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It is a most interesting fact that many who continually denounce christianity and christians nevertheless seem to continue to quote and side with Jesus himself. The reasons behind this fact can take us into a twisted network of rabbit trail discussions, many of which are most unhelpful. In my conversations with friends and coworkers, both in and outside the christian community, I have often fallen into the trap of trying to reconcile the two seemingly opposing halves of this situation. And yet lately, instead of just eagerly lunging at the bone of argument, I have seen it as a doorway into more meaningful conversation.

I get it. We live in a time of deep suspicion of “organized religion” and religious institutions. We want to distance ourselves from the hypocrisy and evil of the past. And yet we long for a real and personal spirituality. We reject “the church”, but we are willing to extend a certain amount of respect and credibility to Jesus himself. We are overwhelmed by the glaring imperfections of his followers. And yet we can’t seem to shake the fact that a deep and powerful impact spreads from this man’s humble Galilean origins out to even the greatest cities and cultures of our world.

We may disagree on his the precise details of his identity but the vast majority of us won’t disagree about whether or not he actually traversed that dusty Palestinian desert 2000 years ago, laid his hands on the sick, taught his disciples to pray or pointed them to the way of love. We also can’t disagree on the fact that he continually baffled the people that he crossed paths with. “Who are you?” and “Who is this man?” are the questions that, perhaps more than once frequented the lips of his closest followers, his hometown dwellers, his contemporary religious elites and even the Roman governor under whom he lived.

Instead of getting tied up in argument over the acts of this or that church or religious figure, we should learn to take the lead our modern culture gives us and dive into the identity of the man they can’t ignore. Jesus is at the very heart and soul of the christian message. He is the story. Upon his identity the whole christian claim rises or falls. The evasion or misunderstanding of this identity is at the heart of many confused rejections of the christian message. I have seen the confirmation of this many times in my own life. People outside the church “reject” a Jesus they don’t even know. People inside the church “accept” a Jesus of their own imagination.

Real christianity revolves around the identity of Jesus. I wish more of my conversations about the reason and basis for my faith revolved around him. I hope that I can learn to share his past and continual impact on my life more effectively. No matter what your context is, let the real identity of Jesus be the focus of your thoughts and discussions. Get to know the real stories of those who lived in his own time. Before jumping to conclusions, learn to personally ask the age old question, “Who is this man?”.