A La Carte Jesus

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I remember going to Golden Corral for the first time while attending seminary in North Carolina. If you do not know about Golden Corral, it is a lot like Old Country Buffet. When you show up at the restaurant, you see a buffet line with endless amounts of food. If you are looking for a heart attack or coma, Golden Corral or OCB is the place for you. Here is what is interesting about the buffet line. You can take whatever you want and leave whatever you want. If you don’t want the green beans? No problem. The cheesy potatoes are next in line. Do you not want the broccoli? Cool. The prime rib is just a few steps away. 

So here is an observation I want to make after years of pastoral ministry. Christians and nonChristians treat the teachings of Jesus like an a la carte line at Golden Corral. The life and teachings of Jesus are received by a person to the degree the person is comfortable. If you do not like the teachings of Jesus about hell, no problem. However, what Jesus says about love, that you dig. 

Here is the problem with treating the life and teachings of Jesus like an a la carte line. You end up making Jesus into your image instead of conforming to the image of Christ. 

Jesus and nonChristians

Even nonChristians look to Jesus. One day I was communicating with an individual who made several audacious statements about Jesus. The person viewed Jesus through the lens of a politically liberal agenda. I took issue with several out-of-context statements that do not square with Scripture in general or the life and teaching of Jesus in the gospels. When I called out the person about their perception of Jesus, an a la carte response was given. I take the teachings of Jesus I like, and I leave the teachings I do not like. I tried to give a gracious response, but I realized there was not course forward (at the moment) to help the person see that Jesus is much more than what she wants him to be. But here is the deal. Some Christians also treat Jesus like an a la carte line.  

Jesus and Christians

Here are a couple of examples of a la carte Christianity. There are two teachings of Jesus often passed over, like the broccoli in the a la carte line. The first is the teaching of Jesus about hell. The second is the exclusivity of the gospel. There are additional teachings of Jesus rejected, but these two tend to make the most noise. 

Preaching on hell is as popular as lying down with a bunch of rattlesnakes. There are several reasons why Christians (and in particular, pastors) avoid the teaching of hell like the plague. Talking of eternal separation from God, damnation, brimstone, and fire are not a great way to influence friends and win them over. And I get it. If you have a close family member or friend who is not a Christian, the idea of him or her dying and then going to hell makes the heart sink. 

Nonetheless, the teaching about hell FROM JESUS cannot be more clear. Hell is bad. You do not want to go there. For a primer on hell, read Matthew 25, Luke 16, and Mark 9. 

Another teaching of Jesus that is not popular among cool Christians is the exclusivity of the gospel. Jesus did not believe that all roads lead to Rome. Jesus said he is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one can approach the Father unless through faith in him (John 14:6). You can’t approach God through good works. And you can’t come to God by meditating on your inner self. Lighting a candle in a dimmed room with sounds of the ocean playing in the background is as useful as playing with a box of rocks. No matter how many candles you light, you can only approach the Father through faith in the sinless Savior of the world. Don’t like the rule? Take it up with Jesus. 

When Gluttony is Allowed

It’s not popular to talk about gluttony in the church, but the Bible is clear about the sin of gluttony. If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it (Proverbes 25:16). When you arrive at Golden Corral, perhaps it is not best to eat the prime rib, breaded chicken, cheesy potatoes, coconut shrimp, etc., at one single sitting. If you love all those foods, it’s best to take a few trips and try everything in moderation. Eating everything all of the time will lead to a visit to the emergency room. But I tell you what, if gluttony is your vice, I’ll give you permission to engage under one situation. Take and eat of all of the teachings of Jesus and enjoy. Jesus is called the bread of life (John 6:35). I am not sure what kind of bread—sourdough, rye, wheat, multigrain, or white. But eat freely of the bread of life. Do not be picky taking from the a la carte line of Jesus Christ. You will never get full. And you can always feast.