Is Jesus Enough?

All of us have convictions and values in our lives that cement the belief systems to which we cling. In other words, all of us are pretty convinced we are right about certain areas. I know that I am. From Day 1 I have been a fan of Wake Forest University and am convinced that there is no greater college in the free world (and I wish WFU was free because it's freakin' expensive!). I base my belief on my experience not just a fan of the school but also as a graduate. My experiences have shaped my conviction and values about Wake Forest.

Most of the people that I encounter on a daily basis don't share my belief about Wake Forest. I lovingly refer to those people as infidels and heretics. They believe that some other lesser school, such as UNC or Duke, is a better college, although their beliefs are based almost solely on those schools' athletic programs. When I beat my chest about Wake Forest, I never fail to mention how our debate team brought the national title home in the 1990's. Booyah!

I probably wouldn't have much success convincing you that my favorite college team is better than yours. Maybe you love UNC because your parents went there, their t-shirts are cheap at Walmart, or you were raised watching their basketball games, which is technically a subtle form of child abuse. But I digress. Either way, you have specific reasons why you are a fan and while I can playfully pick at you over your choice of teams, I won't sway your love of UNC or Duke just because I can give you reasons why I don't think they are better than my team. Which they aren't. And one day you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. There I go again.

Yet there are other beliefs that we hold dear that go well beyond which sports team we will cheer for. Issues of faith are perhaps the deepest and most polarizing of all the beliefs that we can have. What you believe about God vs. science, life vs. death, supernatural vs. natural occurrences, etc., will be constantly challenged and will more often than not divide rather than unite you with others. Why do we believe so strongly what we believe?

There are several reasons why we believe what we believe. Perhaps we encounter compelling physical evidence that convinces us or we hear an eloquent speech that pushes us in a certain direction. Maybe we see how a belief has changed the life of someone else and so we hold to it anticipating that this belief will change us too. What our parents believe is a strong indicator of what we will adhere to as well. And some of us don't know why we believe what we do - we just simply do.

In the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses what his faith in Jesus - and in turn what our faith - is based upon. Clever arguments are great and a silver tongued speaker can be convincing, but words are not enough. We can reason with each other and share philosophical ideas, yet this approach is subjective and we can be easily persuaded with the careful use of words. Simply put: Our faith in Jesus Christ is grounded solely in His crucifixion and resurrection.

This means that when it comes to our faith in Jesus, He is enough. Great speakers can manipulate our emotions and we can experience mountain top moments that give us a rush of warm fuzzies, but no plea or ploy will be enough to sustain us. Only Jesus can do that.

I often hear people say, "I need to get back to church," to which I reply, "No, you need to turn back to Jesus." He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. No amount of works that we do or church attendance records that we break, no bad habit that we kick or spiritual discipline that we embrace can satisfy the heart of God. Only Jesus can do that.

What Paul wrote about almost 2,000 years ago is the same issue that Christianity is facing today. We are fragmented and segmented, lacking any real unity because we tend to lose focus on who is most important, and that is Jesus. Is your church better than my church? Maybe. Does your denomination have a bigger heart for missions than mine? It's possible. Can your pastor out-preach my pastor any day of the week? I'm sure he could try. But my Jesus is that same as your Jesus and He could care less about all of that because He is enough.

A love letter to all of my Christian friends

Dear Christian Friends,

Let me first say how much I love each one of you. It's amazing how brothers and sisters can be so different yet united under the banner of Jesus. I treasure all of the insights that you have given to me as we've had civilized discussions and a few healthy debates about various aspects of the Christian faith.I am eternally grateful for the men and women who have poured into and continue to invest in my life. Hugs.

But (and you knew that was coming, right?) I believe that we are missing the mark greatly in the area of love. And just to keep the tone of this letter fair, I am going to address all of you as "we" because I am in the same boat. I'm preaching to the choir, if you will, although I never really enjoyed choir and don't really have the voice to pull off anything special beyond the sanctuary of my car. In fact, I would go so far to say that the most comments I hear from those who aren't Christians about those who are believers is that, whenever they are around them, they feel judged, looked down upon, and essentially unloved.

I realize that this point can be sticky, so please read it very carefully before you label me some kind of heretic and unfriend me on social media. Bluntly speaking, we stink at loving people who don't know Jesus. We say that we do, we hold meetings and events at our churches inviting those who don't know Jesus to come, and we even leave gospel tracts along with our often paltry tips at restaurants so that our server with the tattoos and piercings can get to know our Jesus. How can I say that you don't show love?

I say this because we treat the love of God as if we can package it in a box and unload it on others when it's most convenient. I also say this because we are notorious for withholding love from those who need it the most.

Let me explain with an example. Mission trips are awesome. If you've ever been on one either in the United States or overseas, you understand just how much impact they can have on another community not to mention on yourself. We also look around at our local community and seek to fill the needs that are put in front of us, such as volunteering for a 2-hour block at the soup kitchen or donating clothes to Goodwill. It's such an awesome feeling to bless those who have less!

But you have no clue what to do with your friend who is struggling with homosexual temptations or has already give in to them. That guy at school or at work who is an atheist - we avoid him completely. Those freaks that we see walking around town with all of the tattoos, piercings, and ungodly swagger - well, I just pray that they find Jesus soon because it looks to me like this world is going to hell in a hand basket!

You see, whether we like to admit it or not, we really only want to love those who have, in our eyes, the potential to be lovely. And by doing so we exclude ourselves from much of the dirt and junk that plagues the lives of the rest of the world that needs Jesus. How do we do this? Sometimes we are subtle. We simply pray for "those people" to know Jesus while secretly believing that they might not ever and hoping that it won't be us who actually have to go tell them about Him. But if I leave a tract by a urinal in the bathroom that counts, right?

And sometimes we are not so subtle with our lack of love. Whether it's a preacher railing against homosexuality from he pulpit to a crowd of hetero-and-proud church members or boycotting an amusement park or food company because they support a questionable cause, all of that speaks to a spiritual arrogance that is destructive and unbiblical masked under the banner of "We're taking a stand against sin." Don't get me wrong, we are to love God and hate sin, yet more often than not we fail to separate sin from the sinner and just hate them both. But we'll still pray for them, right?

Look, we can do better than that. We are called to BE better than that. I realize that we live in a world that is full of filth and smut and greed and Democrats and Republicans. Times are tough, spiritually and morally speaking. Every time we go and elect a Christian politician and a great revival in our land doesn't follow suit, we edge closer and closer to the cliff of gloom and doom. So here is what I am challenging myself to do about it and what I am going to challenge you to do as well:
  • I challenge you to love Jesus more - Make Him your sole desire, your passion
  • I challenge you to love yourself less - If you get the above one right, this one will naturally follow
  • I challenge you to love others more than you love yourself - Yeah, this is hard. It's also biblical. And commanded. And modeled by Jesus (See: the crucifixion, the entire book of Acts, Philippians 2, etc.).
  • I challenge you stop loving your opinions and traditions more than you love the word of God - There I go meddlin'! But seriously, how much of what you believe about the love of God is based upon what you've been told or seen demonstrated over the years as opposed to what the word of God actually teaches? How many stones have you stooped to pick up in order to toss at others while ignoring the grace that God has lavished on you? (Ephesians 1:7) The answers depend on how willing you are to submit to the teachings of Scripture and not a bunch of opinions masquerading as godliness. 
Well, that's about all I have to say right now. I hope this letter finds you well and that you've had a great summer so far. I know you're busy, so if you don't get a chance to write back then that's okay. Take care and say hey to the family for me. LLL (longer letter later).

Your friend and co-laborer in Christ,
Sterling

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