Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
I have thought a lot about love and what it looks like in my life recently. My favorite Bible verse conveys love as being the most important thing (1 Corinthians 13:13). To sum it up, Christ teaches us if we carry love in our core, then everything else in life will fall into place. We will have joy and happiness in our hearts. We will be hopeful and faithful. We will be able to forgive and extend grace to those around us. In the Bible, Peter reminds us to put love before anything else: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Jesus teaches us loving God wholeheartedly and loving others is the two most important commandments. If we’re able to live out these two things, the rest will follow. Jesus also includes those who hurt us into the equation. Seriously? Jesus wants us to love our enemies? You’re kidding, right? I know, this philosophy doesn’t seem to fit really well in today’s society. Why is this so challenging to accomplish sometimes? For me, it’s difficult to show love to those who don’t love me back. Retaliation sounds more like it, right? There have been several times I’ve carried vengeance out in my head. I’ve played over and over the dreadful words I would say to them if I had the chance. It feels pleasurable for a little while, but then the Spirit reminds me I must love them regardless of what they’ve done. I remind the Spirit of how much fun I was having and we go back and forth for a bit. Naturally, the Spirit usually wins: But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness….” Galatians 5:22. I wonder what this world would look like if we stopped fighting back and started loving more? I wonder what my world would look like?
I’ve had a long, hard experience with rejection. All through my earlier years, I’ve felt abandoned and scarred from past relationships. Kids can be mean! In seventh grade, there was this boy who would tease me in between classes. I was a skinny, pale, awkward and lanky little girl with huge framed glasses. My teeth were in some desperate need of braces. I was not the prettiest thing to look at and this boy constantly reminded me of this daily. He bullied me for a while. After being in my face, taunting me, I finally had enough. I swung my book bag around, took it off my shoulder and lunged it right into his stomach. Boy, it felt good! Honestly, it still feels exhilarating when I think about it. Needless to say, he was shocked. He couldn’t believe that I had fought back. I couldn’t believe it either. I’m sure he even felt a little embarrassed. This is just one of the many times I was picked on. This baggage of being bullied certainly carried over into my adult life. Not that I go around punching people in the stomach with my bag. But, with trust issues and a guarded heart, I fought through this world unable to fully love people the way that I wanted. Christ is just now helping me heal from the damage. I’m learning from Him I can be loved even when no one else can. He’s helping me through my rejection issues. My insecurity issues. He’s making me feel loved like I’ve never been loved before. It’s been an incredibly vulnerable and humbling process. I still have a ways to go though.
I’ve grown a lot in the last few years. My rejection has taken a back seat and I’m not fearful about getting myself out there. Hey, I may be rejected, but I’ll get through it. It’s worth trying. Face my fears, right? I’ve never been great at nurturing friendships in the past, but since giving my heart to Christ, He’s given me the ability and confidence to get out there and foster my relationships. It certainly hasn’t been easy. God has definitely been pushing me to be relational even when I don’t want to be. I’m thankful for what He’s done even though it’s been challenging. I feel like a different person at times. However, I’ve still experienced sadness from human conditional love.
I’ve felt betrayed by some friends this year. I was left trying to put the pieces together wondering what I had done wrong. The interesting thing is they probably didn’t think much about it, but I fought long and hard through it. Fighting through tears. Fighting through confusion. Fighting through heartache and anger. I’ve realized I’ll never get this time back. It’s not such a loss because through the process of my hurt I gained insight and wisdom. Seeking Him in the midst helped me find peace and clarity reminding me He loves me. He cares for me. He’ll protect me. He will not forsake me. Who knows what expectations I didn’t meet in these friendships or if I actually did anything at all. Maybe we didn’t have much in common or maybe we just changed, but an explanation would’ve been nice, huh? A little communication would have been helpful. Instead, I’m left wondering what happened. I’ll probably never know and I’m in the process of getting comfortable with not knowing. I do know one thing; I felt that I loved these individuals to the best of my ability. For whatever reason, they just had a hard time loving me back. There are still moments when I think of these friends. My heart feels sad that we’re no longer doing life together and I miss them, but there’s an acceptance. There’s a peace. If they ever needed me, I can honestly say, I would be right there beside them holding their hand. However, I’m having a really difficult time getting out of my comfort zone to reach out to them. I’ve tried, but something has stopped me from putting any more effort into them. God can bring people in my life, but He can also take people out whenever He feels that it’s necessary. God obviously knows something I don’t. Maybe He’s teaching me this is what life is all about and these friendships were just a season…. now it’s time to move on. Maybe He wants me to experience rejection so I can cling to Him realizing He’s the ONLY one who can love me the way I want to be loved. Who knows, but I’m gaining something valuable from it all. I love the moments when I open up to Christ’s positivity. However, at times, I tend to lean towards the negative thoughts. “Why don’t they want to be my friend?” What’s so wrong with me that they’ve turned their back on me?” “What could I have done differently?” I feel like a young and immature schoolgirl in these moments. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but even in my adult life I revert back to those feelings of rejection that so often plagued me before as a child. It’s uneasy to not feel special, needed or liked. We all feel it even if we’ve told ourselves we don’t care… we care. God has created us all to be relational and when you’re not liked, it doesn’t feel good. It’s crazy with each brick Christ tries to tear down around my heart; I sometimes pick back up and start building the wall up again.
I reached out to a very dear friend of mine about how these particular friends have made me feel. She gave me some insightful wisdom, which actually came from her mother. She said, “not everyone is going to like you in this world and it’s okay!” Wow, this is so true. It was freeing! It takes the pressure off that I have to be liked by everyone. I've heard this so many times before, but for whatever reason something clicked. Through this statement, something came to the forefront of my mind: Christ wasn’t liked either by this world. The bricks started to come down.
I’m comforted Christ felt rejection, too. John 15:18 says, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first”. By these words you can see He felt rejection. It’s incredibly ironic the hate of the world and His love for humanity is what ultimately saved mankind. To get more personal, He was betrayed by two of His followers. As most of you know, He prophesized their betrayal in the Bible, but He loved them anyway. Each and every person on this earth has betrayed Him, but He loves us anyway. Christ is the ultimate testimony of love. However, I know I can’t possibly begin to know how to love like Him. I’m human. But, I do believe if I carry love in my heart, I’ve got complete faith He can give me the ability to love the way He wants me to love. Maybe not like his "perfect unconditional love", but just love. Giving Him control of this is a freeing and liberating experience. He can take my ability to hate and turn it into love. He can transform my life with love, which in turn can affect others: My family. My friends. My neighbors. My enemies. Everyone around me.
Christ never promised if I carry love in my heart those around me would like me. He did promise if I carry love in my heart, I would carry joy even when someone hurts me. I will be able to forgive easier if someone betrays me. I will continue to be faithful even if those around me criticize me, put me down or reject me. Because of Him, I don’t have to allow those around me to break my spirit. The beautiful spirit that Christ wants to use to illuminate His light will be protected. I’m going to continue to be hurt in this life, but I’m so grateful I’ve got someone on my side who will always protect me, love me unconditionally and will not forsake me. I’m so thankful he’s tearing some of these walls down and loving me in the process. I love how God works.
"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
I’m doing an amazing study by Dan Kimball called “They Like Jesus But Not the Church.” I would highly recommend anyone read it. He’s a pastor in California who is passionate about gaining insight from non-Christian emerging generations to see what they think about Jesus, organized religion and Christians. One of the many people he interviewed explained Jesus as such: Jesus, to me, is an all-loving, perfect, prophetic person. I don’t even know where I gathered this information from. Maybe some from television, some from reading. When I think of Jesus, I have always thought of him as the same person as God. On the same team. I once heard somewhere that Jesus is God in human form, and I thought, that’s so interesting. Dear God…. Dear Jesus—same thing. I didn’t see any problems with that. Another interviewee had a different, yet similar interpretation: Jesus was a great teacher. A caregiver, A carpenter. A human being. Approachable. He was the everyday man who lived among others and understood the trials and tribulations of what it takes to put food on the table. But at the same time, he was able to organize groups of people and was a great leader. Jesus was a voice of peace and hope and an inspiration to many people. Jesus had a lot of moral conviction about the goodness of human beings. Instead of seeing darkness in people, he saw goodness. Turn the other cheek; if your brother sins against you, forgive him. He believed in people.
Interestingly, the interviewees’ opinions about Christians and organized religion were not so positive. This author authentically admits that he understands why this present day culture doesn’t see eye to eye with some Christians. I’ll admit it too. I’m convinced that most people that either walk away from Christianity or never find it do so because they don’t want to be associated with the Christian movement. Bono from U2 says, Christians are hard to tolerate; I don’t know how Jesus does it. Jesus has somehow taken a back seat to religion. How can we get Him back in the driver’s seat? Do you think if church leaders focused more on what Jesus actually taught that it would make a difference on how others (and possibly you) view the church? What if “the church” truly loved the way that Jesus loved? Might that change what people think about Jesus and His followers? I think so.
For those of you who are convinced Christianity is not for you, I highly respect whatever you have decided for your life. However, I would encourage you to do some research on Jesus. Find out what He was like, what He believed in, what He stood for. He’s an incredible monumental figure in history. I think some of you will be pleasantly surprised. Don’t just listen to what people tell you. Read it for yourself. My husband is an “I need to know the facts” kind of guy and he would suggest you read, “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. I would also encourage you to read the Gospels in the New Testament. The Gospels include four books written by different authors, at different times and from different perspectives (The Case for Christ does an extraordinary job explaining these books). A man named Mark wrote the first Gospel. He interviewed many people who knew Jesus including Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Matthew who was the tax collector and also one of Jesus’ disciples wrote the second Gospel. Luke, who was the physician, wrote the third Gospel. He too interviewed many eyewitnesses during Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection. The forth Gospel was written by John who was also one of Jesus’ twelve disciples.
As a child, I imagined Christ as a handsome angelic being with a gigantic halo of light around Him. While sweet and innocent that commercialized image of Jesus is probably very flawed. I’m in no way claiming I know what he looks like but if I had to guess, I’d say physically he probably had rugged Middle Eastern features. I still envision He had a gentle spirit and passionately exuberated God’s love for humanity but His physical appearance was likely much more rustic than what we think. I imagine that He had calluses on His hands from working as a carpenter. It wouldn’t surprise me if He had blisters and cracks on his feet as a result of all of the walking that was done during his ministry. I don’t think He was the Jesus that’s depicted in most films. I also believe He was a bit of an outcast at times. He was the perfect example of what being human and sinless looked like. I believe God wanted to make Him as human as possible so that we could really relate to Him. He cried, weeping at times. He was tempted. He was hated and spit on. He laughed. He joked around and He even drank wine…. gasp! I’m sure He even danced. I truly find Him amazingly intriguing. This is my description of the Savior of the world, but it doesn’t even compare to the description Kimball provides. In my opinion, this is one of the best and most accurate images of Jesus I’ve read:
I am convinced that Jesus was revolutionary, but there is much more to him that that. Jesus taught about loving others, but there is much more to him than that. Jesus looked out for the outcasts and fringe groups of society, but there is much more to him than that. These are all things about Jesus that people in emerging generations respect. But there is so much more to him that these things.
When I think of Jesus, I think of the triune God, who eternally exists in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—coeternal in being, coeternal in nature, coequal in power and glory, all three persons having the same attributes and perfections (Deut. 6:4, 2 Cor. 13:14). These terms may sound technical to people, but these ideas are so incredibly hard to grasp that technical words sometimes convey them better than emotional responses. I think of Jesus as the one who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-31). He was a Jewish rabbi (John 1:38), a teacher who astonished people with his insight and his authoritative teaching (Matt. 7:28-29). I think of his heart breaking compassion for people (Matt. 9:36) and how he wept for people, even for those who rejected him (Luke 19:41). I think of the Jesus who was an advocate for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19, Matt. 19:16-30; Luke 14:13; Matt. 25:31-46). I think of the one who stood strong against the religious legalism of his day (Luke 20:19-20). I think of the one who not only drank wine but also provided it (John 2:1-11). I think of the one who didn’t just sit in a holy huddle or point out the wrongs of culture but hung out with sinners and ate with them (Matt. 9:10). I think of the Jesus who was tempted and understands temptation yet was sinless (Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). I think of the Jesus who was sent by God because of his great love for humanity to take on our sin (John 1:1-2,14,29;3:16-21). I think of the Jesus who accomplished our redemption through his death on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice and then was bodily resurrected from the dead (Rom. 3:24; 1 Peter 2:24). I think of Jesus who appeared to his disciples and said that they have a mission not to create an inwardly focused community and to complain about the world but rather to go out and with power of the Spirit live missional lives, bringing the light of Jesus to others (Acts 1:8). I think of the Jesus who sees the church as his bride (Rev. 21:2, 9) and loves the church, even when we disappoint him. I think of Jesus who ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God, where, as our High Priest, he intercedes for us and serves as our advocate (Acts 1:9-10; Heb.7:25; 9:24). I also think, soberly, of the Jesus who will one day come again to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5; Rom. 14:9; 2 Tim. 4:1). Jesus is our friend and the friend of sinners, but he also is a righteous judge who will hold us all accountable one day for how we lived our lives. We must have a balanced view of Jesus, being careful not to swing to one extreme to the other.
It’s obvious that Christ saw the church differently than some of us. To Him, the church was not a building with four walls or a sanctuary with a big steeple on the top of it. I would go as far as to say He never intended it to be a social institution. The church is the people. ALL kinds of people from different walks of life coming together and loving one another. What would the world look like if we all chose to try our best to live life like Christ? Would it be different?
I know to some people this whole Christ and religion thing can be a bit controversial. I get it. I believe some people close their ears to it because of what Christianity has represented: Christians can be judgmental, superior, hypocritical, sexist, homophobic, and closed-minded. I’m sure several other things come to mind. But, would it change your attitude if you realized that not all “Christians” were like this? What if Christians weren’t so concerned with implementing God’s judgment but focused more on loving others like Jesus did? What if Christians finally embraced the fact that God is the ONLY judge and that our role is to love, encourage and accept one another like Christ loved, encouraged and accepted us. The argument that Christians are hypocritical wouldn’t hold much water would it? One of Kimball’s homosexual interviewees (Penny) asked, Why don’t Christians try to make me feel included? Why do you treat me like an outcast and not care about my feelings or want to relate to me in any way? You don’t need to understand why I’m a homosexual, but to understand me as a person and a fellow human being. Isn’t that what Jesus would do? My homosexuality should have no more relevance on how you interact with me than hair color has on how you would interact with someone who is blonde or brunette. If Penny only knew how much Jesus really loved her. I wonder if she knows the story of how He protected a prostitute from being stoned by religious leaders. I wonder if His words: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7) would be as freeing to her as they are to me? I’d like to believe her life would change. At the very least, I dare say, she might be more open to the idea of Christ the Savior. If Penny knew the impact Christ could have on her life, she might see things differently. If Christians treated her with love and respect, as Christ would have, her eyes might open to the love, acceptance and inner peace that He offers. She might even come to the realization one day that Christ died for her. Penny is no different than me. We are both sinners, but the only difference between us is that she fails to grasp what Christ has done for her and how much He truly loves her. He died for her just as He died for me. We’re no different. My sin is the same as her sin. It’s really that simple and straight forward. I don’t deserve His love. If anything, He needs to shower His fairness and justice on me because I’m truly unworthy of His Grace. I’m no better than Penny. We all fall short (Romans 3:23). We’re ALL in need of a Savior. What would the world look like if we all embraced this?