Confession time. I rarely have it all together. My life is messy, blurry, and chaotic at times. Believe it or not, I am totally ok with this. I’m ok because Jesus meets me in the middle of my messes and picks up the pieces, every single time! In fact, through the story of Matthew (aka Jesus’s disciple and the writer of the first gospel in the New Testament), we can see that Jesus came to Earth specifically for those of us with messes:
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Matthew 9:9-13
What a beautifully tender encounter! Jesus could have easily used his power to give Matthew the business, as tax collecting was regarded as one of the worst sins of this time period. But instead, he gave him the opportunity to follow Him with no strings attached. I’m sure the disciples were shocked, but I truly cannot imagine how the Pharisees would have reacted to Jesus initiating a relationship to one of worst men by their standards. (For those who are not familiar with the Pharisees, they were ultra-righteous members of the Jewish faith who were quick to judge the outcasts.)
Sadly, today’s church is full of Pharisees: those full of “righteousness” who are quick to condemn without forming relationships with people as Jesus intended us to. Take a look at the picture below. These people are truly gems; they visit many different college campuses and soil the name of Jesus with ridiculous legalistic views of the God who came to die for us.
(This picture was taken off of my Department Head’s Facebook; it features some of the lovely individuals who visit WCU each year.)
While it is easy to despise the Westboro Baptist Churches and other similar organizations, what many of us fail to admit is that the church is full of Pharisees. Truthfully, the church is great at beating people up. When I think of how many people may have been searching for some kind of constant in their lives and a cure for all that they suffer only to find someone on a platform or in a pulpit telling them they are not good enough, I shudder. That might be that person’s one and only encounter with the church, and they walk away with a completely skewed picture of the God who rescues so many. I myself have dealt with perspectives of God that are not accurate. When I was younger, I used to think that there was no way that God would love me, and at night, I hid under my covers and pillows because I was afraid I would somehow experience His wrath in the middle of my night. Now I see that my fear was outlandish, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was scared of God for most of my life (and not the kind of healthy fear of God). I’m so happy that, today, I fall asleep feeling God’s protective embrace envelope me, just like the father-figure that Jesus compares Him to all throughout His word.
During my experiences with Major Depressive Disorder that I previously wrote about, I struggled immensely with my faith. I was convinced that I was such a bad person that I could not pay enough recompense for Jesus to like me, must less love me. I’m blessed that the hospital I visited twice throughout my bout with depression had a staff full of Christians who helped spark my falling in love with Jesus. I will never forget one conversation I had with a staff member who was also a pastor. He told me one of the saddest but most accurate thing I’ve ever heard about religion: a lot of churches emotionally abuse people.
Wow. People get emotionally abused in relationships, at work, and at school all the time, but at church? The place that is supposed to be refuge for those who are hurting? It sounds crazy, but it is true. I’d wager to say that the majority of believers have been to a church at least once that made them believe they were not good enough for Jesus’s love.
Your clothes are not appropriate
If you were out late last night, you should feel bad for even being here
If you have committed _____ ,go home and wallow in your sin
You need to repent
Judgment Day is coming!!!!!
It breaks my heart to consider that some people may live their whole lives with this image engrained in their head, which is an incomplete picture of the radical love that sent Jesus, the son of God, to Earth to die for our sins. Jesus, who proudly socialized and dined with the outcasts and the tax collectors, and ditched the self-righteous groups like the Pharisees.
So churches, please stop beating people up. While we are not called to accept sin, we are absolutely called to love everyone, even and especially those who are not like us. Religion has gotten so far from the way that Jesus intended it, that we should not be surprised that so many people are finding refuge in the world instead. Let’s be the generation that changes that; that shows people the love of God on a daily basis, that recreates the image of those who call themselves “believers,” and who actually follow God ourselves.
Let’s stop abusing, and let’s start loving. No one has it all together, but that is what makes Jesus so beautiful and easy to fall in love with; He meets us where we are. The message of God is simple. Live love.