“Those in the circle of Christ had no doubt of his love; those in our circles should have no doubt about ours.” – Max Lucado
Have you ever been talking to someone and realized they were faking being your friend?
Have you ever been a part of a group and thought, “These people really do not care if I’m here or not.”?
Have you ever walked into church quickly putting on a smile only to leave wiping it off as you head back home?
Have you ever wondered why people are leaving the church or do not want anything to do with God and Jesus?
We tend to shout, “They can’t handle the truth!” But, is it really because they can’t handle Christians?
Have we given love a bad name?
Promised Me Heaven, But Put Me Through Hell
This passage is one of the classic passages memorized by every Christian. It is as if the words roll off our tongues like praise songs repeatedly sung. We understand that it is grace through faith that saves us. It is not any of our own doing.
However, do we act and treat others like grace is what saves? Aren’t we quick to follow up someone praying for salvation with a list of what to do and not to do? We are quick to say, “Now that you are saved, this is how you need to behave.” They must attend church as much as possible, read the Bible through in a year, wear the proper clothes to church, make sure they do not associate with anything our church would label as evil or world, etc.
How do you think people look at this? It drives them insane. We promise them freedom in Christ and Heaven, but we put them through hell of obeying rules and having the right image. How many of us would confess that when we fall short of one of those rules, we feel looked down on? How many of us have tried to beat ourselves to look right and to come across as “the good christian”? It is a living hell to keep man’s laws in order to be perceived as good enough.
Paul was adamant about his position in Galatians 3:1-9. A group called the Judaizers had infiltrated the church in Galatia. They taught once a person was saved, that person must adopt Jewish laws and traditions. New converts swallowed this hook, line, and sinker. Paul rushed in to stop them. He shouts that it is by grace and not by works or by the law. We are made good before God because of Jesus.
Even Jesus, himself, condemned the pharisees for keeping man’s traditions over clinging to God’s Word (Mark 7:1-8). The pharisees demanded the people to keep rules, standards, and traditions in order to gain blessings and make God smile. The pharisees in this scene remind me of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The opening song “Tradition” gives us an insight into this way of thinking.
“You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!”
Don’t we have the same attitude in our churches? When someone becomes a Christian, we give our list of traditions – what things Christians can and cannot do. “We must show the world how good of a Christian we are before God. You may ask why we do this. I do not know, but it is a tradition!”
Do we have to be seen as a good Christian before God? Romans 8:1 does not say there is no condemnation for those who live in their rules, standards, and traditions. It says we have no condemnation because of Jesus! If we truly believe this, then why do we promise heaven, but put people through hell in order to get there? Heaven is freedom in Christ, and hell is a prison to tradition.
Play My Part And Play Your Game
We all have done this. We are in the car heading to church. A disagreement erupts, harsh words ashen our speech, and our eyes burn into each other’s souls like lava. However, as soon as we turn in the church parking lot, we quickly grab the fire extinguishers and put on a good look as we stroll in for the service. As we walk in, we look others up and down and begin measuring. The image must be protected at all cost.
We play our parts and we play the game. We force people into a game of pageantry. You want to help in ministry? You want to be a leader? Look good. Prove to us you are a good Christian, and you will receive. So, what do we do? We craft our lives (and our social media) to portray a contestant on “Miss Heaven.”
Jesus detests this attitude. He tells a parable in Luke 18:9-14. Two men went to the temple to pray – a pharisee and a tax collector. The pharisee stood where people could see him and prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people— sexually immoral, a drunkard, a democrat, or even like this ‘Christian’ who stumbles every day, who listens to that music, and dresses like that! Instead, I come to church, I obey without question, I carry my study Bible, and there isn’t a black spot on my record.” (Oh sorry, is that not what it says?)
We treat each people who walk into our churches like this. We force them into a game to paint their lips and wear an angel smile. Jesus did not come for those who had it all together. He came for those who are a mess (Mark 2:17).
If this was Jesus’ attitude towards those around him, then why isn’t it ours? Why do we force others into a game a pageantry; while Jesus invites people into a relationship?
The Damage Is Done
In our culture, we see many people leaving the church. We see people not wanting anything to with God and Jesus. The statistics are very clear about this. But, why? We may smirk at those individuals and say under our breath, “They just couldn’t handle God’s Word.”
That is far from the truth.
They couldn’t handle the Truth, because they couldn’t handle us.
Just in the two points above, we have caused damage to people. We shot them through the heart. Mark 9:42 gives us a stern warning. We usually say, “Yeah, anyone that goes after children deserves this!” But, this is not what this verse is saying. Jesus is saying if we cause a little one (a baby in the faith) to stumble and to fall away, then we, ourselves, should be thrown into the sea with a millstone around our necks.
Has how we treat people in our churches caused people to stumble and fall away? I am even preaching this to myself. When we force people to have an image and live up to our standards, we only cause damage. We shoot bullet holes in a heart aching for love.
Have our churches become more about living up to a certain image or actually preaching Christ and his love for us? His love is what changes us (II Corinthians 5:14). We can never be changed by keeping rules and playing a game. Then, why do we make people do it?
“Well, the church is full of sinners.” How many more times are we going to use this excuse for our lack of love? It is not because they couldn’t handle the truth that caused them to leave. We damaged them, and they left.
You Give Love A Bad Name
How did Jesus love? He was known as the friend of sinners. He went to people. He healed people. He fed people. He sat with people late into the night. He defended people. He died for people. He rose again to give new life to people. We are included in that group. He doesn’t love us because of rules or an image. He loves us because that is who he is (John 3:16).
How are we doing with our love of others? If we are to be honest, Christians have given love a bad name. Think about how we treat servers at a restaurant, or how we become impatient when we have to wait in line, or when that person texts us the millionth time that day just to say hi. What would Jesus do?
We have lost the love of Christ when we become all about having a good Christian image. Jesus came to love. He said the world would know his disciples by their love. Having a neon sign of what we are for and what we are against is not showing love. Why has Christian love been degraded to matters of politics and a vote? Why have we taken out the action of love? Love isn’t voting to end abortion. Love isn’t picketing an abortion clinic. Love is standing by a scared mother no matter what decision she makes – knowing she is loved. Love is standing by the person who fell for the thousandth time to sin and holding them close just so they have a physical picture of God’s forgiveness. Love is willing to go and be. The incarnation was driven by love to go and be (John 1:14).
Bon Jovi’s song “You Give Love A Bad Name” could be seen as a description of the modern day church. Many people have felt shot through the heart because of churches.
Instead of making more excuses, why don’t we lay those down? How can we actually change a person’s life by showing them a breathing example of the love of Jesus?
We do not have to be a loaded gun full of “scripture bullets.” Instead, we just need to be like Jesus – loving the world so much he came and dwelt among us to show us grace and truth.
When we emphasize the holiness of God over the love of God, we forget his holiness drove him to do the greatest act of love in human history.