“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…..” Most of us know this children’s song whether we were raised in the church, went to Vacation Bible School with a friend as a child, or were taught the song by a grandparent. The lyrics are straightforward, no beating around the bush – Jesus loves me because the Bible says He does. And yet, somewhere between childhood and adulthood some of us begin to doubt those words; or we decide they are for everyone else, but don’t apply to us.
Why? For some, the message is too simple; that can’t be all there is to it? After all, as children, many of us have learned that we don’t measure up, that we are not good enough, from parents, teachers, our peers, so that when we reach adulthood the message is firmly embedded in our spirits. In the eyes of children, parents and those in authority over us are god-like; their words accepted as truth. Add to that the rigid standards of acceptance on the playground and some of us don’t have a prayer for attaining “loveable” by anyone, much less the God of all Creation.
What about the people who reach adulthood, decide they want a relationship with God, and find a church to attend? Within a few visits the Christian dump truck gets backed up to their house and the contents of all sin is spilled on their doorstep. The weight of all the “sins” in their lives becomes the focus; the “Jesus loves me” message is lost. As a new Christian, many moons ago, I felt renewed, rejuvenated, refreshed,forgiven, and then I started attending church. Once I hit the doorway the “good Christians” within the walls of the church made sure that I knew I was a sinner saved by grace. Now, I don’t have an issue with that because it’s the truth, but somehow in church the message was no longer that Jesus loves me, but that I had failed Jesus. Mentor Christians, those a little older in their relationship with Jesus, come alongside to “help” new Christians with their walk. Newbies tend to open up, share their struggles, ask for advice, and it has been my experience that this is when the proverbial shoe drops. The advice and answers given to me were that I didn’t have enough faith, pray enough, tithe enough, or the “devil” was after me to thwart a blessing God had waiting for me should I pass the “test”. Many moons later after failing Jesus too many times and having lost sight of the fact that Jesus loved me, I called hogwash!
A few years back one of my daughter’s and I decided to attend a church that was supposed to be progressive, open to all manner of people, come sinner, come saint. Although I had given my kids a Bible-based upbringing, given all the abuse that had occurred in our family before we were able to get away from the ex, we all found ourselves at a different place spiritually after we left. My daughter decided she wanted to attend the Christianity 101 class to begin again, so to speak. She asked if my fiance and I wanted to join her. We attended one class and one class only.
The leaders of the group were an older, supposedly wiser, couple and the other attendees were a variety of congregants. Some of the comments made were prefaced with, “I couldn’t receive from that fellow because I knew he smoked cigarettes”, or “He seemed to know his Bible, but I know he drinks beer, so of course he can’t really be a Christian”. I was sitting between my daughter and fiance who knew my thoughts on flippant judgment and condemnation because of seeming “sins” that had no solid Biblical base. I adjusted myself in my seat a few times, sat up straight, pursed my lips until my daughter and fiance gently put their hands into my lap to quiet what they knew would be coming out of my mouth at any moment! My daughter leaned over to whisper, “Mom, calm down”, then smiled. I decided the better part of wisdom was to keep my mouth shut, although it was getting more difficult! Then the conversation turned to tattoos. My daughter has a tattoo on her wrist that says Never Broken in reference to words the ex spoke over her often in her growing up years, “you are the only one of my kids I haven’t been able to break”. The tattoo had meaning and represented her survival of dark times in her life. Fortunately, the pastor’s wife was also in the class, and up until that moment had remained silent, but now made the very sensible comment, “there are several beliefs in Christianity that don’t have a Biblical basis, and these subjects are some of those.” The comments ended. Too late! When the class ended, I got up and announced in a very audible voice that we would not be coming back to such a narrow minded, judgmental group. Christlike? Probably not my finest moment.
There ain’t no saint like a reformed sinner, as the saying goes; I guess that is what has happened between Jesus loves me and backing up the dump truck, for those that choose to go the church-route. Christians are to do God’s work on the face of the earth, but that doesn’t include judging those who seek to draw closer to God. We need to understand that we are all on a journey with God, and God meets each of us at our place of need. Perhaps you are a smoker, but God, in His infinite wisdom, would rather that you deal with a bitter heart, unforgiveness that is damaging to relationship with Him and others. If I come alongside and start preaching that smoking is a sin, that you can’t be a Christian and smoke, then I am interrupting the work God is doing in your life; in essence setting myself above God’s wisdom and plan for your life. I need to be more concerned with what God has for me on my journey. This cycle prevents people, those who know they need and want a relationship with God, from coming to church, or deepening their relationship with God. No, we don’t need to go to church to have a meaningful relationship with God, but some people desire the fellowship with others.
A few months back I spoke at a funeral for a friend. The friend’s mother asked me to speak from the heart, to be honest about who my friend was. My friend, you see, was a lesbian and was in a relationship with a lovely young woman, however, the pastor, a family member, chose to present his version of my friend instead of the reality. Fire and brimstone spewed from the pulpit, as well as a version of her and a relationship with God and the church that was, for all intents and purposes, a lie. No doubt he believed my friend’s sexual orientation to be a sin and decided to ignore who she had been in life in favor of who he wanted her to be. Those of us who knew her got the point; she was not acceptable as she was. In the parking lot after the service a woman came up to me and thanked me for speaking the truth about our friend, and added, “what happened in there is exactly why I don’t go to church”. That is truly a sad comment.
Jesus loves you – period. Jesus love me – period. Neither of us has to do anything to make Him love us or want relationship with us; nothing. On the journey through this life with Jesus there will be things we are doing or attitudes we have that He would like for us to change. Work toward changing them, and whether or not we are successful, He still loves us…..