By Sue Bidstrup, Author of “A Great Big Yes!” blog, and Host of “A Great Big Yes!” Podcast
I have so many things I wrestle with … I’m going to start with the toughest one for me right now. When I say tough, I mean shedding tears tough. Because I’m wired this way, when I am struggling with something, I read and listen and dig in like it’s my job. I’m prepared to say this one is the one that has never gone away for me. It feels like my life’s work. Internally and maybe externally too. It feels like the thing I need to write about and talk about and struggle with because it matters. It’s never resolved and never will be resolved and that’s where my angst lies.
I don’t even know how to word it. It’s going to be messy. Here goes … I love Jesus but I don’t like religion. I have been frustrated and disappointed and angry and disgusted by church. I see hypocrisy and it makes my stomach churn. I have decided I can say, “I’m a Jesus follower and not a religious person,” and I’ve felt good about that in some ways but not completely satisfied. Because I have a heart for church. I love community. I love people. Following Jesus isn’t something we should do alone. We are not wired that way. We all want and need a place to belong.
My favorite stories in the Bible are when Jesus acts the opposite of what the religious leaders think and expect. He’s constantly telling them they are way off. I love Him so much. He showed us the way to love the outcast. But with religion oftentimes we only allow the people in who look and act and think like us. Forgive us, Lord.
I love the quote that says that church is, “A hospital for the sick, not a museum for saints.” And when I say the sick, check yourself … I mean you. And me. Not just the other guy. We are all sick and in need of a Savior. Yet, sometimes people don’t feel welcome in church, so they sit it out and we all miss out on knowing them and growing from their presence. What does community look like for Jesus followers?
A pastor at our church told us that helping the refugee (called the foreigner in the scriptures) is not “a Liberal agenda item” … it’s the Gospel. He said that right in the middle of the election season. At that moment, I was pretty excited about church. (It ebbs and flows.) Because I felt conviction in my heart. I felt like God was looking into my heart and saying, ”Hey you … this matters … listen up!” The truth is I’m scared of refugees and I’m afraid of the unknown. I like rules and order and predictable outcomes. But Jesus asks me to be open to the messy and unpredictable because that’s where the growth and beauty and truth can be found. He keeps asking me if I’m willing to let my world be rocked and my thinking be challenged and my boundaries to expand. Am I ready and willing to be uncomfortable?
Following Jesus is uncomfortable. It’s not all cute quotes on Instagram (although I love those!) and pretty outfits and beautiful music on Sundays. When someone calls me religious, I cringe. Even the word, “Christian” drudges up some baggage that I’m not willing to claim.
I claim Jesus. I follow Him. And I’m asking Him … what would you have me say to the refugee? How do I love the LGBTQ friend? How am I called to minister to the poor? How can I participate in healing this broken world? How does being a Jesus follower play out in the political arena? What does love look like in 2017? Can I forgive churches for not being what we want and need them to be? Can God reconcile all my contradictions? Do they need to be reconciled? How can we be the church?
So I guess I’m asking … will you be messy with me? Can we talk about the tough stuff?