Who Do You Say I am?

Jesus at one point asked his followers, “Who do people say that I am?” They pointed out what they had heard others say. But then he turned the question on them, “Who do you say I am?” One of his disciples said, “You are the Messiah.” 

During the time of Jesus, people were anticipating that a Messiah (Savior) would someday come and save them from their oppressors and redeem their lives, establishing a new Kingdom for them to live in. As the disciples followed Jesus, they called him teacher, Lord, Son of man, Son of the living God, and the Christ. Jesus affirmed those names. 

The bible refers to Jesus as the Christ, Word, Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb of God, Emmanuel (God with us), the gate, bread of life, mediator, prince of peace, savior, redeemer, friend, the way the truth and the life, and the only way to the Father. Jesus himself spoke boldly that he is the source of life, resurrection, joy, peace, freedom, light and fruit. He showed that he had authority over all things, both heaven and earth and to even forgive. He said that he brought heaven to earth and that he was establishing something new and that he would return. He even challenged the religious, at the time. 

I believe that Jesus is everything mentioned and more. I believe that how we answer the question “Who do you say Jesus is?” determines many things. It determines our view of the church and of Christianity. What if instead of looking at Christianity as religion and the church as organized Christian religion, we took the time to look at the person of Jesus? What if we looked at what he was about, the things he actually did, and what he said? Jesus said that if you want to know the heart of God, if you want to know my Father’s heart, you will see him in me.

I personally have found that there is so much more to Jesus than we realize and when we meet him in seasons of our life, our view of him changes. Jesus said “I have come so that you can live an abundant life.” My hope is that we will take the time to ask daily, “Jesus who are you?” I hope that as you take the time to look at Jesus for yourself, that it may change your view of Christianity, the Church, and the people who follow Jesus. 

Jesus invited people to follow him and find out for themselves. May you seek after the person of Jesus and discover something new. If you seek him, you will find him in the most unexpected way. 

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ReVitalize

I haven’t written a blog in quite awhile. Spent the last year teaching in a nearby high school seeking what the Lord might have next for Betsy and I. Crazy year of affirmations and seeing the fruitfulness that comes when we just allow the “fruits of the spirit’ do their work. I got to see first hand the power of love, peace, gentleness, patience, kindness and self-control. Without even mentioning the name of Jesus, both teachers and students were greatly impacted and found life in the presence of the spirit.

So where are we now? I was asked to meet with and consider becoming a transitional pastor of Patterson Covenant Church in Patterson California. Patterson is a historic town just off of I-5 and west of Turlock and Modesto. The church is a 117 year old Covenant Church. They went through an incredibly rough season that would have ended any church, but a remnant fought to keep it alive. In my few visits, I saw a people who are welcoming, will serve at a high level, prayerful in every moment, and really worshipped. For me these were qualities that are often hard to coach, yet they embodied them. One often asks why we personally go through what we go through? I could see that my life and ministry journey prepared me and them for this opportunity.

I began in November and as the season of revitalization began, I found the moment of the death of Lazarus as a model to follow.

Remember the story? Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was dying. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come quickly to heal him. But Jesus knew that death would not have the final word and even though he loved Mary and Martha, he chose to stay for a few more days. After 2 days, he and the disciples headed to Bethany in Judea. When Jesus arrived people were already in deep grief because Lazarus had already died and they had even wrapped him ceremonially and placed him in a tomb. It says that Jesus wept, from perceived grief for Lazarus, but more for the grief of their lack of faith. He let them know that for those who believe, there is no death. Everyone was questioning why Jesus would have let Lazarus die knowing full well that Jesus could have come earlier and healed him. As Jesus approached the tomb, he could see that the tomb was sealed and this made him angry. So he told them to open the tomb and thanked God for what was about to happen and then said, “Lazarus come out!” And out stumbles Lazarus,  his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus tells them to “unwrap him and let him go.”

The people of this church were in a struggle to survive and in a sense left for dead. People who grew up in this church and raised their children in this church,  were now grieving and questioning, where was God in this? So all Betsy and I have done is unwrap them so that can live again. All we have done is love them, provide a peaceful presence, gently unwrap the burial clothes by working through forgiveness and healing, moving forward patiently with kindness, and helping  them to rediscover themselves and their calling in the community. As a leader, a new self-control required me to not lead from the front, but instead to come along side them. The result has been healing and empowering.

New life where there once was the smell of death. What will the next season look like? Interesting how Jesus says that things need to die before coming to life. God is definitely up to something in Patterson. Makes me question how quickly we allow things to die and bury them when maybe in the dying is an unforeseen new life.

 

Going Public

“ They were astounded! They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade(porch) . . . Peter saw his opportunity . . .” Acts 3

One of my favorite moments in the life of the early church was as Peter and John were on their way to Temple. If you recall, they walked by the man, lame from birth, who was begging for money. They stopped and looked at him intently and gave him what he really needed. Peter and John took him into the temple with them and everyone recognized that this was the man that they walked by everyday as they went to temple. He was not only walking but leaping with joy! They were astounded at what Peter and John, followers of this Jesus, had done. Where did they take it? They took it to out of the temple to a place where the public had seen Jesus with the Jews in tow. Peter seized the opportunity and spoke boldly of Jesus.

So here is my thought. Whenever we experience a redemption story in our church communities, our tendency is to have them share their story; to give testimony. Where do we do this? We have them share in church. We celebrate; as we should. We give testimony for many reasons, but the main reason being it gives witness to the redemptive power of Jesus. We do this in hopes that a changed life will speak to those hearing the story and that someone who doesn’t know Jesus will find him compelling. In a time when people who don’t know Jesus are less likely to come to church; are we seizing an opportunity when a life is changed or are we missing it?

My question is this: Why are we not sharing these stories with our friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family who don’t know Jesus? Why don’t we tell others with excitement and joy of a new life redeemed by Jesus? I believe we live in a time where our stories are being kept in the family. I believe that we are living in a time where our faith is looked at as religious institution and a belief system by the world around us. The next generations have less and less connection to church culture, but they do seek redemptive stories. A redeemed life speaks volumes and it will point to Jesus. So the next time you experience a redeemed life, take it public. You might be surprised by the response.

“Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.” Psalm 96:2-3

People of “The Way”

The earliest followers of Jesus were called “followers of the way.” Followers of Jesus were not called Christians until later in the first century. According to some historians, it was somewhat of a mocking term given to them in the city of Antioch. “The Way” is not an insignificant term. The Hebrew people followed Torah. It was not just a set of rules to follow but a wholistic guide to Kingdom living. Thus, it was meant to be a way of life. So when Jesus said, “I am ‘The Way’, the truth and the life,” he was putting himself on equal terms with the Torah. Jesus made it clear that he was living and modeling “The Way” of kingdom living; a new way of life, the life God has always intended. What we see in the New Testament is Jesus showing us the way followed by people living into the ways of Jesus. What if we were to let go of all our Christian language and labels and lived into “The Way”? What if our way of life was compelling to the world around us? What revival might take place in our culture if we were seen more as people of “The Way”; a way that points to Jesus?

ReOriented: Attractional Life

“Many people followed Him from Galilee and Judea. They followed Him from the cities of Decapolis and Jerusalem. They followed Him from Judea and from the other side of the Jordan River.”

As Jesus did what Jesus did and as Jesus taught what he taught, people were drawn to him. His love and acceptance of  all people was overwhelming and people seeking hope and love wanted be around him at whatever cost. He was living and offering a new life free from the burdened life of the culture. The disciples were attracted to the life of Jesus and left everything to learn to live the life Jesus offered. When Jesus left, he told the disciples to teach others how to live this life. As they did, their life was as attractive as Jesus’. Following Jesus was a way of life not just a religion or belief system. As people lived that life, the people around them were attracted to a life free from burden and filled with love, acceptance and community.

Do we as followers of Jesus live a life that is attractive to others? Are people drawn to the Jesus that is within us? Do they experience Jesus as they experience us? St. Francis of Assisi said that we are to “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” I think St. Francis was saying: “Let your life speak of the life you have found in Jesus.”

I think, for many of us, we have relied on the church to be the attraction and expression of Jesus. If I can get people to church, then they will come to know the Jesus I know and have experienced. Don’t get me wrong, the church is the body of Christ and a great expression of Jesus, but when I look at the gospels, it is Jesus living a way of life that is different from the world yet fully present in it. They didn’t follow him to Temple, they followed him everywhere he went. The church is a people beyond name, time and location.

People followed Jesus and Jesus asked the disciples to imitate his life. Imitating Jesus would mean becoming like him; doing what he did, teaching what he taught, and living the way he lived. The Apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” As followers of Jesus are we imitating his life? Are people seeking after our life as people sought after Jesus? I think for many of us, this brings up a great question of whether our life is attractive and worth following. Are we even attentive to the people that are already following our lives wanting what we have? Are we willing to invite them into our lives? Are we willing to invite others to follow us as we follow Christ?

Instead of inviting them to church, what if we invited them into our lives? What if we discipled them into the life giving grace rhythms of our life? Then as one of our life rhythms they followed us into our community; church.

I think Jesus would want to say to all of us, ” Invite people into the life you have found in me.” Who is following you?

 

ReOriented: A Narrative

 

“To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.”                                                                   Eugene Peterson

So you have this moment in the story of Jesus, where in his death, resurrection and departure, he has called his followers to disciple others into the life he lived with them. They gather and pray together for what is next. Through the arrival of the power of the Holy Spirit, the helper Jesus promised, they share Jesus’ story in a way that everyone present could understand. All who were able to hear wanted to know what they needed to do. It says in response they repented and were baptized. Repentance meant turning and going in a complete new life direction and baptism symbolizing the death to the old life and the beginning of a new life; a way of life. These people had just been given an opportunity to live the life of Jesus that was free from the heavy burden of life politically, socially, religiously, and culturally.

How did they begin to live into this new life? It says in Act 2:42-47 that they devoted themselves to some basic things to learn how to live into this new life, a Jesus centered life. They were devoted to hearing from the disciples the teachings of Jesus. They were devoted to fellowship, a common life together; common interests, goals, character, and life rhythms. They shared meals together; something powerfully life giving around a meal. They devoted themselves to praying together.

What was the fruit from such a devoted common life together? They were in awe of the many things God did through them in the lives of others. They began to live an even more intentional life together sharing everything with one another; including all personal material things and money with all those in need. They focused their attention on God everyday at the Temple and met in homes daily sharing meals with great joy and generosity; taking communion together to remember what Jesus had done for them. And because they lived this way, authentically following in the ways of Jesus together, the Lord added to their common life together (fellowship) those whos lives were now saved from life’s burdens.

I wonder what would happen if we as Christians, Jesus followers, oriented our lives together in the same devoted life? What would happen to our lives? Would we see the awesome work of God in the lives of those around us? Would our lives look radically different from those around us? Would people desire our way of life to be free from the burdens that culturally, socially, politically, and religiously are put on us all?

Have we, the American church, allowed our culture to shape what our common life together in Jesus looks like? Have we gotten so busy with life in our culture that we literally have no time/space/capacity to even begin to live this kind of life together? Have we gotten so accustomed to life in our culture that we expect the church to reflect that life?   It might be that to follow Jesus means to turn and go in another direction from what our culture is telling us  in order to find the life we are looking for.

 

ReOrient

In the gospels, Jesus as he begins his ministry, invites some fisherman to follow him. These men have lives oriented around their family business and life together. It says that they laid down their nets and followed Jesus. They even invited others to follow. They spent the next 3 years living a life oriented around Jesus. Then Jesus is crucified; unexpected. Even though Jesus said it was going to happen, even though they experienced the resurrection, they went back to their lives “pre Jesus.” They had hopes and expectations of what Jesus was going to be and what being apart of his life would mean for them.

Jesus has this great moment with some of the disciples, Peter and his brothers, meeting them where he first met them. He ministers to Peter’s unmet expectations and wounds from failure; essentially restoring his invitation to follow and now lead. Jesus commands his disciples at that point to go into all of their world and share the life that they found in Jesus and show them how to live that way; discipleship. Their response is to reorient their lives, once again, around the life they lived with Jesus. Today we live in the fruit and failure of reorientation.

Back in the 1980’s, the church out of it’s desire to be missional and culturally relevant, moved towards “doing church” in such a way that would reflect culture with the goal of attracting people to our churches. In those moments the genuine hope was that they would come to know Jesus and become part of the church community. This shift, set into motion a slow reorienting of the heart of the church.

Our culture today is all about living for oneself. We orient our lives around our goals, hopes, and dreams. We pursue the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My life’s fulfillment and happiness are all determined on whether I am getting what I want. We have grown up in that culture and our children are being raised in that culture. Our lives are oriented around us. Even as christians, deep within, if we are honest, our lives revolve around us. We bring that self orientation into our church experience and unfortunately the church struggles to survive based in its organizational ability to pull that off.

A few thoughts we wrestle with as we live into church: “What am I getting out of it? Is it meeting my needs? Does it fit my schedule? Does it provide what I want for my children? Is the teaching any good? Do I like the style of worship? Do I get along with the people who are here? I will give of my time, money, and talent in a way that I am comfortable with and fits my life.” So the church, in order to survive, now is obligated to meet that. Churches struggle to be relevant based on meeting the consumers wants and needs of church. I have found myself as a person in the church and as a person pastoring and leading in the church living in this tension. Following Jesus, life in the church, and joining God in what he is doing happens when it is convenient and fits into one’s life. The church seems always to be asking one to orient their life around it and that is in direct conflict with one’s life. For many this hasn’t worked and the church hasn’t met what they want it to be, so many are leaving, looking for one that will, or have given up on the church.

What if we reoriented our lives around Jesus? What if all of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness was found in the way of life Jesus offers? What if I lived in my neighborhood as a follower of Jesus? What if we went to work as a follower of Jesus? What if our marriages and families were lived out of the life we have in Christ? What if our financial decisions were made from Jesus perspective? What if we allowed Jesus to shape the passions and interests of our lives? What if our life patterns were shaped around following Jesus? What if our involvement in church community was oriented around being the body of Christ and reflecting together the image of Jesus to the world? What if we did what Jesus asked of the disciples to do; go into our world and share Jesus and his way of life to others? To be perfectly honest, this is so counter culture today, even for the church.

This sounds overwhelming to reorient one’s entire life around Jesus. But what if we just chose one thing to begin the process? Betsy and I are trying to reorient more of our lives around Jesus. So we have begun to honor the Sabbath. Culturally Sundays have become just extension of Saturday filled with more activity. To honor the Sabbath is just taking a 24 hour period to stop the busyness of life in the world and trust  and rest knowing that God is God. So we are stopping a 5pm on Saturday and only allowing things that are restful and life giving into that day until Sunday Supper. Rest is necessary for healthy living and God commanded it. We know that it is a necessary life rhythm to stop and rest so that we are able to live into a reorienting of the rest of  our lives with Jesus at the center.

Our lives, the lives of others, and the world around us, needs do discover what a life oriented around Jesus looks like. It begins with you and I. What is an area of your life you could begin to “ReOrient” around Jesus?

Note: Great Reads: Mark Buchanan “The Rest of God”, Wayne Muller “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.”

Living Grace Together

Grace is a small but huge word. It encompasses a redeemed life, a life being transformed, and a life that points to Jesus. It is something that happens in us, through us, and is at work around us. Eugene Peterson  speaks of the “unforced rhythms of grace” in The Message Matthew 11:28-30.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I have found that in my life, to experience a life that is free and light requires some necessary rhythms so that I can learn to walk in the ways of Jesus. I need to recognize and experience the goodness of God. I need to allow the daily redeeming of all that is amiss in my life. I need to be attentive to where the Holy Spirit is at work in around my life and act on it. I need to cultivate relationships in a community living a common life together. I need to live an inviting life extending the life to others I have found in Christ (evangelism; not a bad word 🙂 ). What if this became a weekly focus in community? Instead of a sermon series, what if we focused in a weekly rhythm of GRACE? What impact would consistently celebrating and growing in these focuses (one each week) have on us and the world around us? I think this looks like Jesus.

G: Sharing/Knowing/Recognizing the Goodness of God

R: Living a Redeemed life

A: Seeing/Hearing and Acting on the Lord’s leading

C: Learning to grow/restore healthy relationships in a Community

E: Sharing/Inviting others into the life we have found in Jesus (Evangelism)

 

 

A Starting Place

Is a church a place where people gather once a week to sing songs and listen to someone talk about God, or does church refer to the people themselves, who share a common mission in the world? Maybe if we start to view church the way God designed it, the way Jesus modeled it, as a family loving each other and sharing all of life together, we might show the world a glimpse of who God is and so begin to impact the world as God intended.

The inverted church would be a church gathering birthed out of need from actually living the life of Jesus daily: serving, discipling, livinging missionally where your life calling is. Our life is a called life. It is where God has us; our work place, our neighborhood, our family, our leisure, or specific calling to serve a people.  Eliminate the tension of church life and life life. No program; life. What if the gathering was based on the rhythm of Jesus meaning a sabbath day, an actual day of rest,  culminating in a community meal, fellowship, sharing, celebrating, an encouraging word, prayer, and communion? What if the gathering was a communal response to a life being lived? What if pastors/leaders were able to put their efforts and energy through inviting, modeling, shepherding, equipping, empowering, and encouraging via discipleship/coaching as people live missionally out of their life?

People in my world no longer have the time to live life in our culture and live a life in a church culture. We are being pulled in too many directions. Jesus said we can’t serve 2 masters; you love one and despise the other. Jesus invited us into a Kingdom life; one redeeming life of love, community, freedom, and mission. This is happening throughout the world; my desire is to see this in my world where  we work, live and play.

If you want to engage with me in this, let’s keep talking and prayerfully move beyond talking and live into One Life in Jesus.

Peter