Jesus loves you! This is a true, simple and potentially life-changing statement. Once we accept what that three-word sentence actually means, it can become a steering mechanism for everyday of our lives, pointing us to righteousness, godliness and self-sacrifice. Jesus loves you. Pointed and refreshing, but what does it really mean? Does Jesus’ love for us guide us in our everyday experiences? Yes! Does his love for us mean that he wants the best for us? Of course! Okay, so if he wants the best for us does that refer to comfort and abundance in our lives? Does Jesus’ love for us bring us to better living conditions, more financial stability, a much better present and a brighter future? The answers to these questions will vary wildly depending on whose brand of Christianity you look at and this just confuses the matter. Instead of asking different Christians about the role of comfort and abundance in a Christian’s life, let’s find the answer from Jesus’ own teachings and the Apostle’s own words.
As Christians, we pin all of our hopes on the belief that Jesus was crucified and died for our sins. This is the bottom line core reason for our coming to Christ for it speaks of him doing something for us out of pure love that we in no way could do for ourselves. To us the sacrifice of Jesus represents the ultimate gift. Those outside of Christianity often look at this belief with disdain and even sarcasm for to them it is foolishness and evidence of a blood thirsty god. One question that is probably not talked about much is about the breadth of Jesus’ sacrifice – who did it cover and how do we know? In the present conditions of our world, the Muslim faith is often thought about and referenced. What do Muslims think of Jesus? While they do believe in him, they don’t see him as a redeemer. Does this mean that they are not covered by his sacrifice?
What does it mean to be a Christian? Seriously, what is the real bottom line true meaning of following in the footsteps of Jesus? Is being a Christian like an entitlement program? By professing Jesus do we receive protection from evil, deliverance from trials or the healing of our maladies? Do we receive a promise of an abundant and prosperous life? Or, is being a Christian more like a “getting whipped into shape” work and endurance program where we lose our own will, learn to do without and have to somehow rejoice in tribulation every day of our difficult lives? Is the price of true Christianity a simple acknowledgment of Jesus being in your life or is it a “sell all that we have and change what we are” mentality? What DOES it cost to be a true Christian? Is it a price we are willing to pay?
Christianity is about transformation - at least, that’s what it is supposed to be about. The problem is when we look at Christianity, what we often see is something else, something different. In some ways it seems as though Christianity has fallen into the trap of a competitive evangelism – recruiting as many new believers as possible. Now wait a minute – aren’t we supposed to do that? Yes we are, but how are we supposed to do it? What do we believe the name of Jesus saves us from? What do we believe a Christian life should look like? What do we believe is God’s plan for the masses? Do any of these things really matter? Should we just be focusing on being good, honest and loving?
For a Christian, following Christ is supposed to be a way of life. It is supposed to dominate our thinking and actions, which means it is supposed to dominate our attitude as well. This can be a problem, because we often do not focus on our attitude – instead we just use whatever attitude we might have at the moment to dictate what our thoughts and actions will be. What drives our attitude? What makes, shakes or breaks it? How can we drive our attitude so it can drive us to Christ?
Hasn’t it been long enough? Meaning, it is 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth with the promise of change, the promise of righteousness and the promise of his kingdom. So, where is he? Where is the change – the good - that he promised? All we can see now is a world that slowly walks away from Christianity and that walks towards self...self-satisfaction, self-gratification and self-worship. Has the power of the message of Jesus quietly faded into the sunset? Is the Gospel lost and gone forever?
We live in very touchy times. Whether it is debating political positions or arguing for more of what we believe are our rights, or standing against those who want to do us harm, there are multiple ways of looking at these things. Religion is no different. Did you know that about one half of the world is either Christian or Muslim? That’s a lot of people! Kinda makes you wonder – with so many people professing to follow either of these paths, would the founders of these paths, Jesus and Muhammad, have been in agreement with one another?
Tell us if this is familiar: You have decided that your life feels pretty empty, that what you have tried and how you have tried it just does not work. You know there has got to be more meaning to life, and so you are drawn to Christianity and you accept Jesus. For a while, you feel better, but slowly you get that gnawing feeling that nothing has really fundamentally changed in your life. What do you do? How do you find the real bottom line change that you have been looking for and actually let it change you? If this description fits you or someone you know, then stay with us, because we are going to get basic and practical! I am a Christian but want to REALLY be a Christian. So, where do I start?
A few weeks ago we began to tell the story of the dramatic events that led up to the conversion of the Centurion Cornelius to Christianity. Because the expansion of Christianity to Gentiles was such a radical shift in God’s methods, radical measures had to be taken! Today we will finish the story and see how its conclusion would change the history of Christian faith by the inclusion of you and me!
Sometimes things need to change. When there is a great plan in progress, the need for great change is likely to be a part of that plan. Since Adam’s fall from grace, God’s plan for man’s redemption has been punctuated by changes, including the great Flood which ended the old world, the calling of Abraham which began the age of the Patriarchs, and the death of Jacob which ushered in the age of Jewish favor. Each change had a distinct purpose. Today’s story about the conversion of Cornelius signaled that another change was on the horizon – a change that would be played out through the experiences of the Apostle Peter and Cornelius, the first Gentile convert. God’s plan was progressing and great change was necessary. But why Cornelius? Why a soldier?