My Startling Moment of Enlightenment, Or Careful Young Samurai

I don’t remember much of anything from the two or three sermons I heard a week, every week, from my childhood. Despite not recalling specifics, they undoubtedly impressed upon me scores, maybe sores, of beliefs and ideas about God. I grew up in a quasi-fundamentalist, very legalistic congregation and some of these ideas were impressed for ten years, and it feels like just as long for them to be peeled off of me.

One thing I do remember being said from the pulpit was that we were saved by Christ Jesus, and not by any good behavior or deeds we did. Despite the fact I can distinctly remember this being preached even now, I still thought the whole goal of a Christian was to keep a clean, blameless slate. I though my ultimate purpose was to lay low, not get into any trouble, and try to “save” a person or two. I blame junior high church for this, as they are so concerned about their teenagers going down the wrong path they can end up only emphasizing morality.

Sometime after high school, while reconnecting with my faith and getting into reading about the Christian life, I came to a truly stunning revelation – that the goal of a Christian was not avoiding sins, leading a pure life, or evangelizing the lost – but to love. You know, with your heart. And not just love God, but people (maybe even non-Christians!).

It was seriously a huge deal. It felt like I found the missing key to Christianity, or that I had happened upon the ever elusive meaning of life. To conceive that the goal of my religion was serving, and not all these other boring moral pursuits – well I cannot emphasize enough the immensity of this newfound realization. It was a huge shift in my understanding.

Somehow the message of servitude, of taking the lesser seat, of dying to self – were all lost. These key themes were, in all probability, taught in my church. Though I can of course find many problems, it was a Bible-preaching church with good intentions and I really doubt that they neglected to teach those ideas.

But here’s the thing – even though my church probably taught all the proper doctrine – salvation by grace, love your neighbors, etc – some other messages still became the dominate one. There was what I heard, and then there was what I experienced – and the latter was stronger.

But I’m not going to blame the church I grew up in or condemn them for failing to do this or that. But we need to be careful when doing anything that involves God or Jesus (which is to say, pretty much everything) – for we hear more than just words. It is good to debate, but when you’re discussing or questioning someone’s ____fill in the blank (stance on homosexuality, life decision, whatever it is), you must work extra diligently to ensure the message is encased in love.

We have a tendency to fall back upon man-made religion, the very system Jesus came to turn upside down. We want to believe God uses a scale system, that he only blesses good righteousness, and tons of other ideas Jesus tirelessly tried to turn around. And so ultimately the very thing that Christianity was founded upon – love, love, love – can be a stunning moment of enlightenment to a 21 year old career Christian. We must adjust accordingly.


Did you have a similar experience as me? Was it a big adjustment for you?

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13 Responses to My Startling Moment of Enlightenment, Or Careful Young Samurai

  1. David says:

    It is a great post. It certainly places the emphasis in the right place: loving from the heart.

    The problem that I see is that love is not well defined by the church, and it’s definition are mostly selfish in nature. Selfish love, we see it all the time. The Greeks had 4 words for love. Americans have one, and it usually pertains to the things they esteem highly. I love my kids, my car, my iPod blah blah blah.

    The love of Jesus was expressed in his sacrifice – he laid down his life to pay the debt of sin for you and me.

    Even more disturbing is the definition of sin always seems separate from the sinner. And in America, it always seems to be in the past tense. Hey – I used to __________ (be bad). Rarely do we ever hear folks say, “I was wrong.” Never mind that fact that few say “Can you forgive me?”

    The two most well known passages on love are John 3:16, and 1 Cor 13. It’s good and bad. We should at least read John 3:16-20. But we don’t because we don’t really believe that we are evil – and for sure we can’t always find someone worse than we are.

    1 Cor 13 certainly is an amazing chapter – but radically snipped out of context. The entire passage is 1 Cor chapters 12, 13 and 14. The context is in the operation of the church as a worshipping BODY. It includes salvation, spiritual gifts, service gifts and an order for worship.

    Love is not exclusively feeding the poor or whatever the buzz word in church is these days. It is equal to hearing God, and administering our gifts to one another. My neighbor may not need food, he might just need some help shoveling the steps, or someone to listen to his fears about being unemployed.

    The mission of the church is not to get folks saved, it is to advance the Kingdom of God. There are many ways to do it, and without power, it is impossible.

    The big adjustment for me was that Baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1983. Before that I relied on feelings (some from God, but a lot from me), my own thoughts, and the opinions/teachings of others. I learned to hear God for myself and eventually others. As the body of believers comes together, we look to serve each other. I can tell you that at my new church I will be praying about something on the way there, and someone will come and share a word with me pertaining to my prayers which they had no knowledge of. It has happened about once a month for most of the year.

    • oh man you packed a lot in that one David!

      I think we don’t define love well in churches because by its nature it is tough to define. And you don’t want to get legalistic about love – however that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time trying to get a better understanding of it.

      My wife is totally a word warrior – she makes a point to define what she thinks, and doesn’t say she “feels” everything. She also enjoys or prefers things, but doesn’t love them.

      I agree we try to emphasize past sins rather than current ones, its all apart of that man-made religion idea of “I’m supposed to be spotless now that I’m a Christian.” I think we all agree that is silly and unreasonable, yet we try to uphold it anyway. Its a pride thing, wanting to climb the religious ladder for the nice feeling of superiority and righteousness.

      • David says:

        You should hear me preach! 😉

      • Chris says:

        Hey Charlie,

        You said: “I’m supposed to be spotless now that I’m a Christian. I think we all agree that is silly and unreasonable, yet we try to uphold it anyway.”

        Consider these verses from 1 Peter.

        1Pe 3:8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
        1Pe 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
        1Pe 3:10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.
        1Pe 3:11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
        1Pe 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” [fn]
        1Pe 3:13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
        1Pe 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear [fn]; do not be frightened.” [fn]
        1Pe 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
        1Pe 3:16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
        1Pe 3:17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

        Most of these verses have to do with behavior, with one’s personal holiness. Peter doesn’t suggest that it is pride that motivates one towards personal holiness. Nor does he believe that it’s a silly or unreasonable endeavor. He seems to believe that it is an essential thing that is a real possibility. These are not attributes that are to be lorded over people in an attempt to be or act superior. But it does seem as though our efforts and thoughts towards personal holiness is a natural part of the maturation process in the life of the Christian.
        You may have heard the expression of someone being so heavenly that they do no earthly good. This is the danger I suppose. But if our emphasis is on loving the world does it mean we should sin all the more so we don’t lose that ability relate?
        It seems that in one’s life, moving towards one’s personal holiness is simply a by-product of moving towards God. More than helping others “out there”, it helps us “in here.”
        Don’t get me wrong, there is great opportunity to love the outsider and the stranger with a godly love. But I don’t feel that doing so should preclude our seeking to move our behavior in a direction that is pleasing to God as well.

    • Hey Chris I just got off work and its late so I’ll respond soon – I did honor your request and found out that I have the power to edit other people’s comments – kind of scary but it came in handy this time around.

      • Hey Chris, I definitely see your point, though in no way was I trying to discount morality/holiness/purity, etc but rather was trying to say that love is our main pursuit – and perhaps I should have emphasized that if we work on loving we may in fact be more moral/pure.

  2. JamesBrett says:

    i had a similar shift, though it wasn’t a shift from right performance to love. rather it was a shift from right belief to love. for me, growing up, it wasn’t necessarily about being pure or sinless or a good little boy as much as it was about believing the right things. this is epidemic in churches of today, i feel.

  3. Angela says:

    When I look back on my early church years I am shocked that the primary goals of being a Christian were to obey God’s rules and tell others about Jesus. I often feel like if I would have been taught to unconditionally love others, how much more of an impact I might have had on my friends and family. BUT, I do think when we focus on love and serving others, two other important aspects of that is sharing Jesus with others and trying to obey God’s words of wisdom. Often when the shift changes from the conservative to the liberal church, those two aspects can be left behind. Both churches need all these things.

    • Ang I think you were a witness of that moment of enlightenment I reference in this post. I think we were maybe realizing this together. (to people who aren’t Ang & I – we went to college together).

      I agree, we tend to get on trains of love, a train of serving, a train of morality, a train of evangelism, when really all those trains should be on the same track. Is that a dumb metaphor?

  4. Su says:

    This is completely unrelated to your post, but I gave you a blog award.

  5. Pingback: Raising Kids To Be Christians, Or The Good Disease | Charlie's Church of Christ

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