“You shouldn’t eat beef. It is forbidden by the ancient holy books, the Vedas. If you eat beef you will suffer eternal punishment.”
If my Hindu friend told me that, I would think it strange. Why? Because I’m not a Hindu, and don’t follow the teachings and beliefs of Hinduism. Since I am not Hindu, I do not believe that the commands of the Vedas apply to me.
The same is true for you. If you are not Hindu, you probably sense no need or desire to follow the teachings of the Hindu Vedas, and would probably be somewhat offended if a Hindu tried to force their beliefs and practices upon you.
But let’s turn this around.
Why do we Christians expect non-Christians to follow the teachings of the Bible?
Why should we expect people who are not Christians to think that Christian beliefs apply to them?
Why would they think that our holy book, the Bible, is anything more than a collection of ancient writings that has little or nothing to do with them?
Hopefully, you have some friends who are not Christians. If you do, most of those friends probably do not agree with all of the Christian beliefs and practices. Since they’re not Christians, they don’t think the teachings, beliefs, and moral values of Christianity apply to them.
Of course, they probably also see that many of the people who self-identify as Christians do not act as if the teachings of Jesus or the Bible apply to Christians either. As one of our friends said, “It’s something they like to spout off about. They want to tell me how to live my life, but they don’t follow their own rules. They say ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ I get it that they’re calling me a sinner. I also get it that they don’t love me. The only ones they’re fooling into believing that they love me is themselves.”
A well-respected businessman in the city in which we live, upon hearing someone in a group of about a dozen people say something that indicated we are Christians, immediately blurted out “You can’t be Christians. They hate us, but you love us.” Everyone else in the group, including an atheist, immediately agreed.
Do Christians Really Care?
I think even most people who are not Christians think that Christians do not love them or care about them. Why is that? Let’s allow some of our friends to speak to that issue:
“Jesus told them to love other people. Instead they judge other people. They think God appointed them to judge me because I don’t live by their rules. Why should I? It’s their rules, not mine.”
“Most church people don’t want to have anything to do with us. The ones who do are doing it to make them feel good about themselves. They don’t really care about us.”
“They all have an agenda. Do they think they get points with God for converting someone?”
“Religion is all about politics. They’re pushing their political agenda.”
“It’s a weird religion. They do stuff their religion says they shouldn’t do. Then they tell me not to do the same stuff because they feel guilty about what they’re doing. That seems to make them feel better about what they’re doing.”
“Everyone needs a crutch. Their religion is their crutch. Religion is not my crutch. I don’t need their religion.”
“They give a few dollars to some group that claims they’re fighting the evils of (fill in the blank with words like homelessness, drinking, drug addiction, prostitution, homosexuality) because they feel guilty, but they’re afraid to come near us. Or they don’t care enough to come near. Do you think we ever see them or their money? That money never makes it to us. Those people (the groups who receive the money) spend it on their own paychecks.”
My wife and I have heard every one of those sentiments and variations of them expressed dozens, sometimes hundreds, of times. Clearly, many people have a low opinion of Christians.
If you’ve read some of the other posts I’ve written in the past, you probably know that we have hundreds of homeless friends. We have hundreds of gay friends. We know hundreds of our neighbors and are friends with many of them. Which of these people have said the things above about Christians? All of them. People from every group: from the drunk lying on the sidewalk, the meth addict, and the prostitute, to the people I rarely mention, the college professor, the doctor, the attorney, the scientist and many others.
Accidentally Doing What Jesus Says
I’m a slow learner. I tried everything religion told me to do. I invited people to church. I headed church committees. I worked part time at a church. I witnessed. I told people what the Bible says. I cooked church dinners for thousands of people. I heard lots of whining. I heard lots of complaining. Few really cared what the Bible said. They did what they pleased, not just the “sinners”, but also the church people. Something was missing.
Almost by accident we started doing what Jesus said. Love God and neighbor. Who would have thought we should do that? Apparently no church we ever attended. It’s right there in the Bible, but we never heard anyone teach it. We never heard a sermon preached about it. We rarely saw anyone doing it. We rarely heard about anyone who really did it. Well, maybe Mother Theresa, but that was like her own personal thing or something.
“I’ve been living on the street for over ten years. I’ve watched all the people and groups who come and go down here. They all have an agenda. Usually it’s trying to get us to sign up for their religion, or they’re doing their annual do-a-good-deed to make them feel better about themselves. I’ve been watching the three of you for years, trying to figure out your agenda. You don’t have one do you? You’re the only people I’ve ever seen who don’t have an agenda.”
“You’re right,” I replied. “We have no agenda. We come because we love people.”
“I knew it!” she replied.
We’ve had many similar conversations. Once our friends know we care, that we love them, the relationship changes, in good ways. We talk about what is really going on in their lives and ours. We learn about each other and from each other. We’re frequently asked questions about why we do what we do, and questions about God and Jesus. Many people don’t care much for “Christians,” but are very curious about Jesus and people who act like Jesus.
I’m a slow learner. But I have finally learned that doing what Jesus said, loving others, is the way to live my life. I don’t need to tell people what they’re doing wrong, what my religion has to say about it, or quote Bible verses to them (most of them have already heard those verses many times), try to argue theology with them, avoid them or pretend to like them. (Everyone knows it’s pretending. Okay, my wife has a story about one person who fell for that. When she tells the story in any group, everyone thinks it’s funny.)
We love people and try to show it. If it’s genuine, most people figure it out almost immediately. We try to do what Jesus said. We try to love others with the love of Jesus, which points both us and them to Jesus.
The rest is up to God. Only God can convince them that if a person can love them in spite of anything and everything, then maybe God loves them too. Only God can help them realize “God does love me!”
So how then should we live? Well, it’s as Jesus said: “Love God with all your being” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s so simple, and yet so difficult for most of us to do.