Talking About Jesus
I had a conversation recently with a fellow who is well-connected in the Christian scene here. He knows and interacts with leaders of the various gatherings of believers, preaches occasionally, and generally has a good grasp on the big picture of what’s happening in the Christian world in Corvallis. I try to understand the big picture, too, so I like to talk to him when I have the opportunity.
The conversation the other day started in a curious way. After brief greetings, he started talking about the mass movements of Israeli citizens back to Jerusalem.
I was a bit surprised he had jumped in there. He talked more, and I asked some questions to get a better idea of his interest, and finally I remarked that I was discouraged that so often people put their focus on world events rather than on Jesus.
He said that everything that is happening is about Jesus, and that Christians are not misdirecting their attention when they are tracking the goings-on in the Middle East. I really didn’t want to talk about what was going on in Israel right then, especially if it was going to turn into a debate, so I held up my hand and said that I really wanted to talk about what he was seeing Jesus doing in our city.
He began telling me about how the uptick in deaths of the Boomer generation was affecting people, about increased interest in the subject of suffering, about shifts in leadership in the various church gatherings as older leaders were retiring, and about the dramatic decrease in giving to Christian organizations of all types.
Interesting stuff, all. But, I wonder if any of that is about what Jesus is doing, or if is just about the status of the Christian machinery in our city.
So, what does it mean to be focused on Jesus?
I’ve been mulling over that bit of the Gospel of John that we call the Upper Room Discourse. In chapters 13 through 17, Jesus gives a long, almost unbroken monologue, in which he talks much about what was coming immediately (the cross), and what would follow. He sought to encourage his disciples, and to give them the layout of the new territory they would be entering.
In John chapter 14, Jesus is talking to his disciples – these guys who have been listening and watching intently for a long time. He tells them “…where I go you know, and the way you know.” To which Thomas responds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?”, setting Jesus up for that memorable declaration: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
More remarkable to me, or at least more curious, is what Jesus says a few verses earlier. In responding to Peter’s consternation that Jesus would be going somewhere that Peter would not be able to follow (John 13:36-38), he says in John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And, if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
This bit is often taken to mean that someday Jesus will return and take us to a wonderfully prepared heaven. But, I don’t think that’s what’s in view. I think Jesus is talking about going to the cross to prepare a place in God’s house for all who trust in him; a place in the very walls of God’s house, as living stones being built into a temple, a dwelling place for God. Jesus has received us to himself. Where his people are, he is. (Eph 2, 1 Pet 2)
To be focused on Jesus, we need to get that. Jesus is in his people. And, he is entirely about seeing his people being conformed into his image, not just individually, but corporately, so that God in all his beauty is made manifest to the world. Together we are his dwelling place, and together we glorify God.
This requires that we shift our gaze from world events and ponderings about how the end-times are going to unfold, to give our attention to the people around us. We need to see that the little kingdoms that have been constructed – the little Christian kingdoms, even – are a distraction from the kingdom. We need to see that our dividing and denominating and forming cliques puts us at odds with God’s intentions.
Street Level Focus
From where I am sitting and typing this, within a half-mile radius there are six church buildings representing at least ten congregations. The denominations include Evangelical Free, Foursquare, Presbyterian, Baptist (x2), Church of Christ, and Assemblies of God, along with a Spanish-speaking Foursquare, a Korean Presbyterian, and a Chinese (Baptist?) congregation.
There is little interaction amongst the attendees of these buildings, and the majority of these attendees travel to their building of choice from out of the neighborhood. And, of course many of the Christians that live in the neighborhood travel out to go to some other building.
There are a lot of Christian buildings visible in my neighborhood, but I don’t know that there’s a lot of Jesus visible.
How do we shift that? How do I, and other Christians around me, focus on Jesus? At a street level, I think that focusing on Jesus means seeking to make connections with all those around me who affirm him as Lord.
It means encouraging them, and bearing with them. It means speaking words of truth to each other, teaching and learning. It means confession and forgiveness, loving and serving. It means doing these things without respect to position or ethnicity, breaking down barriers in ways that demonstrate to a watching world that Jesus, indeed, is Lord.
For this to be visible, it will happen outside of church buildings, spilling over into houses and yards and parks. It might mean that rather than a once-a-week gathering, we are connecting in simpler ways more often.
For the building to grow, the living stones must be available. For Jesus to be Lord of the neighborhood, he must be Lord over me.
I have an individual relationship with God through Jesus. I have the ability to listen and follow, or not. I can spend time reading, listening, and praying, or not.
But my personal focus on Jesus, if it doesn’t translate into interaction with others, is of limited value. For good or ill, my individual relationship affects others, and others affect my relationship with God.
Walking It Out
I’m challenged by my own observations. It is much easier to ‘focus on Jesus’ by reading news, doing word studies, attending religious events, and working through checklists. It is much more comfortable to find ‘like-minded’ Christians to gather with, wherever that may be. But I don’t think those easier, more comfortable approaches will get us where we want to go, if we want to really focus on Jesus.
Here are some ways I’m seeking to walk out a renewed focus on Jesus:
- Deepen my personal interaction with Jesus, recognizing that it is not about knowing things, but knowing him, and that everything centers on knowing him.
- Get really, really local, and apply all of this first with my nearest neighbors – my family.
- Be present, with my family, in my neighborhood. Get to know our neighbors.
- Connect intentionally with other Christians in my neighborhood and workplace, keeping in mind the many ‘one-another’ passages.
- If there are reasons to continue going to a church building, recognize that the people there are just part of the church. There’s only one church in Corvallis.
- Look for ways to encourage other believers, including the leaders of the various congregations in the area, to connect with each other.
I am a ragged work in progress. I’m only on the edges of walking all this out. I’m continually thankful for the long-suffering grace of God, and continually thankful for those who encourage me along the way.
What do you think? Can a focus on Jesus not involve other people? In what ways have you seen Jesus more clearly as you’ve interacted with others? In what ways have you found Christian structures (buildings, programs, etc) to be a help, or a hindrance? I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below. Feel free to correct me, if you think I’m off somewhere!
I hope you’ll read through the other posts in this blogalogue, and help us connect the dots.
Richard Jacobson: Week of Feb. 9
Keith Giles: Week of Feb. 16
Neil Cole: Week of March 2
Jon Zens: Week of March 9