Everyone has an opinion on who Jesus was. In fact, I’d venture to guess that people have assigned more identities to Jesus than any other human being to have ever walked this planet! Part of that has to do with the supreme importance Jesus has to history- as Yale historian Jaroslav Pelican said,
“Regardless of what someone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in Western Culture for almost twenty centuries.”
In easier terms, we even divided time as BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini or the year of our Lord if you aren’t up on your Latin). Virtually every field of study bears marks of Christ- from art to music to literature to science- there isn’t a realm of our world that hasn’t been influenced by Jesus’ life, even if only indirectly through His passionate followers pursuing truth. That makes it extraordinarily important that we know who Jesus was and is. As He asked Peter, the all important question is, “Who do you say I am?” That is the question we are all looking to answer- and the question that ought to be informed more by what He said than what someone else says!
That’s why we’re picking up the gospel of John to read what Jesus had to say about Himself. Discovering who He said He was should inform our opinion and belief about who He is to us. In John’s gospel, Jesus says the words, “I am…” frequently. “I am..” seems innocuous enough, but we also need to understand the implications that phrase has culturally in first century Judaism. I am is a simple translation of the Jewish tetragrammaton- יהוה- or Yaweh, the name of God Himself. I am who I am, I am who I have been, and I am who I will be are all wrapped up in that one simple word. In Jewish culture the name of God was so holy they never said it, they didn’t even write it completely! Instead you’d see Y-H or another variation, with modern Jewish writers going so far as to write G-d instead of God because of their reverence for the name. Yet, throughout John we see Jesus saying, “I am…” frequently. This had to be on purpose- so it falls on us to figure out why. Jesus says He is the light of the world, the bread of life, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection & the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine. Do you know what He meant when He said those things? Want to find out what Jesus meant by all those names He said He was?
Join us as we take a deep dive into Jesus’ own words about Himself and discover for yourself who Jesus is- because that’s the answer to the question that matters. When it all comes down, who do you say He is?
The official motto of the United States is the Latin phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of many, one.” It’s fitting, as the US formed from 13 colonies and then became a conglomeration of 50 states working together as one country. But further, it fits because of the multitudinous peoples who filled the country- all immigrants coming to seek a future in a land beyond the sea- many of whom were greeted by the statue that stands for liberty and justice for all. It’s the idea of a melting pot- many influences creating something unique, different, yet harmonious. That is what the idea is, but it doesn’t necessarily take root when not encouraged to!
It’s also the idea at the root of the church- out of many, one. Diverse peoples with myriad giftings and abilities drawn into relationship because of the love of their Savior to do something no one else ever could. That is a miraculous vision- where people live, love, and work together with one purpose under one head. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the head of the church, the brain deciding where we should go, what we should do and proceeding to tell the other parts how to do it. But we often conflate our self with God and miss the point. My hand doesn’t tell my brain what to do- it tells it when it hurts- but otherwise, it is dependent on the signals from my brain. If my hand is disconnected from my brain, it does nothing. I can no longer type, pick up my children, or drive. But for all intents and purposes we operate in the church as if we were in control of the body, much like the Corinthians did in the early days of the church. That meant Paul had to correct them via a care-frontational letter- writing a letter to address issues to them as a whole. Whenever we focus on “me” instead- instead of the “we” we’re meant to be. In the church it starts with people: “They said…” or “Did you hear what they did?” and escalates from there until there is a swirling vortex of pain caused by people talking about people and things but never talking to the people about the things.
That’s precisely why Jesus said what He did in Matthew 18. It’s a guideline to help us live in community that is abundantly simple. Jesus said,
If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
So simple- just go talk to the person we have an issue with and work at restoring that relationship. The inverse is simple too: if we go talk to someone about someone else, we’re sinning. Period. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Yet we throw those big but’s out there and justify and make excuses for our behavior. We find reasons why it’s okay for us, yet not for someone else. The harder part of the truth to swallow is that we bear responsibility for it too! The person we’re upset with needs to repent, yes, but most importantly WE need to repent too. If we go to someone high and mighty, better than them, we’ve missed a valuable portion of Jesus’ teaching from before about yanking the plank before we go on a sawdust extraction. If we have not repented of our part (and repent means to do a 180 degree turn from what was to where we need to go), we have no right to go to someone expecting them to change when we haven’t. It’s the tough part of community- self examination and some sanctifying surgery has to happen on us before we can help anyone else!
So here’s the simple question: is there anyone you’re holding something against today? Have you checked into your own life before going to them? Or worse yet- have you gone to someone else about them? If the answer to the 1st & 3rd questions were yes, you’ve got some repenting to do so you can answer the 2nd question honestly. But, it all starts and ends with you. You’ve got stuff you need to confess. You’ve got stuff you need to let go of. You’ve got people you need to forgive. You’ve got people you need to seek out rather than talk about. How do I know? Because I’m human too and bear fault just as much as anyone else! But I also know what Jesus said about worship and seeking His face- it’s all fake and worthless unless you’ve made it right with those people first… You cannot meet God unless you’ve made it right with people first. Doubt it? Take a gander at Matthew 5 and let the Lord of all creation convict you:
You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
In case you don’t understand- Jesus just said being reconciled to others outweighed our need to give God His worth as we sought forgiveness. Are you seeking reconciliation with others or only your own way? Are you avoiding the reconciliation because it might be painful for you? Are you talking to others instead of seeking out the person you need to? Don’t wait, go make it right and see what happens. It’s the only recipe for our country, our churches, our relationships, our families, and our souls.
Yank the plank and repent for your part. Seek people out instead of talking about them. Work for reconciliation because it’s your soul that you’re hurting. Go for God’s way and see what happens- it took Paul care-fronting the Corinthians to get there. I pray we learn from their debacle and hear the voice of Jesus instructing us in what is right, instead of continuing to repeat their mistakes. May we be the church that shows people Jesus instead of forcing them away…
*Originally posted on my personal blog, mattschaffner.blogspot.com
It’s graduation season and as we celebrate the accomplishments of those hard-working students, we know they’re going to hear a ton of things from graduation speakers. Some good, some bad, and some ridiculously worthless tripe. It’s just the way it is- but just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter! One of the huge truths about faith in Jesus, is that everything matters. There’s not an area of life that doesn’t matter when we understand faith in Jesus! His goal isn’t incremental behavior modification (changing you to become more like an ideal person) or even adherence to a strict holiness code (meaning your life is all about what you can- and can’t- do). Jesus’ goal is to literally turn your world upside down and transform you into a completely different person.
In one of the more familiar stories from the New Testament (at least if you were ever involved in a Sunday School or kids type program at a church!) is that of Zaccheus in Luke 19 (I mean, he’s got his own catchy kids song- “Zaccheus was a wee little man and a…” And sorry if it’s stuck in your head now too!). Zaccheus is a tax collector (a Jewish traitor who stole from his neighbors legally as a tax collector for the subjugating Roman empire) in Jericho when this famous (or is it infamous?) rabbi named Jesus shows up. There are huge crowds everywhere and Zaccheus is a wee little short man- but he wants to see this Jesus guy. If he weren’t the most hated man in Jericho, he might be able to ask someone to let him through to the front, but he is who he is and there’s no way anyone is going to accommodate him! So being the resourceful little man, Zaccheus climbs a nearby tree that should give him an overlook of the road. That means he’s disregarding any kind of self dignity, because back in the day they wore man dresses. Not a kilt mind you, but a full-scale, muumuu type of garment- that meant when he climbed the tree there were undoubtedly people laughing at him and mocking him further than even normal! But he gets to his vantage point and then has the shock of his life. Jesus, the respected rabbi, stops and invites himself to dinner at Zaccheus’ house. The self invite might be what catches out attention most, but to a 1st century Jew a rabbi talking to a tax collector was unheard of and a huge no no but for that same rabbi to go to dinner with that kind of notorious sinner was a faux pas of the highest order! No one in their right mind in decent society would ever willingly associate with that kind of person. But Jesus does- and Zacchues doesn’t even fall out of the tree in shock!- but runs to get the dinner party started with “great joy and excitement”. This all sounds so strange to us- but it gets worse! During the dinner party, this notorious thief/traitor does something even more outrageous than the prior scene. He tells Jesus that, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Timeout, y’all. This is unheard of. Zaccheus was so fond of his wealth he worked as a traitor and made his living taking in extra taxes off of his neighbors. But here he is saying that he’ll give back four times as much as he’s taken? Is he sick or has he had a mental breakdown devolving into madness? The simple answer is, neither. He’s had an encounter with the Son of God and it’s left a profound mark on him. We might not see the change in heart coming, but it shows up and is such a marked change that no one could ignore it. This doesn’t sound like the same man who climbed the tree to see a rabbi earlier in the day who was quite fond of his wealth, but like a completely different person. And the amazing thing is, Zaccheus was literally a completely different person.
You see, changing behaviors is great. Me starting to exercise, eat better, and demonstrate a more loving attitude are all behavioral modifications I should make for the betterment of me, but running a marathon tomorrow isn’t in my capability! It’d take time for me to get ready for that kind of run- Couch to 5k isn’t even going to touch it- it’s going to take radical, but incremental, changed to get to that point. However, when God is involved things change from our understanding. From a money-grubbing, thieving tax collector Zaccheus changes into a generous (to a fault) giver. There’s no explanation for that other than God! But notice from the story- Jesus didn’t prompt this in Zaccheus or ask for it. Unlike the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10- whom Jesus did tell to give up all his possessions- Zaccheus tumbles to this response on his own. Why would he get there? What prompts this change of heart and mind? To begin to understand that, we have to understand the gravity of what Jesus did in going to eat with Zaccheus. It shouldn’t have ever been possible, but Jesus went. Not only did Jesus go, but he went in spite of the grumbling of the huge crowd that followed Him! He ignored the angst of the many in favor of the lone man who desperately needed Him. In fact, the end of the story tells us that, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.” Zaccheus’ short encounter with the God of the universe had changed him in myriad ways, from instilling a heart of generosity all the way to his salvation. So when you’re tempted to think that something little doesn’t matter- you can’t get to it, you couldn’t see even if you could get there, your dignity says you can’t do something foolish to make it possible, no one would even care if you could- remember Zaccheus and know that everything matters. Each little choice leads to something bigger than we can imagine. If we could see where the chain of little choices leads to in the future- would it influence our “little” choice now? Because I promise you, if Zaccheus knew that his “little” choice to climb the tree to see Jesus would matter this much in his life, he’d do it again in a heartbeat. How can I say that? Because I know that the little choices that have led me to this place are absolutely worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
One of the greatest images of servanthood is contained in John 13 as we see Jesus washing His disciples feet. The God of the universe stripped down to the waist, took up a basin of water, and washed the dirt, grime, fecal matter, and disgusting off of each of the disciples feet. Now, I want you to understand something- in the culture of 1st century Palestine not even a Jewish slave would be expected to wash someone’s feet- it was relegated to the lowest gentile slave in a Jewish household. And Jesus took that place. No wonder Peter reacted the way he did- he saw Jesus taking a place Peter thought He shouldn’t go and labeling Himself as something less than the Christ, Son of the living God. But Jesus washed Peter’s feet- it took a bit of convincing- and then left us a charge: “Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master.” Now He’s not talking literal feet washing here, but telling us how to consider ourselves in light of others. We are to look to serve others first, placing ourselves second.
In the church we far too often leave work to those doing it and then expect them to do more while they’re at it! The old 90/10 rule (that 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people) plays out in most congregations. At Heartland we don’t want to settle for something less than what God intended! We believe that every person was uniquely made and equipped by God- given a SHAPE that makes them fit for a job like no one else. Their Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences add up into someone supernaturally equipped to fulfill the purpose God has placed in their lives! Knowing that, Paul’s admonitions make even more sense:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12.4-12, NLT)
We launched our Who Do We Think We Are? sermon series Sunday talking about our first value: found people find people.
I’d be willing to bet that all of us know this from experience- at some point (if not most points) in your life you’ve needed someone who had been there (or was there) to give you guidance. Maybe you were trying to get somewhere and needed more than GPS- so did you pull out your phone and make a call? People ask the right questions so that we can get to where we want to go! So instead of driving around in circles looking for something on our own and hoping we arrive, we can get there. Now, I’ve been on the phone with people and tried giving specific directions, but sometimes it takes more than that. It takes saying, “I’m walking out towards the street in a bright blue shirt- look for me.” When we want people to get to where we are we do whatever it takes- even if that’s standing around on a corner so that the person we’re talking to on the phone finds us!
Jesus’ ministry was marked by disciples who pulled in other disciples. In John 1 we see Peter and Nathaniel follow Jesus because Andrew and Philip went and pulled the two of them to Jesus! Fast forward to John 4 and we see the village pariah (we know because she’s going out to get water in the midday- if she was accepted by the other ladies of the village she would’ve gone in the cool of the morning when everyone was there) run back into the village to tell everyone about Jesus. She ran back to a place where she was infamous to tell people about the Jesus she had met who’d turned her world upside down! Or look at the Geresene demoniac in Luke 8. He’s been out of his mind possessed by demons for years- Jesus brings healing and he begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go home to his family. I think that’s what most of us would want, right? To go home to see the people we love most? But this man then goes all through the area telling everyone he possibly can about Jesus. Andrew, Philip, the woman at the well, the demoniac of the Geresenes- each examples of people whose passion for who Jesus was lead them to tell everyone they possibly could.
Which is why at Heartland Community Church we believe that found people find people. If we’ve met Jesus- we’ve been changed. We’ve been told, like Philip, that, “You’re one of the best of the best, I want you- come train to be me.” Because to a Jewish boy, that’s what they heard when Jesus, a rabbi, said, “Come follow me.” Most of His disciples didn’t make the cut to be religious leaders- either they couldn’t memorize the entire old testament or just weren’t good enough for a rabbi- and had washed out into hard labor jobs. The world had told then they weren’t enough, that they couldn’t be enough- but here’s Jesus telling them the opposite. He’s saying- come learn from me and literally become me, when He says, “Come follow me.” That’s why our mission is to find everyone we possibly can, by all possible means, so that they can meet the Jesus who came in and messed us up (in the best possible way!). So, who are you leading to Jesus?
The toughest thing most of us ever have to deal with is identity. Whether those tough years in middle/high school where you want to be identified with the “right” group (because being tagged as a geek, nerd, emo, goth, punk, yuppie- whatever the wrong crowd was at your school- would’ve been the end of your existence- obviously!) or moving on into adulthood where those same concepts apply but it’s knowing the “right” people to be connected for financial, social, or other gain- our identity is shaped in many, many ways by the people around us and what we want them to perceive. While that sounds horrible at first blush, let’s walk through it a bit. Why do you dress the way you do? Maybe it’s a uniform at work you have to wear, but think about the things you buy. Your clothes, accessories, car, home, electronics, even the music we listen to and TV we watch. Is something in that list to impress or create commonality with someone else? When we really get down to it- that’s often part of the reason. I mean, why do I hit the clearance rack at Dillard’s? It’s cheaper, yeah- but it’s also the desire to have brands of clothing that convey a message I want people to think!
The church is a reflection of us- so why should we think we’d be that different? That’s why we have to think through our commitments, values, beliefs, and vision. If we skew away from the core things that make us God’s church, who do we become? That’s something we REALLY have to consider- because it is so easy to move away from the moorings that tie us to the past and provide a path to the future. So in the next five weeks we’re going to walk through the core values that make us, us. To talk through the things that we want to be known for as Heartland Community Church. The things we hope we live out so that people see Jesus in us- instead of causing them to see the negatives from us in Jesus.
So, who do we think we are? Take a quick look at the values we’re going to be focusing on and the why- because it’s what matters most!
If we want to live in a way that shows Jesus to everyone we meet- these radical values have to be what defines us as individuals and as a church. We’re found, so we go to find everyone we can possibly bring in. We’ve been saved, so we serve others selflessly like Jesus taught us to. We’ve been given so much more than enough by God, so we give to advance His kingdom here knowing we’ll never outgive Him. We’ve been called to community (this crazy thing called the church), so we never do life alone. We know that as long as we’re still breathing, we’re called to grow because God’s not done with us yet.
I’m excited to unpack these ideas the next 5 weeks- hope to see you there!
Huge shout out for the music in video: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music
Easter is this weekend- so start thinking now who you might invite to worship! Easter is one of the best times to invite someone to church- and it’s not as hard as you might think. To give you some advice & ideas on how to invite someone to church, our friends Johnny & Chachi are here to help:
Now- that might’ve been poking fun, but seriously- just ask. The single greatest thing we can ever do is to help someone get to know Christ- this coming weekend is a great opportunity as we Consider Jesus this Easter.
Want a tool to help invite your friends? Grab our Easter invite here and share it to social media:
Here’s the April Heartland Happenings! Get to know what’s going on this month: