I have always, at least as far back as I can remember, had an “allergic reaction” to RELIGION. (That is, my attempted to impress God with my behavior or gain his affections based on my own “holiness”.) That may seem strange coming from a Baptist Minister. The pomp, the ritual, the stiffness intended to be reverential was off-putting compared to what Jesus saved me from as a teenager. When Jesus changed my life, it was real, intimate and messy. There was no hiding or ceremony. I did not look good and couldn’t fake my way through it. It was raw and revealing. It was so utterly profound that afterwards I felt no pressure to look good in front of others, to feign piety or prove myself to skeptics. I just really loved Jesus and wanted to please Him.
At church I discovered other people who loved Jesus too. They taught me the basics of the Bible, how to pray and grow in my faith and gave me opportunities to serve others etc… I also learned something I’d like to forget…I learned how to keep score, rank myself and fit in. I learned how to be religious. Well meaning people effectively gave me lists of stuff that Christians do and say. I found out where Christians don’t go and who Christians don’t go with. To be sure, they gave me some great principles to have an effective life. But these principles became not the means to an end but the end itself. I learned how to be a “good Christian”.
Eventually I became really good at all of it! But the better I became at “acting like a Christian” the less I depended upon God for direction and peace… The less I needed to pray about things. And the less I pursued Jesus. After all, I had a rule or precedent for almost any eventuality…so who needs intimacy with God? I had allowed my religious pursuits to rob me of my authentic relationship with a loving Savior. And it was my own fault and it has been a fight ever since those days some 35 years ago.
So as 2016 winds down and the promise of a new year just ahead I remind myself of the following….
Jesus is more concerned with my heart being close to His (John 15:4), my worship being heartfelt and truthful (John 4:24), and my faith being rooted in a dynamic relationship with a living Savior (James 4:8) that I know and talk to … a lot (Matt 6), that I forgive others because I am forgiven (Mark 11:25), that I act justly, love mercy and am humble (Micah 6:8) rather than a dry, duty-filled obedience (Psalm 51) to a list of rules and regulations almost completely designed to impress other religious people (Mark 7:7). (In fact I would argue that “religion” has, for centuries, impeded Christianity…but that is an argument for another post.)
Most people in the United States don’t hate Jesus (while not here, that day I believe is coming) Many, however, loathe His followers. John 15 paints the picture of the world hating Christians because the world hated Jesus. Here, where persecution, limited though it may be, does indeed exist, our problem isn’t primarily with people hating us because they hated Jesus. It is that they hate us because the way we represent Jesus.
The things we say that are often steeped in anything but love for those who are far from God. We demand a lost world act saved before we ever engage them. We boycott this, tweet venom about that, and post nasty portrayals of people with whom we disagree. We are better at pointing the finger than extending our arms we turn on our own (ask Russell Moore, John Piper or Steven Furtick). Our Enemy has us tearing each there to shreds and thinking all the while we are standing for our faith.
I have done it all… to my shame.
When did we, as Christians, get permission to be vengeful and angry towards those with whom we disagree? When did Jesus say “Hate your enemies and call them names?”
The world is dying for Christians that live the love of Jesus…towards those on our team, and those not on our team. With those with whom we agree and those with whom we don’t. We are even asked to love those who hate us! (Romans 12:14) It always honors God to love those who hate us… always. It never honors God to hate those who hate us..ever. It may be politically expedient, it may be soothing for our wounded feelings but it does not honor God. We may get taken advantage of, we may lose, we may even pay a high price…but God is always honored…and isn’t that the point?
Christian: Know any drug addicts? Know any prostitutes or anti-Christian professors? How about transgender people or people who self identify as gender fluid? Atheists? Alcoholics? Ex-cons? LGBTQ? Muslims? Shouldn’t we know them?
Jesus loves drug addicts, strippers and the LGBTQ community. He loves Muslims, atheists, prostitutes, elitists, republicans and democrats. You cannot name someone whom Jesus does not love. He looked at “crowds with compassion as sheep without a shepherd”(Mark 6:34) Shouldn’t we?
Do they know you love them? Do they know I love them? Do they know that Jesus loves them because they have seen His love for them in us?
Maybe 2017 will be the year that the world sees how much Jesus loves them, because they see how much His followers love them! Because they see how much I love them…