On our way home from my in-laws the other day, my husband and I drove by a little white church with a prominent sign in their front yard.
It read, “Choose the bread of life or be toasted.”
I can picture the church secretary picking through the plastic letters, smiling to herself about the profundity of this one. How clever! Pastor sure got this one right. Bread of Life! Be toasted! HA! What a knee slapper! I can hardly catch my breath, I am laughing so hard. All the heathens out there, this’ll grab ‘em. This’ll get ‘em saved. Attendance will soar. All I need is one more “o.” I might have to use a zero.
I am glaring at you, church sign lady.
Why do we do this? (And there are many degrees of this.)
Let’s put aside the deep theological debate over whether or not there is a real, eternal physical burning lake of fire that the merciful, compassionate, unconditionally loving God throws those who were so burned by Christians here on earth that they never knew the real and true Lord by name or maybe lacked the wherewithal to learn or choose the way the truth and the life in this life and thus deserve punishment forever. Let’s ignore that.
Even if you believe all that, what marketing consultant convinced us this is the message of the Gospel that will really reel those unbelievers in? Is there a Hellfire and Brimstone Unlimited out there, spreading these terrible church recruitment tactics? I am in marketing, friends. “Get a management degree or burn in hell” isn’t on my list of sticky “this gets ‘em every time” lines.
Fear is rampant everywhere. It is a persuasive, powerful, manipulative emotion. If you do not do as I say, you will regret it. Awful things will happen. This is the current tenor of much of the political conversation: they are out to get us. We know better than them. If something changes, who knows what will happen. If nothing changes, who knows what will happen! They are going to take our rights. We are going to build a wall to keep them out.
This is what fear does. Fear makes enemies. Fear casts doubt. Fear feeds hate and indifference. Fear cultivates a field of future woe and plucks a bleak harvest. People are moved and swayed by fear.
I believe those who motivate by fear are only interested in power. Fear robs the individual of his or her power and places it into the hands of the powerful, to dictate how and where the fearful ought to or ought not to go. When I am afraid, I freeze. I react. I attack.
But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear. Love feeds empathy and compassion. Love cultivates a field of future life and plucks a plentiful harvest. Most people are moved and swayed by love.
Those who motivate by love are not interested in power, they are interested in improvement. Love pours out its magnitude into the hands of the mild and empowers them, builds them up instead of tears them down. Love provides options. Opportunities. Possibilities. Vision. Hope.
When I am loved, I am confident. Assertive. Welcomed and welcoming. When love is poured in to me, my natural reaction is to pour love out and in to others, and on and on, until the whole world might know this love.
To buy into a message of fear—in politics, in organizations, in families, in relationships, and in religion—is to conform to the pattern of this world. To operate out of fear is to deny the power of Love to conquer all. To operate out of fear is to trust that some man or some woman or some country can save you, make all things right.
As a follower of Christ, I am to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. When is the last time I renewed my mind? How do I do this?
If I allow for one second a moment of doubt about whether I have all the answers, if I lower my guard and take down my ego just a notch to operate out of humility, aware I may not have all the answers, if I do all this and consider for a moment, entertain an opposing idea, put a little thought and a quick Google search in motion, unafraid my faith will crack and confident my God is bigger than my questions…
…maybe my mind will change. Maybe I will be transformed.
Fear distorts. Love transforms.
Here’s your message, church sign lady.