Since I’ve stumbled upon the teachings and writings of pastors Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, I’ve realized just how skewed our vision of Christianity can get. Both of them are pacifists, something I had never considered before. I am a veteran after all. I served toward the end of the Cold War with the big nukes that were aimed at Russia. Let me tell you, nukes are about as non-peaceful as they get. I remember our general coming into the Public Affairs Office where I worked and tasking us with finding Bible verses that would help him tell little old German ladies in Sunday School that God approved of nukes. Yep. And, I did it, I’m sad to say, all the while he is sitting in the office telling us how he doesn’t believe in the Bible that much, and he can’t get over all the killing in the Old Testament. Looking back, I find that whole scenario sort of ironic.
But, I’ve always loved Jesus. Since I was a kid, I have just adored him. He was my friend in the darkest days of childhood, when there was nobody to talk to during the scary times. And, He stayed with me, even in my Army days. He meets us where we are, after all.
I think a lot about what being a Christian means, and what it should mean. All of the years of memorizing and studying the Bible stayed with me. But, the teachings of pastors and our culture also shaped how I thought about life in this country and what it means to be a Christian in the U.S. I thought I knew the truth, and it was hard and immovable, and it was pretty bleak, looking back on things. There was only one way to think that was acceptable to the Christians I knew. The approved method of “godliness” was that you had to vote Republican, disapprove of worldliness, and be good. Even in the midst of a very legalistic denomination, concerned with holiness above all things, however, there was light. I learned the Bible, for instance. And, I learned that Jesus loves me. And, there is something that Pastor Eugene Cockrell, of Lakeview Wesleyan Church said from the pulpit that has never left me. He said that Jesus beckons us to come to him just the way we are. He said too many people think they have to clean themselves up first, to be a better person, before they come to Him, before He will love them. But, Pastor Cockrell said this truth, “nobody can be clean without Jesus. That’s why He came. Just come to him the way you are, and let Him help you fix whatever needs to be fixed.”
Over the few decades that I’ve been alive, since then, I’ve been on a journey of faith that has been quite surprising and spectacular, as well as traumatic and heartbreaking. The traumas I’ve had in life, the birth of my daughter prematurely with brain damage, my divorce, Amber’s death, the divorce of my parents, remembrances of how things really were as I was growing up, etc., have not been in vain. God has used every one of them, redeemed the pain, and has helped me become more open and desperate for a true relationship with Jesus. My faith has had to become something I can live with in real life. It has had to become my very lifeblood, rather than some theories about life.
I won’t go back into all of the details here. I’ve written about this before. But, just today, as I prayed I began to be aware of some things.
We are not called to fight wars for God. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, as Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12. For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – NRSV
But, we ARE called to make disciples. Making disciples does not mean you build a church and hope people come in. Jesus made disciples by walking among the people. When he called his disciples, he didn’t make them pass any sort of “holiness” test. He didn’t tell them to stop their sinful ways or clean themselves up. All he said to them was, “Follow me.”
He didn’t even ask them to believe he was the Son of God. He showed them He was, and He showed them a new way of holiness, different from that of the Pharisees of that time. His type of holiness was compassionate, above all things. When he broke the laws about working on the Sabbath, he was doing a holy thing, because he was caring for people who were hurting. And, he was showing us that peoples’ needs are more important than keeping laws to make ourselves look holy. If our hearts are hard, how can we really say we are following Jesus or becoming like him?
Paul made disciples by meeting people where they were, as well. Read this passage and tell me that Paul cared about Christians fighting for their rights, for their nationality or even for God.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Yet we waste our effort, time and emotion on being angry about this or that, and alienating people loved by God. This has to stop. This has to change. If we really put the things of Jesus as our top priority, then we are going to stop protesting about things we don’t like in society and we are going to start listening to people and loving them as ourselves, as our neighbors, one of the commands that Jesus gave us.
We need to stop driving people away from Jesus because we have judged that they are not good enough. We need to stop slamming doors in peoples’ faces and locking them tight so that we can remain “untainted” by their sin. We have enough sin of our own that we fully embrace. It is time to humble ourselves and go back to the Bible with open hearts.
I remember when I thought I was supposed to stand up for God and argue with someone who didn’t believe in God in the same way I do. Thankfully, God opened my heart and closed my mouth. He told me he didn’t need me to argue for him, that he is big enough to take care of himself. He told me that this person, whom I thought of as an enemy because of the faith she followed, needed a friend. You know what? That became a step on my journey to being a disciple. That’s what I want to be and that is what I encourage you all to be, especially those who call themselves Christians.
And, you know what? I consider my friend, who has not ever changed her religious stance, a disciple too, because she listens to what I say about Jesus. She might not believe everything yet, but she is on her journey too. And, I have to remember that it isn’t my job to prove I am right about anything. It’s my job to love people the way Jesus loves people. And, Jesus never lorded over anyone. He told us that to be a true disciple, we have to be servants, not masters. He told us that the first would be last and the last first. He washed the feet of his disciples and told us to do the same. I believe with all my heart that the church needs to repent of its imperialistic love of war, of being right, of political power at the expense of love and compassion, and of just being jerks. I’m sorry, but we are not projecting anything into the world that looks like Jesus, are we? What are we known for now? Love? Not hardly. What should we be known for? Love. God is love. Why don’t we try getting on our knees before God and asking for forgiveness for our hard hearts? Why don’t we let him do a new thing in us and in the world? We are supposed to be showing people that the Kingdom of God is near, not throwing our allegiance behind guns and flags and destroying people in order to keep our power. We have to be like Christ, who humbled himself to the point of dying on a cross, laying aside his claim to heaven for the love of us here on Earth. He made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant. We too need to put the needs of others above our own. Check out Philippians chapter 2 for that reminder.
Wake up, people! While we are throwing every effort into winning some sort of culture war, people are dying, people are turning away in despair because they’ve been looking for someplace where they can be loved just as they are, without being condemned, and they have found only judgment and no love.
But Jesus said, “come to me all who are weary carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”
As Christ’s body, lets open up our arms to a world and let them come just as they are, weary, burdened, and hungry for love.