What Jesus Are You Following?

If you are not a follower of Jesus, I openly apologize to you for the sad, mistaken, misguided, and flat out wrong picture of Him we have given you.

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you may need to disconnect from the media, your theological bent and your denominational rules to relearn who Jesus really is and what he actually said. Try just reading just the four Gospels for a while.  Find sermons to listen to that are about what Jesus said and did.  This may be harder to do than you expect since much of the church preaches more about Paul than about Jesus.

Jesus is pro-life. Now before you pat yourselves on the back, note that he was pro all life – from the unborn baby to the hardened criminal regardless of race, creed, color, or sin.  So he would be saddened by abortion, and the death penalty, and our obsessive preoccupation with guns.

Jesus is pro-choice.  He always allows us to make our own decisions up to, and including, whether we choose to follow Him.  He never forces us to do so, never threatens, never demeans and never ceases to show mercy when our choice is wrong.

Few of us are emulating Him as we have been directed to do.  We aren’t offer hope and help. Instead, we’re more interested in telling people what they should think and do – sometimes even how they should feel.

We feel the need to push our agenda and even to demean and vilify those who do not agree with our religious rules. Further, much of the church has adopted an “ends justify the means” mentality which is counter to anything Jesus taught. Some of our evangelical leaders are willing to partner with anyone in government to create laws to “protect” specific values that they have deemed most important. For example, Franklin Graham seems to not see the incongruity of demonizing all of Disney and calling for a boycott because of a cartoon homosexual couple kissing and, yet, endorsing a man for president who profits from real strip clubs and casinos.

We seem to think we need to save Jesus!  We do this ignoring the fact that He did not feel the need to defend Himself (Matt 27: 12-14) but understood the greater power of sacrificing Himself.  Additionally, He severely admonished Peter when he chose to defend Him with the sword. (Matt 16:23, Mark 8:33) Still, we continue to choose to “live by the sword” rather than living sacrificially for others.

We apparently have forgotten that Jesus and His message of love, inclusion and acceptance has survived for over 2000 years without the help of the American Christian and, often, in opposition to the political powers that were in place.

We have become a people who are more focused on the current trends in ministry, the propaganda of political parties and a fear/protectionist mentality than we are with Jesus.  Maybe it’s because we never slow down or power down long enough to contemplate the real Jesus.  We want Jesus in a tidy box we’ve created for Him, free of complexities, ambiguities, or real challenges.  We want to create Jesus in our image more than we aspire to be like Him.

We preach to the world about grace and mercy and love while we ignore or dismiss or sometimes even promote the injustices, the racism, the discrimination, the trafficking of people, which goes on around us.  We fear or demean or abuse our “enemies”.  We don’t love them.  If we’re honest, we aren’t even doing a good job of loving our neighbors.

We quote “fear not, for I am with you” while we cheer building walls and defend buying guns to protect ourselves and our possessions.

We pick and choose which verses are literal, which are symbolic, which are hyperboles and which are time specific based on our own comfort, desires, or cultural norms.  We often fail to pray for clarity, search out original language or entertain the notion that what we’ve always believed or been told might be in error.

Jesus was radical. He was challenging. He was, at times, ambiguous. The empire and the religious leaders feared His message of love and inclusion and acceptance.  This is still happening today. And still today, His message is the same.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (emphasis mine)

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

It is simple to understand, and yet, difficult to do.  We are His representatives. We are His voice in a hard and hurting world.

We must do better.

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What If They’re Right?

There are all kinds of statistics and articles about millennials walking away from church.  According to research by the Barna Group, 59% of those raised in church have dropped out and 35% believe that churches do more harm than good.  Much of the church’s response has been to attempt to become trendy – to offer updated worship music and provide coffee.  These responses often serve to punctuate what millennials seem to see as the problem, that we are disconnected, uninformed and unauthentic.

So, what if they’re right?

Christians have always been accused of hypocrisy on an individual level.  Sometimes this is due simply to a lack of understanding. That is, we know we don’t just automatically stop sinning or getting all our relationships and interactions with people right once we accept Jesus as our Savior.  However, it’s possible we’ve created this confusion by defining much of our religion by rules.  When what we’re telling the world is that there is a long list of rules, of dos and don’ts that define Christianity, we set ourselves up for their critique.  If we are continually, individually or corporately, pointing out others missteps, we should certainly accept that they will be happy to point out ours.  If we define how well we’re “doing” Christianity by how well we follow the rules we likely create confusion, cynicism and push people away from Jesus instead of toward his love and grace.

Churchgoers are all sinners–there is no actual hypocrisy in that assertion. Maybe if we presented ourselves as just that, as messed up people trying to do better, more people would be interested in learning about Jesus and our faith.  Maybe if we defined ourselves the way Jesus told us to in John 13:35 – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” millennials would be more inclined to join us as we all endeavor to be more like Jesus.

What if instead of pointing out someone’s failures, we came along side them to help them do better?

What if when we saw someone doing things we see as wrong, we took time to listen to their story and hear their perspective instead of just expecting them to immediately see the situation from our perspective and then promptly change?

What if we painted a picture where following Jesus started with just loving people – something anyone can do – instead of following a bunch of rules and a to do list of church attendance, prayer, tithing, Bible study, quiet time, and so on?

Intentionally or not, society seems to see us as judgmental and rule bound which can’t be anything but confusing alongside a gospel message of freedom and love.  Further, when thousands of different Protestant denominations can’t even agree on what the rules are and which ones have to be followed causing disagreement within the church, we shouldn’t be surprised that young adults may want no part of such a community.

Paul warns the early church that they need to “be united in mind and thought”, (1Cor.1:10) and that life is wholly and solely about Jesus.  When we cannot agree amongst ourselves and at the same time focus on the laws and rules, we redirect the message away from Jesus and his saving grace.

On a broad scope, if we are gut wrenchingly honest, we might deserve the hypocrite label. Millennials I’ve talked to see us as being quick to judge both individuals and people groups and that we don’t “walk the talk”.  These are well educated young adults with access to information and awareness of cultural differences like we never experienced at their age.  Maybe we need to listen…

Because what if they’re right?

When on an individual, national and global scale we consider whole people groups as evil – they may be right.

When we refer to anyone as “those people” – they may be right.

When we profess to believe in certain standards of behavior and “family values” but don’t live them out in our own lives or excuse them in the political arena because the ends justify the means – they may be right.

When we quote Jesus saying to love our neighbors and our enemies and then support hateful rhetoric – they may be right.

When we know that the Bible says to take care of the widows, the orphans and the immigrant but we choose safety and frugality over protecting the vulnerable– they may be right.

Finally, when we add amendments and exceptions to the Ten Commandments in order to line them up with our culture or our government – they might be right.

None of us will get it all right – EVER!  Nevertheless, if we don’t have the courage to take a hard introspective look at where we may be getting it wrong – where we may be choosing nationalism or empirical ways over the ways of His kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven”, we will continue to see millennials searching for something different. If because of money, power or family name that gives them a platform, the main voices of the church at large heard by the world are ones that support ideas that are un-Christ like and we choose to stay silent in response, we will continue to display a message of exclusivity and hypocrisy.

Most millennials have not turned away from their faith – just from the church.

As the old adage goes, we can continue to do the same things but we will get the same results. Alternatively, we can listen to what these young adults are saying and learn and grow and possibly create the kinds of authentic churches they can embrace.

Safe Is Not What You Signed On For

I keep looking for scriptures in the Bible where Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, care for the widows, orphans and aliens (foreigner/immigrant/refugee)–but only if we can do so while preserving our safety and comfort and that it’s fine to distance ourselves from those in need and just send some extra money now and then.

Maybe the caveat to the command is in there somewhere, and I just missed it.

A priority for self-preservation, however, seems to be what a large number of folks who claim Christ appear to embrace.  Some clearly state their endorsement by preaching a gospel of prosperity. Others acknowledge that scripture doesn’t teach the idea of guarded love and charity but support ideologies that imply otherwise.  They live their lives chasing safety, security and comfort.  Of course we all want to be safe, but at what cost?

We can quote “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33) and then choose to interpret these words to mean only the trouble we can’t avoid, control, or insure against. However, I’m not sure that is the intent or true meaning of the verse.  Based on other verses, it appears more likely that this is an “it’s part of the job” statement.  We are to be disciples of Christ. Disciples follow and learn from, and about, their leaders in order to be as much like them as possible.

It might be worth a self-check to determine if our acceptance of Jesus and his message is solely an insurance policy against hell or a desire to be an actual disciple, with all of the struggle and growth that requires.

If our goal is to be like Jesus, why would we think that life would be a peaceful, easy, safe journey? His journey certainly wasn’t devoid of dissension and danger. His message was at odds with both the political powers of the day and the religious experts.  Maybe, just maybe, ours should be too.

When I’ve gone where He sent me I’ve ended up in an orphanage in a third world county, cooking and serving meals for the poor in the inner city and hanging out in a strip club. I wouldn’t have chosen any of these.  All were frightening in the beginning and definitely were never safe. However, I learned and grew more in my relationship with Christ in those places than in any church pew or by serving in safe places.

Jesus told us to expect trouble but that our peace would be in him. Often his ways don’t make sense to us.   However, we’re told his way overcomes worldly ways. Jesus didn’t tell his followers then, or us now, to follow a checklist – read the Torah/Bible, give money to the church and the poor, go to the temple/church, chat with me (pray) when you need something – and I’ll bless you here on earth with a safe and comfortable life. If we’re honest, we may even think he also secretly adds that “Since you’re American and I love you more than my other children, you deserve a comfy home, two cars and an extravagant amount of food and clothes purely for your personal enjoyment!”  We want and enjoy the blessings while ignoring much of what he taught, including that we would (and possibly even should) have trouble.

When he said, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3), it seems that he meant all those directives about putting our trust and our very lives in his hands.  It sounds like he means for us to go into unsafe places and situations, to potentially be in close proximity to those who might want to harm us in some way. While this seems counter-intuitive and possibly even foolish, we know that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” (Isaiah 55:8).

We are called to love like Jesus, to share his redemptive love with others through deed and “if necessary, use words.” So, what does love do?

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes,always perseveres.” (1 Cor.13:7)  Loving our neighbors and our enemies like this is how to “work out your salvation,” how we become disciples who reflect Christ. I think it’s intentional that each of those actions is preceded by always. I’m guessing he’s stressing the point that he really means always, not just when it’s easy or convenient or safe.

We tend to leave off the rest of that passage in our minds –“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)  If we’re allowing God to work in us so that we’ll desire (will) to do something (act) to fulfill his purpose, it will likely be with fear and trembling.

Paul acknowledges his own “great fear and trembling” in coming to the church in Corinth but he did so because he had “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” He notes the Corinthian’s own “fear and trembling” in receiving Titus. (2 Cor.7:15)

Where is our resolve?  What Christ-like course of action are we determined enough to do, even in fear and trembling? Anything we choose to do to insure our personal comfort, or even our personal safety, that obstructs Jesus’s command to love may, at best, be a sign of our lack of maturity in our faith.  At worst, it may be a red flag that we don’t really trust Jesus or truly believe what he said.  I’ve begun asking myself often as I process events or conversations or things I’ve read, “Do I really believe what I say I believe?”  It’s a piercing question that will both stretch you and solidify the foundation of your faith.

Jesus did not have comfort or safety. There were constant pulls on his time and his energy.  At every turn, he was confronted by people who didn’t understand him, who didn’t approve of his methods and who eventually conspired to crucify him.

Two thousand plus years later, not much has changed. Much of his church is more interested in their own form of Christianity based on following rules, given by both God and man.  It’s about not sinning and pointing out when someone else does.  It’s about sitting in our chairs and pews and being encouraged and entertained rather than doing what Jesus told us to do: “Go!”

If we want to be his disciples, to represent him, we should be stepping out in faith, welcoming and helping the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the lost, remembering as we do that we should “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you are faced with trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-5)

There is no real test in comfort and safety.  There is no growth of our faith or in our becoming more like Jesus.  If we are truly trying to following Jesus, shouldn’t our desire to love others always be more important than our safety and comfort?

Here is my prayer for myself, and for you, from Common Prayer:

Deliver me, O Jesus,

from the desire to be esteemed,

from the desire to be loved,

from the desire to be honored,

from the desire to be praised,

from the desire to be preferred to others,

from the desire to be consulted,

from the desire to be approved,

and from the desire to be popular.

Deliver me, O Jesus

from the fear of being humiliated,

from the fear of being despised,

from the fear of being rebuked,

from the fear of being slandered,

from the fear of being forgotten,

from the fear of being wronged,

from the fear of being treated unfairly,

and from the fear of being suspected.

And, dear Jesus, grant me grace to desire that

others might be more loved than I,

that others might be more esteemed than I,

that in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease,

that others may be chosen and I may be set aside,

that others may be preferred to me in everything,

that others become holier than I , provided that I, too, become as holy as I can.

 

Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove

All verses from the NIV

 

An Introduction

Welcome to my new blog, Hey Christian!

Following is a little background on me and on how this blog came to be.

I was born into a family of faith and raised in church giving me a strong foundation in Christianity. I thought I knew all about Jesus and what was expected of me as a believer.  Somewhere along the line, I realized that a believer and a follower were two entirely different things.  My natural desire to learn and grow became more focused on my faith and, more specifically, on Jesus.  I learned much from my church, my mentors, my friends, and a whole bunch of reading over the last 17 years. All of this prepared me for the journey of the past two years or so.

A little over two years ago a guest speaker at my church challenged us to read and study just the four Gospels for a year, paying specific attention to what Jesus actually said and did.  This has become a life altering experience.  It has been a journey of learning and unlearning many things and of separating religion from following Jesus.  I am continually asking myself in both a philosophical and situational way, “Do I really believe what I say I believe?” Further, if I do, do my choices, decisions and actions reflect that?

I feel compelled to write this blog both to share what I’ve learned and what I am still processing.

Your comments will always be welcome and appreciated.  I enjoy sarcasm since I tend to lean in that direction but personal attacks or general meanness is not acceptable and will be deleted.

Special thanks to my friends Barbi, Linda and Shane for your encouragement help and wisdom as I begin this journey of words.

Look for my first post early next week.