Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Thoughts on Following Christ


It’s been hard to be a Christian lately… and let me explain. I have no trouble following Jesus (not that there is no struggle for me… following Jesus is the toughest thing I’ve ever done). I love following Jesus and talking about Jesus with people who are actually interested in joining with me in following Him. I’ll say it this way… I love Christianity but sometimes I don’t love Christians.

I’ve dealt a lot in the past (and recently) with closed minded bigoted Christians who care more about the doctrines of Jesus than actually following Him (I call these people fundamentalists). Today I was driving by Chevron and there were twelve and thirteen year old boys on the corner yelling through a bullhorn (how cliché?). They were crying out “I’m only twelve years old and Jesus has changed my life already.” “That is very good news,” I thought… “too bad nobody really hears them.” Now, I know that some peoples lives have been saved and changed through this type of evangelism but for every person whose come to Christ through it there are dozens of others who have been turned off to the idea of following Jesus. I was even turned off… and I am a Christian. We live in a culture who watches much more than they listen… especially when it comes to either politics or religion. If a politician has one skeleton in his closet his whole platform for candidacy is spoiled. It’s the same with any Christian or anyone of any religion for that matter. If their life does not consist with their teaching or if they live in a way that is not noble or good their whole religion is painted in the same light. As a disciple of Christ I am trying to act and live like my rabbi, Jesus. I believe that His life is one worthy of living so I want my life to stay the same. I represent Jesus wherever I go. When my life is in no way noble and people see that why should I expect them to want to live like I do. And I don’t mean being perfect. I mean living a healthy life, dealing with my problems and handling my faults in a noble manner. If a Christian comes across as pushy and arrogant then nobody’s gonna listen to what they are saying… and not only that, everyone will see Christianity as a pushy and arrogant faith.

And I don’t mean to say that people are always going to love Christians. John 15:18-21 says “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” This doesn’t mean we’re supposed to make everybody hate us. There’s a very important word here “if.” The world won’t always hate you… it might. When the Church is helping and answering the needs of the world there’s a good chance the world’s gonna love the Church. When you’re living in a noble way and following Christ passionately and lovingly people might not always hate you… they have no real reason to. If you’re following Christ then everyone’s life will be better. You’ll be a better friend, a better co-worker, a better neighbor, a better person. So why might someone still hate you? If you’re trying your best to be a better person why would someone hate you? It’s very hard to understand and sometimes is very frustrating. Jesus tries to make sense of this for us; “because they do not know the One who sent Me.” Maybe this is why Jesus said “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

If someone hates you for being pushy and arrogant it has nothing to do with weather or not they know God or truth. They have good reason to hate you. And it’s not just the world in this case, it’s Christians too. I am sometimes very turned off to Christianity because I see the lives of Christians who have missed the point completely.

I’m what you might call a “recovering fundamentalist.” For most of my Jr. High and High School years I was arrogant and misguided. I believed that God was simple and could be explained by simple lingo. Now, when I look back, I’m saddened by who I was. I had the best intentions but I was missing the point. I probably did a lot more harm than good… I used to be the person who makes it so hard for me to be a Christian.

What we have all too often seen is people taking really good things and making them too important. We take a good concept and place it on a pedestal higher than even God’s and the good concept becomes something less than good. Doing this is missing the point of our faith. We’ve all seen it and it can be far too easy for us to do ourselves. When we place the doctrines we’ve come up with to describe God (which are very good things, they help us reach a better and more intimate knowledge of Him) higher than God, It becomes a new kind of heresy. When we, in the words of Rob Bell (from His sermon “Directions 2.1” 2005) “hold the Bible higher than what the Bible holds up,” God, we enter into a new kind of idolatry.

Sometimes I just want to disassociate. I don’t want anyone to think I am anything like some of those people. It makes my life so very frustrating. I am exhausted. I am at a place in my life where I don’t want to even be called a Christian.

28 comments:

Ashley said...

Wes, I can totally relate. So many times (often I feel that it is more often than not) I feel that I hate being a Christian (well hate is a strong term, I guess really dislike is better). And it is not because of following Jesus, I love following Jesus. I love knowing that I am living the best possible way to live, following the best possible person to follow. So many times other Christian's make me not want to be a Christian. Like thoes boys on the corner today, so many people were looking the other way and being turned off of it. Part of me feels bad for feeling that way, but at the same time part of me really doesn't. I know how you feel. Thank you so much for sharing with us and being so real and honest!

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Ash,
You don't have to feel bad about feeling that way. But understand that those boys were following Jesus as best they know how... they were just misguided.

Sojourner said...

I admit that that I'm not Christian and one of the reasons is because of exactly what you are describing. (To be honest, my main reason is that I don't believe in Jesus as God, although I agree that he was a great man.)

When someone pushes their viewpoint on me without my consent, such as the boys you described, it greatly turns me off from even wanting to learn more. In this type of situation, it's difficult to remember that these 'loud' few are not representitive of the whole.

A message of Christian faith is so much easier to listen to when it comes from a one on one discussion. I was studying with a classmate recently and we got sidetracked on the subject of religion. My classmate is Christian and did a excellent job of explaining her beliefs without being "preach-y." She listened to my reasons for questioning and gave me the most honest answers I have ever heard. I learned more about Christianity that day than I had from years of sitting in church.

Thanks, Wes, for posting a comment on my blog and leading me to your site. I will definately be back.

Jason S said...

Wes said...," I’ve dealt a lot in the past (and recently) with closed minded bigoted Christians who care more about the doctrines of Jesus than actually following Him (I call these people fundamentalists)."

How can one follow Jesus when he doesn't adhere to the doctrines of scripture? How does one know what the essentials for saving faith are if he doesn't follow the commands of scripture?
By the way, I love being called a fundamentalist bc it implies that I have mastered the fundamentals of my faith. I'd hate to be accused of the opposite!

You mentioned that you want to live as Jesus did. In your profile you state that one of your favorite movies is Scarface. Do you honestly believe that the God of the universe would condone your viewing of such a vile movie which glorifies drugs, extreme violence and vulgarity? Do you think that this may be a stumbling block for other unbelievers?

So let's see if I understand your view on doctrine...Love God(although in the end it doesn't matter which God you are loving bc God's mercy may extend to those that love false Gods) and your neighbor and you are a member of the kingdom. Now the important question is what is love? Is love tolerating everything accept sound doctrine? You would rather give an incomplete gospel message about God's love for the unbeliever while withholding the truth about his deadness in sin. How loving is that?
You said that it isn't good news to tell someone that he is under the wrath of God and will perish eternally unless he repents and turns to Jesus. As an unbeliever, I couldn't possibly fathom any better news than this. I know, you would rather ignore what scripture says about these matters for fear of being unloving.

Let's use an analogy...Let's say that a doctor came up to you on the street and told you that he had a cure for a disease that he thought you had(even though you weren't displaying any symptoms whatsoever) and all you had to do was follow him for the rest of your life and you would be cured. You'd think the guy was crazy and most likely you'd tell him to take a hike. Well, this is similar to your presentation of the gospel. Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if he is getting along fine without him? Unless he realized that he had violated a holy God, he would see no reason to repent and turn to Christ.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

First I have to respond to Sojourner: According to C.S.Lewis, Jesus can not be just a "great man". Great men do not claim to be the Son of God. They are either liars or lunatics, neither of which are "great men". So Jesus is one of those choices or who he says he is. To Wes, it is difficult to be lumped together with some who call themselves Christians (maybe they are and are misguided, maybe they truly are not). I think the world may hate true followers for the same reasons they hated Jesus. They show real, true love to others, they push back the kingdom of darkness, and they come against the religious spirit (who by the way is very powerful). If we are hated for being pushy and obnoxious and legalistic, then we are not truly following Christ.

Mike Exum said...

Wes,

I hate to say it, but I think your blog is hijacked! I suspect that this, among other experiences such as seeing boys with a bull horn on the corner, is what prompts this post.

I see the struggle. Your tormentor(s) have not won me over.

I think this post warrents further exploration. I am mindful of a powerful statement in Wright, that when Caesar's heralds announced the gospel of Rome, they did not say, "if you care to have a new spiritual 'experience', you might care to try Nero". In that sense, the Gospel of Jesus is a take it or leave it thing. It is just as stark as Rome's.

However, look at the kind of 'order' Rome brought to the world v. the Order Jesus brings. Rome was an empire built of fear and death. The Kingdom of God is built on love and self-sacrafice. I will go with your tormentor in so far as only Jesus is King and there is no other. God created this world, He has rights to it and not another whether the imposter shares major characteristics or not.

'Doctrine' is NOT of no value, but it is just a fancy word for teaching. Teaching plays an important role in ordering the world, but the world our God created is ordered first and formost by love. Rome could certainly never claim that.

As for the hijack, I suggest that if you and all commentators on this blog ignore hijacking comments, no matter who makes them, they will eventually go away. This is not an airplane no one can get off of, and comments, though sharp, are not box cutters. I ignore hijackers on my blog as a matter of personal policy. I pray that we all learn a little humility. I am an explorer. Sometimes, I change my mind on a line of thought etc. However, comment bullies have never won me over.

Be blessed... and hang in there.

Dolores said...

I feel obligated to comment on your self-criticism regarding your high school years. I knew you then and I still talk to others who also did. You may only remember the harsher things you may have said. Many people in our community speak highly of the influence you had on them. I could name several people whose lives were improved by your example to them (by their own declaration, not mine). I believe that God is able to filter out some of the potentially damaging things we may say about him. If someone cries out for him, he has a way of using very imperfect people to comfort and teach them. He used you more than you will ever know. When people talk about your behavior in high school it is with great respect for your faithful life. Even if your presentation was faulty, the message was shown and you honored God and they saw that. Stop being so critical of yourself. There are many who still remember that football player/ wrestler who led the team in prayer. You were often all of Jesus they ever saw and God blessed that. You were more humble than you may remember. Keep in mind that we are to be witnesses for Christ. Even under oath in a court of law, we can't be perfect but the judge can see through our imperfection and bring justice in spite of it. Be encouraged! We're all doing our best.

Sojourner said...

Inheritor -

Show me where Jesus ever said that he *was* God. That is what I was referring to.

WES ELLIS said...

Sojourner,
It's refreshing to hear this perspective. I'm sorry that you've been turned off to Christisnity. It is not easy to believe that Jesus was God for any Christian, if they say it is they haven't thought enough about it. I hope you won't stop exploring. If you have any questions, ever, about Jesus or His message please feel free. I will try my best to make this blog a safe place to disscuss and wrestle with ideas.

WES ELLIS said...

Inheritor,
C.S. Lewis does make a pretty logical case for Jesus being the Son of God. But from a Jewish understanding the Son of God wasn't God. The Son of God was no new claim for His time. Many people claimed to be the Son of God (even Harod). Now, did Jesus claim to be God? That's what Sojourner wants to know.

Sojourner,
The most outragouse thing Jesus did, probably, was the turning of the tables in the Temple. When He said "tear down this temple" in reference to His own body He was claiming that He would do and be what the Temple Did or was to the people. He reoriented the Jewish symbol of the Temple around Himself. His vocation was, therefore, to be the presence of God among His people (among other things). His action in the temple shows us that Jesus was graspd by vocation to Do for Israel what the Temple did. No wonder they wanted to Kill Him. He was claiming to be the only access to God, the presence of God, and the beginning and the end of the Jewish Nation.

I'll give inheritor a chance to answer your question.

WES ELLIS said...

Mike,
thanks, I think I'll take your advice. I want this to be a safe place to reflect and , though I hate to use it, I have the power to delete posts.

If anyone seems to be attacking someone else on my blog I'll be deleting their post in the future.

WES ELLIS said...

Dolores,
(AKA: Mom).
Thanks, I do realize I wasn't always a jerk. I just so regret all the times I was. Thanks for the encouragement.

WES ELLIS said...

Mike,
"the Gospel of Jesus is a take it or leave it thing."
I agree with that statement, fully. I also agree that there is one God Jesus is the only hope for salvation. Was my post contradictory? I didn't mean to say that doctrine was of no value, in fact I said it was good. But sometimes we take a good thing and make it the focus of our entire faith. Following Jesus with doctrine in the forefront of our intention means we'll have a faith that completely concerned with figuring the whole thing out instead of going out and doing what the bible says. Yes we have to know some things to do that. We have to understand Jesus message was about generosity and love and healing. (I know this statement is gonna cause some disagreement) You don't have to know, although it might be helpful, that the world was created in six days and don't have to know, although it might be helpful, that God is trinity. Doctrines are not the point but they certainly lead us there.

does any of that sound like I don't think that Christianity is a "take it or leave it?"

Thanks for challenging me

WES ELLIS said...

Sorry I deleted the last two comments... the straw has broken the camel's back.

WES ELLIS said...

If anyone is wondering why I'm deleting Jason's comments just check out the comments of some of my "inerrancy of scripture" posts. I don't expect people to agree with me but I do ask that they be respectful.

WES ELLIS said...

does anyone know how to report someone or kick them off your blog?

Mike Exum said...

Wes,

Good for you. I am glad you are making efforts to make your blog a "safe place" as you have called it. I do enjoy the finer aspects of it.

Let me clarify something about me comments in general. You seem to think I am arguing a point. Not necessarily. I read through these things really fast a lot of times. It seems like I come back for a second look and posts and comments become clearer quite often for me.

I sensed last week that my comments seemed to double back on Pastor Art's. Perhaps he thought I that I thought I was trying to argue against him. I think I was stating a very similar case as him. Two expressions of a very similar point.

I hope my comments are seen as a clarifying measure. I thought your post is worth further exploration. I was hoping to bring the Roman/Jewish context to the foreground. I do not think that all of the tormenting comments you have endured were entirely devoid of truth either, though I am in favor of jettisoning them for lack of charity. A challenge, just because it is a challenge, is no bad thing. I will give the nod, where I think it is due.

I did not mean to suggest that you are saying that someone does not need "to take it or leave it" with regards to the Gospel. However, if I sharpened the notion up a bit, that is fine by me.

Wes, I am okay with challenging people's beliefs. I can be rather rigorous about it at times. But this blog has suffered a terrible polemic divide in recent days. I am being very sensitive to that, I hope. Though I am often willing to be challenging, I am not willing to condemn people or make light of their hard thought conclusions, etc... We are all (almost all) growing and learning here. So am I.

Look at the people Jesus and Paul were ugly with. In every case, that I can think of, these were people who called into question the Lordship of Jesus in some fashion. The Galatians were "Stupid", I believe, because they did not ultimately believe the Lordship of Jesus was enough.

On the other hand, note the tender way Jesus treated the "woman at the well", who also was into a "wrong religion" after a fashion, and yet He extended great charity with His challenge. Some who see Bible study as a gun fight, never practice this.

On this blog, the Lordship of Jesus is not in question. (I recognize with have Jewish comments from time to time, which I presume are non-Christian Jewish. And extending charity is appropriate in that direction.) However, as long as you claim Jesus as Lord, and I claim Jesus as Lord, I believe we must claim each other as brothers.

After that, there is actually room for large disagreements. And even without it, there is no excuse for the Christian not to act in loving humility.

I suppose, I am overstating my case on this at this point. Just let me say, I do not want to add to the polemic spirit that hopefully is being cast out now. I like you and your blog. I want to be a respectful guest here. If, my comments seem out of line, please tell me you think so. If we come to an impasse, I will kindly go away leaving a blessing. But I cannot imagine that being necessary here.

May we sharpen each other, and not beat each other over the heads!!!

God bless you richly.

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks mike,
Great thoughts!

Jason S said...

"Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgement" James

WES ELLIS said...

good verse Jason. If ever someone teaches something that is a lie they must be held accountable. I agree. Thanks for the reminder.

Sojourner said...

Wes,

Thanks for explaining where the reference of Jesus as God came from. I have to say that it is refreshing to "talk" to some people who are making intellegent arguements regarding thier beliefs.

Jason S said...

Wes- John 5:18 says, "For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His Father, making Himself equal with God."

John 19:7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.

How is it that you say that the Jews didn't understand Jesus' claim to divinity when He referred to Himself as the Son of God?

Inheritor of Heaven said...

Sorry for the tardiness of reply, I had testing most of the day yesterday. Jesus as far as I read, did not say in red letter quotations "I am God" but even if he did, would that have changed anything? My point was really to say that the answer to Jesus' question "Who do you say that I am?" should not allow "Great man". Sojourner, would any of your opinions or beliefs be changed if there were a scripture quotation attributed to Jesus that said literally "I am God"? (And I am not asking that in a mean way, I am very curious as to what you think.)

Jason S said...

Jesus on many occasions made references to His divinity.
As I have noted in a previous post, when Jesus referred to God as His Father, He was claiming equality with God. John 5:18

John 8:24 Jesus says to the Jews For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. He is of course referring to God.

John 8:58, Jesus says, "Before Abraham was born, I am." The Jews picked up stones to throw at Him bc they felt that He was blaspheming by claiming to be God. They understood Him to be refering to Himself as the great "I Am" from Exodus 3:14.

John 14:9 "He who has seen Me has seen the Father"

John 10:30 "I and the Father are one." "The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him."

Inheritor of Heaven said...

I agree with you Jason but am wondering if Sojourner doesn't mean the precise words "I am God".

WES ELLIS said...

Jason,
(To answer your question)As I'm sure you know, through all of your study, the verses you are useing are controvercial. To most Jews of Jesus day the term "son of God" could have been but wasn't necessarily part of the trinity as we understyand it. "Son of Man" was actually a more radical statement because it claimed to be taking Davids throne. "Son of God" was no new claim. Many people of the past had claimed to be the "son of God" including Herod. Though I agree with you about the context of at least one of the verses you used it's not difficult to make a case that the Jews were not angry because they thought Jesus was claiming to literally be God. They could have been angry because His claims in the temple and His claims to be able to forgive sins (along with a number of other claims)were claims to have equality with God. This idea, to them was not only radical, but unreasonable. their understanding of YHWH didn't allow for any equals in power. Yes, claiming to be "son of God" would have made them angry but it probably wasn't a claim of diety.

Before you bash me, all I'm doing is presenting a popular case. I do not mean to take away Jesus' Diety. If you read my earlier response to Sojourners' question you'll find another argument for Jesus diety. I only wish to find the best and most reasonable explaination.

Thanks for allowing me to clarify my response. Remember; it's ok to disagree with me.

Jason S said...

Wes- I'm not going to bash you. I'm sorry that I have caused you to feel defensive.

However, I think that John 5:18 is pretty clear in that the Jews felt that Jesus was claiming equality with God by referring to Himself as the Son of God.
After all, this is the reason the religious rulers gave to Pilate for having Him crucified. Blasphemy was punishable by death.

I am not familiar with Herod calling himself the son of God.

I would also like to point out that Daniel 7:13 refers to the Son of Man in terms that are clearly divine. In fact ,Jesus quotes from the aformentioned verse in Daniel when He says that they "will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:64.

WES ELLIS said...

I mostly agree with you about the "Son Of Man" but "Son of God" is a slightly different claim. I think the officilas were more angree about Him calling himself the "Son of Man." that's why they placed it on his cross. It's really a great illustration, isn't it? the "King of the Jews" being hung on a cross. They were crowning Him King and they didn't even realize it. When He was vindicated in His resurrection His point was made.