You Are the Only Bible Some People Will Ever Read
A while back I was making a delivery for work and saw a church sign that said, "You are the only Bible some people will ever read," and I thought about that for some time afterward. A lot of people judge Christianity and Jesus on the actions of Christians, and lets face it, they are not often judging it on our best actions but by our worst. We can’t determine what people judge us on, but we can choose to give them more good than bad examples.
My younger sister has some pretty fluid views on God and religion, many of which are contradictory to other views she holds, she never goes to church and she often discounts the Bible as made up and sexist, among other unflattering things. My sister's husband is fresh out of Mormonism, and while he now believes there is no God, he defends all of the non-Christian views of the Mormon Church and thinks all religion is false, but that if any were true it would be Mormonism. Despite the fact that my brother in-law looks at everything else with an open mind, he still refuses to look at Mormonism critically. Sometimes it is almost as if my brother in-law is saying that he believes the Mormon Church is true even though there is no God and could not possibly be a God.
The only time anyone in my Sister's family goes to church or has any healthy exposure to God or religion is when my mother or I visit them or when they visit me or my mother. My two nieces have come to the belief that there probably isn't a God, and if there is it probably doesn't matter. I have to bribe my nieces to go to church with me, and even then they complain incessantly.
My hope and prayer for my nieces is that they will make friends with some Christian kids who will invite them to church; if it is their friends asking then to go instead of their “boring uncle” they are more likely to go, and more likely to get something positive out of it when they go. It is also a possibility that if the girls go to church and start liking it than they may convince their parents to go along with them.
My sister and her daughters visited me in Missouri for several weeks and then when I got my vacation time at work I drove them back to Pennsylvania and visited with them for a few days before I drove home. During the entire time I was with my nieces I never got a good night rest because they are incredibly noisy when they should be sleeping, so I would get a bit grouchy due to the lack of sleep and would occasionally snap at them. Don’t judge, if you have ever spent much time around children you have been there.
One day I wanted to go down town Pittsburg so I could take photos of the city and my sister had my brother in-law driving around looking for street parking, downtown, on a Friday evening. My brother in-law was getting frustrated and asked my sister to stop making him look for unicorns when we could just park in a garage. All my nieces ever want to do is watch the television or play Minecraft, and they absolutely despise any physical activities such as walking and act like they are being forced to do slave labor or something, so the entire time they kept whining and saying, "Why can't we just go home?"
The entire time I was visiting my nieces acted like they were put out or inconvenienced by having me there and were in a hurry for me to go home, and I was frankly a bit hurt by it, especially since I only see them once a year or so and as soon as I got there they were in a hurry for me to go home. I was riding in the back seat with my nieces, hearing nothing from them but complaints and how badly they wanted to go home instead of doing anything with me. One of my nieces even suggested that they just drop me off downtown by myself and I could ride the bus back to their house when I when I was finished, and the other asked why I couldn't just go home to Missouri so and I turned to them and yelled, "Why can't you just shut your ( insert inappropriate word here) mouths?"
I think my nieces were completely shocked because it was at least five minutes before either of them said another word, and for my nieces that is a long time, I mean, a really long time. I would have thought I would have enjoyed the temporary peace and quiet, but I didn’t I just felt bad for yelling at my nieces. Even after apologizing for yelling at them, I still felt bad about it.
I am not the most patient person in the world when it comes to children, and while I went out of my way to do things for my nieces to try to get them to enjoy my visit, they will likely not remember any of the things that I did for them, just that I yelled at them. That is typically the way it works. No one notices when you help the old lady cross the street or when you shovel your neighbors driveway or when you pick up someone else’s trash on your way into the store, but when you yell at a stranger for some perceived offense, accidentally cut in line in a store or when you make any other small misstep someone always notices and often judges the entirety of your personality on that one, less than stellar, moment.
I do my best to be a good Christian, with varying levels of success, but It pains me to think that I may be what my nieces judge Christianity by, and they are not judging it on the kind and caring things I did for them or for their parents, but on the times when I was tired and yelled at then to get to bed so I could sleep and told them they should not be up past midnight in the first place, or when I was impatient with them, or when I snapped at them for backseat driving. I somehow don’t think people who don’t know how to drive should have an input on driving.
I know people that all they seam to know about the New Testament is that Jesus cursed a fig tree for not having figs and they seam to know nothing about all of the times Jesus healed the sick, made the lame to walk and caused the blind to see, raised the dead or even when he offered his own life in ransom for my life and for their life.
When non-Christians are asked to describe a Christian the terms “self righteous,” “judgmental,” and “hypocritical” are typically included. When people who are not Christian think of Christians they often think of the Westborough Baptist or other similar groups who picket the funerals of fallen American soldiers, celebrities and other people while holding signs that read, “Pray for more dead soldiers.” A lot of non-Christians think that all Christians are mean, hateful, arrogant, uneducated, sexist, racist and whole host of other things. I know many atheist who absolutely adore Mr. Rogers and the life he lived, but they fail to realize that the reason he lived his life the way in which he did was because of his deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ, and they never mention or acknowledge the fact that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
Being Christian does not mean that we are perfect, it only means that we have accepted the love, grace and forgiveness of a perfect God and strive to live life in a manner pleasing to God. To be Christian we must be born again, which means we truly accept Jesus and that changes us into a new person and the old person is dead. If we say that we are Christians but live like the world, or rather, if we say we believe in Jesus but live like we don’t than we are not truly Christian and are not followers of Christ. If we willingly live a life contrary to what Jesus taught than we are not his followers, we just think he was kind of a cool dude with some good sayings. Fake Christians are the people who scare people away from Christianity.
Of course, even the true Christians, and even the most humble and the most devout among them fall short of God’s glory, by a significant margin, and some people consider those failings to be what Christianity is about rather than the successes. I pray daily for help to live my life in such a manner as to make people want to know Jesus because they know me. I pray that when I fall short and do something that is not as Christ like as I would like to be that people would not take it as a reflection upon Jesus or the Bible. After all, I am a follower of Jesus, not Jesus himself, not even an apprentice.
Jesus spoke specifically and deliberately about causing people to not believe in him. “Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves” (Luke 17:1-3). When Jesus speaks of little ones, many people think he was speaking of children, but he was speaking more specifically about those who are immature in the faith, or “baby Christians” in Christianese.
A millstone is a heavy stone that was used to grind wheat or other grains into flour and some weighed as much as 3/4 of a ton. Imagine having a chain around your neck tied to one of those stones and then having the stone dropped into the water. I guess that was the Jewish equivalent of taking a swim with cement shoes. At any rate, to be tied to a stone and then cast into the sea would be a horrific thing to happen, and Jesus said that would be preferable to what would happen to a person for causing people to stumble in regards to the faith.
During the period in my life when I lost my faith and was drifting aimlessly through this sea we call life, desperately trying to make sense of it all, I encountered a pastor who thought my very existence was an affront to everything he held sacred. Because I don’t like to swear or say profane things, I will have to substitute some words or phrases so that the meaning of his angry verbal assault on me comes through clearly without being profane. The cleaned up version of what he said to me is, “If I could do it without going to jail, I would rip off your head and feed it to my dogs and laugh while they were tearing it to shreds, and then I would defecate down your neck hole.”
I can say with a great deal of certainty that what this pastor said was the absolute worst thing I have ever heard a person who claimed to be Christian say. I can also say with absolute certainty that nothing this vile and angry hypocrite said to me was even remotely Christian, and none of it made me want to be Christian. If a Christian is indistinguishable from the world than they are of the world and not Christian at all! I did not see a reason to try to believe if believing made people act that way.
All of you who are regular listeners/readers know that I was a bus driver for most of my adult life. One time I was fueling a tour bus in Oklahoma City and a Greyhound driver manager happened to be there and came to talk to me and he offered me a job driving a Greyhound bus. After the man told me what the job would entail, how much it paid and what benefits were offered I said, “So, you want me to work harder for less pay and decreased benefits so that I can go from doing something I like to something I hate?”
As a tour bus driver I rarely had bad passengers and the trips were, more often than not, enjoyable. I also knew exactly how it would be driving a Greyhound bus because they had a bus down and payed the company I worked for to cover their route from Kansas City, Mo to Texarkana, Arkansas for a few day, and I was the “lucky” driver who got picked for the assignment. The people smelled, were unruly, had the most vile and perverse speech, and staying on time was also a great source of stress. Anyone who knows what it is like to drive tours verses a line run would immediately agree with me that it would have been a poor decision on my part to switch jobs.
With what Christianity was portrayed as to me, I thought it was a bad idea to try and live it just as I thought it would be a bad idea to switch jobs. I was yearning for more to life than what I had, though I was not sure what I was missing as, up to that point, I had never had a positive experience with church or Christianity. I had, however, had positive experiences with Christians, though I did not equate the experience to being positive as a direct result of their being Christian.
Regular listeners to this podcast know that my father was a Baptist minister and one of the worst examples of Christianity that one could ever find, though he still was not as bad as that pastor I met in Des Moines, Iowa, the pastor who wanted to feed my head to his dogs while desecrating my headless corpse. I honestly can’t fathom how that man could in good conscious consider himself a Christian, and even less so, how he could consider himself an adequate teacher or leader of Christianity. I wonder how many people he drove away from Christianity and how many more he mislead to a believe that is altogether unchristian.
Through driving a tour bus though I encountered a lot of positive examples of Christianity but it took me a while to determine if they were sincere or just putting on a facade for the world to see. Through the people I hauled I saw that Christianity can change lives and that a belief in Jesus gives hope even when the situation appears hopeless, and that many followers of Christ are striving to live a life in a manner that would please him, and striving to treat others with love and respect as a direct result of their belief in Jesus. That was a stark contrast to what I had seen before. I could get behind this type of Christianity, the type of Christianity that was actually taught by Jesus Christ the Son of God and God in the flesh.
I have always spent a lot of time of Youtube, and while most if it could be rightly summed up as wasted time, some of it was educational and wholesome. One day, after I had hauled a group of Christians that made me want to know Jesus because I knew them, because of their example, I typed into the search window, “how to give your heart to God,” and one of the first videos that I watched was “The Mercy Tree” by Lacy Sturm, the former lead singer of Flyleaf.
After leaving Flyleaf Lacy and her husband started to work with the Billy Graham ministry and the video was produced by the Billy Graham ministry. After I watched the video of the Mercy tree I watched the next video that auto played, which was Lacy’s conversion story, also produced buy the Billy Graham ministry. Lacy used to be an atheist and was saved from suicide as a teen by the realization that not only does God exist but that He loves her intensely and unconditionally. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when I watched the video.
Though they are still full of human imperfections and fail often, any person who lives intentionally for the glory of God will lead people to Christ by their example. Paul the apostle said, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1Corinthians 10: 31-33).
When we do all things for the glory of God we are not caught up in our own vain ambitions and don’t view life as a competition with all other people being our opponents, we view others as precious in the sight of God and it is our desire that they are saved. When we do all things for the glory of God we work in a manner that is pleasing to God and we would not dream of cheating our employer, employees or customers. When we do all things to the glory of God it changes our entire perspective on life, and it changes other people’s perspective on us and the God we serve.
I am often reminded of a story I heard, though I have been unable to find out who authored it. A traveler encounters three man working on making a brick structure and asked the first man what he was doing and the man answered gruffly, “I am laying bricks.”
The traveler asked the second man the same question and the man responded, “I am earning two shillings per day.”
The traveler then asked the third man what he was doing and the man stood and said with pride, “I am making a house of for the Lord!”
I can’t speak for everyone, but when I was the proverbial prodigal son, when I met people who went to church out of obligation and obviously did not enjoy it, I was not enticed to go to church. But, when I met people who loved going to church and went gladly and with an attitude joy and enthusiasm instead of dread and annoyance I had to wonder what they found there and, perhaps, if I went I would find the same thing. The often quoted saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” is true.
I know it is a little on the cheesy side, and entirely predictable, but I love the movie Christian Mingle because, while it us a romance, it is more about the protagonist, Gwyneth, finding God and changing her life for the better. In the film Gwyneth pretends to be Christian so she can find a good man, but when it is found out that she is faking it her new boyfriend, Paul, breaks up with her. After getting dumped, Gwyneth then gets serious about the things she was pretending to to believe and finds God for real and decided to follow Jesus, even if she never finds the man of her dreams. Spoiler alert, at a later date Gwyneth and Paul get back together, but now their relationship is based on truth and in a shared love for God instead of falsehoods and deception.
When Gwyneth was faking it she hurt people and they did not trust her, but once she was converted she genuinely cared for those people she only pretended to care about before and helped to be a positive change in their life as well. Even though most everyone knew Gwyneth was a fraud, some of Paul’s family, especially his father, was extremely loving and accepting of her and that is part of what made her want to be a real Christian instead of only pretending to be one.
Paul said, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” (Colossians 4: 5-6).
It is important to be inviting, loving, caring, understanding and to try not to offend people, but one thing we should not do, however, in our attempts to be inoffensive and welcoming to others is to water down or compromise the word of God in an attempt to appear more like the people we are trying to save. Why would a person on a life raft jump off the raft into the frigid water when they could instead extend a hand to the person in the water? Would it make sense for a doctor to make himself or herself to look ill or injured before helping ill or injured people? Would it be wise for a councilor treating an addiction to downplay the seriousness of the addiction as to not offend the addict?
Compromising on the word of God does not help us save others, it just serves to loose ourselves. A gospel contrary to what is taught in the Bible does not have the power to save and is therefore worthless. If the church is indistinguishable from the world than there is no point to it and John the Evangelist said, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” (1 John 2:15).
Yelling and screaming at people and telling them they will burn in hell for their sins is unlikely to bring about repentance, but so is teaching that the sin in question is not a sin or downplaying its seriousness. There are some churches today that bend the word of God to include lifestyles and activities that are not in harmony with the gospel, and in order to make people feel comfortable and accepted, they think they have to accept the sin or sins as a fundamental part of that person’s identity and to hate the sin is to hate the sinner. We should abhor sin in all its forms, especially if we are the one committing the sin, but we should love the sinner the way in which our father in heaven loves us. We should be willing to help the sinner free himself or herself from the grasp of sin without judgement, without minimizing the seriousness of the sin and with an over abundance of love.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.”
I think a lot of the world’s problems are created by people having an “us against them” attitude, but we are all fighting the same battle. We may think we are fighting different battles, but the truth of the situation is every person who has ever been born onto this earth and everyone who will ever be born on this earth is taking part of the battle between God and the devil, and which side they choose is of the utmost importance as it determines where and how they are to spend eternity. Imagine how much better the world would be instead of thinking of other people as the problem or the enemy we were to look at them as precious souls who are lost and hurting and just want to be loved, if we were to treat them with the same love and respect that we desperately want and need.
The Bible tells us that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8), so whenever a stranger meets a Christian he or she should feel welcome and loved, and especially when they come to a church service or activity. If we say that we know God but hate another person because he or she is a different color, a different creed, a different race, a different nationality, of a different political party or a of different social economic status, or for any other reason, than we are deceiving ourselves. The Bible also says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
In case there are any people listening or reading who would seek to justify their hatred of another person based on whether or not the person or persons they are hating are considered a neighbor, consider the story Jesus told of the good Samaritan and his sermon on the mount. No, Jesus does not just want us to love those who love us or those who can do something for us, he wants us to love everyone, especially the ones who hate us and those who can’t or won’t do anything for us.
Mother Theresa famously said:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.
For any human to hold another person to an impossible standard is ridiculous and it doesn’t matter if you have committed one sins or a million sins; all sin will keep a person from heaven unless they repent and accept the grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers free for the asking. Imagine sin as a poison that even the most minute or minuscule amount will cause a quick and painful death, and one person has a drop of the poison in their cup and the other person’s drink is half poison, both people are just as dead and the amount of the poison did not matter. The end result was the same for both people, though one might have thought himself or herself superior to the other for having less poison.
Complete forgiveness for all sin requires a price that no man or woman could ever pay, but Jesus gladly paid it for all, for you and for me, and even for that person you hate or the person I can’t forgive. I may think your sins are worse than mine, and you might think the guy in the next cubicle has sinned worse than you have, but the hard truth is we all need Jesus and none of us are clean before God without Jesus. Comparing our sins to another person’s is like arguing over whether the soiled toilet paper or the toilet it is thrown into it is dirtier. Saying our sin is less than another person’s sin is like saying we are better off to die in a house fire than a forest fire because the fire is smaller. In both cases we would die a horrific and painful death, so what does it matter the size or the cause of the fire?
If you know anyone who does not know Christ than it is of the utmost importance that you arrange a meeting in a loving and nonjudgmental way. You can’t force a person to accept Jesus, but they are more likely to accept Jesus if they are introduced to him than if they are not.
If you don’t know Jesus or if you don’t know you are saved would you please pray right now and ask Jesus to forgive you your sins and commit to follow him? Wherever you are right now, reading this in your office, listening to this in your car while stuck in traffic, or anywhere else, if you are willing to follow Jesus and accept the peace and forgiveness that only he can offer, lift up your hand and say, “God, I know I am a sinner and I need your help. I know that your son Jesus died on the cross that I may be forgiven and I want that forgiveness. I commit my life to you and ask that you would forgive me of my sins and guide my life, in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, Amen. “
The reason, by the way, that I suggest lifting your hand when you pray this is that when you do a physical action it makes it all the more real for you. Jesus is real and he wants you to know him in a real and personal way.
If you have any questions about the God or salvation, please don’t hesitate to contact me, contact a local church, ask a friend, or even ask the all-knowing Google. One caution though, if you choose to Google, make sure you get your answers from a reputable Christian organization such as the Billy Graham ministry and not a charlatan organization that does not truly believe the power of the Bible such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, AKA Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
If a person walks into church that does not look like us, act like us, dress like us, or even smell like us, we should rejoice and treat them like a valued guest rather than like an unwelcome outsider. That first time is church will, more often than not, be the deciding factor on whether they ever come back or not, so if we blow it by treating them other than how the savior would than we have driven off a soul that was seeking repentance.
I pray for you and your struggles and doubts and for those you love. I pray that the Lord will guide you and bless you. You are loved.
King , Martin Luther jr. “Martin Luther King, Jr. on Loving Your Enemies . “ OnFaith . 28 Jul . 2018 <https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2015/01/19/martin-luther-king-jr-on-loving-your-enemies/35907> .
Mother Teresa . goodreads . 29 Jul . 2018 <https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1139478-people-are-often-unreasonable-irrational-and-self-centered-forgive-them-anyway> .
New International Version Bible . Grand Rapids : Zondervan , 2011 .