The Jesus question

768px-Circle-question-blue.svgThere are many intriguing questions in Christian theology, but one matters most. It’s the question Jesus asked his disciples:

Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15, NIV).

Simon Peter replied that Jesus is the “Messiah,” the “Son of the living God” (v. 15, NLT). This simple fisherman saw in Jesus of Nazareth the One anointed by God, the Christ. This confession of faith – Jesus as the Son of God – is the rock upon which Christ builds his church (v. 18).

It’s the Jesus question.

In math class, our teacher taught us to simplify fractions. Instead of 4/8 – she patiently explained – find the largest whole number that divides into both the numerator and the denominator. The anwer is 4, and when divided by that number, 4/8 becomes 1/2. It’s easier to work with simplified fractions.

What is true for fractions is true for theology. The Jesus question keeps us from getting lost in a maze of valid but ultimately less important questions; it simplifies things.

The Jesus question is helpful both corporately and individually:

Corporately — It’s a church, but is it a Christian church? Look past more complicated issues and determine what they think about Jesus. If a given church teaches that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, if they believe that he is the Savior of the world and is himself God, that he died for our sins and rose again to reconcile us to God, then they clear the minimum bar. But if Jesus is in some way demoted or held to be a great teacher or prophet but not himself God, that church may be many things, but it is not Christian.

Individually — The Jesus question confronts each of us. Jesus wasn’t content to just know what the crowds were saying about him. He turned to his disciples and to us:

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15, NIV)

We must decide who exactly this Jesus is, not only for others, but for us. Peter concluded: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then he moved beyond words to action. He continued to follow Christ. For many of us, to respond positively won’t be a continuation of a journey but the beginning of a new one. To us and to all, Jesus says: “Follow me.”

Christian theology asks many questions. Theologians offer a wide variety of answers, but on the question of Jesus, voices unite. Only he is God’s eternal Son, God’s anointed, our hope for this life and the life to come. How have you answered the Jesus question?


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons













The Optimism of Grace: An Address to the 2013 Graduates of the SNM

Dr Dave Restrick, former Academic Dean of the SNM, interpreted into Portuguese.

Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique

30 November 2013

Opening remarks

Rev Margarida Langa, Rev José Moiane, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the administration and faculty, District Superintendents, Pastors, members of the Class of 2013, distinguished parents, friends and guests, all protocols observed –

It is my honor today to greet you in the strong name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. I am also happy to bring you greetings from Dr Filimao Chambo, Regional Director of the Church of the Nazarene, Africa Region.

We come together on this grand occasion to honor the hard work of our graduates. Our congratulations go to them and to their families. Graduates, you have persisted through a rigorous course of study. Despite temptations to quit, despite moments of discouragement, you stayed in the race. Today, you cross the finish line, and we salute you.

I.  Introduction: The Optimism of Grace

You are heading into a lifetime of professional ministry. Even as you officially launch into that sacred vocation, storm clouds are gathering. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that we will hear of wars and rumors of wars, and today we hear war drums in Mozambique that beat ever more loudly. At such a time when fear threatens to paralyze us, what word of comfort would God have His children hear?

The shadow of the cross fell ever more darkly across the little band of disciples gathered in the Upper Room. According to John 14:27, Jesus comforted his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (NIV).

Today, instead of sipping from the poisonous cup of fear, let us drink deeply from the cup of Christian faith. As followers of Christ who belong to the Nazarene family, we know that the holiness message we preach is the hope for Mozambique, for Africa, and for the world. What is this message? It is the optimism of grace. Let us reflect this morning on that optimistic grace in three commands:

 1) Let God’s grace transform you.

2) Let God’s grace transform the church.

3) Let God’s grace transform society.

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From Church to Kingdom: A God-sized mission for the people of God

24 lion lambSome time ago, I sat in a meeting and heard a colleague say: “I’m a company man.”

On one level, I understood the sentiment. He was expressing loyalty to his denomination. Yet at another level, it made me wonder: Is that all there is? Is this all just about expanding the membership of a particular ecclesiastical grouping?

No matter what denomination or congregation we call home, one thing is certain:

We signed on not merely to build an organization, but to build the Kingdom.

“Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) is the pithiest Scriptural expression of this longing. We see the lifeless corpses of Syrian victims of chemical weapons, and we pray: “Your Kingdom come!” The cries of a child with an empty stomach, suffering from the ravages of drought-induced famine move us to cry: “Your Kingdom come!” A hundred preventable heartaches evoke a spontaneous: “Your Kingdom come!”

The genius of the Christian message is that – properly understood – it never sees a conflict between calling people to reconciliation with God through Christ and calling people to active involvement in bettering our world. Renewal in the “image of God” – to use John Wesley’s term – is a renewal both for the individual and for society. To pursue one and neglect the other is like detaching one wing from a plane. Just like planes need two wings to fly, so does the Christian message.

As we speak about the mission of God in the world, our “plane” must have two wings, both “Church” and “Kingdom.”

Church – Ours is not a solitary faith. The Church is the people of God, the gathered community of belief. We affirm the old truths, that we are born estranged from God, but that in Jesus, we can draw near! Forgiveness of sins and cleansing are possible because of the atoning death of Jesus. We have hope for the next life because of the resurrection. Many tragedies in this world are not because people who are inherently good acted badly. Rather, Scripture teaches that each of us are inherently evil until we allow the grace of God to change us. Church is the arena where together we celebrate the transforming grace of God that makes saints out of unworthy sinners. And yet there is more…

Kingdom – The objective is not Church; the objective is building the Kingdom of God. My own denomination speaks of “making Christlike disciples in the nations.” This is good as far as it goes, yet something is missing. As God transforms our lives through the community of faith, God wants to deploy us for a Cause that goes beyond adding more disciples. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 cannot be divorced from the Kingdom themes that appear again and again in Matthew 1-27, and those Kingdom themes direct the Church to a Cause bigger than itself.

Transformed by God, the Church moves out to transform the world.

There has been a lot written about the growing exodus from churches in North America. As my wife and I have visited in many churches, we have been struck by the self-centeredness of some of the worship choruses, such as this:

“I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, He calls me friend.”

Narcissistic lyrics like these will never fire the human imagination. Yes, a relationship with God through Christ is essential, and it is amazing to know that God has a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). But if that’s all that we have to say, then we have provided no Cause bigger than ourselves. We have only reinforced what the culture is telling us in a thousand ways, that we are the center of the universe, and by the way, there is a God who revolves around you. Someone testified:  “I couldn’t find a parking space, so I prayed, and God gave me one!” Yet what kind of a puny God exists only to serve the whims of even punier creatures?

But what if instead of God existing to serve us, we exist to serve God? What if the purpose of our lives is not us, but something bigger? What if we as the Church are about not only “making Christlike disciples in the nations” but about “making Christlike disciples who will change the world”?

Now that’s the kind of Cause for which people will give their lives. People aren’t responding to other-worldly evangelism plans that sound like a no-risk offer to join “Club Heaven.” They  want to worship in a church absolutely convinced that the same God who can powerfully change individuals can powerfully change  the world. 

Planes need two wings. How many “wings” does our message have? Are we about Church and Kingdom? We need both. Let’s make sure we are promoting a God-sized mission for the people of God.


Image: Chippep


Doing church God’s way

A Sunday morning drive in our '63 Chevy Impala meant we'd soon be at church.
A Sunday morning drive in our ’63 Chevy Impala meant we’d soon be at church.

I was just a boy of three. It was Sunday, and time to go to church.

We lived near Clinton, New Jersey, but because there was no Nazarene church nearby, my parents loaded me and my two older brothers into our ’63 Chevy Impala. We drove 45 minutes down the highway to the Edison Church of the Nazarene.

When I would see the turn-off ramp, I would know that we were close to church. Excitedly, I’d say to my father: “Church, Dad!” I’d keep repeating the phrase until Dad would give-in and respond: “Yes, church, Greg.” I’d then make the rounds: “Church, Mom!” Finally, I’d insist on the same “Yes, church, Greg” response from my older brothers, David and Mark. It was a fun game…at least the first thirteen times.

My brothers grew tired of it. As we climbed into the Chevy the next Sunday morning, they made their case. “Dad,” they pleaded, “Tell Greg he can’t say that anymore. It’s annoying.” One parental lecture later, I’d learned my lesson. As we got to the turn-off this time, I solemnly intoned: “I’m not going to say ‘church, Dad.” When there was no response, I repeated: “I’m not going to say ‘church, Dad.”

What was true for me as a young boy is still true today: Being excited about going to church depends upon understanding what church is all about.

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