by David Y.
The following is a blog I posted on April 10th, 2008 on my personal MySpace page…
I was reading some famous quotes on a website today and came across one that particularly struck my attention. It said:
“There is a transcendent power in example. We reform others unconsciously when we walk uprightly.” (Anne Sophie Swetchine – 1782-1857, Russian Author)
Example is a powerful thing. It’s more powerful than words (as the ol’ saying goes: “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” and it’s true). Example has the ability to let others know that your convictions about things run far deeper than words, but they affect how you live your life… Furthermore, the actions a person engages, generally stand as the most prominent testimony concerning the validity of what a person expresses in belief.
The Bible calls this kind of action “fruit”. In other words, the kind of “fruit” your “tree” bears (whether good or bad) says an awful lot about who you are and what genuinely motivates you (as well as whether or not truth is found in the words you are speaking). Example has the power to, likewise, encourage others to action (either positive or negative), which is all the more reason we ought to examine ourselves to see what kind of “fruit” is falling from our tree… and then find out why!
Throughout a fair portion of my life as “Christian” (especially & specifically because of the influence of organized religion over the years), a lot of weight was placed in words (in both the content of words and the passion to convey those words when it seemed necessary). Words defined what I believed and expressed it as well. But while the belief was genuine and meaningful to me personally, it was often difficult to engage the transition from mere head knowledge to allowing those beliefs to significantly transform my actions.
Make no mistake, I had sincere and strong beliefs. They were qualified by a knowledge of Scripture and sound reason and they made sense to me. I could even argue them, if necessary. I also felt a certain level of security (dare I say pride) in the knowledge (i.e. the logical understanding) of what I believed. But somewhere over the years, beyond the initial foundations of developing the logic that would influence virtually every facet of what I believed and how I perceived things, I began to build an entire theology centered largely on words (not entirely, but certainly significantly)…
My “religion” had become a very (if not the) prominent force in my life. And while that seemed good to me (just as it does to a lot of people who profess to be “Christians” these days), it posed a great anxiety when I would encounter others who did not believe the same things I did. No matter how eloquent the words, sometimes, they would not be convinced by me… nor I them (and this is something else my emphasis on religion taught me; that I must convince people to believe in “my religion”… In fact, that seemed to be the basic point of existence for anyone who would call themselves a “Christian” (to convince others with as many persuasive words as possible/necessary to join this religion as well). That driving anxiety affected how I looked at people, how I treated them, and how I felt.
To put it another way, I learned to look at people through the eyes of my religion (something that was almost entirely wrapped up in my head, but which found plenty of its grip on my heart). That’s a curious thing to ponder when you start to regard the fact that Jesus never came to establish a religion, never imposed His religion, and He always seemed to be offending the religious ones around Him. Somehow, He was able to love the un-religious, the unrighteous, the impure, the sinner (if you will). Even more amazing is the testimony of how they responded to His actions of love in a positive regard (as well as the words – incredible words – He also shared), and yet the religious folks (many of them) scoffed and gasped at His demonstration of example. Obviously there is a vast difference between seeing people through the eyes of religion as opposed to seeing them through God’s eyes.
Although today, Jesus is essentially recognized as the “figurehead” of what is called the “Christian religion”; in reality, when you look at the example marked by the life He lived, there is actually a massive disconnect between what we typically regard as religion and the way He inspired people to a sincere invitation to faith that did nothing but upset the fabric of everything religious in His day. Consider also the fact that Jesus accomplished this without altar calls, without Bible-bashing all sinners, without emotional background music and softly dimming lights, without Bible colleges, without church/denominational membership rosters (without churches period), and without shame or manipulative force.
This is a bit difficult to put into words. It will likely be even more difficult for a strongly religious person to catch on to what I am talking about. That’s because, even in the midst of being “religious affiliated” with the “Christian Faith”, a person can be utterly blind to the fact that they very well may have embraced “religion” as though it were God rather than God Himself in actuality.
And here we are today, people in church world (as I once was as well), observing the very profound example of Jesus and then trying to “preach” it to others. Somehow, His example got turned into the very thing it often offended; religion. Somewhere it changed from a bold example (stimulated by something powerful and supernatural at work deep in the heart) that motivated others to emulate the same attitude of love Jesus demonstrated, to an “instruction” of religion, purposed to attempt to influence others to simply “believe” (i.e. with the head and in the confidence of religion) what is deemed “right” and thus it lost its power to actually effect real change inside (with the kind of believing that comes deep from the heart in full conviction). Love was essentially replaced by head knowledge about love. Even this good “information” became worthless in the sense that it seemed void of the ability to effect significant change. “Religion” took over and deceptively blinded good people’s eyes from Christ Himself. That statement might offend some people, but remember I am telling my story most of all. Religion conquered me for a season as well.
Let me just pause for a moment (lest I offend someone unnecessarily) before continuing with the greater part of this testimony today by saying that I am not meaning to belittle the significance of preaching the Good News about Jesus to people. I 100% believe in sharing that testimony. I am simply taking this to a more personal level; suggesting that speaking about God means less than it does when it flows from a genuine experience of Love. Again, I am talking about how “actions speak louder than words.” Note that I have not said “in place of words” but they certainly qualify those words in many respects. The Scriptures even teach that the VISIBLE existence of Creation testifies of the reality of God so that people are absolutely aware of Him, even if they have not “heard” of Him (once again the bold evidence of something witnessed over mere words alone).
Romans 1:19-20 (NLT) – “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.”
Real “Christianity” (if you must have that title) is about relationship with Christ, not just proclaiming a story about Him. The “anity” in “Christ-i-anity” comes from the effect of a life that ACTUATES a living experience with God Himself. This is a “belief” that transcends mere intellect and finds its full exposure through the acting out from what is deep in the heart and spirit (not merely the speaking out from what is in the head). Religion indeed involves action and a lot of speech, but both are centered in the religion’s edicts, morals, and dogmas rather than simply in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the only “leader” necessary in the process of faith and truth. This is the reason that I say religion can actually be something very deceptive and distracting from the Truth that is essential. It becomes something almost separate from God Himself and presumes itself a kind of mediator between God and man. It’s the method by which man works his way to earning God’s favor. That’s a big problem because God’s favor is granted because He is good, not because we are good and work hard to earn it. Because religion tends to employ this warped mindset, however subtly, that little leaven of yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough.
It might be argued that religion is not altogether useless, as it does seem to effect some apparent good in society, but at what expense spiritually? If love, true Godly love, is not being built up in the heart, then how long can the surface effect of religion last and to what eternal good? When I gave my life to religion I thought I had given it to God (and many people live under the same deception). The head and the heart rarely actually connect, except for moments of emotional stimulation by external programs purposed to make a person “feel spiritual”. But religion has its power in the intellect; the mind. That’s where its control resides and functions best.
In many ways, religion often has a similar effect to that of hypnosis. Because it operates on the mind, it is able to manipulate the mind through its repeated patterns. This is, in fact, a form of mind control and is not authored by God whatsoever. Imagine the spiritual devastation possible when the devil exerts influence on this system of hypnotic mind control. It is a fact that many denominations have embraced false teachings and caused them to spread rapidly because of the generally-accepted concept that only God speaks through the authority of the organized, institutional church.
Eventually, in some respects, (because of my church background) I think I learned to view other people as individuals I could only really get along with if they agreed with me. As it so happened, I had a lot of opinions about various things and, often enough, negatively imposed my logic concerning those things on others. Convictions I held became things I (sometimes condescendingly) imposed on others, implying that I was somehow more mature in these areas (not to mention likely more accepted by God) simply because I had a conviction (which, of course, I always believed was flawless)… Sigh…
Though I did have a genuine heart for God (a desire to know Him and follow Him) and though I was raised by parents whose lives gave a profound example of what it meant to really see God’s love touch those around them in a very organic and genuine way, I still sometimes found it very hard to be around certain people in certain environments (feeling either like they might pollute me or that I was just so spiritually mature that I was somehow impressing God by not allowing any potential influence to surround me).
To put it another way (a more embarrassing way), I found it very hard to fully love anyone that did not think like I did. Something in the back of my mind was always there, kind of patting me on the back going, “don’t worry Dave, you’re not as lost as they are.” Looking back on that it makes me want to say, “I wonder who really was more lost?” In many ways I was much like the Pharisee that Jesus referred to who boasted about how righteous he was in comparison to the poor guy who had spent his life completely detached from righteous living… The only difference being that I was not outspoken about it… but the mindset was still present in my heart, however subtle… and how terribly common is it that many church folks are so quick to point out the problem of the other guy while excusing themselves and making a show of godliness (that’s really nothing more than that; a show)?
Luke 18:9-14 (The Message Bible) – He [Jesus] told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'” Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
I suppose this mindset isn’t necessarily exclusive to those enamored with organized religion either. Plenty of people (Christian or not) sometimes have lofty mindsets and impose their individual opinions on others (because of innate selfish tendencies and insecurities). I’ve observed plenty of marriages where one spouse comes across as “controlling” or both end up having severe communication problems, usually because both have expectations that are not met in the other person, opinions, and/or convictions that may be in conflict with the other (and there are often hosts of other reasons as well).
I certainly don’t claim to understand the entire psychosis behind all these things, but I am aware of how my religious mind often influenced me in the past (and even plagues me sometimes still – this stuff doesn’t wash out over night). Because I did have a heart for God, His love was doing a gradual work in my heart and the light did peer through from time to time. There were times where I was more aware of my flaws and felt the desire to change (and remember many times crying out to God with tears running down my cheek), but I often seemed to slip right back into those cruddy old mindsets that are so predominant in religious circles. Ugh… I knew that Love was a higher road, but I was constantly bombarded with the influence that taught me “the way you become more ‘Christ-like’ is to involve yourself deeper in religious performance.” Rather than push all that stuff aside and cry out to God directly, allowing Him and Him alone to touch my life and change my heart, I went with the religious flow…
Christianity for me (in some respects) became about how lucky and right I was to know God and how sorry everyone else who didn’t yet know Him was… The only way I felt that I could connect with them is if I maintained some “evangelistic” agenda underneath… In other words, “sinners” could never really become my friends and I could never be comfortably sincere or transparent with people that I believed didn’t know God because my motivating agenda was to guard myself from them until I could feel it safe to befriend only those who were really interested in God like me. When you stop and think about that for a moment, you realize how “UN-evangelistic” and “UN-loving” that mindset really is and how contrary to the attitude, lifestyle and love Jesus demonstrated is. From its very inception you have a kind of hierarchy in place where you become elevated over others in your own mind rather than humbling yourself and genuinely loving them.
Unfortunately, this is how most Christians divide up the world; “us vs. them” / “lost vs. found”. While there is a truth there, it is not the whole truth. The Bible even says plainly that ALL OF US have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and perfection (Romans 3:23), and that Jesus chose to give His life for us all WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS (Romans 5:8). That pretty much lumps all of us in the same boat and leaves us without any room to boast.
None of us deserve God’s kindness, but still He remains kind. The bottom line is that God loves all of us and calls everyone who will respond to come to Him. We shouldn’t have any anxious or arrogant mind towards others who may not believe or think exactly as we do. It is God responsibility to draw people (as well as to convict them of sin and truth). It is His love and kindness that leads people to repentance (just like it did for those of us who are now typically regarded as “saved”).
Romans 2:4 (NIV) – Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
As the years have passed, I’ve discovered that words (even words spoken from conviction) are often easily spoken, but example proves what is really in the heart and example has the greater impact because it tells people what’s real about who you are.
I have learned and am also still learning that love does not demand that others sub serve my convictions (even if my convictions happen to sometimes be right). Love requires more that I follow my own convictions and live them out with sincerity and not hold them in an arrogant position against others. Like the quote above suggests, if I walk uprightly and set a pure example (something worthy of persuading others), then others might very well be encouraged by that little “voice” speaking to their own hearts (rather than mine) and they will be influenced according to a sincere conviction on their own; one that comes 100% from truth, not guilt or manipulation.
For so long, in “church world” (or, in other words, what I consider the realm of organized religion and all the traditional, though not often biblical or beneficial, mindsets that accompany it), I believed that “sharing Christ” largely involved “imposing” Him on others; Find some way to manipulate… ahem, I mean “encourage”… people to make a decision for Him. This was, of course, never played out so sinister as my words make it sound now, but that’s what it often amounted to. I was locked in mindsets that were the result of traditional religious influences, not because I had any ill intent. In fact, most of my intentions were very good. I was always very thankful that God won me over and changed my life and I sincerely wanted others to know the same peace I had, but religion (like yeast) got mixed in the batch and corrupted things (and we know how it only take a little bit of yeast to make the whole lump of dough rise).
I’m sorry to say that (in my opinion) even most evangelistic endeavors in today’s organized church are structured so that people are persuaded by clever, emotional tactics so that those leading the effort can boast of the numbers they draw in. The “mission” becomes something motivated more from a sense of duty, pride or profit more than something that is engaged because of sincere and genuine love for others.
But only God can see into people’s hearts and truly draw them. I feel that we should not be so nosy in His affairs. We ought rather to simply and truly love others and live according to our convictions.
By all means, we can share when there is opportunity and especially if God inspires us or people ask, but we should rather live what we believe instead of just talking about it. There’s far too much talk and far too much contrary example that cheapens our words. I’m, quite frankly, sick of words (especially my own – and the religious anxieties I used to live by). I now think that it is better to just be sincere and let genuine example influence those around us. Even the apostle Paul, in the Bible, said that all the stuff of organized religion only served to distract him from a pure knowledge of who God was.
Philippians 3:7-10 (The Message Bible) – The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash–along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the [religious] things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant–dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ–God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.
Love should be the motivating force that guides us (even God’s love and His mercy). Truth manifested through love needs no external force to drive it in. Truth will convict of its own accord and love helps it to be consumed and to nourish effectively. Love also isn’t afraid of getting dirty or making mistakes along the way, nor does it make us anxious to prove a point or try to look good in front of everyone. Real love (the kind that flows from God’s heart) manifests genuine interest in the life of someone else. It makes us want to serve others, regardless of any benefit to ourselves. Regardless if there is some prospect of someone claiming they will now follow Jesus. Love’s one motive is love itself…. and, really, who can resist that? The problem is, who actually manifests that? Unfortunately, not too many of us.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (The Message Bible) – If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
I’m really not trying to sound like Gandhi or anything (hahaha)… This stuff is just bouncing around in my heart and I have been challenged in a deeper regard because of it. That little quote just got me thinking because this is something I’ve been learning each day. I think one of the things that makes Jesus so easy to follow (and what makes us desire to know and submit to His lead) is that He is NOT forceful with us. He does not impose Himself. He manifests love itself. He forgives our errors, showers us with grace, and sets the example. Jesus did not come to us with a clenched fist and a list of rules. He came and shared God’s rich love and then laid down His own life on a bloody cross (taking our place) to demonstrate that love to the extreme. You might say that God took a bullet for you! He jumped in front a gun that was pointed right at your head and mine. He didn’t condemn us for not being religious enough… (He already knew that none of us were – In fact, isn’t it funny that religion distorts all this and suggest that God is looking for religious people) God well knew that we deserve to die for breaking His laws and neglecting the One who Created us. But He didn’t treat us the way we deserved (and He didn’t prescribe us with more religion).
Instead He came to us and said, “I love you with all My heart, I want to call you My friends, I want you to know your Heavenly Father intimately and personally, and having you understand that truth is more important to Me than even My own life. So I will lay it down, in your place, and pay the price for your crimes by shedding my own blood and I will bring to you a way to forget about all of those old sins, put them aside once and forever, and come straight into the Father’s arms of love for all eternity.”
Despite the fact that organized religion often dabbles in a proclamation of “the Gospel” of Jesus, the idea that “God died” (and then rose from the grave) to wipe the slate clean for us is really (ironically) most offensive to religion at its core, because religion doesn’t really want to embrace a God who forgives us entirely and opens His arms to us in spite of what we’ve done or do. Religion wants to keep folks under control and load them down with rules, ethics, principles, etc. It wants to stay right there, in between man and God, meddling in the mix. But Jesus comes along and brings one truth; LOVE! Love pushes all that stuff out of the way and invites us to just come into His arms. Once we embrace His genuine love, the details work themselves out because our hearts change and love begins its renewing and reforming work without the need for religious rules and regulations. God becomes our intimate friend and we His.
I don’t believe that God divides us all up into categories… He loves us all extravagantly. I will never again think of God in terms of a “religious objective” or even as the subject of something referred to as “Christianity”. Though I may identify with that doctrine (i.e. the Christian Faith) and others may wish to identify me accordingly, my life simply belongs to Him who loves me completely without compromise or condition. The same loves you ABSOLUTELY! For this reason I will never invite anyone again to “become a Christian” but I will invite them to reach out to the One who loves them beyond comprehension. If they sense the reality of this love, they will believe it and God will save them by His own power.
My desire is to ALWAYS remain genuine and transparent and I would much rather someone say they were curious about God or wanted to believe because they saw a sincere example in my life (some evidence of God’s love in action), rather than just me giving them a bunch of religious talk.
Also, in a general sense, I think this mindset has the potential to impact even more than just people who are familiar with organized religion. Actions, indeed, speak louder than words and we should emulate the same kind of attitudes and love we want to receive. Many a relationship has suffered unnecessary hardship (and even failure) because one person complains against the other, rather than focusing their energies on forgiving the other and then putting forth the kind of affection and grace they would desire for themselves. Funny that this very simple truth is actually the Golden Rule in practice; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What grander example to show?
By emphasizing Love, I am not suggesting that God doesn’t care about the “problem of sin” or His desire for man to turn from his sinful ways and embrace righteousness… I am not suggesting some mushy kind of New Age gospel where all roads lead to God and everyone goes to heaven. The fact that God is Love doesn’t mean there is no justice or absoluteness of truth in Him. It doesn’t mean there are no conditions necessary to enjoy the benefits of His grace. If a person chooses not to believe or if they reject His truth and the love He extends, then they obviously cannot partake of the goodness He grants to those who do accept it. If I was to bring water to a field of thirsty and heat-exhausted workers and say, “Come and drink freely of this water and rest,” but found there were some who would not come to receive the water but stayed far out in the field, would it mean that I am unloving toward them if they will not come and receive what I have brought for their refreshment? If they suffer from heat stroke and die, is it because I treated them unkindly, uncompassionately, or gave them an unreasonable, unloving choice? The gift was extended… They still had to choose to leave their plow and come to receive it. And God’s love, unlike my fallible analogy, often goes even beyond the act of presenting the gift… It’s not unusual for Him to go the added distance to make sure that even one worker in the field who may not come in right away, has every opportunity to receive the water before exhaustion and dehydration overtakes him. The Lord may even place the water to his lips that he may drink, but if he still refuses – the wages of his disobedience will still be death.
The Scripture plainly says that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. In other words, LOVE is at the core of every action, purpose and process of God. Even His disciplines and judgment (which are sometimes hard) are motivated and actuated by and through His incredible love and divine wisdom. Since God’s love always triumphs, and this was most clearly demonstrated through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it should be emphasized that sin really is not a “problem” after all (at least it cannot effectively keep anyone from being accepted into God’s family if they will only believe Him and respond to His loving grace and truth). Religion finds much of its power in legalism; It excels in the attributes of condemnation, fear, manipulation, control, guilt, shame, regiment, ritual and performance to gain favor, blessing, acceptance, promotion, etc. It is so contrary to the way God’s love works and yet so many people still believe that organized religion is the principle way God chooses to speak and govern believers. What an amazing deception!
The Scripture declares that God is Love (1 John 4:8) so it seems obvious that the best way we can grow in love toward each other – to make our relationships strong, lasting, and filled with sincere happiness – is to yield to His Love. Indeed God’s love surpasses the love we have within ourselves. It carries us beyond our limits. It refreshes our weary souls. It restores that which has died or is dying. It changes our very nature. God’s love is amazing! I can only tell you that His love has completely transformed my heart and my mind (and this work continues each day). The reason I share some of the embarrassing mindsets that, quite frankly, I’m ashamed to admit I have operated under, is because I also know the transforming power of God’s incredible love that has overcome them. My prayer is that each of you who may read this will seek it and find it too! With all my heart I say, “God bless you!!!!”
Gandhi has spoken (hahahahaha)!