by Joy Martin, Co-founder Set Me Free Ministries
If you were to ask my husband how my mind works, he’d tell you that he has no idea. To be honest, I don’t know that I really understand it either. There are times when something I see or hear sets off a chain reaction of seemingly random thoughts, and by the time I reach the end of the chain, I have no idea how I got from point A to point B. At any rate, that’s what happened to me yesterday. And I think point B is worth sharing, so try to bear with me.
At church yesterday morning, the sermon addressed the question: “Why are there so many rules in Christianity?” Of course, that’s not what I’m going to talk about here. (See what I mean?!) However, it was Sunday’s sermon that started me on my thought-provoking journey and led me to write this blog. While addressing this question, the pastor discussed the idea of “religious” people who surround themselves with others just like them—people who look like them, believe like them, smell like them, etc.—and who never venture outside of that. At one point during the sermon, he spoke about “religious” people who are mean, mean, he may have thrown a judgmental in there, and, oh yeah, mean. Now you’ll have to forgive me, because I don’t remember the context of the statement, and I’m not even sure I’m remembering it right, but that’s what stuck in my head. And so started Sunday’s chain reaction.
The words religious and mean just kept replaying themselves in my head—over and over and over again. And once the chain reaction stopped, I was sad, angry, frustrated, and, to be honest, brokenhearted. I would ask that you please take just a second here to pause and take a deep breath, because I want each and every person reading this to really hear what I’m about to say.
A few weeks ago I read something that crushed me. It was something written by a friend, and part of it discussed his past experiences with religion. He had grown up in a Christian home, and at a rather young age, he found himself questioning his faith. Now, let me say here that I think questioning is a perfectly natural part of growing up. I, too, have had questions and even doubts at times, but I have always found satisfactory answers through studies and trusted spiritual role models. In fact, I believe my questioning has actually strengthened my faith. This man, however, ended up down a much different path as a result of certain behaviors he witnessed in other “Christians.”
At the time that his seed of doubt began to sprout, he was surrounded by people who professed Christianity as their religion. He saw a group of people who worshiped God and faithfully studied the Bible in one breath and then turned around and treated those outside their circle as “miserable human beings” in the next. In fact, even though he, too, was a Christian, he found himself on the outside of their inner circle and bore the burden of harsh words and undeserved criticism. He soon made a decision that he wanted nothing to do with a religion full of hypocrites—a religion where people claimed to believe in one set of standards but lived by another.
I can’t even begin to tell you how that breaks my heart. It kills me to know that people who professed to believe in the same Jesus I know and love as my Lord and Savior were the reason this man no longer calls himself a Christian. What a tragedy.
Friends, the sad truth is that it happens every day. Many people are quick to label themselves as “spiritual,” “religious,” or even “Christian,” and yet, they don’t follow the basic principles of Jesus Christ as set forth in the Bible. They are mean, even cruel. They are judgmental. They are hypocritical. Well, I’m here to tell you that when Jesus walked this earth, He was none of those things. Jesus reached out to those who the religious leaders of the time shunned (Matthew 9:9–13). Jesus brought the promise of new life to even the worst offenders, if only they turned away from their evil past (John 8:1–11). Jesus lived what He spoke and spoke what He lived.
One of the scriptures the pastor used in Sunday’s sermon was Matthew 22:37–40. When asked by one of the religious leaders of the time which commandment was the greatest in all the law, “Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
Unfortunately, this commandment is often overlooked by many who profess Christianity. Perhaps they’re too busy trying to rid others of the specks of sawdust in their eyes while ignoring the planks in their own eyes (Matthew 7:3). Or, perhaps they just don’t care. Whatever the case, we have to realize that the world looks at those of us who call ourselves Christians as a reflection of Christ.
So I beg of you. Think before you speak. Pray before you act. And most of all listen to the words of Jesus and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s time for each and every Christian to hold up a mirror and take a long, hard look at the reflection. And then ask yourself—who do you see?