When you only want half of Jesus

Imagine you walk into the grocery store and fill your shopping cart with essentials. Not the name brand products either. Just what you need to get by. Then, when you go to pay for your cart of groceries, you present the sales clerk with half a credit card. Do you think you’ll get to go home with your groceries?

Instead, what if you gave her half the amount of money you owe the store. Your groceries would cost $50, but you only have $25. Do you think you’d be able to take home the entire cart of groceries? No, of course not.

In the case of the half of a credit card, you wouldn’t get to take anything home. In the case of half the cash, you’d have to take home half of what you wanted to purchase. And that’s a silly example maybe, but why do we think that following Jesus is different? Why do we expect to get all the benefit of belonging to Him if we only want half of Him?

Everybody loves Jesus, right?

He was a great teacher, an amazing role model, and he stood up to the oppressive religious leaders. He encouraged His followers to forgive their enemies and turn the other cheek and be patient with each other.

All of that is true. But it’s only one side of the coin. And trying to force this politically correct portrait of Jesus into the mold of human society is like trying to pay for your groceries with half a credit card. It doesn’t work.

Because, no, not everybody loves Jesus. Not everybody is supposed to. And if you’re truly a follower of Jesus, not everyone will love you either (Matthew 10:22).

Jesus is a paradox. He’s impossible. He came both to unite people with God (Romans 8:15-17) yet divide people from each other (Luke 12:51). He came to offer a way to salvation (John 3:16), but that means facing the truth that the world is condemned without Him (John 3:17). He is God. He is Man. He died. He lives today. He is. And if you think you can explain Him with a few quaint platitudes that fit your definition of Christianity, you’re wrong.

You can’t have half of Jesus. You can’t follow half of Jesus. If you try it, you’ll always be confused and at odds with the Bible. Because Jesus didn’t come to discredit the Bible (Matthew 5:17). He came to complete what’s already there.

Yes, Jesus loves everyone, but no one deserves to be loved.

Yes, Jesus saves everyone who comes to Him, but not everyone will choose to be saved.

Yes, Jesus forgives anyone, but you can’t be forgiven if you don’t ask for it and admit that you are wrong.

Jesus isn’t this pale-hearted milktoast literary figure who blesses people in flowery language and always smiles with a shining halo around his head. Nor is He a religious zealot intent on tearing down the government or protesting every action of a country’s leaders just for spite.

You can’t label Him. You can’t stereotype Him. And if you think you can, you don’t know Him.

During His life on earth, Jesus was the most compassionate, most loving, most tender-hearted man alive. But that didn’t mean He refused to stand up against tyranny, against oppression and persecution. But He didn’t riot and damage property. He stood for truth and justice peacefully, calmly, meekly. He asked questions instead of demanding answers, and He gained a reputation for being someone who spoke with authority instead of someone who demanded what He was owed.

American Christians could learn a lot about how to handle life from Jesus. Ironic, isn’t it?

You can’t separate Jesus’ love from His righteousness. You can’t separate His mercy and His justice. You can’t separate His compassion from His holiness. You can’t separate Jesus from God because They are the same Person.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. Jesus has always made people uncomfortable, and the day He stops, is the day we’ve truly forgotten who He is. He should always make us think about what we believe and why we believe it. He should always make us realize how unworthy we are, yet how valuable we are to Him.

So where does that leave us? How do we press forward in this exhausting, emotional, conflicted existence when we don’t understand? How do we decide what is right and what is wrong and how to live?

It’s not as complicated as people make it seem. It’s cliched, but what did Jesus do? How did He live?

He loved everyone, yes, but he didn’t make excuses for them. (That’s not love, by the way.) He accepted everyone, but that didn’t mean He dismissed what was true. He spent time with people who disagreed with Him, but He never compromised what was right. He lived sacrificially to serve other people, but even He still paid His taxes (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25).

If you ask the world about a lifestyle like that, they won’t know what to do with it. It makes no sense to them, and if you don’t know Jesus, it won’t make sense to you either.

Don’t accept the world’s view about Jesus. Don’t even accept the Church’s view on Jesus. Read about Him for yourself. And then spend some time with Him. Get to know Him personally. I promise, you won’t ever be the same. And that, my friends, is the point.

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Judging

Christians are really good at judging people, which is pretty incredible because that’s not something we’re even capable of doing. It seems easy to look at someone who is doing something we don’t agree with and to levy judgment against them simply for the reason that we don’t like their actions. But there’s a big difference between disliking someone’s actions and judging them as a person.

I find it interesting that many people who say they follow Christ think it’s their mission in life to judge other people, whether they’re making the right choices or not, whether they’re living their lives the right way or not. They say they follow Christ when they do this, but we don’t have a record of Jesus judging anybody. Because that’s not why He came. Jesus came to save people, not condemn them.

The verse today comes from John 3:17.

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 Christ was here on a rescue mission.

So where do Christians get the idea that we’re supposed to walk around telling people what they’re doing wrong and how that affects their worth as a person?

Now. I should probably clarify what judging actually means. Judging is passing sentence on a person’s heart based on what their actions.  And if you think about it, that’s all a judge in a court room does. Based on the evidence of a person’s actions or behavior, a judge makes a ruling on whether a person meant to break the law or not . . . and whether he’s sorry about it or not.

Judging is about us determining someone else’s motivation. And that is impossible for us to do. We can’t know someone else’s heart, their reason for doing the things they do, their motivation for living life. That is hidden to us. All we can see is the results of their motivation.

Now . . . can we judge actions? Yes. If you believe the Bible, you believe in right and wrong. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Being jealous is wrong. Disobeying parents is wrong. But stating those facts isn’t being judgmental. That is what the Bible says. Many times. Over and over. The Bible declares that these things are sin. And in the same breath, the Bible turns around and says that all of us are sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another sin. So how can one sinner turn to another sinner and declare himself worth more or less? We can’t. Only God can determine the worth of a soul, and we already know the price He paid for us — His Son.

Now . . . is it wrong to call another Christian on their crap? No. If you know a Christian — someone who professes to follow Christ — and they are living a life that is obviously against God, you as a Christian have a responsibility to step up and talk to them. Christians, we’re family. We are supposed to keep each other honest. We’re supposed to keep each other accountable. And while we can’t see someone’s heart, we can see their actions, and a Christian’s actions should look different than someone who isn’t a Christian. Again, calling another Christian out on repetitive, obvious sin isn’t judging; it’s being obediant to Scripture.

Now . . . is it wrong to see someone sinning and immediately decide that they are not a follower of Christ? Yes.

Is it wrong to speak ill of a person as though you understand their heart and their motivation? Yes.

Is it wrong to see a person’s actions and decide that they aren’t worthy of God? Yes.

Many of us would say we’ve never done those things, but if we say that we’re lying. We do it all the time, whether we mean to or not. Yes, we can see someone’s actions and deem whether or not they are wrong by using the Bible as our moral/ethical compass. But to decide whether or not that person is worthy of being loved? To decide whether or not that person is worthy of being prayed for? To decide whether or not that person is “good” or “bad” person? Wow. Where do we get such egotistical ideas? There’s nobody good. There’s nobody worthy of being loved. Not even us.

So the next time you see someone sinning — whether it’s a little bitty sin or a great big sin — try to remember that while we can judge whether the sin is right or not, the sinner belongs to God. God has already judged. The law already declares us lost. Jesus came to rescue us. And it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to be saved. And if Christ didn’t come to judge people, why do we think we need to?

I hate religion

Fear is a powerful motivator, but it’s not always as effective as it could be. When I think of fear as a motivator, I think of the times I’ve had to cover my tracks because I was afraid someone would discover something I did wrong. It’s not usually the best way to convince people to do things.

It’s not the best way to make friends, although I’ve met a number of people who use it to their advantage. They have a list of rules or standards that you have to meet as a friend or else they’ll disown you. It’s not the way to be a family, fearing excessive punishment for imperfection. It’s not even the best way to run a business. I guess there is some use in fearing for your job, but if your employees spend all their time afraid that their next day will be their last, the quality of their work will decrease.

Those are all examples of how fear doesn’t really work in relationships, and I thought about many of them when I read the verse for today.

1 John 4:18

 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

 But what I thought about first is the concept of religion. There is no love in religion. Have you ever thought about that? Religion is a set of do’s and don’t’s, ritual law with no real meaning behind it. It clings to traditions that it has forgotten the purpose of. And it holds its victims in check with fear.

If you don’t dress a certain way, you won’t be saved. If you don’t follow these rituals, you won’t be saved. If you don’t read the right translation of the Bible, you won’t be saved. If you don’t live the way you’re supposed to, your next life will be miserable. If you don’t control your anger, you’ll never reach Nirvana.

No matter what religion you’re talking about, they are all the same. They rule people with fear. And while fear can be a great motivator, it’s not effective because people want more than a God they’re scared of.

I always wondered about the people who sacrified their children in ancient times. It always seemed amazing to me that a mother could lack the maternal instincts enough to kill her own child. It still surprises me now in today’s world, but we’ve had generations of indoctrination telling women that babies aren’t really babies. So on one hand, I’m guess it’s not too unexpected that a mother could kill her child before it’s born. But in ancient times (and even today still in some parts of the world), infants were sacrificed after they were born healthy. How could a mother do that?

Could it have been fear? People do crazy things when they’re afraid. And prevailing religion at the time was to sacrifice your children or your soul would be lost.

Religion is the most dangerous weapon in the world because it enslaves people to either a distant, uncaring God or a tyrannical, bloodthirsty God who demands obediance but gives nothing in return.

That’s why I hate religion. Religion has destroyed so many lives and turned so many people against God, and that was never the way it was supposed to be. Religion is a tool of man used to control other people. Wear this. Sing that. Read this. Do that. Or else. And it’s not right.

Please don’t misunderstand me. God is a God of wrath and definitely worthy of our fear. Think of the person you respect the most. Would you approach that person with impudence? Would you treat them rudely or demand things of them or not give them the credit they deserve? Of course not! So how much more should you respect God when He’s the one Who created the Universe? No. God is a God who we should definitely be afraid of — but it’s not the same kind of fear.

Religion has told us that God punishes people. He doesn’t. We punish ourselves. We suffer punishment because we have sinned or because the world is just broken.

God is perfect, holy justice and that which is imperfect or unjust can’t be in His presence. But that’s why He sent Jesus. To make us perfect. To make us holy. To show us how much God loves us. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are able to approach God on a one-on-one basis (not face to face yet but someday soon). We don’t need anyone to talk to God for us. We don’t need anyone to explain the Bible to us. If Christ is your Savior, God is your Father. And He’s more than that. He’s your Dad.

God wants to have a relationship with us. That’s why He created us. He loves us so intensely that He was willing to give Himself to pay the penalty for our sin.

I’m sorry, folks, but that doesn’t sound like fear to me. That doesn’t sound like a relationship that demands exacting obediance and then returns nothing. That doesn’t sound like religion based on fear of damnation.

There is a choice. Believe or don’t believe. One will save you. The other one will condemn you. But Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world. The world was already condemned. He came to make a way for us to be saved. And He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. If you’re forced to take a gift, is it still a gift that you have accepted? There’s no point in that.

Perfect love expels all fear.

God’s love is perfect. So don’t be afraid.