When I was young my dad left my mom, we had some hard times through all that until my mom married a great guy. We went to church pretty much every Sunday; I went to a Lutheran elementary school with my brother, until my mom ran out of enough money to send us. In the seventh grade my brother got a girlfriend who went to a Baptist Church and he started going to the Youth group. When they broke up he stopped going but I stayed. There I learned a lot and grew in faith and knowledge. I became the leader of the Christian club at my junior high school and I thought I was the shizznat. During this time I watched my brother lose interest. Now, my brother was a lot smarter than I was, he still is. He questioned all the things I bought into so blindly. And every answer he was given was inadequate. I was often the one giving these answers, most of the time without being asked.
I remember once we got into a fight, it was the worst fight I remember us having. No one was home. We broke It off somehow and I remember sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch saying “I want you to go to heaven and if you live like this you won’t” as if I was the authority on eternal destination. How stupid, how damaging, how wrong was the message I was sending. He didn’t care about heaven, he was looking for something now, here, and my message was ‘I don’t care about your issues; I don’t care about you… I get to go to heaven and you don’t.’ I grew up watching my brother.
As I continued on into high school I was once again “the leader.” I was in charge of a club called “first priority” and was heavily involved in “Fellowship of Christian Athletes.” We used to do things like “outreach day” where we’d just send out the club to sell Jesus, excuse my sarcasm. We’d go out and try to talk to people we’d never even met about Jesus, hardly the conversation they wanted to have with a total stranger. Usually the conversation would set aim on convincing them they were a “sinner” and then telling them that Jesus could get them into heaven anyway. It was never our concern to listen, never our concern to actually be friends we just wanted to mark it off of our spiritual to do list. It was my idea to do these kinds of things.
My brother started hanging out with a group of punk rockers. He’d always try to explain to me what it was about. He had found a movement, he wanted to change the world and so did these guys. He’d explain to me his ideas and the messages of the songs he was listening to. I brushed him off, usually with a sarcastic comment about how they were evil or how they were not Christians. I wouldn’t even listen to him. I ignored every message contained in his music because it was “secular.” Now, there was a huge problem I didn’t see, it wasn’t that he was listening to “secular” punk rock, it wasn’t that he’d found a movement to change the world. The problem was that neither he nor I saw that following Jesus was a movement. To my brother it was a religion and to me it was the way to heaven. I ignored my brother.
In my junior year of high school my girlfriend Ashley and I went to the Youth Leadership Institute TEAM Conference. My eyes opened wide. I learned amazing new truths about God. I learned that following Jesus was about something so much larger than the heaven-when-I-die stuff I thought it was. After the three years I’ve been involved in YLI it’s now starting to sink in. I started thinking about the messages I was sending to people about why they should be a Christian. I, like most of you, have many stories of distortion of the gospel. What may be different is I was most often the one sending those messages. I’ve watched my brother receive the messages I’ve sent and now realize the correct answer is not always the right answer. My brother, like most people in the world want the world to change. The world, like us wants peace, harmony, equality, compassion, love. The world, like us, wants hunger, poverty, oppression of all kinds to end. The world, like us, wants all the scars and burdens they carry to be lifted. Do you think Jesus might want that too? Do you think maybe Jesus actually cares what happens to us now and not just when we die someday? My brother was sent the message that he needed to be like his brother, like the other Christians he saw, to be a Christian. He, like me now, didn’t want anything to do with that empty message. He wanted a lot more than just some promise for when you die, he wanted what I can see now, more.
My brother recently moved out of our house and with some friends. We get along better now than ever, I’ve learned to listen and learn from him. In many ways my brother has shaped my ministry. He hasn’t really decided to be a Christian and I’m not in a hurry to make him, he’ll figure it out. Our conversations have been amazing even though a lot of them are about Reincarnation or some singer’s tattoos.
Because of where I’ve been and come from I have decided to follow Christ not just for “fire insurance” but because His way is the best way to live. Now I’ll ask, do the messages you send say that? Do your messages say that God loves everyone exactly how they are? Do you messages say that God loves the world? Do your messages say that God wants something to do with the world? Are your messages about love, wholeness, healing, compassion, concern? Do you listen to people and actually care what they’re saying? Do you love people exactly how they are? Do you treat people like people, or are they your project? Do you believe that god forgives everyone? Do you forgive everyone? Do you really believe that following Jesus is the best possible way to live?
I hope that someday Church will be a little more like God; creative, loving, accepting, angry when people are mistreated, compassionate, and passionate.