Monthly Archives: June 2010

Living Dangerously — Instead of Anti-Christ

Every time one gets out of the shower on the first floor of my house, there on the bathroom wall is a poster of Nietzsche looking at you.  The quote on the poster says, “Believe me! The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!”  Of course what Nietzsche meant by this is anyone’s guess, being an atheist German philosopher of the 1800’s who struggled with the fact that it seemed that belief in God was dead and so a new morality needed to be created.  But many people have noticed that quote– family, friends and strangers.  

Of course at one level the quote seems absurd– when I was in high school my friend Brian and I used to go out on the rural gravel roads and he would get on top of the car, sprawled out, with one hand holding on gripping the roof through the open windows, and I would speed up to 60 mph, knowing Brian was still on because I could see his white knuckes and fingers on either side of me gripping the car.  And I think both Brian and I would say that, looking back, that was probably dangerous and fairly stupid.  But we still lived life more vigorously at that point than a lot of our friends were…

Its not so hard to live life dangerously when there is not much to lose.  When you are young and single and have very little, its easier to be risky.  With a wife, job, kids and mortgage, you get more risk-averse.  But even some people who are young don’t like risks.  And of course there are some young souls who always take risks– even when they are not so young in age.   Part of the reason people don’t like risks is that they want to make sure they are in control of the variables– in control of life.  That is understandable– but that doesn’t mean its necessarily the best way to live. 

Oswald Chambers wrote for June 27th,

“The Sermon on the Mount indicates that when we are on a mission for Jesus Christ, there is not time to stand up for ourselves.  Jesus says, in effect, ‘Don’t worry about whether or not you are being treated justly.’  Looking for justice is actually a sign that we have been diverted from our devotion to Him.  Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it.”

This is the opposite of my tendency– and the tendency of most of us.  We just want to make sure that we get what we have coming– let others suffer what problems they may have.  I don’t care if others are stupid enough to get the raw end of the deal– thats none of my concern– but I’m sure not going to be taken for a fool.  Our concern is more often for justice for ourselves, our own family, our own children, our own situation– and not others.  We can justify it to ourselves as ‘common sense’, as a ‘motherly concern’ or ‘paternal obligation’, as being ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’– or we can not justify it at all, but simply do it because we can and we are cleverer than most.  But in any case, we are in some sense doing it out of selfish concern– a concern for self over others, and it is an anti-Christ attitude in that  rejects His call that we follow Him in giving ourselves up for the sake of others ‘who know not what they do’.  We see it as just taking care of our own business and being responsible.  He sees it as rejecting His call to a life that is really worth living– a life of sacrifice that risks what he has given us back potentially to lose it completely and utterly– our utmost for His highest.

Oswald continues: “If we look for justice, we will only begin to complain and to say, ‘Why should I be treated like this?’ If we are devoted to Jesus Christ, we have nothing to do with what we encounter, whether it is just or unjust.  In essence, Jesus says, ‘Continue steadily on with what I have told you to do, and I will guard your life.  If you try to guard it yourself, you remove yourself from My deliverance.’ ”

When we live our lives guardedly, we will constantly give up opportunities to live it for Christ.  We will constantly give up those possibilities of really losing ourselves for Christ and His kingdom.  We refuse to follow Christ there because honestly we do not believe that Christ is sufficient to give us what we need.  We don’t really believe in God at those points…

Again, Oswald says, “Even the most devout among us become atheistic in this regard– we do not believe Him.  We put our common sense on the thrown and then attach God’s name to it.  We do lean to our own understanding, instead of trusting God with all our hearts (see Proverbs 3:5-6)

Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It says to lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge God, and He will make your way straight.  This is the more dangerous approach– sometimes the less common sensical approach.  But in that we are then able to release to God our responsibility and trust that God will provide as we step out in faith for Him, it is our opportunity to not have to be in charge, to not have to try to control the outcomes, and to leave ourselves in the hands of God– intentionally, hopefully, and with expectation of good things.  I believe that when we live dangerously like that, that we will, as Nietzsche says, reap the greatest fruitfulness from our lives. 

May God have mercy on us all.   –andy

Losing your life…

The guys have been making some good progress on the roof.  In the last two days they ripped off most of the other side of the roof and resheeted it (they had to take off the original 80+ year-old wood shake shingles and put down 4×8 sheets before shingling).  The project has taken longer than it could have– a lot of crews could have done the whole roof in 3 days– but its getting done, and getting done well (you know what they say, you can only hope to get two of the three: quality work, good price, and timeliness– and I’ll usually take the first two over the third).  Since my crew all ride bicycles, I’ve had to do a lot more running around.  I’ve had to go pick up Kevin occassionally, or bring them lunch, or go help resolve disputes, calm people down, or motivate people.  We have an agreed on price, but I’ll probably end up paying more, and I pay them piece-meal a little each day as they need it, which means trips to the bank each day.  A traditional crew would have been no-hassle, not much more expensive, and I would have been at a happy distance, not involved in the work or lives of those putting on my roof.

But its very rewarding to choose to do it this way.  Guys who don’t usually get a chance are.  They are getting some money, keeping busy, and doing something that gives them some pride.  As people have seen them working, they’ve now been offered some other roofing jobs (but, like one of them said, its quite difficult to haul roofing supplies on bicycles).   They genuinely appreciate the work and my trust– you can tell that every time they shake (or bump) hands with me every day. 

This week at Simple Free we read from passage from Luke 9 where Jesus says “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”  Now I’m hardly a martyr, and few of us are in the traditional sense of actually dying.  But there is some sense in which I can identify with this when I find my days being ‘eaten up’ by various requests from my guys throughout the day.   I love having the guys come over every morning at 8:30 for coffee, and its an important part of their day, and mine– but its a regular commitment on my part, and when we don’t do that– when I don’t give them a good reason to get up, and give them something to do– things don’t usually go well for them.  Last week Richard (who hasn’t drank for almost a year) said, “I gotta keep finding stuff to keep me busy.  Its hard when everyone around me is drinking, and I’m trying to stay sober.”  The work I give these guys isn’t just about pocket money, its work therapy.  And it does eat into my life.  And I love that most of the time.  Its a way of giving up my own life– losing my life– but its also an easy ‘cross’ to bear.

Two days ago I was talking to Greg, and he said that a Sudaneese man in a suit had come by and asked if they needed someone to pick up the shingles that we on the ground.  He said he’d do it for $10.  Greg agreed, and the guy proceeded to take off his suit down to his swimsuit underneath (he even took off his shoes!) and he cleaned up the yard.  When telling me about this afterwards, Greg said to me, “I appreciate what you are doing for us man, and I want to spread the wealth too!”  That made me really happy.  Greg does have a good heart, and he is helping out others as much as he can.  Half the reason he took on this job was because he knew Kevin needed some work to stay out of trouble.  Kevin brought his brother in law along to the job now because he knows he needs some money.  And they all mutually encourage each other to stick with it (on good days). 

The difficult thing about trying to get personally involved with guys like Kevin, Greg, Richard, Mike and Izzy is that life gets messy when you are dealing with people who have messy lives.  It does take patience and extra grace sometimes.  But these guys become like family because they realize you trust them and open up your life to them in a way which few others will.  That makes it very rewarding, and makes it not seem like losing life, but like gaining it.  God has definitely enriched my life through the lives of these guys, and I don’t regret it at all.

When to help, when to not help

I’ve been trying to get a roof done this week.  I contracted with a guy, Greg, from our neighborhood who has cleaned himself up after years of drug use, and he was to have a crew.  Turns out his crew ended up being Kevin, a guy I know who currently uses various street drugs off and on. 

After 4 days the roof is partially resheeted and partially felted– on one side.  Kevin sometimes shows up around noon.  Today he didn’t.  Yesterday he didn’t show up in the morning, so I ripped off half the roof with Greg.   I picked kevin up at his house around noon, got him some food at Burger King and tried to get him going.  He lives in a house owned by another landlord that he works for often.  The door has no doorknob, and there is a string hanging out that you pull to ring a bell inside.  The inside looks more like a barn than a house.  Its not finished.  Kevin has been doing roofing for 30 years.  He showed me paperwork from the 80s and he said he had calculated that he did around 75 roofs that year– he’d had his own business, which is how Greg learned to roof– Kevin had him on his crew back then as a teenager.  But when Kevin’s wife had a brain aneurism, he kind of went off, and he’s been in tough shape since.  

He can be a wonderfully charming person, and he is bright– bright enough to see the irony of his own situation and his own self-destructiveness.  Its fun to talk with him.  But he is also prone to sudden outbursts of anger.  The drugs have sort of knocked out common self control and he has a hard time keeping his head on straight. 

So now as my roof is not very done, and I’m concerned about whether it ever will get finished, I struggle to figure out what to do.  Should I shut it down and look for someone else, or spend a lot of time babysitting to make sure Kevin gets the work done we need (when he works, hes capable of 3 other people’s workload).   I tend towards the latter.  I understand most people wouldn’t put up with this, but somehow putting up with this seems to be part of what it means to help people like this.  Most people just wouldn’t bother.  But it is messy to get your life involved in their troubles. 

Another friend came by today asking about housing.  He once lived in our house, but he is slightly unstable and has some anger and other issues which prohibit him from coming back into our house– so I’m trying to figure out how to help him as well.  He’s been living on the street for a few weeks.  He is from a wealthy family, and he is quite bright.  He is an avid piano player and he is just a couple classes away from a science degree.  But he has family issues and is estranged from his parents for various reasons.  He shared that he had had most of his stuff stolen a week ago and then last night got thumped on the head as he slept in a garage behind a bar downtown where he’d been staying and they took everything else he had– his id, buspass, practice room key (for playing the piano).  So as he walked away this morning, he walked away with all he had– nothing (except the pizza I bought him at Godfathers).  We may have an apartment on Dewey ready for him soon.

So how do you know when to give, and when not to?  This is a difficulty I know many people face all the time, and its hard to stop being gracious (although I suppose for some its hard to start being gracious).  When is it help, and when is it enabling? 

My solution at the moment is to put my work clothes on and go help Greg for a couple of hourse with lifting sheets onto the roof.  Thats probably the best thing I can do to help him out today.

May God have mercy on us all.

North Omaha Challenges

In the late 60s, there were a number of ‘race riots’ in which people burned down much of the commercial district of North O from Cummings to Lake Street.  Once, it was over a young girl being shot by police.  Once it was in response to a scuffle at an event where George Wallace, segregationist governor of Alabama, was having a presidential campaign rally.  Most of the stores burned were owned by people who lived outside of North Omaha.  North Omaha is still trying to recover from that wholesale destruction of those storefronts.

I teach an MBA class which meets at various locations around Omaha to learn about business and society.  One of the places we always go to is the Loves Art and Jazz Center near 24th and Lake.  That area was at the north end of the fires which raged in 1969 during the uprisings or ‘race riots’ which rocked Omaha at that time.  Loves is an art gallery which features prominent African American artists primarily. 

Tonight we heard from a friend of mine from North Omaha.  She shared a lot of experiences about North Omaha.  She is about 40 and she said she felt like she was part of the last generation to be raised by a village– in other words, she lived in North Omaha at a time when people knew each other and worked hard to raise kids right.

She related a couple of somewhat discouraging stories to us.  One of her friends had gone to a local high school to share insights about how to save money and be financially responsible.  At one point she asked the students what their financial dreams were.  The women said that their goal was go get onto section 8 (a government program to pay for your housing).  The boys said their goal was to ‘get with’ a girl who was on section 8.  (you  get more money depending on how many kids you have).

She related another story about a woman who works with housing for residents of North Omaha who was trying to get people in one of the ‘projects’ to get excited about a new program.  On the the new program, people who were on section 8 housing could use their section 8 money towards their mortgage payments for 15 years on buying a house instead of having it go for rent.  This woman had figured people would stream to her program to get their house.  But instead, she found little interest.  At first people would say, “why do I need that, I already got a place to stay?” and then after she explained the whole program they would say “well then if something got broke I’d have to fix it myself– as it is I just call that number and they come and fix it.”  Of course at one level this is rational.  But as my friend said, at another level it displays that these people have lost the ability to hope for better– to dream the American dream. 

Until the late 1960s, de facto segregation and racially restrictive housing covenants made it virtually impossible for African Americans to live outside of a prescribed area of North Omaha.  Banks wouldn’t give them loans on houses in ‘white’ areas, and real estate companies wouldn’t provide insurance for them outside the ‘black’ area.  This “redlining” kept racial boundaries intact until the 1970s.  Omaha never changed those practices, despite repeated civil rights protests in the city until the federal government forced them to. (don’t say that the Federal government never does anything right).  Insurance companies also wouldn’t insure African Americans outside of the North Omaha area.   I’ve heard stories of people buying houses even recently in certain neighborhoods where the old deed (from the 50s or 60s) had exclusion covenants on them– restrictions on black or brown ownership in that neighborhood (essentially you couldn’t sell the house to someone of color).    

Once laws made redlining illegal, and African Americans were allowed to move to other parts of town, many did.  It made it easier for a lot of the upper and middle class residents began to leave North Omaha for west Omaha where they could live in the affluent suburbs in new houses.  This simply exasperbated the problem in North Omaha though, because many of the good role models left the community.  Today the middle class of north Omaha is made up primarily of government workers (including teachers) and people involved in the social services.   A huge portion of residents are single mothers.  Ive heard again and again that a lot of the young people from North Omaha who are bright and do well get out of Omaha as soon as they can and move to places where there seem to be better opportunities for them– like Atlanta, which has a very strong vibrant African American community.  They can make a lot more there, because there are simply more opportunities for them there.  Omaha remains a highly segregated city, due to some of the social habits which run so deep.  Many would call it intstitutional racism– which isn’t about one person hating another or having bad feelings towards them– but rather that the way that the system is set up makes it extremely difficult for someone of color to ‘get in’ to the system.  Its about the social dynamics more than anything, and that is a hard thing to change.

Only about 50% of students graduate from High School (50% drop out).  The majority of families are run by single moms.  Many young people lack the skills to help them land a job, even if they wanted to do that. 

Omaha is good at bricks and mortar, and they have a north omaha development plan which is a guideline for rebuilding particular strategic areas and helping to reinvigorate the economy in those places through landscaping and building which they hope will attract private investment and creat jobs :www.omahachamber.org/project_north_omaha.html  And there are a number of programs aimed to help establish real community and even help people get job training as well: http://www.empoweromaha.com/

It is a very real, very desperate situation in many  respects.  Its hard to know what to do to help this situation.  But whatever we can do at least to become more knowledgeable about the situation and to make inroads to be more connected to those issues is helpful.  We live only blocks from some pretty serious social deterioration, and its up to us to try to reach out to it in the love of Christ.

If you haven’t seen it, you should see the documentary “street of dreams” which is about the history of North Omaha and how the uprising of the 1960s decimated the commercial sector. (you can get it for $14 through Nebraska Public Television: https://secure.netnebraskastore.org/SearchResult.aspx?q=street+of+dreams

For a list of riots which have occured in Omaha over the years, check out this site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_riots_and_civil_unrest_in_Omaha,_Nebraska

May God have mercy on us all…

Statement IV: Christian Living, Heaven Hell and the End of Time

These are the last 3 points in the 10 point statement of faith of the Free Church.  They are about how a Chritian should live, and then basically what we believe about the end of time, when Christ returns and final judgment of all happens.

Statement: Christian Living

8. We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.

Justification and Sanctification: Christ’s death on the cross justifies us—pays for our sin and heals our relationship with God.  But Christ’s resurrection power then is meant to transform us.  Christ didn’t come just to forgive us or save us, but to transform us and make our lives useful and creative and beneficial to the world for God’s sake.  We are to live sacrificially, with care for one another, the poor, and the oppressed.  Most of us struggle to really love others we know well sacrificially, much less strange poor people.  But that is how Christians are supposed to live.  We are also called to know the Bible (Word) well, and live a spiritual life of real prayer which enables us to make a powerful difference in the world.  Christ also calls us to make disciples, or Christ-followers.  Anything we can do to draw people towards a life lived for God and Christ helps in that process.  We are always in every circumstance to show the love of God in Christ through our words and actions. 

 Statement: Christ’s Return

9. We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.

We Christians have pretty interesting views about how the world will come to a close.  We think Christ will come, not metaphorically or spiritually, but physically, from Heaven.  The most unique thing in this point of the statement is premillenialism.  Premillennialism is the view that Christ will return to earth before the 1,000 year reign of Christ spoken of in Revelation.  It is a view based on a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6.  I don’t want to get into this too much, but premillennialism has been a view held from Justin Martyr and Iraneus towards the beginning of the Church up until now by a variety of groups.  Normally Catholics and Calvinists and many Lutherans don’t hold to this view, for reasons I won’t go into here. 

The famous German philosopher Heidegger once said that Christians live on a constant knife edge– which can lead to a heightened sense of engagement and authentic living– because you never know if this might be the last moment of  life as we know it, since Christ could return at any moment.  Christians live with a constant hope of the second coming of Christ, which demands constant expectancy because we don’t know when that will happen.  We should live every day as though it was our last—as though Christ was coming at the end of the day.  Christ’s return is seen to be a motivation for us to live faithful sacrificial lives in expectation. 

Statement: Response and Eternal Destiny

10. We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.

Christ is the power of God and Christ’s work on earth is the means of  healed relationship with God, so it is important that everyone know about the means of God’s grace to humanity.  A lot of people think that life happens, then you die, and thats it.  There is no particular point or purpose to it, and apart from some good and bad kharma (if you are a jerk it will come back to you) many don’t really believe in eternal consequences for your actions.  But Christians are different on this point.  We think life should be lived for a particular purpose, and that there are real long term consequences for our choices.  We believe in heaven and hell, and life after death, and finally in consequences for how we live our lives.  That is why this stuff is so important to us.

Free Church Statement III: Holy Spirit and the Church

(Here are points 6&7 (out of 10)  This is the second-to-last segment of an explanation of the 10 points of the EFCA statement of faith.  Although Simple Free is not part of the EFCA, we do accept their statement of faith, which is why we are going through it…) 

Statement: The Holy Spirit

6. We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.

This point focuses on the third and in some ways most mysterious member of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, which means that their purposes are the same.  Once Christ went to heaven the Holy Spirit came not in physical form but upon the Christians at Pentecost, and has been since.  Here we see that the Holy Spirit does: convicts the world of guilt (Jesus said he would send a ‘helper’ to help us to understand things more clearly).  The Holy Spirit also regenerates sinners—so the Holy Spirit helps both in convicting us of sin and then also of helping heal and repair those parts of us that need regeneration.  The Holy Spirit indwells a Christian to illuminate and guide us, help us understand things more clearly, and also to help us to live our lives for Christ and as Christ would want. 

Statement: The Church

7. We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.

The Church consists of everyone who has accepted the gracious work of Christ on the cross by faith.  The word catholic means universal.  When Catholic is spelled with a capital C it refers generally to the Roman Catholic Church which has the Pope as its head in Rome.  But there is a more generic sense in which all true believers in Christ from anyplace and any institution are part of the catholic (universal) Church.   In some sense this Church is invisible because it transcends denominational boundaries.  All these believers are united by the Holy Spirit, and their common attribute is their belief in grace by faith in Jesus. 

Many churches have three times as many members as they have people attending on Sunday.  In some churches it is almost assumed that if you are from a particular family you are a member of a church, and so, a Christian.  But Free Churches generally have a lot more attenders than members.  One reason for this is that only believers can be members.  For some churches, membership designates you as being ‘on your spiritual journey’ but Free Churches tend to reserve membership for those who are pretty established in their faith.  That is a significant difference, and possibly rooted in the fact that the Free Church movement started in European countries where there had been no separation of church and state.  So, for example, in Kierkegaard’s Denmark (Kirekegaard was a famous philosopher who died in the mid-1800s) to be Danish was to be Christian because to become a Danish citizen you had to be baptized into the Church by your 7th day after being born.  On such a model, all Danish Citizens are church members.  This, however, led to a certain deadness in the churches, all of which were state-run and organized.  So Christians sometimes found that their own priest wasn’t even really a true believer in the salvation of Christs work on the cross.  These Christians decided to form illegal house churches ‘free’ of state control so that they could worship with other true believers, instead of being in a state church which was more like a museum or state park service office than a real congregation of fellowship.  So to be a church member, you need to be a true Christian.  True believers united together across all times, places and denominations are what the true universal Church is, not one denomination or group. 

Two Ordinances: There are 7 sacraments in the Catholic Church.  I am not Catholic, but my understanding of the sacraments is that they are 7 means of grace to the believer which bring about closer union with God and avenues by which Jesus can more fully enter into their life.  So the sacraments are not just symbols, they are really means of grace.  If you don’t participate in them, you will not receive as much grace.  These sacraments for the Catholic church are Baptism, Eucharist, Confession/Pennance, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick.  The Anglican tradition (Church of England, which is protestant, but still a lot like the Catholic Church) acknowledges all these 7 practices as good, but calls only two of them sacraments—baptism and eucharist.  The Free Church does acknowledge the importance of Baptism and Eurcharist but doesn’t call them sacraments.  These things are good, and they can be very beneficial, but the Free Church doesn’t think that when you do these acts that you receive some special grace over and above someone else.  They see these things to be symbolic—baptism symbolizes my death to self and resurrection to new life in Christ, and communion when you take the bread and wine is a commemoration to help remind us of what Christ did for us.  Since Christ did get baptized and he was the one who started ‘the last supper’ it is said that he ‘ordained’ these practices (he didn’t get married or confirmed, or specifically command any of the other ‘sacraments’).  These ordinances are good and important and useful.  But they don’t convey special grace to the believer which aids in their salvation.

May God have mercy on us all.

Free Church Statement II: Human Condition, Jesus & His work/purpose

Here are explanations three more points (#3-5) from the 10 points in the Free Church Statement of faith (on the Human Condition, Christ and His purpose):

Statement: The Human Condition

3. We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.

Humans are created in God’s image, so we are made with good stuff with a great model to be fashioned after (God).  However, there is sin.   We are the only created beings actually created in God’s image, so we’re the best type of being on earth, but then sin entered into the picture.  As descendents of Adam, we have sin, sort of like a baby is born with aids from her mom who had aids.  Sin generally causes us to not function properly, so that we do things that make life worse instead of better, which screw stuff up instead of enhancing the world.  (We do this in our relationships, our own self-perspective, the way we treat the world around us, and especially the way we respond to God—which is at the heart of all this)

Some Christians tend to focus on the sin, and forget that we are made in God’s image.  Other Christians don’t like to talk about the sin part and just want to talk about us all being children of God.  Both of these positions are partially accurate in their understanding of Scripture.  But you need both sides to really get the whole picture.

The ultimate wrath of God is said to be in Romans 1 when God no longer tries to bring us back to himself.  That’s when you know you are in trouble.  He just lets us go our own way—away from God, away from life, towards selfishness and death.  God’s saving work in Christ rescues us, reconciles us, and the power of Christ who conquered death in the resurrection brings us the capacity to live renewed lives in that power when we simply accept the work of Christ instead of trying to earn God’s favor on our own merit.  Of course that renewal can’t happen without us cooperating with Christ once we’ve been rescued and reconciled (see later statements below).

 Statement: Jesus Christ

4. We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus-Israel’s promised Messiah-was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.

Jesus was human and God.  This is a standard Christian belief which has historically been around since the early church.  Some had said Jesus was a special man with special wisdom from God, or a man wrapped in the cloak of God somehow…and others said he was God in a man-suit disguise.  But the traditional Christian doctrine says Jesus was fully God and fully man.  In saying Jesus is Israel’s promised Messiah there is a belief here that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in the Old Testament that he would be a ‘blessing to all peoples’.  Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, and is believed by Christians to be the fulfillment of that promise to Abraham thousands of years prior.  Being born by the holy Spirit of the virgin Mary is standard Christian doctrine, found in the basic historic creeds of the church (which were approved by the united Church).  Jesus was a miracle.  Its important that Jesus was sinless, because that’s how his death on the cross makes up for us.  We, sinners, don’t have to be punished for our sins because Jesus was punished though he had no sin—so he is an atonement sacrifice (this is heavy stuff and has to do with OT sacrifices and traditions I won’t go into here).     He was crucified under the authority of Pilate, a Roman official, and rose bodily—not as casper the friendly ghost—with his real body.  Now he is in heaven with God, advocating for us.  Christ is for us. 

So we don’t believe Jesus was just a smart man, or simply divine—he was both man (finite) and God (infinite).  We also don’t think Jesus is somehow contrary to the Old Testament ways, but is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham at the center of the OT.  His birth was miraculous and fulfilled a number of prophecies from the book of Issaiah written hundreds of years before.  He really rose again physically, not just metaphorically (I once heard a pastor preach on  Easter Sunday about how that the resurrection of Jesus was really about how we need to help the child within us resurrect from the years of crucifixion which we all endure as children when our parents are bearing down on us, punishing us, keeping us from just being children—that is not what we think the resurrection is talking about.)  We think the resurrection account is talking about Jesus, who was dead, coming to live and getting out of the grave.  We think that is miraculous and that that same power can somehow live in us to help us.                       

 Statement: The Work of Christ

5. We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.

This statement is about what Jesus did for us—for the human condition and the world.  He was sinless, as the previous statement said, which meant he was perfect, yet suffered punishment on the cross innocently.  I deserve death but don’t get it, because Christ did not deserve it and yet does die.  But since he victoriously rose from the dead, he conquered death, and that resurrection power can somehow live in us to help us.  Salvation is twofold—not just being forgiven, but also being given the power to help transform our broken wayward lives and get them properly functioning again.  Christ isn’t just about forgiveness, his work is also the source of transformative grace which can help really change us for the better. 

“Only”—this word is important.  Just as Jews reject Christ because they believe their way is superior, and Muslims consider Mohamed the best prophet and Christianity to not be the way to salvation, Christians also have a belief that their way is the superior way.  Jesus is the only means of salvation.  There are two schools of thought on this—some say that only those who hear about Jesus and respond to that gospel message will be saved.  So they think the only way to salvation is through KNOWLEDGE about Christ and subsequent acceptance of that as being true.  Others say that Christ’s work on the Cross is the only way of salvation—but that isn’t about knowledge of Jesus– its about the work done at the Cross itself.  All salvation comes to a person from the power given through Jesus dying on the cross– but not necessarily on whether or not they know of Jesus.  For example, just like people in the Old Testament like Abraham apparently never heard of Christ’s work on the cross (since they lived before Jesus) they still are ‘saved’ through the work of Christ on the cross because they acted with faith on the revelation they had at their point in time.  In short, they responded to the revelation they had available.  Some would extend this and say that even today some who have never heard of Christ may be saved by the work of Christ on the cross if they respond in good faith to whatever knowledge they do have.  (There are a whole lot of questions to be asked and discussed on this point, and I don’t want to go into that here)  Of course knowledge of Christ gives greater insight and closer relationship to God, so knowledge is valuable in either view.  But in either case, Christ is the only way that one is saved—either by the knowledge of Christ on the Cross, or at the very least the power of Christ on the cross.  Only by the event of Christ’s death and resurrection is one saved.    This event is central to Christianity, and any church celebrates it through communion– otherwise known as the Eucharist or the Lords Supper.  The wine is or symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ– his blood– as the offering for forgiveness.  The bread is or symbolizes his body, and its resurrected power which can live on in us through the Holy Spirit.  Forgiveness, and the power to live renewed lives.  

May God have mercy on us all.