On my way home from working Christmas Eve services tonight, I listened to ‘O Holy Night’ one last time. We sang it to candlelight in service and it gave me goose bumps all five times. I wanted to sing it one more time, this one in the private theater of my own car where I wasn’t ruining it for the person near me.
It’s interesting how the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts. Each time we sang it at church, my focus was on Jesus’ divinity. My worship was rooted in the awe and wonder that God would actually dwell with us. He went through formation, birth, infancy, and childhood all for the sake of living the life I couldn’t. Then He gave that life up in the most gut-wrenching manner conceived then or now. In my car, however, something different stood out. The phrase, “truly He taught us…” really made me pause and think about what Jesus taught us.
It would be an understatement to say what He taught is often extremely difficult to grasp and accept. I’m the first to admit it–and I’m a pastor.
There’s a new belief system gaining a lot of momentum lately, born out of the self-centered culture we live in, which somehow rationalizes that you can be a Christian without accepting the things that Christ taught. You can apparently be a Christian these days and not even believe the Bible is inspired by God. That might be the slipperiest slope on the planet. Without the Bible, all we’re left with are personal feelings–feelings that are influenced by the desire to submit to no one.
Maybe this isn’t new. Maybe it’s always been around. After all, we have Jesus on record explaining that part of His purpose was to call us out of how the world thinks. He said we would be hated by the popular culture, which has the unifying purpose of turning every moral issue into one big gray area. That sounds way too familiar to me. We’re seeing for ourselves how all religion washes together when we respect what we want more than what our faith tells us to respect–when we have our minds set on the things of men rather the things of God as Jesus said in Matthew 16:23. It’s so bad now that “modern” Christians and “modern” Muslims are basically saying the same thing. They’re each redefining even their most fundamental beliefs in order to embrace more teachings from common culture. It doesn’t seem to matter that the foundational texts of these religions teach very different things. But that would suggest that someone is wrong, and that’s offensive to a culture that says we’re all right.
I keep hearing that the problem isn’t Islam but rather with extremism, but have you read the Qur’an? I’m reading it now, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out where all this talk about peace is coming from. The political rhetoric says “the problem isn’t Islam,” but in the margins, it adds, “so long as you don’t follow that crazy Qur’an thing.”
The same thing happens in Christianity. Many self-proclaimed Christians who haven’t cracked open their Bibles and seem to have no interest in giving God control of their hearts want to stand up and condemn the “extremists” who take the Bible as… I don’t know, a book inspired by God that doesn’t submit to man’s selfish nature. They say that Christianity is only about love, no matter what truth you want to embrace. Except Jesus preached repentance just as much as He displayed love and grace. In fact, repentance was what He viewed as the only genuine reaction to experiencing God. If you don’t believe me, read John 14:15: love = obey.
Being a Christian, to me, simply means that I’ve read for myself everything that Jesus taught, and I’ve decided to trust it. When I question it, I do the research. Usually that research ends up bringing a stronger trust in what Jesus said. It helps a lot to keep in mind that my sinful nature basically guarantees that some of what God intends for me isn’t going to bring me warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s absolutely challenging. But He is God and I am not. And because I’ve dedicated myself to trust Christ over myself, “I wish Jesus didn’t say that” isn’t a good enough reason for me to call it flawed or archaic and ignore it.
I don’t add or take away parts to make it easier or less controversial. I don’t make direct lessons Jesus gave on real topics into optional, philosophical ideas that are more like suggestions that are open to interpretation. I don’t hone in on one verse and forget to pay attention to the whole context. I just take it for what it is–all of it. To me, it’s easier to do that instead of trying to decide for myself what’s from God and what’s from man (or, more honestly, what I like and what I don’t like).
Jesus said some pretty tough things–some of which I honestly still wish He didn’t say. An easy, safe, self-centered life sounds extremely enticing, especially when my own culture treats it like the goal for all mankind. But no, I’ve decided that if I’m going to be a Christian, what the Bible says is true despite how I feel. And so I’m on the side of Jesus, even when something He said takes away the safety or self-centered purpose I wish so much to have. Even when it offends people who think that God would never reject them despite their rejection of Him.
What does all this mean, practically? It means there’s a lot of choices I believe are wrong despite culture telling me they’re right. It means I believe some things are a much bigger deal than many others who think life is mostly about being happy.
There’s a lot of people who disagree with me. Even others who call themselves Christians think I’m too hardcore, or narrow-minded, or judgmental for having a different definition of truth than they do. It’s not that I believe I’m better than anyone else out there. I screw it up all the time. It’s just that I look at what the Bible says as if it’s the owner’s manual to life–inspired by the Manufacturer Himself. Could I do it my way? Sure, but I don’t think it’ll turn out as good as it would if I did it the way our Creator designed it to work. I trust that what the Bible says just works out better than any other approach to life, especially in light of eternity. Even for issues that I wish were conveniently ignored in the Bible, my response is still to shrug my shoulders lovingly and apologetically, and respond with, “I trust the Bible more than my desire to not offend you.”
There’s one teaching in the Bible, however, that I’m very thankful for. I may get overwhelmed sometimes by everything Jesus said that goes so directly against the grain of the culture I live in, but I’m very thankful that not once am I told to hate anyone.
Jesus taught a lot of really hard stuff–stuff that people even back then didn’t want to accept because it was so radical. But they simply didn’t want to admit that idolatry (loving and trusting in other things more than God) includes the idol of ourselves as the best decision-maker. Our rebellious hearts attempt to dethrone God as soon as we claim that we, with our “advanced” thinking, know better than He does. That’s ironic, since we’re still talking about the God who made “thinking” a thing in the first place.
Despite its honesty, the truth Jesus revealed seems radical. Even the most dedicated Christian has to admit that sometimes it seems crazy and other-worldly. And that’s because it absolutely is, at least according to the culture that has crowned the individual as king. But Jesus also represented an inhuman level of love and grace while revealing that truth. As my Eldest Brother, my Lord, my Master, my King, and my God, that is the truth that makes all the others a little easier to trust.