About Jesus and Our Faith in Him

 
A website is a great place to talk about our church, its community and it programs. But we are not ashamed to tell you the real reason this website is here:  Jesus Christ — who is the One for whom this and all Christian churches and communities exist.  We want everyone to know some things about Jesus that many web sites and many churches neglect to say:

 Jesus is God’s gift to humanity. The Holy Scriptures reassure us that Jesus came into this world for one purpose – to give his life for our sake – and to call us to come home to God, whom he vividly portrayed as our heavenly Father.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life." —John 3:16

This congregation is an open, affirming, welcoming, reconciling church, not because of liberal tendencies and wishy-washy beliefs, but because Jesus was open, affirming, welcoming and reconciling in his life and ministry. He, too, was criticized for not being strict enough, or religious enough, or pure enough. In every case, he brushed aside that criticism because it misses the point.

  We proclaim and teach God’s grace, for Jesus’ sake. Yes, there are many strict, dour and condemning words found in the Bible. But we are convinced by the Gospel (which means “Good News”) that God’s most important message in those inspired and ancient pages is the message of unconditional love and grace. God’s Word for us is always an invitation, not an ultimatum.  Jesus is God's Word in the flesh, the one who came to seek those who are lost, not to condemn them.
For nearly 500 years Lutheran Christians have taught this based on the clear testimony of the Scriptures: that we and all human beings are justified in God’s sight, not because of our good deeds or best intentions, but because of God’s grace which we receive simply through faith in Jesus. No one earns God’s love. No one’s strict behavior or most diligent abstinence impresses God.

  We read and study the Bible, so we know about God’s wrath-- repeated over and over in the law and the prophets. But, for Jesus’ sake, we do not need to run from God.  Jesus encourages us to draw near to God's "throne of grace."   We do not need to live in shame or fear of eternal damnation. One word often paired with “wrath” is “saved.” Christians like to talk about being saved from God’s wrath!  Some Christians like to rely on good deeds (like silver stars pasted on a chart in heaven) to save them from wrath. They claim their good works like achievements, and so look down on others as under-achievers!

But we know that the whole world was saved from God’s wrath by one single event:  when Jesus gave his life for all upon the cross. He put a “stop” to the wrath, the suffering, the threat of eternal punishment, and the folly of religious “good works” with his own blood. Our blood and tears mean nothing, because his blood and tears were everything.

So the full and true Gospel of Jesus is one of grace, not of condemnation. We claim the unconditional love of God, and try to live in a manner which is appropriate as God’s beloved people. We know it is not necessary to spend our whole lifetime worrying about whether God loves us, for Jesus clearly said so.

 The message of grace is this:  if we humbly recognize that we have wandered away from God’s love (and yes, every human being has sinned in ways which are big and small), all we need to do is to wake up to this:  God still loves us; God has not abandoned us; God is seeking us, and wants us to come home. In this waking, seeking, returning and coming home, God's grace awaits us in full measure.  All is forgiven, because of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

God hates no one! The love of God is not cancelled or erased because of human foolishness, excesses or willful errors. The church of Jesus Christ is a community of recovering sinners – we are not “saints” in the sense of "perfect people." We are just those who know our need of grace, and have found the One whom God sent to announce love, reconciliation and peace to our world.

How do you imagine Jesus?  Although every artist for thousands of years have portrayed him, there are no photographs of Jesus. Every disciple, mystic, saint and believer has used his or her imagination.  Yet through the testimony of many Christians—beginning with the letters and narrative stories in the New Testament itself—we have an enduring portrait of this amazing person. Jesus forgave, healed, taught, served, embraced, wept and bled for others.  

 Even more important than how we see Jesus is how he sees us!  He saw the world upside down from the way people usually see it, with the hungry well fed, and the poor and oppressed being liberated. He didn't condemn those whose excesses and errors caused them shame. He stood between an adulteress and her executioners. He pleaded with his followers to show mercy, to provide for the least important people, and to forgive everyone—even hundreds of times—and to do greater things than he was doing. In his last hour, he forgave those whose “duty” was to put him to death.

So, if Jesus is so gracious, loving, non-judgmental and accepting ---  whom the Scriptures tell us is the very image and presence of God Almighty in the flesh --- then why is it that Christians are often so angry and threatening ?  Why are Christians “at each other’s throats” with criticism and condemnation? Why are churches so competitive?  Why does the general public have a positive view of Jesus but a negative view of “church people”? 

Given the huge difference between Jesus and his followers, does anybody think it is Jesus’ fault that he doesn’t resemble us more closely?  Sadly, no, it is we who do not resemble him!  Human beings are the victims of our own excesses, and this is certainly true when spirituality is dominated by religiosity.

Who is the real Jesus?  At its worst, the medieval church was obsessed with human sinfulness and guilt (which, it taught, was what sent Jesus to the Cross).  People were expected to live with lifelong guilt, shame and sorrow, and so avoid every possible thing that might lead to committing a sin. The high morality of the earliest Christians quickly degraded from a noble self-discipline to a whole system of laws, sanctions, penitence and penalties —and ultimately even capital punishment for sins. 

 But now, the church in our times is getting lost in its own enthusiasm for marketing and “selling” Jesus the way products are sold. Jesus has become the most over-advertised and over-exposed individual in history! He is being re-made in our cultural image!  Hundreds of “feel good” mega-churches have turned loose their marketing consultants and produce a television show worship event featuring praise, optimism, glory and self-congratulation, mixed with American patriotism.

Their testimony is often all “about us and how GREAT we are for believing” rather than “about Jesus and how changed we are by his grace and forgiveness.” This modern “church” seems to have forgotten the call to discipleship, to “take up your cross and follow” the Jesus who humbled himself and accepted death to redeem the world.

Like the medieval church, “successful” churches today seem to be all about puffing themselves up and building an empire of wealth, influence, and public respectability. We need to ask ourselves, as a Christian community, whether we are following Christ closely enough to notice those for whom he stopped and stooped: the poor, those without hope, “sinners” who were rejected by others, strangers, foreigners and outsiders, prisoners, widows, the sick and dying. There is no “glory,” wealth, empire or self-congratulation that comes from this.

 

 If we are truly impressed by Jesus, and moved by him, then to serve God faithfully and to follow Jesus faithfully means to serve the people whom Jesus always puts in our path. "For I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." -- Matthew 25:40

The "bottom line" for a Christian congregation is that we are seeking out the lost and the least, with humility, as we try to be disciples who follow Jesus.

Thank you, and may God bless you as you seek to follow Jesus.

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