*Disclaimer: Obviously I sin. Obviously. I have also done some judging in my day. In expressing how badly it sucks to be judged I am not calling myself innocent. We can’t cover it all in one blog post, but here’s me acknowledging that I mess up big time (daily) and we can talk about that in every other blog post I write, okay?
One of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt (besides plucking my eyebrows – seriously, I hate that feeling) is being told by someone, “You’re not a (good) Christian.”
Ugh, it’s the worst. It’s even more worse when you catch someone whispering it to someone else. “She’s not really a Christian.”
And sadly, I can distinctly remember three times in my life that this has happened. Well, three people. One is a repeat offender, but he’s also six so I’m working hard at extending grace while also teaching TRUTH.
In high school I was one of the four members of the bible club. I attended three different churches weekly – that’s two youth groups, one Sunday school, one service, one bible study, and however many youth group activities I could get my hands on. Every summer of my high school career I went on a mission trip. Every winter I went on the winter retreat to Spring Hill (AKA the best place on the planet). I didn’t drink, smoke, cuss, or have sex. I read my Bible and books about the Bible in school and then discussed the content with 15 year old boys who sat behind me in math class and really couldn’t care less. I threw awesome parties where anyone was invited and nobody was drunk. Basically, I had it going on, especially in the loving-Jesus category.
Yet none of that stopped one teenage boy from writing on my Myspace wall that I was a horrible Christian because I had tattoos and piercings. That I wasn’t fit to lead other Christians in the Bible Club. That I was a bad Christian.
During all of that rocking and rolling and bible studying I met a boy who loved Jesus too and we had a super slow and years-long relationship that ended somewhere along the time his band went on their first nationwide tour. After months of not speaking, he called me up one day during the summer before my senior year of college to say that his brother and best friends had kicked him out of the band he had quit school to be in. He was heartbroken and I was heartbroken with him. He told me all about how he had poured everything into this band. How much he had given up for this band. “And now what do I have? What do I do now?” he asked me. I affirmed him. “Yes, this totally sucks. What those guys did was NOT okay and it is 100% alright and understandable that you feel really crappy right now. I acknowledge that. But you still have what nobody can take away from you. You have God and His plans for your life.”
I honestly cared for this person and wanted to encourage him toward God, toward the light, toward the way out of this crappy situation. Not to offer a quick-fix but to offer real hope.
He told me that he was sick of people pretending like they cared about him, pretending like they cared about God. He said he had had enough of “fake Christians.” That what I was offering wasn’t enough, wasn’t real.
He said he was tired of hearing from people who said they cared about God but never really did. Inadvertently, he said I never really cared about God. That I was a fake Christian.
Yesterday I was helping a student glue their coloring page of different little faces and the words, “For God so loved the world…” onto a piece of construction paper. A couple of students were waiting for their turn and one of them noticed my tattoos. “Mira. La maestra de ingles tiene una tatuaje de una ancla!” he exclaimed. The student standing behind him whispered in his ear, “Si, ella no es una cristiana.” I said, “¿Que dijiste?” “Que tu no eres una cristiana porque tu tienes tatuajes.”
He said, “You are not a Christian because you have tattoos.”
This is not the first time he has told me I am not a Christian because I have tattoos. Once I was declared not a Christian because I have my cartilage pierced. He said I can’t possibly be a Christ follower. That I am not a Christian.
Maybe I’m a little emotional because I finally watched the Finn Hudson Tribute episode of Glee tonight, but just thinking about hearing those words whispered by a six year old – “ella no es una cristiana” – puts a weight in my stomach, brings tears to my eyes.
To think that someone would judge whether or not I love my King based on something as ridiculous as a cartilage piercing makes me want to laugh and it also makes me want to cry. To think that someone would judge whether or not I am a Christian at all or what “kind” of Christian I am is a little frustrating. Ultimately it only matters what the Righteous Judge thinks of me, and what He thinks of me is beautifully unfair. When He looks at me, all He sees is a blood-sprinkled mercy seat. When He looks at me, He sees His Son. He sees a sinner forgiven. He doesn’t even see my tattoos! Or my piercings! Or my unbrushed hair! Or my face that doesn’t have any make-up on it! Or my yoga pants! He sees His beloved.
In high school I probably responded to that boy’s Myspace comment with a little bit of snark. (He had quoted that one verse in Leviticus about the pagan cutting rituals for the dead and if you’re going to tell me Jesus doesn’t like my tattoos don’t try to prove your point by yanking verses out of context. Even high-school-me knew that!) And you know what? He shouldn’t have judged my relationship with Christ based on superficialities.
In college I told that boy I cared about so much that I cared about him and would be praying for him. Days later I apologized if I had offended him in my effort to help, that I had a propensity for callousness and it was totally possibly that I wasn’t letting him grieve. We have not spoken since.
Yesterday I looked that little boy in the eye and told him, again, that I am a Christian. That I believe Jesus is real and I believe what the Bible says and that I can be a Christian and have tattoos. I can! That I can love Jesus and tell people about him and help people and sing about God and read the Bible and pray and have tattoos and that’ s okay. And he said, again, that his parents say that a person can’t love Jesus and tattoos and I cut him off to tell him that he can read the whole Bible and not find that anywhere in there. As he continued to protest my spiritual status I sternly said, knowing an argument with a six year old about salvation would have no winners, “You are not my judge. God is my judge. And He says I can have tattoos and be a Christian.”
I’ve read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation four times now and you know what I read about? People getting it wrong. People the world labeled as bad Christ-followers, fake Christ-followers, and not Christians. People dragged out in the street in their nakedness and sin and shame being forgiven by a writing-in-the-dirt Jesus.
You know what Jesus says it takes to be a Christian? Not what the boy on the internet says or the boy you really cared about says or even your parents say but Jesus?
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:5-13
Jesus says all it takes to be saved, to be a Christian as we say these days, is to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. Without distinction. Without clauses. Without “excepts.” Everyone. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. I called on His name in a Sunday school classroom when I was seven and have called on His name many days sense, believing in its power and feeling His presence.
Oh, and hey you (Suzanne). Check your eye for the plank, and then stop deciding what kind of Christian everyone else is. You are not the judge.