I think I love Jesus more than the Christians do. I let her words wash over me, listening as she shares her story. I mean, they’re awful. And she tells me about her sister–a Christian–who said hateful, horrible things to her daughter about her recent weight gain. She told me her sister judges and condemns those not like her. These are the kinds of stories over the last few years that have made me hesitant to claim the name Christian. I am one. But I feel more comfortable traveling in the darkness–not making waves. I might say I am a follower of Christ. But usually I just avoid any reference to my faith.
Because I understand her. I understand her disdain and her upset-ness with this sect that isolates and judges. Because I am upset with us too.
But it was not meant to be this way. When we were first given the name Christians, we were known for how we loved the fringes. We took in the ones rejected by society. We were known for our inclusivity. For caring for those who were not ours. Those who were orphaned, widowed, abandoned, abused, and called names. We loved the unlovely because we knew we were unlovely, too. How far we have fallen from our inheritance.
I read this in The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton yesterday, “I’m a good Christian woman, Reverend, I’m in church every Sunday, I do my bit for the fete and the Easter fund-rasier, but I just can’t [adopt my orphaned niece].” It’s a fictional story–but I winced as I read these words because I think this an accurate portrayal of what “Christian” means to many people today. We pay our dues, distance ourselves from the big bad sins (which we define) and then sit in our “holier than thou” seats and condemn this complex, beautiful/ugly world. But there’s so much more than that.
And I am so thankful for the many who are portraying such a different view of Christians. I am slowly becoming braver about identifying with them. The few are making me proud and standing in contrast to the many. There is hope and light.
So I want to share with you the Jesus I know.
The Jesus I know loved first. After God created the world and all it contains, he made man in his image. He wanted us. But in our creature-ness we thought we knew better than the Creator–we refused him. Like a child running through a busy intersection without a care in the world, God watched us fulfill our own destruction. He wept over it. He knew we desired to know first so he let us reach for and grasp that knowledge. BUT because he loves us, he intervened across time and space. First, he showed us how much we needed him. In the Old Testament he walks us through how clean, holy and pure he is. How separate and entirely other he is from us. He shows us our complete lack of making ourselves, now stained, clean again. Our human-ness separates us from him and we can’t overcome that.
And because he loves us, he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just teach us about our condition–he acts to change it. To change us into something other. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is when Paul teaches about how God did not expect us to grasp him so he came to us in our form. He wrapped himself in flesh, he touched us with his hands. He spoke, taught, ate, drank and loved us in very tangible ways. He broke bread with us in our fallen state and called us lovely. And then he made us lovely. He took upon himself our uncleanness, our human-ness, our sin. And he did what we couldn’t–he died without blemish but carried the full wrath of God so that we could be set free from our bodies of sin and death.
And then he left the grave, unlocking death so that it lost its power over us. He gave us the promise that if we cling to him, if we call on his name, then we, too, will live with him. He will abide in us and we will abide in him. He will be our comforter, counselor and friend. He will make the old things new. The wrong things right. Starting now.
I don’t believe people go to hell because of their sexual orientation (or whatever the hot topic sin issue of the day is) because all over Scripture there are a million things that Paul, the Old Testament prophets, James, and Peter all say separate us from God–insurmountable obstacles. And the only one who can change us from flesh and blood creatures is the Creator and Savior of the world when he gives us new hearts, when we believe that he can and will do that.
We stand on a precipice. We get to make a choice. And that choice affects our lives as we walk from here to eternity. We can choose to respond to unfamiliarity and the unknown with love. Or we can respond with hate.
This is what I believe. I believe that I struggle with drunkenness. I really like drinking alcohol. Especially in social settings. I get really stressed when I’m around a lot of people. I over think and over analyze and get really nervous. I don’t know how to just be me. So I like drinking a little too much, getting a good buzz going, so that my inhibitions are lowered. It’s easy not to conform when you have “liquid courage” (such an accurate description). But Scripture speaks against drunkenness of any kind. It’s usually listed alongside sexual promiscuity and other things NOT to do, under any circumstances.
So there’s conviction here–not to lose self-control. I believe Jesus is teaching me in these moments to be brave without aid. To work through my insecurities instead of just bypassing them. So there’s repentance and a (re)learning how to be me. But I don’t think or believe that my drunkenness means that I am kicked out of the kingdom of God. He is so good and kind that as we walk this journey together he is teaching me to find comfort in him, to find strength in him, and how to live outside of the cage that I have spent years hiding in. He is gently growing me up into the new identity he claimed for me. He is making me new. And I believe this process is true for anyone who loves God and is seeking him. Jesus says that all who seek him will find him. And I believe he picks each one of us up where we’re at and moves us gently closer and closer to himself–until we become a unique image-bearer of his love. This, friends, is a life-long process and looks different for each of us.
I think when we’re open to questions and willing to ponder and wrestle through the “what ifs” with others, amazing things can happen. I think we start to see a really diverse kingdom–a table set like the one where Jesus sat when he walked the earth. And the awesome thing? Because he’s living in us, he’s kind of still here, walking the earth. He’s breaking bread with people through us. He’s touching people through us–we get to declare the unlovely things lovely because he does.
Yes, we were called to “make disciples” but we were taught to do it by invitation and love, with compassion and empathy, with hearts and hands that go to the dark scary places and are willing to walk the path others have walked, meeting them where they are right now. Because that is what Jesus did for us. And I’m so sorry some of the people I associate with have done such a pathetic job of showing this world first and foremost how people–you–were created FOR loving.
For Lent I felt an invitation. An invitation to set aside alcohol for a season to press into Jesus a little deeper. To ask questions about my relationship with alcohol. Not to turn from one pendulum swing to the other, but to explore a little deeper Jesus’s heart for me. Because he’s already unlocked the door–I have been set free. I can press into him for that release and courage. And I want to step towards him. I can respond to this invitation to walk out of the cage–because of his great love for me. And I can be brave because of who he is and what he already did.