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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The ones who matter and the ones who mind

Have you ever been blamed unfairly? I think that’s something everyone experiences. You’re just rocking through life, doing what you do, and somebody comes along and blows up your world when they drop the bomb on you: “You screwed up!”

What do you do when that happens? Do you get angry? Do you respond with a scathing email? Do you crumble in a heap and hate on yourself? There are all sorts of ways to answer an unfair, unfounded accusation. It depends on your personality type. But if you’re a Christ-follower, there’s only one way to react: You react the way Jesus would.

blameToday’s verse is 1 Peter 2:12.

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

The whole “WWJD” craze burned out years ago, and it’s a shame, because it was a beautiful concept. What a great idea to give yourself a reminder on what Jesus would do every time you had to make a decision!

But just because you don’t see the WWJD bracelets around anymore doesn’t mean that you can’t still ask yourself the question. And you should. In every situation. Not just the good ones or the happy ones.

What I would love to do when people blame me unfairly is to put up a huge sign where everyone in the world can see it, showing them that I’m right and my accuser is wrong. Isn’t that horrible? I’m ashamed to say it, but that’s what’s really in my heart when somebody points out my wrong when I haven’t done anything wrong.

But I don’t like confrontation, so my passive aggressive version of that is to create characters just like the people who piss me off and put them in novels where I make them look like idiots.

Yes, the ugly truth of my vindictive side.

But Jesus didn’t do that. If he ever told stories about anyone, He just told the truth, and if they came off as idiots, it wasn’t because He embellished. And He didn’t get angry either. When He was unfairly blamed, He just took it and quietly pointed out the truth.

So that’s what we’re supposed to do.

What I’ve learned about people who blame others unfairly is that they’re often jumping to conclusions. They need someone to blame, so they pick an easy target. Or they’re trying to get the Powers that Be to ignore their own screw ups, so they redirect attention to someone else’s screw ups instead.

Dealing with people like this is a two-fold process. The first step is simple, but it’s not easy. It’s learning how to hold your temper and your tongue when people point fingers at you that you don’t deserve.

It takes time to learn how to do it, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. And the more you realize why people are throwing you under the bus (to get the attention off their own shortcomings), the easier it is to deal with.

The second step takes a lot more effort and long-term planning. It’s living a life that contradicts anything negative that’s said about you. It’s conducting yourself with behavior that is above reproach, so that even if someone accuses you of wrongdoing, nobody would believe it.

Wow, can you live a life like that? Jesus did, and that means you can too. No, it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It just means you need to live the way Jesus did. You make decisions the way Jesus did—not selfishly or anxiously, but with the greater good in mind. Do your best to get along with your coworkers. Don’t get dragged into drama. Try to be a peacemaker. When you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. And always, always do what’s right.

If you live your life that way, it doesn’t matter what anyone accuses you of. No accusation will stick.

If someone has blamed you for something you did wrong, yes, take responsibility for it. Step up. But if you aren’t wrong, respond quietly and gently with the truth and let the pieces fall where they will.

Because the people who mind don’t matter…. and the people who matter don’t mind.

Rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Loving by example

How much do you love others? Would you be willing to die for someone you loved, to sacrifice your hopes and your dreams so that someone else can achieve theirs? Many people say they’re willing to die for someone else, but do they really mean it? I don’t know, and that’s between them and the person they say they love.

What I do know, though, is that love is a quality not many people truly understand. If we’re going to love anyone else, we really need an example of how to do it. That’s one of the myriad reasons we have Christ.

 

Rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:2.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Love takes sacrifice; love is sacrifice. And just the fact that love requires so much from us means it will never ever be easy. If love for someone has ever come easy, you just don’t know them well enough yet. Even if you are the most loving, forgiving, patient person in the universe, someone else will eventually get on your nerves. Know why?

You’re not perfect. No one is. Not the person typing this blog this chilly Thursday morning and not the person you’re currently frustrated with at home, at school or at work.

So how do we handle it? Well, we should handle imperfect people the same way we do with every step along the path of following Christ. We choose to do what Christ did. Love others in spite of what they’ve done or said to us; love others in spite of what we want.

If you believe in Christ, you’ve committed to following Him. That means He becomes your example for how to live. And Christ loved us so much He was willing to die for us.

So does that mean we need to rush out and look for someone to sacrifice ourselves for? No. Not so much. But when was the last time you inconvenienced yourself for someone else? When was the last time you gave up your plans to help someone else? When was the last time you bought groceries for someone who couldn’t afford them even if you weren’t sure you could afford your own groceries? You get the idea.

It’s okay to get frustrated with people, but kind of like despair, it’s not okay to stay there. Don’t stay frustrated. Forgive them and love them, and the best way to do that is to do something kind for them. And if you can’t do something kind for them (for realistic reasons), pray for them. It’s hard to be frustrated with someone you’re praying for.

But if you’re going to sacrifice for someone, make sure that sacrifice comes from love and not fear. It’s strange how love and fear can sometimes share similar qualities. If you’re sacrificing because you’re afraid that someone else will reject you or because you’re afraid that you won’t measure up otherwise, that’s not love. Love is never motivated by performance; yes, performance encourages love and it demonstrates love. But real love shouldn’t hinge on how you act or what you do. So judge the motivation of your sacrifice. If you’re giving away everything you have because you’re afraid of what people think, that’s not love. If you’re giving away everything you have in spite of what people think, that’s a different story.