Last week at our meeting in Durango, one of the members of the Atheist/Skeptic group asked me, “I think I’m hearing something important emerging from this talk. There seems to be a subtle difference between the Jesus you talk about and the Religion of Christianity.”
I tried to hold my enthusiasm at bay. After all, the sole purpose of me being on the panel representing faith was to hopefully be able to cross this bridge of conversation. I don’t really think there’s a subtle difference, I think there’s a GREAT CHASM of difference.
“Sir, Thank you for your question, I responded. I’m going to be honest here and lay all my cards on the table. I’m not a big fan of religion anyway. I think there’s been an awful history of ‘christians’ who have murdered, oppressed, and created an empire where there isn’t one to be created. I for one, just want to take the opportunity to say I’m sorry for that, and hopefully we can begin to emerge from the dark shadows and black eyes of Christendom, and begin to create a place where we can focus on the most intriguing figure ever to walk planet earth…mainly, Jesus.”
The tense air in the room left, and what followed was more confusion. (I guess I’ll take confusion over tense anyday.)
It’s taken me the better part of a decade to work through these ideas, and I’ve tried to write furiously about my journey, but I keep coming up short. I don’t know if I’m just not ready to have all my thoughts in order, or if it’s just too confusing in our culture to separate Jesus from religion. You see, Jesus didn’t preach ABOUT the gospel, Jesus IS the gospel.
An Unusual Meeting to Share
Wednesday, I was invited to a special breakfast in Washington D.C. with some House Congressmen. It was AMAZING! I’ve been behind the scenes in the capital building a few times, but this meeting would be a special one.
My dear friend asked me if I would share a bit about what I’m learning about Jesus with some of the House Conressmen, and I jumped at the opportunity. I opened by Bible, and read Luke 15 and the story about the Lost Sheep. Remember that one?
Jesus told his disciples, ““What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)
Do you know why Jesus lays the sheep on His Shoulder?
When the Shepherds in the Middle East go and find a sheep that’s wandered off, they grab the sheep by it’s hind legs and twist it until the sheep is uncomfortable walking. Then, they pick the sheep up, put it around their neck, and walk it back to the flock. As the shepherd introduces the sheep back to the herd, he takes special care to feed the sheep from his hand. He sleeps next to the sheep, and over time as the sheep begins to heal, the Shepherd instills a sense in the sheep that he cares deeply for the animal.
He treats it like a child.
You see, the most important part of this parable is the fact that Jesus is interested in calling us to himself. He wants to take care of us. He wants us to know his name. He wants us to hear his voice. He wants us to know that He is the care giver, and He loves us VERY MUCH!!
It has nothing to do with religious programs.
Knowing God isn’t wrapped up in a 40 day challenge we have to complete.
We don’t have to perform for God’s love and care.
Jesus gives us a model that He cares for us, even when we run off. And sometimes when we go through trials in life, it’s simply so we can learn what it means to rely on God again.
The Congressmen were fully engaged in the fact that God is with us even when our country isn’t going the way they want, or an election turns out different than they expect, or even when it seems like family problems are overshadowing life; God is calling us to himself.
That’s the real difference between religion and following the teachings of Jesus. That’s the state of mind that separates those who know about God, and those who know the Shephard.