I want to tell you a personal story that illustrates why I get so angry that we’ve allowed ourselves to become known by the spirit of pride and condemnation.
Before I get there, I should recognize that I’m often critical of the church in my writings. People may get the impression I hate it. I don’t. I actually love the church. And like I said earlier, I recognize there are multitudes of us who quietly go about our lives being merciful, showing charity, and being a real light in this world—the whole world, not just our own little Christian circles. I’m fortunate to know lots and lots of you like that. My friends at Journey Church saved my belief in this.
But like James says, teachers are called to higher accountability, and when it comes to those who don’t follow Jesus, we are all the ones in the role of teacher. Most people in your life will form their opinion of Jesus not by logical, rational contemplation but by watching the news and watching you.
That’s quite a responsibility. And it leads into my next point:
I strongly believe that the most dangerous threat Christians in America face today is not not gay marriage or Democratic presidents. It’s the spirit of the Pharisee within.
Our greatest peril today isn’t them. It’s us.
Now on to my story:
There’s a man I’ve known. I first met him about fifteen years ago when I started working with him. I spent a lot of time with him, and whether he knew it or not he was one of my most important mentors. One of the things I appreciated most about him was that he never mindlessly accepted the Christian party line but was always struggling to be genuinely faithful. He never just followed prevailing Christian groupthink and he wasn’t content with mere Sunday-school Christianity. I learned how to ask myself hard questions from him. I learned how to test everything and hold on to that which was true. My faith in Jesus today is authentic and vital and flesh-and-blood real in no small part because of this guy.
I also learned so much about fatherhood from him. Watching how he loved and related to his baby boy taught me more about being a good dad than he’ll ever know, and today my own son is blessed through his example.
Every single day of my life as a dad and as a follower of Jesus is influenced by what I saw in him.
And then life happened. He moved on and I moved away and I didn’t see him more than once or twice over the following decade. A couple years ago I reconnected with him through the social network. And I learned that in between the time I last saw him and today, he’s turned his back on the faith and become filled with cynicism toward the church. There were multiple factors which contributed to this, but can you guess what one of the primary ones was?
That’s right. Other Christians.
Now, yes he is a big boy and he’ll ultimately stand responsible for his own decisions, as we all will. To our own master we’ll stand or fall. No one will be able to say “hey it’s not my fault, it’s Bob’s” or “it’s because of Sally that this happened.”
This is all true, but how would you like to be the Bob or Sally in a person’s life? The person whose actions provided someone the rationale to give up the race? Woe to him through whom evil comes.
Ultimately we’ll all stand (or fall) alone before God, but the fact remains that at some point in his life my mentor, a precious, valuable child of God, was wounded and needed love.
Instead he was gunned down by his own brothers.
And that’s not even the worst part.
Do you know what the worst part of this is? He’s got two sons now, both grown into teenagers. Instead of learning about the incredibly amazing and exciting rescue mission God undertook in order to win them back, they’re learning cynicism. They’re learning that if there is a God, he’s certainly not the one Jesus believed in.
This man is still a good man. He is still trying (as we all are) to be as genuine as possible. He struggled greatly with giving up his faith in Jesus and he didn’t do it lightly. I hope and regularly pray that God would reveal Himself to my friend all over again and break through all the barriers that have gone up. And I would plead with you to do the same for him.
He’s also still a good father. He’s full to bursting with love for his kids, and I’m sure that he would honor their beliefs if they decided to follow Jesus. But the tragedy is that, instead of living with an example of how a real man of God walks with Jesus, they’re learning that Christians are hypocrites who honor God with their lips but have hearts far, far away from Him.
They’re learning that Christians are today’s Pharisees.
Friends, always strive to be a centurion or a Samaritan to your friends and neighbors around you. Be a friend of sinners, not a protestor of sinners. And remember you’re a sinner too. Don’t be a Pharisee.
Brothers and sisters, your actions matter. They have weight. And consequences…even unto the next generation.
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not it’s falsity.
Further resources: There are some great books that deal with this subject with way better words than mine. I can’t recommend them highly enough for your reading (affiliate links):
- When Bad Christians Happen To Good People, by Dave Burchett
- The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Tim Keller
- Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave The Church
- Mercy Not Sacrifice: A Recovering Evangelical’s Manifesto (a bit stuffy but there’s some good points in there–I especially love his calling out our “sport’s fan mentality” when it comes to faith)
- Did Jesus Have A Theology?, Tim Timmons
- Manmade Theology Vs. Jesus, also Tim Timmons
- And of course you can always try my own book =)
- Who’s Got God?, by Yours Truly & Jordan Adams