What is a Christian?

What does it mean to be a Christian? We often water down its meaning to a set of beliefs, or simply being a nice person or to hold old-fashioned, traditional values. In the New Testament book of Acts, we are told that “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

 

This word – Christian – is the word “Christ” followed by an ending which means “a person devoted to.” So, the people in Antioch were giving those believers a new name, “those who are devoted to Christ.”

 

Jesus once asked his disciples, “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). And this is the question we should be asking ourselves as Christians. What did Jesus do and teach? Are defining our Christian faith by these things?

 

The priorities of Jesus on earth are clear in His life and teaching. He came to reconcile people to God through His sacrificial death. He came to teach about a God of love. He came to heal and to help. As John puts it, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).

 

Jesus did not abandon us to find God for ourselves. He came to us. He loved us to the point of sacrificing Himself. If we are “those who are devoted to Christ,” our lives will reflect this. We will also seek to reach outside of our comfortable places and sacrifice our comfort for the good of others.

 

An old prayer, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi captures the spirit of this giving. Let us pray these words and ask God to make us truly Christian – “those who are devoted to Christ.”

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

 

 

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

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Prayers that Aren’t Heard

 

Praying. We all know we should do it. We may not do it as often as we should, but we do it. Sometimes we don’t feel like God is listening. The Bible assures us that God is listening to our prayers, but the Bible also tells us that there are things that can prevent God from answering our prayers.

 

In talking about praying, James 4:3 says “When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (NIV). In other words, we should not expect God to answer a selfish prayer.

 

Luke tells us that Jesus specifically told the disciples that they should keep praying and not give up. He told a parable about a persistent widow that reinforced this admonition (Luke 18:1-8). We need to continue to pray and not give up too quickly.

 

Doubt can also affect our prayers. As we pray and become closer to God, our faith grows. When we do not really trust God, the Bible tells us that we should not expect to receive God’s help. James tells us that the person who doubts “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded” (James 1:7-8). Of course, only God can give us the faith that does not doubt.

 

Finally, if our relationships with other people are not right, our prayers are hindered. Our relationship with God is always directly related to how we relate to people. Jesus tells us that if we are planning to bring a gift to the altar, in other words, we are coming to worship God, and we realize that someone has something against us, we should leave the altar and go make things right with that person (Matthew 5:23-25).  1 Peter 3:7 specifically says that when husbands do not treat their wives with respect, their prayers will not be heard.

 

God does not automatically respond favorably to our prayers. God loves us, but He is concerned with making us into loving people who follow Jesus in everything we do. These places where the Bible tells us how our prayers can be hindered remind us that prayer is a relationship. God has a plan for us. When our prayers focus on our own plans, they fail. When we submit ourselves to God’s plan, we can be assured that He hears and answers.

 

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

Not Forsaken

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

 

The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Psalm 22:23-24, 26-28. NIV

 

The gospels report that Jesus, as he was dying on the cross, shouted out the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” To reinforce that these were the actual words of Jesus, Mark quotes Jesus in Aramaic, Jesus’ native language, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

 

Theologians and preachers have puzzled over the significance of these words. Was Jesus, the Son of God, really abandoned by God in those moments of suffering? Was he merely giving into his human emotions of fear and distress? Elaborate theological explanations are proposed to explain how God the Father turned away from the Son in that moment.

 

But the explanation for Jesus’ words here is simple. Jesus, in his greatest moment of despair and pain, cried out to God in the words of a Psalm. In that moment, Jesus was finding help to endure his suffering in the scriptures. He quoted the opening verse of Psalm 22. As he did this, he not only found strength for himself, he modeled how we too should find strength from the promises of God in the Bible. When our fears and confusion and pain are great, God’s word is courage and wisdom and healing.

 

Jesus quoted the opening verse of the Psalm, but he certainly knew that the writer of that Psalm did not stop with the question. He was crying out as he suffered great distress, but he concludes with a powerful proclamation of the goodness of God and the triumph of God’s plan. The verses quoted above are some of the later verses of Psalm 22. These show how the Psalm writer, beginning with the desperate question, still sees that God is trustworthy. He finds strength in that promise.

 

As did Jesus. As will we, if we allow God to turn our desperation into praise.

 

For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

 

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

 

Discipline

“Because the Lord disciplines the one He loves…” Hebrews 12:6

I’m told that discipline is a dirty word nowadays. Some of you will automatically think of spanking or punishing children in some way. Others will think of being required to do something unpleasant because it is a duty. 

But discipline does not have to be thought of in that way. Discipline is a tool for transformation. When we punish our children, if we are good parents, our goal is to form the kind of person they are, to shape them morally.

 The Bible suggests that God does the same with us. When God gives us a command, He is not trying to take our fun away. God is trying to form the image of Jesus in us. He gives us His Spirit to help us in that transformation. And sometimes He disciplines us.

 We often get tired of completing the tasks that we know God wants us to complete. We do not want to study the Bible, or spend time in church or give up something that is fun. But these activities are necessary for the growth of our souls.

 Plants that don’t get properly pruned will grow, but they won’t produce the kind of fruit we desire. The buds will be small or incomplete; the fruit won’t be edible. Pruning is often necessary to form the kind of plant we want.

 Life gives us the opportunity to do a lot of things that are innocent and fun. But sometimes, to produce the fruit He desires of us, God asks us to give up some of those things. Can you cut off the TV a little sooner and spend time in prayer? Can you give up one evening of time alone to visit and encourage a neighbor? What is the next step of pruning God is calling you to in your Christian life?

 This is discipline. Like all discipline, it can hurt a little. But it can also make a big difference in your life as a disciple of Jesus. After all, the One whom we follow certainly knows something about sacrifice.

 Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church