Ever found yourself stumbling about Christianity, not being quite sure footed on a number of things? Garret Rapp is just the person for you. He recounts how he went from despising Christianity as a Christian, to embracing it. These are the things we learned:
1 Pastors can make or break their members
Garrett Rapp of the band, The Color Morale, once shared with me about the day he walked into youth group and never returned when he was asked to burn his “secular” albums.
I remember that day too.
My friend Derek and I were at youth group when the pastor asked us to break or burn our favourite CDs. Derek attended once or twice more, but the question always plagued us, “Did you burn your Metallica album?” And so he ended up leaving too.
I finally left the church when I learned of my pastor’s “indiscretions.” Those indiscretions included: Swinging. Banging his secretary. Embezzling donations. Bigger homes. Swag cars. Oh, and drugs.
I didn’t want to believe it at first, but what finally caused the mental break was when I stopped for gas and noticed a young, homeless man asking for money. People ignored him, busy in the shuffle of their day-to-day lives, and I began to wonder how my pastor would respond? Maybe he would flash that infectious grin, offer a prayer, and then feel godly as he walked away in his snazzy suit and continued to nail his secretary on a pile of cash he stole from the church.
It would be almost a decade before I stepped foot in a church again out of my own willingness.
2. Hypocrisy is a dead end
But first I had to learn to play the “game.” And the game was this: Intellectually I identified as “Christian.” Emotionally, I thought it was a crock of shit. So I kept up the appearances of Christianity to please those around me so I wouldn’t get the weird “I’ll pray for you!” talks or “You have to believe! You did at one point! You’re just confused right now.” I knew what awaited me if I told people what I was actually feeling. You know, the scary hell talks where I burn for eternity? That one seems to win so many people over, right?
For me, (and probably most of us) there was a giant disconnect between the character of Jesus and then the way his followers demanded you live. I liked Jesus. He seemed kind and compassionate and enjoyed associating with the people I associated with (the party crowd). However, I wasn’t interested in being a “Christian” if it meant looking like the status quo. His people were moral Nazis, and they had really strange rules. Once you said the prayer-thing asking Jesus into your heart (like, what does that even mean???)and were saved from hell then there were things Christians do — invent curse words that aren’t curse words, journal, don’t associate with people that aren’t Christians — and things they didn’t do — cussing, drinking, premarital sex, secular music. Once you nailed the latter list then you and God were on good terms. Follow those rules, and you’re a legit Christian. Oh, and never struggle. Never doubt. And never have deep issues.
The problem was, every Christian I met sucked at being good. They just happened to be really skilled at covering it up and looking pretty externally. And even the one’s who were pretty on the outside usually got disillusioned or just ended up becoming judgmental cause they were “nailing it” (although that attitude reveals massive heart issues). I happened to be the guy that wore my train wreck on his sleeve, so I never fit in.
And honestly, I don’t think that much has changed on some level. You can get online at any point and read about large mega-church pastors covering up sexual abuse cases. Or rape charges. Or abuse. Or systemic racism within the four walls of our churches. Us vs. Them mentalities. And the overall view held by Millennials that Christians are judgmental, bigoted, and hypocritical.
3. Love is a light
So when people discover I’m a Christian (let alone a pastor at that), the response is usually an overwhelming, “You’re serious? You’re a Christian?! After all that?”
When I was 27, I met two men who forever changed the way I viewed Christianity. Both were covered in tattoos, occasionally used swear words, and liked beer. All the things I had been told growing up that got you kicked out of Club God they seemed to be doing. And honestly, it confused me. Weren’t they in “sin?”
But that wasn’t why I became a Christian. That would be a stupid reason to join anyway as I could go to the nearest hipster bar and join a tribe like that.
What won me over was the way they loved me and loved people who were hurting and messy. It was the way they shared openly about their hurts and repeated failures. It was the way they loved their wives and spoke so highly about them. It was the joy they had even in the midst of tears and deep suffering. It was the fact they didn’t pretend to have it all together or all the answers. Sometimes they would just say “I don’t know.”
But what they DID know was contagious. Infectious. It was big, bold, and beautiful and I was fascinated by it because I had never heard it.
Growing up I had heard, “Believe in Jesus and live a moral life = go to heaven”. Simple enough.
4. Only Jesus can save
But what they told me ended up being insanely complex and challenged if I was really down for this whole Christianity thing. What they explained was that as Christians our goal is not to follow a set of rules to earn God’s favour. Often there are people out there who can easily live more moral lives than us. In fact, it seemed most non-Christians were helping more people than those in the pews every Sunday.
To them, the cross where Jesus died was a reminder that as good as we try to be, we still need someone to save us from ourselves because at the end of the day we love to compare ourselves to scoundrels. But Christianity teaches that if anything we realise what a train wreck we are, and so when we see people in this light it humbles us.
I know of no other religion that does that.
Other religions say: “This world is going to hell. It doesn’t matter. It’s not real, but a shadow, so we wait until we die and escape this. We wait until the next life.” However, Christ teaches that his goal within the resurrection is to transform the world. Christ teaches his goal is a new heaven and new earth here on earth. Not that we convert people to our tribe and wait for God to nuke this place, but that we’re in the business of restoration. That we bring hope to the hopeless. That we help the needy, poor, and oppressed. That we give generously, freeing the captives and the addicted. That we transform the world where disease and suffering are alleviated. That we treat others different than us better than ourselves.
So, if I was down for that, it would cost me my life.
5. Jesus loves you- rest in it
What’s funny is when I became a Christian I never asked Jesus into my heart. I never went to the front to of the church to let everyone know I was down with this whole confusing Jesus dies on a cross, resurrects, and is God, but God can’t die because he’s eternal…….Instead one day I had this epiphany that “I’m all in and I guess I’m one of them.”
So, Why Am I A Christian?
Because I know I’m a train wreck in a dumpster fire. But I also know that God loves me 100% as is, right now, in the midst of the burning carnage that is often my life. I know that if I were to stack up my cards against most church people, I’d fold every time. I’m not that good at following rules, and I run my mouth a lot. And yet, God loves me and is cheering for me as I get better and especially when I fall down. Where I see failure, he sees opportunity for growth. Where I see addiction, he sees an opportunity to take a step. Where I’ve given up, he whispers, “You can make it”.
So maybe if we can all accept the idea that God’s love is wholly separate from our actions, receive it, and give it to others maybe then we’d have more Christians that look like Christ. Christians that don’t feel it’s important to beat people down with their theology and doctrine, but instead spend their lives in the gutter bleeding alongside other people.
I think maybe then, we might just see Christ’s kingdom here on earth.
Culled from heartsupport.com
Ben Sledge was (and still is) a skeptic and spent most of his late teen years and twenties as an agnostic who studied major world religions and science. To this day, he still loves the work of Christopher Hitchens despite having found faith. He is a wounded combat veteran with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions overseas. He often travels around the country speaking on a variety of topics. His past speaking engagements have ranged from churches, schools, organizations, businesses, to even the United States Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) .