Ever looked at the Christian church and thought, “Well this Jesus guy seems pretty cool, but judging by the mess his followers are in and how annoying/out of touch/judgemental they are I think I’ll give the whole thing a miss!?
Yeah, me too. And I’m a Christian.
Let’s face it, while there are thousands of examples of Christians living inspiring lives and doing incredible things (and not broadcasting about it), many churches and Christians aren’t exactly marketing the Jesus brand in a way that makes people flock to find out more about him. If anything, many people are put off the whole God thing either because it’s been rammed down their throat, or because Christians don’t “walk the talk”.
I totally get that. I’ve seen it happen in other arenas, where people want to evangelise about a particular thing that’s changed their lives. The proof is in the pudding right? If there’s been an obvious change in their lives, it might make me want to try it for myself. But if they’re a bit of a mess, then I will run a mile. Sound familiar? For example, I’m really health conscious. But here’s the thing… I might be health “conscious” but it tends to stay stuck in my consciousness, rather than translating into action a lot of the time! In other words, I know what I want to be doing to make me feel much more energetic and alive, but I don’t seem to be able to stick to it on a permanent basis. I might be on a roll for a while, and doing so well, telling people that my newfound energy is due to eating a high raw diet and juicing (for example), and then I get into a row with my husband and have a bad day with the kids on a PMT day, and before I know it I’m scoffing all the sugary, chocolatey junk food I can lay my hands on. I did it at a party once. I really shocked someone who had looked up to me as a role model for healthy living. Fact is, I’d never claimed to be 100% pure and perfect, but if you’re gonna tell people about eating healthily, it goes with the territory – you naturally become their human measuring stick for how effective it will be for them. Someone once commented that they were considering vegetable juicing, but that perhaps it wasn’t that effective, seeing as I had a juicer and was “always ill”. I’m not always ill, but if I get the odd virus every once in a while, it’s gonna seem like a lot to someone who’s thinking juicing will boost their immune system. What they didn’t know was that I rarely use the juicer, but when I do, I feel loads better! But it’s no good trying to tell them, they’ve already made up their mind based on what they percieve.
And so it is with Christians. Each one of us is on a different leg of the journey. The stresses and busy-ness of life can cause us to wander quite frequently from the path of faith and go it alone, which makes no sense at all, but hey, we humans are stubborn beings who learn lessons slowly. Very slowly. And then we get ourselves stuck and have to come back to God with our tail between our legs asking for him to help us to get back on the horse. And like a doting Father he happily obliges. Every single time.
You may have met many of us along the way… the driver of a car sporting a “Jesus loves you” bumper sticker who just lost his cool and mouthed obscenities at you when he was the one in the wrong lane. There’s the new manager at the office with Bible verses on heart-shaped post-it notes plastered all over her desk. She’s selfish, angry and judgemental…but only God knows that she was twenty times worse than that five years ago when she came to faith. The changes on her heart have been slow and she’s not gonna be completely free of those attitudes for another five years, basically because there’s so much healing to go through from her childhood and God needs to go gently with her.
There’s the family man who says he follows Jesus but actually he just enjoys the social aspect of church, or the church leader who just likes the status symbol of being in authority. It feeds his need to be respected, because his father and his wife always belittle him behind closed doors. He has never really been interested in Jesus deep down; he never prays alone, only in public, and soon his leadership and marriage falls apart because of some destructive pattern of behaviour that feeds his pride. God can’t help this man because he’s shutting God out of his life. There’s the small church which is full of people who’ve got so wrapped up in legalism that they have lost their way and become blind to how far they have drifted from that place of love and grace. No newcomers ever return for more. They just didn’t feel “good enough”. And there’s the elderly woman who came to faith in her youth but stayed stuck right there because she just refused to let go of some mindset she learned from her mother, even though God is waiting to help her.
Finally, here’s an illustration from my own life….There was a time when I would have aggressively preached at my loved ones in a way that makes me cringe now. I’ve learned the hard way not to do that any more. And I continue to struggle with a quick-temper and not being able to keep my mouth shut until I’ve had a chance to think. I am definitely learning and changing for the better but the progress is so slow that no-one other than me and God would notice.
All of these people are holding up an invisible banner that says “I follow Jesus; you can be like me if you follow him too”. Whether they want to or not. Well who’d wanna be like that huh?
Even Jesus’s twelve disciples were a pathetic bunch who scattered and deserted him when he needed them the most. Who in their right mind would have hired them to go out and preach the gospel and do miracles? Oh yeah, Jesus did. Was he crazy? Well, later on they went on to do incredible things in Jesus’s name, and even gave their lives for the cause. How was that possible? Because Jesus had believed in them, had patience with them and had forgiven them. He gave them a clean slate.
But I really wouldn’t want it any other way. You know why? Well firstly, we Christians can be annoying enough as it is, but if we were perfect? It doesn’t bear thinking about. If we suddenly became perfect the second we came to faith, there would be no way that we could reach out and relate to others who struggle. But as it is, we all display that same human messed-up behaviour at times, and as a result we get to learn all about how to be patient with difficult people, which is a skill that takes time and a lot of leaning on God for help. Churches are full of difficult people actually, and as infuriating as it is, it’s a great way to learn how to extend grace to one another.
The apostle Paul struggled with what he called a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. We don’t know what is was but it was possibly some “flaw” in his character which really bothered him. He begged God to take it away but God’s reply was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weaknesses”. Paul resolved to “boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. (See 2 Corinthians 12.7-10). Believe me, I can relate to what he’s saying.
You see, if we suddenly became as perfect as Jesus when we start following him, there would be no falling on our knees crying out to God to help us each time we fail and knowing the joy of his presence, grace and power. And most of all, because we would never get to see God do incredible things with us in our weakness if we never needed his help. Sure, there are thousands of Christians who will never want to change and experience a steady transformation in their lives for reasons that only God understands. But please, please, don’t let those people make you turn your back on Jesus. He’s in a league of his own.
I want to challenge you to move on from anything you’ve negatively experienced in the past of Christians, the church and their presentation of Jesus. Whatever you do, don’t judge the shepherd by his wandering sheep, or you’ll be sorely disappointed. Definitely don’t look at me! By all means be inspired by Christians you admire. But focus your attention on the Jesus of Nazareth you can read about in the Bible. Pursue him. Study him, be captivated by him, be real with him and see for yourself what he does in your life. No-one else’s, just your own. You will be amazed. And if you’re not, he’ll give you your money back. Just kidding… you don’t have to pay for Him, He’s price-less.
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