When I was young, I grew up in a church environment that included “Children’s Church” during the main service. Most of the time I didn’t want to go, instead I wanted to stay with my parents and go to “Big Church”. I didn’t really understand why I had to go to that little classroom while my parents got to worship in the sanctuary.
I remember one Sunday in children’s church quite vividly. The lesson that Sunday was on the need for salvation. In fact, the main message I got was that hell is awful and scary, and that if you don’t pray to let Jesus into your heart you will go there for eternity. That was pretty much the extent of it. No mention of grace, no mention of God’s love – just “repent or you will wind up in hell.”
As I have already wrote about I was a very anxious child. So, this discussion on Sunday scared me absolutely to death and caused me to really start worrying. It didn’t help that most of the time in children’s church the teachers spent the whole time yelling at us and I felt like they didn’t even like kids. So, I was already scared of them, and now I get this message that my soul may be eternally punished. Yikes.
Note: I am not writing this to attack those ladies. Many times they were quite sweet, and honestly I think they believed that this was the correct way to teach and to share the Gospel. I don’t blame them – I think this has been a problem in the Church for a long time.
So, with this take-home message, I begin to pray fervently. Every night. Several times a night. I was so worried that anything I had done during the day might have made the initial prayers null and void. Never mind the fact that I had always believed in God and felt that I had always known Christ. Never mind the fact that I had been baptized as an infant (although, according to many churches I have visited that “doesn’t count”, because apparently baptism is about head knowledge instead of heart knowledge or God’s love and power. I guess even mysteries have to be explained.) Never mind the fact that I had already prayed the “salvation prayer” once. I felt compelled to do it over and over again. I was so afraid of going to Hell, that my entire focus became trying to avoid it. I prayed for Him to come into my heart every night for about a month.
I don’t remember exactly why I stopped, but eventually I guess I figured that it was “good enough.” Here’s the problem, though – Is being good enough what it’s all about?
I was much older before I was taught about the concept of grace, which is scary when you think about the fact that I grew up in a Christian home. Why are we so focused on what’s right and wrong, and not worried about the heart? Why can’t we show love instead of judgement?
I remember the first time I visited my current church. Something that really struck me was a prayer that the priest prayed at the end of service. He mentioned that God loves me and that He is not mad at me. “God’s not mad at me?” I thought. “Isn’t that how this works?” I wanted to cry with joy. God is not mad at me. God loves me.
I do realize that in order to fully understand God’s sacrifice of His son, we need to understand that the world is fallen and that sin exists. I believe those things, but I also believe that the point is not how sinful we are but how loving He is.
I spent a good deal of my younger years feeling insecure in my faith. I knew grace existed, but it seemed like works were pushed far more than that grace. I had to always do the right thing, and the right thing was sometimes hard to parse out. Sometimes I even got conflicting information from people in the church about what was right or wrong. It made my head spin. For a long time, though I was trying to follow Christ, I was pretty fed up with the Church as a whole.
Take note – I felt judged as a Christian. I was already part of the club. So, this really makes me think hard about the way we as Christians interact with non believers.
We think in order to spread the Gospel (you know, the Good News) we should scare people into it by threatening hell and judgement. How are we supposed to win people to Christ by trying to scare them with Hell, a concept they probably don’t even believe in to begin with?
I’ll give a very basic example. You have this awesome friend. This friend is the best friend you have ever had, or possibly will ever have. You have another friend, say a coworker, who you would just love to introduce to your best friend. So, you walk up to her to convince her to meet your friend. How would you do it? Would you say “My best friend is the best, and you can’t even live without knowing him. In fact, if you don’t come with me to meet him, you are going to die. So, you better come meet him now. I mean, you don’t want to drop dead, do you? Really, it makes him mad when people don’t want to meet him. He’ll have you killed as punishment. So, you better come with me.”
When I write it out that way, it actually almost sounds creepy. The way you really introduce a friend to someone is by talking about how much fun you have, or the gifts he has given you. You talk about how much you love him. You extend the invitation for your coworker to meet this friend, but you aren’t forceful, You give off a joyful vibe so that they will want what you have in that relationship. Well, the same is true when sharing Christ.
I really hope that I am known for spreading God’s love and His Word. It isn’t about a Get Out Of Hell Free card. It’s about having a relationship with our Creator, and following Him down a path of beauty.
My God I love Thee: not because
I hope for Heaven thereby;
Nor yet because if I love not,
I must forever die.
But, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear
And manifold disgrace;
And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
E’en death itself, and all for me,
Who was Thine enemy.
And so, O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the hope of gaining Heaven,
Nor of escaping Hell;
Not with the hope of winning aught,
Nor gaining a reward;
But as Thyself has loved me,
O, ever loving Lord.