I have been a Christian most of my life: I was raised a Christian and decided to commit my life to God when I was a teenager. Growing up in faith and attending church means that I’ve heard pretty much every secular response to Christianity out there. I’ve been told “Christian’s are boring”, “religion restricts your life”, “Church is all about rules”. And I’ve also heard “you’re different though”, “you’re not like other Christians”, “you’re a cool Christian” - now as anyone who knows me personally would be able to tell you, ‘cool’ is not a word often used to describe me, but compared to people’s general view of religious people, or people of the Christian faith, I apparently feature a little higher on the cool scale than ‘typical Christian’.
The thing I notice most about the sentences above, is that people have perceptions of Christians, and then they meet one - myself, for example - and instead of deciding actually Christianity isn’t what they thought, they instead choose to believe that I am the exception to the rule and that the misconception that religion is all these negative things still rings true.
Today’s message from me to you is about dispelling this rumour, tearing apart this perception and telling you that actually Christianity and following Jesus is not boring, it does not restrict my life (in fact it does the opposite), and it absolutely is not all about rules. I want to say once and for all that I am not the exception, I am the rule. I am a Christian trying to live according to the teachings of Christ and hoping to do the will of God in my life. And actually every other Christian I have met has been doing pretty much the same thing.
So here goes...myth number one: all Christians are boring. This I feel is easily dispelled. Chris Pratt is a Christian, Tom Hanks is a Christian, Lewis Hamilton is a Christian, Barack Obama is a Christian, Stormzy is a Christian...to name a few. These are not boring people, and they are not the exception. I’d hazard a guess that you consider at least one of these people to be ‘cool’ and being a Christian doesn’t detract from that, you’ll probably find, it actually makes them who they are.
Myth’s number two and three: religion restricts your life, and Church is all about rules. According to Wikipedia (**not the most reliable resource I know, but I couldn’t quite muster the strength to count them myself**) there are 613 commandments in the Bible. So I understand why people would be put off. I get that 613 rules sounds like a lot and I agree that if you tried to live by all 613, your life would be very restricted by your religion. Some of these rules are really great commandments, in fact they’re so good that they also feature in common law; rules like do not kill, and do not steal - these are rules that restrict all our lives and the breaking of these commandments results in criminal court proceedings.
Other rules, Jesus came to abolish. Though he is very rarely portrayed this way, Jesus Christ, my God and saviour, was a rule-breaker! He was a game changer, and a way-maker. The rules of the Jewish law and the Old Testament were restrictive and arguably impossible to live by. In modern society, especially, I don’t know one person who could claim to obey all 613 commandments of the Bible. But that’s one of the points Jesus came to make - we’re not expected to! In Mark 3, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, this was a huge violation of the law and actually added fuel to the fire of the Pharisees who wanted a reason to kill Jesus, but he said to them “which is lawful to do on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil?” (Mark 3: 4). In Matthew 8, we read of Jesus touching a man with leprosy, at the time, this was against the rules, as the Jewish people believed touching someone with leprosy would make you unclean. But Jesus said “I am willing” (Matthew 8: 3) and demonstrated love to the man rather than obeying the rules and turning him away. In Luke 11, Jesus chooses not to participate in ritual hand washing, instead he challenges to be clean and pure in our hearts rather than our appearance - “you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). In John 8, a woman is caught in adultery and according to the commandments, is sentenced to be stoned. But Jesus encourages us not to pass judgement on the behaviour of others and says “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8: 7). I could go on and on, Jesus broke so many rules - he was a total rebel in his day! But the point to all of this is that Jesus came to bring two new rules, new commandments that were more important than all the others. And I don’t know about you, but I consider two far less restricting than 613.
Jesus two commandments are these: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39). Jesus came to teach us that the rules and restrictions aren’t necessary, we don’t need to tie ourselves down and beat ourselves up over ancient traditions and prejudices, we shouldn’t be passing judgement on one another and criticising them. Instead, we are called to love God, and to love each other. That’s it. It’s that simple!
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not suggesting it’s easy. To love God with all you have is a huge challenge and to love the people around you can feel like a massive chore. But I think you’ll find, it’s the ability to love people and to demonstrate the love of Jesus, that earns me comments like “you’re different though”, “you’re not like other Christians”, and “you’re a cool Christian”. I’m not particularly different, I’m not an anomaly or abnormality in the Christian world, I’m not cooler than any other Christian - I simply try to live by the two rules that Jesus commanded me to. And in doing so: I feel full, I feel content, I feel compassion, I feel joy, I feel free! It's actually really exciting to be a Christian (for this reason and many others) I am not tied down by rules and restrictions, I am not emotionally weighed down with hatred and disgust, I am not left empty or without purpose. You see, Jesus was a rule breaker and he calls you to be one too. Go against the status quo and demonstrate love when others condemn. Break the rules and talk to the person everyone else is prejudice against. Do something totally out there and smile(!) showing joy is a form of love - trust me it’s uplifting for others to see.
So this is my challenge to you, this week, break the rules of ‘normal’ people and show love instead. And yes, that is a challenge, being a Christian isn’t easy. But it’s never boring, it’s not restricting, and it’s not all about rules. The Bible has a lot of rules, but Jesus told us being a Christian is about loving a God who first loved you, and being called to love the people around you as well.