tend to think of the formal religions like Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam, but the reality is that each of us adheres to a set of beliefs that may or may not be linked to a formal religion. These highly held beliefs inform a person’s understanding of mankind and influences how an individual spends his or her time.


For example, there are some who might be headlong into the pursuit of material things or pleasure. They live for the weekend when there is time to indulge in a particular activity. Perhaps they can’t wait for the newest technological advancement to add to their repertoire. Or caring for the Earth may be the highest value in their life and so daily thoughts and activities revolve around being cognizant of their individual carbon footprint. Please do not misread me here. We should care for the earth and be able to enjoy the “fruits of our labor” (i.e., hobbies and the like), but these pursuits can become our highest beliefs. Despite the fact we would normally not consider them a religion, in essence, that is what they are. This also goes for those who practice the religion of attempting to expunge anything to do with God from the public square.


How does Jesus Christ fit into a question about religion? Novelist and historian, the late H. G. Wells, placed great significance on the person Jesus, “I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth.” Wells, a skeptic, could not ignore the central role in human history and neither should we.


Interestingly, Jesus Christ is linked in one way or another to the major religions of the world and each can make a contribution to the understanding of who Christ is. For example, Jesus was a Jew, and in his day, brought great insights about the Law. In Islam, Jesus is seen as a messenger from God, who was born via virgin conception and was one who performed miracles. While there are many different veins of Buddhism, Jesus is regarded as being a heroic minded individual who lived out altruistic values dedicating his life to the well being of all human beings. Many Hindus believe that Jesus traveled to Kashmir and Tibet during what is called the lost years in the New Testament and exposed the Far East to his great teachings. Secular humanists generally posit that Jesus was a charismatic teacher who challenged the traditional Jewish hierarchy.


The Bible gives a cogent description of Jesus. For example, in 1 Timothy 2:3-6, we read, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” From our cultural standpoint, this statement may give us tension, but make no mistake about it, the Bible presents to us Jesus Christ as the truth and that people are saved through knowing the truth.


Truth as defined by dictionary.com is the actual state of a matter. Jesus Christ is put forth as the one mediator between God and man. This means each of us needs a peacemaker to heal our relationship with God. Jesus Christ makes reconciliation possible with God by this—giving himself as a ransom, as an acceptable sacrifice for all.


Are there objections to this truth, the truth of Jesus? Every culture has something it finds infuriating about the truth of Christ Jesus. It happened to the first hearers of the message of Christ, the Jews, who considered a crucified deliverer as a scandal. You may feel objections, too.


What do you believe? How does it dictate the way you live and the way you spend your time? What about Jesus? How does he fit in for you? It may be a “touchy subject,” but it is worth it to give it some thought!


 
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