Just Wondering: Some Questions for My Christian Brothers and Sisters

I’m having such a hard time these days with social media and the news. Hatred, anger, and fear underlie almost every post and report. I have been especially surprised by the reactions and comments of Christians.

I haven’t been a follower of Jesus for that long—just since 2008—and I admit I follow him quite imperfectly. So perhaps I’ve missed something. But to my understanding it is love by which he said his followers would be known. (Jn 13:35) He didn’t say go out and be right. He said go out and be love. And he didn’t just say to band together and love each other. He said to love our enemies, to bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27–28) He said to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Mk 12:31) He said to welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner. (Mt 25:34–40) And he said “do not judge others.” (Mt 7:1)

These days, it seems that what we Christians are looking to do is correct behavior instead of love. Before we love you, we want to know whether you are a practicing Muslim or if you are just a Muslim by culture and in name. We want to know whether you are practicing homosexuality or if you’re just attracted to someone of the same sex. We want to know what crime you committed and whether you’ve actually repented. We want to know whether you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs before we buy you a meal. We would rather talk with you about your behavior than lavish you with love. We would rather pass judgment than extend mercy.

I guess I’m just wondering why we do this. What are we afraid of—that Christians will get a bad name? That we will be known as lovers of Muslims, homosexuals, criminals, or addicts? I thought that’s what we were supposed to be known for. No? Or are we worried that being right on certain issues is the thing that ultimately saves us? I thought we were saved by our faith and trust in Jesus. No? And, by the way, why are we afraid anyway? I thought we believed that Jesus has overcome the world and that our hope is in him, not our country, political leaders, or the Second Amendment. No?

Just wondering.

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Untitled

by Hassani Hussein

Amid the confusion, the chaos and the pain
A man emerged, Jesus was his name.
Walking with nothing but God as his aid
And the marks of a Great One between his shoulder blades.

In a barn the revelation came.
Gabriel said, “Mary, you will have a Son and Jesus will be his name.”
She was blessed by God by being the selected one
And surely he was and has always been the Chosen One.

In approaching the “wicked” he had the best of skills,
He purified them with grace and good will.
The perfection they never could attain,
He accomplished through his suffering and pain.

The greatest of men, saving people was his goal
From all honorable people he was vast.
As his was a mission of the greatest task.

He taught us about the Creator of heaven and earth.
God, the one who gives us all more than our worth,
He’s the One we call on and he hears.
He’s always by our side, so we feel no fears,
Helps us back up when we’ve taken a fall.
God, whose epic mercy will shine above all.

Jesus, your words are here to help us through
Every one of them is true.
I’ve never seen you but I love you so.
And in your footsteps, I’ll try to follow.
A smile you give me may stop my fall
You’re the bright rose, and the mercy for all.

There Are Some Things I Don’t…

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(photo source)

I have been writing this series of blog posts responding to fears that a friend of mine raised about becoming a Christian.  I am grouping the next three together because they are related:

  • I don’t know enough.

  • I don’t want to give up stuff I love.

  • I don’t really think I need it.

This is such an interesting group of fears, and maybe “fears” isn’t exactly the right word.  I struggled with each of these as I considered Christianity and so now when I respond to someone who raises them, I try to do it in a way that, looking back, did or would have helped me.

I don’t know enough. The Bible is the key to this one, but it is intimidating if we don’t know where to start.  If you start in Genesis, you’ll lose interest and comprehension quickly.  A suggestion that helped me most was to read the books of Luke and Ephesians first.  Luke gives an understandable and accessible description of Jesus while he was on earth.  Ephesians explains the significance of Jesus and what belief in him means and looks like.   I also found “The Case for Christ,” by Lee Strobel and “The Jesus I Never Knew” and “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” by Philip Yancey helpful.  There are only so many books to read, though.  And we will never know everything or have the answer to every question.  There is a passage in Psalm 34 that says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  (Psalm 34:8)  At some point, you just have to try it and see.

I don’t want to give up stuff I love.  Somehow following Jesus, or being a Christian, has become associated with rules that impinge on our freedom.  The thought that comes to mind immediately upon hearing the term “Christian” probably starts something like, “If you’re a Christian, you’re not allowed to…”  This is so ironic because when Jesus lived on earth, and during the years of the early church, Jesus was criticized for being a violator of the law, not someone under which the world would be restricted.  The only things I have given up since I’ve become a follower of Christ are those things that hurt me and left me feeling empty and those things I idolized, putting my trust in, all the while knowing they would not last.  I have never felt so whole, at peace, or purpose driven.

I don’t really think I need it.  I used to look at my life, I think mostly subconsciously, compare myself to other people, and conclude: “I’m a good person overall.  I’ve made some missteps here and there, but nothing that bad.”  And so the notion that I needed to be saved seemed a little dramatic and unnecessary.  I could always identify someone who had done far worse things and the idea of them needing help seemed much more plausible.  But then I realized I had been drawing the wrong comparison.  The correct comparison is between me and God, not me and other people.  If I assume that God is holy in every way, not just like the best person I’ve ever known, but far, far better, indeed, perfect, I could see that I was not “pretty good” at all.  Far from it.  (Romans 3:23)  And if the goal was to be perfect and holy, I knew I had blown it very early on.  If the deep longing in me was a longing to be with God, all the evidence suggested to me that I could not bridge the gap my wrongdoing had created between God and me.  When I speak to friends now about this gap, I try to help shift the comparisons they make so they are no longer viewing their life in comparison to another person’s life but instead are comparing their life to the standard of a perfect and holy God.

What do you tell people who feel like they don’t know enough yet about what it means to be a Christian?

What have you given up since becoming a follower of Jesus?  What have you gained?

Can You Still Play Golf and Drink Scotch?

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The third question a friend asked me when I told him I had become a Christian was, “Can you still play golf and drink scotch?” This one threw me. I hadn’t considered that. Could I? Did Jesus have something to say about golf? Scotch? But what my friend really meant was, “Can you still have fun, or have you signed up for a lifetime of boring?”

Boring? Since becoming a follower of Jesus, I have gone to Africa twice (soon to be three times) to spend days with HIV/AIDS orphans, long-haul truck drivers, and pastors who have devoted their lives to serving and caring for people who are dying of starvation and malaria. I have never felt more alive or more whole. I helped start a legal aid ministry that has served nearly 4,000 people who have stories I can hardly take in as I listen to them. I have never had more nights where I sit down on the couch and shake my head in awe of what happened that day. One of my closest, most faithful friends is a homeless, Marine veteran. I have never had closer friendships. I have never laughed harder. I have never felt more purposeful, valued, and driven. I have sat in church and sobbed with joy watching people get baptized. I have never taken more relational risks. I have overheard my daughter pray for her friends and sing Amazing Grace in the shower. I have never been more present. I just left my 13-year career as a partner at a law firm without having another job lined up first.

There is nothing boring about following Jesus. It is the adventure of a lifetime. I have never experienced anything that even compares. Yes, I can and do still play golf and have a glass of scotch from time to time, but this adventure I’m on makes golf and scotch seem like sitting in front of the television watching the home shopping network. When someone I know tells me they have decided to follow Jesus, the only thing that comes to mind is, “Fasten your seatbelt and hold on tight. You’re in for the ride of your life. God will do more than you can ever even imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

Have you ever been bored following Jesus?

You’re a Christian…How Are You Different?

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“How are you different?” is the second question a friend asked me when we had lunch and I told him I had become a Christian.  (I wrote about the first question he asked – What does it mean to become a Christian? – last week).  This second question is much more difficult to answer and when my friend asked me, I’m not sure what I said, but it was probably something like “I don’t know, I just feel different.”  The reality was that not much changed right away, especially on the outside.  And being a follower of Jesus is much more about “becoming” than it is about simply “being.”  Or at least that has been my story.

The best way I can describe this becoming is to liken it to getting braces on your teeth.  Usually, there is some work that needs to be done on your jaw, the structure of your mouth, or the teeth way in the back before the crooked teeth are straightened or the gap in the front closes.  Only once the jaw is realigned and the teeth way in the back are adjusted, will the beautiful, straight smile be visible.  And the thing is, that structural, jaw realignment work requires pain relievers.  When I had braces, I had to participate in my own torture by attaching rubber bands and strapping on a headgear (at night, thankfully).  If I refused to do these things (and sometimes I just couldn’t), nothing would change.

The day I became a Christian, and for at least a year thereafter, I looked pretty much exactly the same as I did before.  I mean, sure, I knew some more Christian words, read the Bible, and went to church, but I was still very crooked, gap-filled, and misaligned.  But there were some imperceptible, deep, structural adjustments going on.  I became very aware of my own sin.  Things that I previously viewed as being victimless or as acceptable outlets for my own happiness and desires, I came to see were offenses to the one who had hand-crafted me out of love and to fulfill a purpose.  I became aware of how often my actions arose from a seemingly compulsive need I had to fill the growing internal gap between who I wanted to be and who I actually was.   I began to wonder about my purpose and whether it could possibly be to acquire stuff, escape from my life by taking trips, or save for retirement.

My sudden awareness of these things did not change anything, though.  For change to happen, I had to enter into them and participate in the work God was doing in me.  Right at the beginning, there was work to be done:

  • I had to stop doing some things and start doing some other things.  I’m telling you, there were days (and there still are) when not doing certain things felt like torture and something for which I simply did not have the strength.
  • I had to begin to see myself differently – as already loved, instead of someone who could be loved if certain things were true.
  • I had to read Scripture and accept some things about who God is and what Jesus came to earth to do even if I did not know from experience necessarily that they were true.
  • I had to listen more and talk less.
  • I had to ask for help from God even when I wasn’t sure if he was listening to me.

To be clear, just like there were times I did not wear the rubber bands or the headgear, there have been times when I have refused to participate in the work God is doing in me.  But he is patient and keeps giving me grace and strength.  Some days I go backward, some days I make no progress, and some days, I am a conqueror.

So, how am I different?  Well, if you examine me, you’ll still come across crookedness, gaps, and areas of misalignment.  But today I am more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, kinder, more faithful, more self-controlled, and more forbearing than I was before.  (Gal 5:22-24)  Not the most, just more than before.  Not perfect, just better than before.  I am still becoming.

How are you different?

Are there things you need to stop doing or start doing?

Have you been refusing to wear your headgear and rubber bands?

What Does It Mean to “Become a Christian?”

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Not long after I committed my life to Christ in 2008, I had lunch with a friend I had known for several years.  When he asked me what was new and I told him I had become a Christian, he asked three questions:

  • What does it mean to “become a Christian?”

  • So, how are you different?

  • Can you still play golf and drink scotch?

Each one of these questions was so interesting and, frankly, stumped me a little bit both because of what they meant about my friend’s understanding of Christianity and about what I was really committing to by calling myself a Christian.  So, for the next few weeks, I’m exploring both sides of each of these questions.  This week, I’m focusing on “What does it mean to ‘become a Christian?’”

Before 2008, if you’d asked me what religion I was, I would have said Christian.  And basically I meant four things by “Christian”: I had a Christmas tree in my living room in mid-December; I went to brunch on Easter Sunday; I tried to be a good person; and I generally believed there was a divine, disinterested ruler of some kind somewhere far away.  In other words, my “Christianity” did not have anything to do with Jesus Christ.

Many of us are Christians is this sense.  We are born into a family that calls themselves Christian because they attend church on Sundays, get together at long dinner tables for Christmas and Easter, try to avoid the “big sins,” and baptize babies with crossed fingers that this works to seal an eternal existence.  Overall, though, there is no difference in the way we act, serve, or feel as compared to non-Christians.

So, to me, to “become a Christian” means several things.

It means I believe

  • the longing I felt deep in my soul was a longing to be united with my creator.  It was not a longing for food or success or sex or money or children;

  • Jesus, God himself in human form, came to earth to do this uniting (John 1);

  • by dying on the cross, Jesus and I exchanged something – he took my robe of sin (and this was a big and heavy robe) in exchange for his robe of righteousness, making me blameless in God’s eyes.  (Eph 1:3-14)  In other words, my sins, which could wake me up in the middle of the night sometimes, were buried forever and not being tallied on a huge heavenly whiteboard (Micah 7:19);

  • I am a loved daughter of the maker of the Milky Way galaxy and the ant and will spend eternity with God.  (Rom 8)

It means I can stop striving to earn my way to God through my goodness, which was never that good.  (Eph 2:8-9)

It means I am freed from fear.  What could I be afraid of as the child of the one who made everything?  (Rom 8:31-39)

It means that God will transform me over the course of my life into the image of Jesus, who lived a flawless life.  (2 Corin 3:18)

It means I have a purpose: to follow Jesus’ example and love anyone and everyone who crossed my path with a supernatural, non-judgmental, ever-forgiving, servant love that would make the recipient want to know more about where that love could possibly have come from.  (John 13:34)

It means I cannot be silent about how I have been rescued and how the gifts of forgiveness, grace, child-ship, freedom, transformation, and purpose are instantly and constantly available to every single person on the planet.  (Matt 28:19)

Have you become a Christian?