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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Jesus finished what the Law started without changing it

When you think about the church as a whole in general, what’s the first thing you think of? Maybe if you’re in another country where the Bible is illegal and churches are threatened, you have a different perspective than we do here in America. But here in the US, generally what I run into when I talk to people about the church is the idea that “church people” are always fast to pass judgment.

This is a horrible example and it may not even be relevant, but one of the most popular comedy sketches in the history of television was Dana Carvey’s Church Lady–a cantankerous old woman character who fussed and fretted about modern trends and popular culture (and it was pretty funny, honestly).

I’ve had this conversation with people before. If you go to church, it usually means that you have no problem condemning actions or choices or the beliefs of other people. You sit on a high horse and pass judgment on people you don’t know. Whether it’s actually true or not, that seems to be the general perception.

But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Isn’t the Bible a book of dos and don’ts? As Christ-followers, don’t we have the right and a duty to tell other people when they’re wrong?

Oh, this is such a slippery slope. And in situations like this, it’s always best to go back to the source to see what the Bible actually says.

dreamstime_m_9338559Today’s verse is Matthew 5:17.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

This is still the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ best known messages. One of many things I love about Jesus is that He wanted people to understand why He’d come. He didn’t just walk about thumping people on the head and telling people that they were wrong. He spent His time building relationships with people.

But by that same token, as He says in this verse, He didn’t come to do away with the Law. He came to finish what the Law started.

Everything that God had done throughout the Old Testament was a picture to demonstrate that God had a relationship with people. The Laws weren’t given as a means to get to heaven or to reach God. The Laws were given to show people they could never be good enough and that they would have to rely on God’s grace through faith for salvation. Sound familiar?

Jesus came to bridge the gap between a perfect God and a broken world. And He didn’t accomplish this by walking around beating people down because they had sinned. He didn’t make it happen by standing above everyone and pointing out everything they’d done wrong. He didn’t do it by jumping down somebody’s throat because they say something that disagrees with God’s Word.

No. But at the same time, Jesus didn’t pull His punches either. He spoke the Truth because He is the Truth. He didn’t change one thing about Scripture that God had already established. I mean, think about that. God doesn’t change, and Jesus is God. So if you can’t separate God from Jesus, you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible.

You can respect another person’s choice to believe something without believing it yourself. You can demonstrate love and kindness toward people who believe differently than you do without thinking poorly of them. Pointing out where people are wrong won’t help you build a relationship with them. When you point at someone else’s faults, remember there are four fingers pointing back at you. Try to keep that in mind the next time you are being critical of someone else’s choices. We can’t make decisions for other people, and I’ve never once seen where a heated debate changed anybody’s mind.

Be clear. What the Bible says goes, and you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible. What God says is true and right. Period. Whether we like it or not. But nobody has the right to tear someone else down for what they do or don’t believe.

Jesus wanted people to understand why He was here and make up their own minds. That’s what we should be doing too.