Have you noticed how much God is mentioned in the public discourse? Politicians across the board end their speeches, “God bless America,” and some Canadian counterparts have added, “God bless Canada” as a closer. To talk about God or spiritual values is very non-offensive, but it gets a little sticky when Jesus is mentioned. Even then it depends on what aspect of Jesus you’re highlighting. When we speak of Jesus’ leadership skills, His servant-hood, His goal-setting abilities or the golden rule, everyone – atheist or believer – usually nods approvingly.
The offensive part of the gospel is when we suggest that God put the world’s sins – past, present and future – “once for all” on Jesus at the cross. In one swoop Jesus became the solution to the world’s sin problem, and the only option we have is whether to believe in what Jesus did or reject it. This substitutionary death of Jesus is offensive because it seems so simple, so all-encompassing. Jesus definitely is a point of contention.
I listened attentively as California pastor, Rick Warren led in the Invocation prayer at President Obama’s recent inaugural. Pastor Warren’s inclusion in the program had caused no small debate as many in the media derided him as “Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt.” Of special concern were his statements on homosexuality and abortion. As Senator Feinstein introduced Pastor Warren his approach to the microphone was met with a muted enthusiasm. I listened as Pastor Warren prayed, invoking God, “The Almighty” and the “Lord.” Then he came to a point in the prayer saying, “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray…”
Thank you Pastor Warren. I’m glad you didn’t give in to the pressure that many preachers in the public eye have succumbed to, to exclude Jesus Christ. We can learn from Pastor Warren’s prayer. The phrase, “In the name of the one who changed my life” is powerful because it puts the focus on our personal testimony. Whenever we represent Jesus we don’t primarily represent a theology, a denomination or a religion – we’re speaking about someone who has transformed our own lives. Tell people what Jesus has done for you.
The inclusion of Jesus, with His name is spoken in different languages, including the Arabic – Isa – was brilliant. There is too much narrow-minded bigotry within our ranks, excluding the Arab world in particular. In our Gospel Festivals I often explain to our audience of mixed religion that Jesus’ name is pronounced various ways in various religions, but that regardless of pronunciation, we are speaking of the same One. God revealed in the flesh, the One who became our substitute, the unlimited God revealed in a limited human body.
Pastor Warren’s prayer was inclusive. Sometimes because universalists have used the phrase, “the gospel of inclusion” we have become exclusive towards the world to a degree that Jesus or Paul never exemplified. Yes, the universalist says that all are saved, which is an inclusion that the bible does not allow for.
However, never forget that what Jesus did includes everyone. His death and resurrection in no way is limited to only those who received Him, no, “God so loved the world.” Words and phrases like “everyone”, “to all people” and “light of the world” allows for no exclusivity. No one has monopoly on Jesus – He is the Saviour of all.
It’s easy to talk and sing about God the Almighty, the Lord, the Eternal One, the Creator. But I’m a little cautious when Jesus seems to be excluded. Whether you’re called to pray at a family gathering, a meeting of your local club, or at an office function, put Jesus out there front and center.
There is power in His Name!