When I first started this journey of following Jesus I was in a tradition that defined everyone but us wrong. Believing the wrong thing the wrong way made you eternally wrong. Sure, we read books written by people who were wrong, sometimes we’d even listen to their lectures, talks or sermons but deep down we all knew they were wrong.
Then I got free from that brand of craziness.
In fairness, most of the generation I went to school with and those that follow have gotten over that particular craziness even if the churches of that movement collectively haven’t.
In more recent days I’ve come to be part of a mindset, attitude, approach to life that has erased the lines and said, “As long as you believe in Jesus, you belong with me.” The zenith of maturity among us is our ability to accept every flavour of teaching that comes down the line that calls itself ‘Christian’. I have good friends who see the good in various Christian traditions and, like me, they rally to the cry, “Eat the chicken and leave the bones!”
And then, a little over a year ago, I innocently led a study – well, as innocently as I can do anything – on the book of Galatians. That’s a short letter that’s found in everybody’s copy of the New Testament. It’s written from this guy named, Paul and it’s written to a group of churches in a geographical region called Galatia. Class dismissed.
An inescapable point of this little letter is that everyone’s version of Jesus is not created equal. In fact, Paul comes out quite strongly against anyone who teaches, preaches or promotes a version of Jesus other than the version he first shared with the fine folks of Galatia.
The point he’s making isn’t about the minutia of practices or styles we utilize to express our belief or faith in Jesus. It’s not about hymns vs. choruses or women in ministry or a thousand other things we find to fight about and distance ourselves from each other over. He’s far more basic and more foundational than that.
A quick conversation with almost anyone and you’ll discover they have an idea or image of Jesus in their head. Not just a guy in white robes with the beard but an idea of what he is about, what he stands for, who he’s for and who he’s against. Loads of people base this version not on things they’ve read or experienced but things they’ve been told by others and experienced via others.
Paul was frustrated that the picture he’d left for those in Galatia of who Jesus is and what Jesus had come to do and what had been done for them was being distorted by the addition of things that weren’t Jesus.
And here’s where it gets me into trouble. More trouble.
Paul opposed those who promoted Jesus 2.0. In fact, he suggested they cut of their ‘junk’, if you get my meaning. He was so angry that he used the strongest language to suggest they should all just go to hell. “They” were not the Galatians but those who’d come in with their Jesus 2.0.
So, my problem. How do I live a “get along” life in a world where Jesus 2.0 (and maybe even Jesus 3.0) has supplanted Jesus Classic in the hearts and minds of people who follow Jesus? My bigger problem is, how do I relate, in an honest and healthy way, with my colleagues who are really big on Jesus 2.0?
And before you think I’ve gone all David Koresh here, there are loads of people who are big on Jesus 1.0. The problem is that that Jesus is more of a risk. He’s less about comfort and more about sacrifice. Jesus 1.0 is all about freedom, restoration and transformation. He shut the book on the Law and the law. He’s about relationship and experience and the other. He’s not about money, comfort, angel feathers or gold dust. He’s not about Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives. When asked, “Who’s side are you on?” His answer is still, “God’s side.” He’s against violence, he opposes the proud and he didn’t come to send anyone to hell. He’s not looking for perfect people (seriously, look at the friends he chooses) and he would never, ever promise to send you $1000 if you’ll send my ministry $100. He didn’t come to define who was out but to make a way for all to come back in. He doesn’t have a favourite colour but he definitely isn’t Caucasian. He doesn’t require you to check your brain at the door. He’s not afraid of your questions, your doubts or your anger. When we’re faithless, he’s still faithful. He made it clear that if you and I ignore the hungry, we ignore him. He didn’t found America or Canada but neither would exist without him. He loves unconditionally. That means, without condition. And he already defined what that kind of love looks like by dying on a cross and sacrificing himself for what he believed to be true about all of us. You and I are precious to God.
Honesty is not the opposite of faith. Telling it like it is is not cynicism or doubt. “Speaking in faith” is still a lie if it’s not true. Believing the Bible is true without knowing what the Bible says is mad. Knowing what the Bible says without knowing how it was understood by the people it was written to is sad and dangerous. And it’s still true today that God will not overlook, ignore or pass by a broken heart or contrite spirit. They’re just harder to find.
So, which Jesus is it for you?