Oct 31, 2009
From the earliest days of my childhood I have memories of my five brothers and sisters and me piled in the back of our station wagon in the dead of summer, driving to church. We were coached on how to behave and how not to behave. All lessons in church etiquette had been drilled into our heads about a thousand times. Our church training pretty much consisted of, “Sit there and shut up, don’t fidget, don’t giggle, stay awake, look interested, and leave your brother alone.” Being quiet in church was everything. If parents could show the world that they had mastered the art of keeping their children quiet during the sermon, they would be considered leading examples in the parent world.
I think the mentality of being on your best behavior has bled its way into the deepest parts of our religion. For most of my Christian life, I beat myself to death trying to be a good example for God. I micro managed my actions and reactions to people and situations because I was terrified of inadvertently causing someone to not get the message of the Gospel. I was taught that I was to be a living example of that message and until I was living it successfully; it would not catch the attention of anyone. Its validity would be drained of its power if it was not reflected in my life at all times.
When I got to the point where I realized that my mistakes outnumbered my successes, I found myself faking it for the benefit of the message. It felt wrong, but I rationalized that it was okay because at least I’ll be shedding a good light on the message when people see the smile on my face and the love in my eyes. In a very short time, I had learned to act a certain way and portray what needed to be portrayed in order to convince people this message was powerful and life changing. All the while I internally beat myself up because I was preaching a message and not being a good example of it at the same time. I spent more time apologizing to God for not being an authentic representative of Him than I did actually talking with Him.
Finally, I came to a point in my life where I just stopped everything and asked God why He would pick me to spread this truth when He knew ahead of time that I was the worst possible representative of it. I actually quit trying to be on my best behavior. I gave up. I made the conscious decision to just focus on the message and deliver it like I was told. In spite of all the encouragement from others to monitor my behavior in an effort to prove the message, I just delivered it the best I could and left well enough alone.
Most of us have been taught that our actions or inactions are what draw people to Christ. We’ve tried our best not to cuss at work when we get frustrated because we don’t want to “blow our witness” to the others. We decline invitations to meet up with friends at happy hour for drinks, thinking to ourselves that some kind of Gospel power will penetrate their hearts when they notice that we don’t drink. If we take a stand for what is right while all our unsaved friends are watching, they will secretly think to themselves, “I want what he or she has” and they’ll be drawn to Christ.
My opinion of this today is that it’s nothing but arrogant hogwash.
I always hesitate to discuss this because inevitably there will be someone who will hear the exact opposite of what I’m trying to say. It’s like when I say that drinking alcohol is not a sin. It’s amazing how many people hear, “God doesn’t mind if you get smashed.” The religious-minded person is sure to hear only what their heart desires.
My question is this: does our behavior really add to or take away from the message oftruth? Does our behavior make receiving the message of truth more or less difficult for people? Is the truth of the message compromised if we don’t adequately represent it? Do we “win people to Jesus” by our abstinence from sin? Is our “witness” really a changed life or modified and moral behavior? Is that what compels people to swallow this message?
If you really consider the mentality that most of us have been raised in, it is amazingly arrogant. To even think that our behavior adds to or subtracts from the message is downright silly. At the very least it shows a personal lack of understanding and revelation of the message itself. It reminds me of the Christians who feel it is their job to guard the truth and stand up for the Bible. If they knew the truth and had experienced it on any level, they would see how absurd such a thought is. It’s like asking a hamster to guard a lion. It doesn’t need guarding. It stands on its own. To think that we add to its authenticity one little bit by our actions is ridiculous.
I always found it interesting how God would choose the worse possible representative to deliver His messages. He did this all throughout the Bible. God never seemed to worry about how the messenger behaved, as long as he delivered the message. Many times it was as if God had hand picked a messenger that would deliver the message in a way that people would be least likely to receive it. It was as if God were saying, “If there is anything that can stand in your way from you receiving truth, I will stand it there.” God’s choice in messengers seemed to suggest that He was testing the hearer of the message to make absolutely sure the message was in their heart and not just something they agreed to out of peer pressure or ignorance. God put "crazy" between the people and the truth to make absolutley certain that people wanted the message more then they did anything else.
God had some of His prophets acting like lunatics on a regular basis. They were offensive to people around them almost every time they delivered a message. Some of them actually hated the people they were delivering the message to and they didn’t want them to receive it. Jonah was angry when the Ninevites took heed and repented because he wanted God to kill them all. Even John the Baptist was a crazy man who lived in the wilderness. He was a person that people would be least likely to listen to. How ironic that God would choose a homeless, smelly, screaming guy from the desert to prepare the way of the Lord.
I am not talking about the tone in which the message is delivered. The tone IS the message. I’m talking about the behavior or the “sin record” of the one delivering the message.
I have come to the conclusion that the message I preach can stand quite well on its own. Those who recognize it would have recognized it if I had delivered it in a foreign language while high on L.S.D. I don’t know of one place in the Bible where God was at all concerned with the speaking ability or communication skills of the messenger. He never looked for men or women who were sinless or who had a good reputation in the community. Today we act like our life must reflect the message, and if it doesn’t do so in every way, we will have negated the truth of the message. That responsibility is more than any human being can bear.
I sometimes feel that because of our modern day manipulative view of “messenger etiquette” we have found a way to deliver the message in such a soothing and shrewd manner that anyone would be enticed. Like a dog whistle, we’ve given it a pitch that all humanity is drawn to, so that the masses can receive it. It has become a science of psychology that entices the carnal senses of the listener. Unfortunately, they aren’t really receiving the message. They just fell victim to an expert delivery by a brilliantly trained closer. Their stay will only last as long as the sweetness of the delivery lasts. The moment the messenger fails or acts human, these people lose their faith and disappear.
Pastors spend their every waking hour tending to a flock of sheep who were enticed by the neatly trimmed presentation, the flawless spiritual temperament, and the soothing sound of the messenger's voice, but never recognized the voice of the message itself. Our modern day mass market mindset relies on the ability of the messenger, rather then the message itself. It’s not the voice of the message they hear; it’s the voice of the messenger. It’s not Christ they see; it’s an actor playing a role. In the end we have a generation of Christians who aren’t even sure what the message of the gospel is.
This is precisely why people today judge the truth of a message by the person delivering it. If the messenger sins or misbehaves in any way, people get nervous and uneasy. They no longer know what to believe. Everything rests on the shoulders of their pastor. He or she must be perfect or else everything they say will be discarded and burned. This is a very sad picture of where many of us are today. Many well-meaning people decide to keep their mouths closed because they don’t feel they are worthy to deliver the message of God.They are waiting for a time in their life when they sin less and love more.
The message that we believe in is NOT an “IT.” The message is a HIM. If this is true, it stands to reason that nothing we do in our lives will make Him any more or less powerful. He IS the truth. He is the truth if Billy Graham tells you about Him or if Charles Manson tells you about Him. When we take it upon ourselves to prove any part of the message to the world we are denying its truth and authenticity from the get-go. The notion that we have to prove any of this is pure faithlessness.
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