I started following Jesus when I was 14. I'm now 28 (yes, believe it or not), and I'm still following Jesus. "How?" you may ask. Well, it hasn't always been easy. In fact, it's been terribly hard at times. I've gone through some major trials in my short life thus far. I've battled the same temptations, depression, anxiety, and struggles of this world that everyone else does. I've seen loved ones die, nearly lose their lives to drugs, divorce, become suicidal, battle alcoholism, and fall for the emptiness and shallowness of wealth and fame. I've had to decide to follow Jesus even when others would not be following Him with me and even when it meant I had to give up some really hard things. But I'd say one of the hardest parts of following Jesus has been being identified with those who call themselves Christians yet represent Him SO poorly. That part has honestly been the hardest part out of all my years of following Him.
Jesus, Himself, knew what this was like. He was born into a world that He created yet was rejected by the very people who claimed to follow His Father. In fact, of all the people Jesus encountered, the people who actually made Him angry were the scribes and Pharisees — the religious leaders of that day who boasted in their ability to strictly adhere to the Law yet frequently missed the HEART of the matter and mistreated God's people. Jesus was so angry with these people that He called them "brood of vipers", "fools", "blind guides", "serpents", "hypocrites", and more (See Matthew 23 and Luke 11). Those are some pretty strong sentiments Jesus shared there...and ones that I believe indicate the severity of the Pharisees' wrong example and the lengths to which we should go to ensure we are not following in their footsteps (Matthew 16:6).
So, with all that said, how do I still follow Jesus when He is widely misrepresented in this world? How do I keep following Him even when, due to misrepresentations, the world sadly and mistakenly associates His name with bigotry, hatred, and judgment?
Just like I don’t let one bad apple keep me from eating apples again, I don’t let one bad church experience keep me from following Jesus and walking in community with His followers. I got into this thing because of JESUS — because He sought me out, won my heart, freed me from this world’s broken systems and the curse of sin, and healed my heart and my past. He was the One who completely ravished my heart at age 14 and filled me with a love so real and palpable that there was just no way I could ever resist it. It took me over. It changed me from the inside-out. It ruined me in the best way possible to where any other way of life than following Him was completely unappealing and empty to me. THAT is why I’m a Christian. Because I'm in love with Jesus. THAT is why I continue to identify with His name even when broken people, who may possess “the law” but do not really know Christ intimately, misrepresent Him.
It’s like when you have a friend and you hear someone misrepresent them to others. Maybe the person sharing about your friend doesn’t really know your friend like you do and are speaking out of turn. Have you ever had that happen? You hear them talking about the person and you might finally butt in, “Hey, actually, I know ____ very well, and he is not like that at all.” And in that moment, you vouch for that person’s character and you re-present them to the group. Their reputation is upheld and those people walk away with a better understanding of your friend from someone who actually has a deep relationship with him/her and knows his/her heart.
The world needs the real Jesus. And YOU may just be the one who has the opportunity to re-present Him to one person at a time in a way that shows them who He really is. Maybe you've been hurt by the Church and you are struggling as you read this, thinking, "Bristen, I used to know Jesus — like really, really knew Him deeply. But people got in the way and they jaded my view of Him. And now, I feel like He's against me like they are. I long to know Him in that real way again." Let me be the first to say: I GET you. I do. And I understand. And He is still right there beside you, ready to take your hand and do life with you. He knows what it's like to be misunderstood. He knows what it's like to be judged by the people who are supposed to be for you. He knows. And He is proud of even the slightest movement of your heart towards Him. He isn't afraid of your messiness. Despite what well-meaning Christians might have said, Jesus is not afraid of your darkness and He's not holding you far off until you get it together. Nope. He's gonna walk with you IN your darkness until you can see the light again. He is your light. He is everything you need.
Knowing Jesus as He really is is irresistible. You would always want to follow Him if you really knew Him! Yet one of the main hindrances that can hold us back from following Jesus is other people. This is so important if you want to follow Jesus for the long haul. Your following Jesus cannot be dependent on other people. I repeat: your following Jesus cannot be dependent on other people. People, by nature, are fickle, weak, and full of inner struggles. We go through storms that shake us (storms that Jesus promised would come). Some come out on the other side stronger in Jesus than ever, and some (ever so sadly) come out on the other side cursing God and choosing to go it alone from now on.
That is why Jesus told us to count the cost before following Him. What does that mean? Just that: before deciding to bear His name, count the cost. Trials will come your way (notice *will*, not may); will you still say yes? Your heart will get tested by this world and its flashy and appealing trappings; will you choose them as your treasure over Christ? You will go through pains so deep that they threaten your ability to trust; will you still trust Him even when you do not understand? You will be betrayed and hurt even by your closest friends and people you trust that are Christians; will you still choose to forgive and love them? When you have all you need and money is flowing, when you have the perfect job and car and house and are sporting fashion that broadcasts your social status, will you still choose Jesus as the greatest treasure of your heart (and live a life that shows others that He is too)? Or will the love of money and social status slowly win over your heart and attention? When you are in the depths of despair over loss and tragedy, will you turn to Him as your comforter instead of running away?
These are very important questions, some for which I wasn’t prepared until these situations hit me like a ton of bricks. I have had to face these questions dead-on and I hold them up to myself in my heart as my own standard for living as well. I aspire to bear the name of Jesus as Paul did — in plenty and in want, in trial after trial, before the world and its elite, and, most difficultly, right alongside Church people who may bear His name wrongly and misrepresent Him to a watching world. Even still, I bear His name. Because it is the most worthy and most powerful name that I know. And even though people in the Church have misrepresented His name hundreds of times, it does not cease to still be the best name that I know, representative of the One whom I want the whole world to know.
Remember this: from the beginning of time, Satan (yep, he exists) has been hell-bent on slandering the name and nature of God to us. He wants us to think God is not good. As Oswald Chambers once said, "The root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not good." Satan is a master of the smokescreen and would love to paint a facade that God is out to get you and is looking for rule-followers. Nothing could be further from the heart of God and the gospel of Jesus. Jesus came to set us free, to prove to us how much we are worth by His dying a humiliating death on a cross for US. He came not to make bad people good but to make DEAD people ALIVE. The Holy Spirit in us does the rest. We are not fearful slaves; we are joyful sons and daughters of God, heirs of every single one of His promises.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing, simple, mind-blowing gospel of Jesus. And I'm so sorry if you were presented a different version that has hurt you in any way. I, as a follower of Jesus, want to apologize on behalf of whomever hurt you. I'm sorry. Jesus isn't like that. I plan to share another blog post soon on how to heal from "Church hurts" — aka when you've been hurt by Christians. I am praying over it and preparing it to make sure it's as helpful as possible.
If you have questions about anything I've written or just would like to share your story with me, I'd love to hear from you. You can either comment or send me an email through my "Contact" section. As always, thank you for reading, and much love to every one of you. <3