Without realizing it, I've been building up bitterness towards the church and the funny thing is we can always find someone to join you in this bitterness. Get together and talk about all the things that the church is doing wrong, what they need to do and how judgmental they are. Sadly ironic. But whatever, right, they are screwing up right? They've been hurting people for centuries, so if we're gonna associate with them at all, we should put a disclaimer in, "I'm a Christian, but not that kind of Christian." That'll help people to know that we are so much different than the rest of these. We might love Jesus (or convince ourselves we are loving Jesus) but want nothing to do with the "Christian" name, so we say "I'm a Christ Follower". That will make a lot of non-Christians (or non-Christ followers I should say) that we see it differently than everyone else, because those Christians aren't following Christ, but we've got some kind of upper-hand in all of this. Christians are idiots, but we're geniuses, we've gotta let people know this.
"Sure, I'm in the Chess Club, but I'm not a nerd."
Well, it took me almost a year to see how this mindset will deteriorate your faith. It's the cancer of your faith. It's subtle, gradual erosion of your faith. Because, if you think of everyone in your faith as idiots, you'll eventually start to think that what they believe is idiotic. (This will apply to all beliefs).
You can't love Jesus and hate his body.
Eventually, this mindset that you have some sort of upper-hand, will erode your idea of Grace as well. When you start thinking "this person doesn't deserve to call themselves a Christian", then when you fail (because you will), you'll start wondering if you deserve to call yourself a Christian. Which funny thing is, nobody deserves to call themselves "Christ-like". But that's Grace. The fact that God adopted us, giving us association with Him, allowing us to grow to be more like His son, is Grace.
When Hitler made the Hindenburg blimp, he was going to call it "The Hitler" but didn't want to attach his name to anything that can fail. Think about that and then think about how Jesus attaches his name to failures every day. We are that awkward guy at the party that ruins everything all the time and Jesus keeps saying "he's with me". Don't forget that.
Forgive and you'll be forgiven. - Jesus. When you don't forgive, it means you think that person needs to jump through a certain amount of hoops first, so when you ask Jesus for forgiveness, it'll be hard for you to believe you are forgiven, because you didn't have to jump through hoops, then you'll start thinking that His grace wasn't sufficient enough, so you'll start trying to jump through hoops that you made up, then expecting everyone else to as well.
"When Grace was easy to forget, I'd denounce the hypocrites." -Five Iron Frenzy (On Distant Shores)
The funny thing is that you can never earn forgiveness. Even in a secular sense of the word. If I owed you ten bucks, but I couldn't afford it, you'd have to forgive it. If I paid it, you wouldn't be able to forgive me, because I wouldn't need it anymore. Forgiveness is filling in the blank of where someone falls short.
When Jesus was ascending back to Heaven, he asked Peter, "do you love me?", Peter answered "yes", Jesus replied, "feed my sheep". Three times Jesus basically said "If you love me, feed my sheep". Did you get that? Those were some of Jesus' parting words. So they must be pretty important to Him.
"If you love me, feed my sheep." -Jesus (paraphrased)
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love...” John 13:35
What a great verse. We've all heard this one, right? I've actually used it as ammo in the past to shoot down Christians a bit. "How can he be a Christian, he doesn't feed orphans, he doesn't visit prisoners, he doesn't love, etc etc". So stupid. You know why? We LOVE using that part of the verse when the whole verse says "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We've got to have love for one another! If we can't love the people trying to follow Jesus, then it'll be harder to love the people not trying to.
Another mindset we've gotta get out of is "Christians vs. Sinners". This is so foolish, because we are sinners. When we hear Jesus talking about "bless those who curse you", we look for opportunities to do this to the world, but when a Christian curses us, we do the opposite. I truly believe Jesus meant bless anyone who curses you. Expect to get cursed from inside the faith. Jesus was cursed, slandered, put on trial to be crucified all from people from supposedly his same faith. So don't be surprised when you get hurt in a church. We're all stupid sheep that are trying to learn how to love and sometimes there is wolves in sheep's clothing, so either way you're gonna get hurt. Cause we're all bumper cars learning how to drive. Nobody knows how to drive yet so they'll hit you by accident and some people are trying to bump you on purpose. So when Jesus says to pray for our enemies, pray for our opposers, even if they're Christians. If you're in the wrong, hopefully God will show you that in your prayers.
We don't always know where someone else started out. When you go to church, someone there could have became a Christian last night, so how they dress, talk, smell, etc can't be compared to how you dress, talk, smell or think because you might have grown up in the church, raised by two loving parents, etc.
Christianity usually gets a bad rep because the ones that want attention are going against what the Bible says. It's about humility, not doing things to gain the approval of men, not trying to look like a good person and it's about a heart change. The really good Christians are the ones that usually don't make the news, because they aren't doing it for that. Jesus says not to let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. If you give, give in secret instead of trying to impress everyone and if you stumble, confess it. It's opposite of our human nature, it's opposite of this world. Some of the most inspiring Christians I've met are just schoolbus drivers that show kids love every day, stand up for what's right and give to those in need, but the only way I found out is from doing life with them and hearing from other people, but I'd never hear it from them. People that are giving up their safe life to live in ghettos to help rebuild communities. I can go on and on of amazing people that are so focused on loving their influence that they're too busy to tell anyone what they're doing. Christians should be like secret agents, if they keep telling you the great things they are doing, they are doing a terrible job.
Don't write off Christ because of the followers of Him. Write Him off if you don't believe He was the son of God. At least be honest with yourself. Because the good Christians are under the radar, they're there and while we're busy pointing people to ourselves, there are people pointing others to a God who loves them by giving their lives to prove it. I didn't notice how many Nissan Sentras there are on the road until I bought one myself. Now I see them everywhere. If you start giving your live to loving the least of these, you'll meet a lot of people that have been already doing it for years. But usually we just sit on the sidelines denouncing Christians for not doing it, because we haven't jumped in head first ourselves to see how many are actually doing it. When you eat healthy, you meet people that eat healthy. When you skateboard, you meet skateboarders. When you love selflessly, you meet people that love selflessly. If you aren't meeting people that love selflessly...well...you know.
I've known so many people say "I'm thinking about taking a break from going to church, because I've been hurt so much". One time a good friend said that and I asked "has the church that you are going to, hurt you personally?" he said 'no'. Sometimes we get hurt from Christians on the internet or see them on the news and lump them all together.
Christianity is a walk we do with people, broken people that admit they're are broken and continue to find out how bad the break really is. The closer you get to any relationship, the more it'll hurt, the more work it'll be, the dirtier you'll get. You're going to get hurt, because it's vulnerable. Don't stop being vulnerable.
"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." -C.S. Lewis
You're not safe. I'm not sure when we got this idea that we're supposed to be safe. People are going to hurt you, Christians are people (believe it or not) and you know what? For all the people that I know that left the church because they "were hurt by the church", have also been hurt by their alternative communities. I have a gay friend that was cheated on by his husband, filmmakers that were betrayed by their film partners, a ladies man that had his heart broken, etc. etc. But for some reason, they're still gay, still filmmakers, still ladies men, etc. Because they've separated being hurt by one or a few people from the entire lifestyle. People rarely do this with Christianity. One person hurts them and the whole belief system is out the window. And if it's not, bitterness grows then it's a slow, gradual deterioration of your faith and eventually you either leave or start hurting people and it becomes contagious.
If you love Jesus, feed his sheep. When you start forgiving people and fellow Christians, you'll start understand why we need forgiveness.