“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practise the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterised by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds! ”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
How to be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #lovewins #graceismessy
When my daughter was around the age of two, she slammed her chubby hand on the kitchen table like some sort of fire and brimstone preacher as she yelled, “For da Bible tells me SO!”
“What did she just say?” I asked my wife. I could barely control my laughter.
“Tell Daddy again, Cara.”
“For da Bible tells me SOOO!” She stretched the last word into at least five syllables, her round face red with fury.
Why was she so angry? She had been refused another snack because it was only half an hour before supper. Sweet Caroline didn’t like my rationale and continued to wail as my wife and I tried our best to keep it together. “Where on Earth did she come up with this?!”
Lindsey laughed and sang the first few words of “Jesus Loves Me.” I smiled wide and said, “I’m quite familiar with the song, but why is this the phrase she chooses when she is pissed off?”
It was funny at the moment, but it reminded me of this truth: no one really cares what you believe.
As an ex-pastor, I promise you, no one cares how many Bible verses you’ve memorized. They won’t ask what Bible college you attended or how many times you’ve been to a marriage conference. They are less-than impressed by the fact that you’ve read Defending Your Faith or The Case for Christ. Your neighbors aren’t likely interested in your views on penal substitutionary atonement or anything else in the realm of stuffy theology.
When I was in Bible college, I was convinced that people genuinely cared about my theology. We regularly practiced defending our faith. Every theological hill was an acceptable one to die on. Rather than defending Jesus, we were trying to own God.
Before that, it was high school youth group. Every Friday night, we went to the Galleria and passed out Gospel tracts. The paper was printed and folded to look like a dollar bill. We would drop them on the floor or leave them on the bathroom counter, hoping someone would pick them up and be forever saved from eternal conscious torment. I wonder how many dudes lost their cool when they realized it wasn’t a real buck...
The most embarrassing part was getting into the “If you were to die tonight,” conversations with complete strangers. I’m still amazed at our boldness. We would approach total strangers - out and about with their family and friends on a Friday night at the mall - and blast them with our theological certainty. Our blessed assurance included the conviction that anyone who didn’t believe just like us was doomed to hell.
No question about it: in trying to be a better Christian, I did more harm than good.
No one really cares what you believe. Here's why. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins
The story might feel different if our Bible study and prayer time made us more loving, for sure. But a theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love.
If you want to be a better Christian, hear Jesus calling us to be humble, kind, generous, patient, loving, and gracious. Listen to the greatest commandment: to love God, self, and neighbor. Jesus is begging us to be better examples of the faith we so boldly proclaim by understanding that there’s much more to belief than what most of us hear preached on a Sunday morning. Rather than using the Bible to justify our judgment and exclusion, Jesus is calling us to engage the world around us with Love.
When we talk about becoming a better Christian, we’re talking about the kind of human you are. Are you going to be the kind of person who binds and heals the wounds of others? Or are you going to drive the knife deeper? Will you give a glass of water to someone dying of thirst? Or will you pour the cement of your concrete theology down their throat?
The world is full of hurting people. And sadly, hurting people have bet against church folks. They don’t give a damn about the rightness of our theology or the firm foundation of our faith. They’re just looking for respect. For common decency. For eye contact. For a hug. For someone crazy enough to admit they don’t have it all figured out. For a hot cup of coffee or a cold beer and some honest conversation. For safety and love and belonging and a place to rest their tired feet and weary souls.
How do you make people feel? When you walk into a room, do you shift the energy with your loving kindness? Or do you suck the air right out of the crowd with your judgment? You can spend every waking moment of your life, clinging to the Bible, exegeting Scripture, debating every nuance of theology, and policing the thoughts and actions of those around you, or you can give your life away, embracing those in need.
A theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love. via @iamsteveaustin #graceismessy #lovewins #exvangelical
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4:20
So, you want to be a better Christian? Stop expecting people to fit your mold, agree with your politics, and live up to your societal expectations. The world is so much bigger than your local church and your precious pastor. People are hungry for joy and freedom, but they’ll never find it through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus.
In a society permeated by fear, shame, and guilt, the way to be a better Christian is to practice more love, vulnerability, and forgiveness. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us, understanding that we are all connected. We are all the same. We are entirely woven together in a tapestry of diversity, and the thread that holds us all together is a universal desire for safety, love, and belonging.
The only thing people really care about is the way you treat them. If you want to be a better Christian, understand that you prove your faith by the depth of your love.
People will never find joy and freedom through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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Free Course: How to Heal Your Hurts
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Peace, Be Still: Finding Hope in the Midst of Anxiety
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Catching Your Breath: Chapter 1