I gave him my life years ago, in high school and followed him as faithfully as the Israelites for over two decades. I clung with white knuckles to the rules I needed to follow to be considered faithful by other believers and presumably him, wagging my finger and shaking my head when the world didn't find those rules as imperative as I.
The god I worshiped probably looked like me. He was likely white, well behaved, well spoken, wagged his finger at the same infidels that I did, never associated with sinners (if he did, he would only associate with them temporarily unless they changed their ways) and made sure that his disciples and family stayed as insular as possible because the world needed to see that they were "different" and different surely means that we are better than you and find your ways abominable. Deep within me, I was sure he would be proud of my church attendance, my tithe, the fact that I voted republican, sent my kids to church camp and made sure they, too, followed all of the right rules and were considered good little Christians.
It all worked out very nicely for me until I realized that this Jesus didn't even exist.
American Jesus looks very different from the Jesus of the Bible. I have spent so much of my life following American Jesus and trying to make him proud...although, if I'm honest, it was as much about making other believers proud of me.
A couple of years ago, I began to feel deep conviction over the way I viewed Jesus and the church. When I saw something that made my pride rise up within me and my thoughts immediately went to judgement, I felt the conviction grow. I knew something was off but I was so afraid to confront it because in doing so, I may have to allow God to do a complete overhaul of my life. I'd have to let go of things I had been sure of, give them up and allow Him to mold them according to the reality of scripture. Since that's a hard pill to swallow, I ignored it.
Until I couldn't.
If I saw a story on the news about refugee children being brought to my city and heard my Christian friends saying, "NO! We don't want them here! They could be terrorists!", my first response was to agree. As soon as the thought cleared my brain but before it could exit my mouth, I felt it.
"Why do you believe that? Is that what my word says?"
"Yes. No, wait. I'm not sure....No, Lord."
Turning to scripture, I found this:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35
"For he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to it's neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13: 8-10
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." ..."I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:35-36,40
Lather, rinse, repeat every single time I tried to hold tightly to a belief I'd long used to puff out my chest and polish my halo.
I heard a speaker recently tell of a pastor from Zimbabwe who was giving account of all the miracles his church sees in Africa to a group of American believers. He said that in his country they often see God perform miracles because God is their only hope. Jesus is all they have to cling to and because of that, they see him move through miracles that Americans believe do not exist outside of scripture. He told them that he believes that in America, we don't see these miracles because we have so many options, so many things in which to place our faith. His church only has Jesus.
For so long, I lingered in the belief that Jesus just didn't call everyone to radical love. It was great for missionaries and maybe even pastors but for a regular girl like me, he understood that I just didn't have the time, resources or calling to do live the kind of life it takes to see him actually perform miracles. I thought serving in my local church, teaching a Bible study to a group of ladies who were a lot like me was enough. Don't hear me wrong, that's exactly what I was called to do. But, it's not ALL I was called to do. Loving others the way Jesus loves them isn't going to happen by checking off a box and attending church regularly, there has to be more. We can't just go to church, we have to BE the church.
My pastor taught today that the first step in our experience with Jesus is Information. We learn about him and want to learn all we can about being a believer so we fill our head and heart with religious information. We figure out our theology along the way and we know all the rules of what we believe. For some, that's where they stall out and that's what stands out about them. Let's not forget, it's those with all of the correct religious information that killed Christ because he didn't adhere to the rules. We must move on to the next steps of inspiration and transformation if we want our relationship with him to grow. We must let our transformation be what stands out to others.
"The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." Isaiah 29:13
We teach the world nothing of the love of Christ by demanding that they adhere to our beliefs or we will turn our backs on them. The world cannot see Jesus in our demands that every life matters, if we walk past the hungry and do nothing, allowing them to literally die of starvation because we think they should have worked harder to get themselves out of this situation. The world wants nothing of a Jesus whose people demand rights for the unborn but do nothing for the orphan. No one wants a relationship with a Jesus who is pleased with his followers for labeling every prisoner a burden who is getting what they deserve.
When our sin and filth is exposed to unbelievers, it's easy for them to use that as an excuse to stay away from Jesus if the pretense that we don't sin is what we used to tell them that Jesus loves us more than them in the first place. How can they believe that His love is not worthless if you have spent your time telling them they need to be perfect (like you) in order to earn his love and then they find out that you are a fraud? If you are a fraud, then He must be, too.
I don't have all the answers, I'm still daily learning who Jesus really is. I'm finally letting go of all of the knowledge and rules that have been so important to me and allowing him to replace them with love. I'm still battling the acidic words that spring into my heart with every new hot button issue and asking Jesus to remake my beliefs into His. It is a process that has been both painful and sweet because as I learn more, I love more. My heart is changing and I'm clinging to Him, valuing no other options and yearning for his miracles.