Jesus doesn’t work so well as a minor part of something else.
I bought a Ford Escort L back at a time when most kids my age were hoping to get a Camaro. What the car didn’t have in looks, it made up for in the sticker price and the gas mileage. But it still didn’t fare well. Between the unrelenting West Texas sun and the slushy snow of Cleveland, it faded into a ghost of its former perky self.
The days came when my wife and I tried to anticipate whether to put more money into it or somehow unload it. Finally someone convinced me the car would last a while longer if I installed a new carburetor. The repair became a four-hundred-and-something dollar band-aid that didn’t help. We drove the “L” for another month and then traded it in, fearing it was still on the verge of death.
The day we got rid of it, I remember thinking with irony that the most valuable part of the car was that carburetor. In fact it was worth more than the tires, radio, battery, and metal frame, combined. At trade-in time, I should have just pulled the carburetor and handed it to the salesman. I probably would have made out better. I had heard him in the back of the dealership where he thought I was out of earshot, complaining about my sad little car—“That thing’s a piece of junk. I wouldn’t drive it to Akron” (A twenty-minute trip).
In the end, the new gee-whiz carburetor hadn’t mattered because it was attached to a junker. I got a humiliating hundred bucks for my trade-in. The L got a trip to the junkyard where a giant machine with teeth ate it.
Thank you, That’s Enough
I used to be another kind of “L.” I hoped Jesus would fix something about me without renewing my whole life. I liked the way I was. I only wanted certain parts replaced. Swap out my temper. Leave the rest intact. Put in a new mood, leave my old habits alone. Answer my special prayer, forget my unholy lifestyle.
Sometimes new things we dearly want God to do for us aren’t compatible with our present lives. It’s like trying to put a patch for the latest version of Windows on one of those stone age versions. You’re risking a ruined operating system.
Jesus as Patch, Crutch, Cog, Hankie, and Aspirin
Jesus warns against trying to use Him.
In Matthew 9:14, some of John the Baptists’s disciples approached Jesus, questioning Him about fasting. The core of John’s ministry had been to herald Christ, like a voice in the wilderness (Isa. 40:3), yet at this late point in his ministry, his followers weren’t doing that. Instead, they had given center stage to religious practices like fasting.
Worse, they saw these practices as defining and judging Christ Himself. Their assumption seemed to be that if He were authentic, He would promote fasting, supercharge it, make it work. He would be unconditionally for it.
But His response was telling: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast.” Jesus saw the disciples and their joy and their mourning, and their devotional practices as rotating around Him.
Pop religion often treats Him as a cog in life, a necessary component that makes things run properly. In this case in Matthew 9, well-meaning folks saw Him as a patch on their religious efforts, and were evidently trying to squeeze Him into their traditional framework of thought like new wine inside an old wine skin.
He said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (vv. 16-17).
When Jesus Refused to be a Babysitter
Jesus is supposed to be all. We “put on Christ” says Paul, (Ga. 3:14), like a garment, but we don’t patch ourselves up with Him. We “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), but we don’t sprinkle it on ourselves like pixie dust.
Leslie Strobel relates how, as a non-Christian, she was initially concerned about her children’s spiritual well-being. This turned into a trip to church, reading spiritual books, and later being born again. She had only wanted a little “Jesus help” to keep her kids off drugs and out of the pregnancy ward, but the gospel message got into her heart and began to run loose. She found herself more drawn to Christ than to life solutions.
It wasn’t over. Leslie might have been happy to be saved, but her husband was less than enthusiastic for her. Lee was a highly intelligent atheist and journalist for The Chicago Tribune. Because of her new faith, their marriage experienced heated conflict. At long last, Lee came to faith as well, and became an award-winning Christian writer whose books have reached millions for Christ.
Much to her delight, Leslie found she couldn’t pigeonhole Jesus as the school crossing guard for her kids. The Lord was determined not to be a patch.
When Jesus Refused to Round Up a Wayward Girlfriend
Some thirty-two years ago I was in the wake of a relational upset. I had been involved in the most ill-fitted pairing of my life, pursuing it with the gusto of a guy who wouldn’t listen to family and friends, or common sense. When the whole thing ended in a mushroom cloud, and it was obvious no amount of southern charm would fix it, I turned to Jesus.
The request at the top of my list was, of course, to repair the busted romance. At the very least I expected God to comfort and make me feel better. But Jesus had other plans—ones that fit His preferred standard operating procedure. “I don’t put new wine into old wineskins,” He would have said to me (if I’d been listening). “Instead of patching your battle-scarred heart, I’m going to give you a new one. Instead of bandaging your crushed spirit, I’m going to give you a new one” (Eze. 36:26).
I hadn’t wanted anything new, but then again, I’ve never wanted anything good for me—at least at first. As my story played out, I started to realize that by opening up to Jesus, I’d gotten into more than I’d bargained for. This new heart and new spirit brought with it new attitudes, new bearings, new interests, a new life and a new future.
I distinctly remember the timeline:
The first few days: “Maybe God will put this back together for me.”
The first week: “This isn’t going to happen.” Sigh.
The first month: “Whoa. Looks like I’m on to something here with this Christian thing.”
The first year: “Hey, this is great!”
The first decade: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Maybe you’ve considered turning your problems over to Christ. How about turning your life over to Him?
Photo credit: Nick Taylor