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A Simple and Profound Call to Live Like Jesus
By Floyd McClung
David C. CookCopyright © 2010 Floyd McClung, Jr.
All rights reserved.
Repenting of Religion
I want you to imagine what my reaction would have been, when I wrote to Sally (now my wife), asking her to marry me, if her response had been as follows:
I would love to marry you. It's a dream come true! The answer is YES!
There are a few minor details, though. I have a couple of other boyfriends—well, seven to be exact. Most of them don't mean much to me, but can I keep Murray and Wayne? I must be in love, because I've never before been willing to give up so many of my boyfriends! My mother says you're a lucky man!
There's one other thing. I will accept your proposal on the condition that I can stay in Texas and live with my parents. I love them. They have done so much for me that I couldn't dream of leaving them. You wouldn't want me to hurt their feelings, would you? However, you can visit whenever you want to. I'm sure you understand. Oh, and one last thing ... I don't want to upset you, but I would prefer not to take your name. McClung is just not that pretty a name.
I look forward to setting the wedding date!
Yours in undying love and devotion, Sally
Had I received that kind of reply from Sally to my marriage proposal, I would have run the other way. In truth, I pursued Sally with late-night phone calls, visits to Texas to see her, and long letters sharing my desires for our future together, hoping that she would share those dreams. I pursued Sally because I loved her. I was convinced she was the woman for me. When I finally did ask Sally to marry me, I expected that if she loved me and she was "the one," she would lay aside all others for me. And so she did—"McClung" name and all! She was smitten with me, and I with her!
My story is not about how I found religion, but how I was set free from religion.
That's what true love is—committing to love another person. We would feel cheated by any other kind of relationship.
In the same way, God pursues us because He loves us, to remind us that He loves us, all to draw us back to Himself. Sending Jesus was the most visible expression of this. Jesus is God's way of romancing us. Just as I courted and pursued Sally, so, in a much more profound way, God pursues each of us.
I realized a long time ago that we all have a God Story to tell, a story of how God radically transformed us through faith in Jesus. Our story finds its full meaning in God's Story.
My story is not about how I found religion, but how I was set free from religion. I didn't have to repent of sin as much as I had to repent of the sin of religion. For me, religion was about powerful people controlling my life and others' lives. Maybe some of those powerful people were sincere, but they had strayed far from loving people Jesus' way. And the sad thing about it was that I became like those powerful people. But let me tell the story from the beginning.
I grew up with Christian religion. Someone could make a Hollywood movie of my life, it was so weird. We were wild-eyed fundamentalists. We attended church meetings up to five times a week: prayer meetings, revival meetings, midweek meetings, youth meetings, and, of course, two Sunday meetings. There was a lot of sincere zeal, but people lived inside a religious bubble of meetings and so-called Christian culture.
When I was a teenager, people's hypocrisy made me cynical about my religion. Many people in church professed one thing but lived another. There were lots of rules but not much love. I tried to fit in, but the journey, filled with my insecurity and zeal to perform, was hard.
My parents were good people. In fact, my father was a pastor, a saintly man, deeply religious in the best sense of that word. He prayed by the hour, loved impossible people, and gave his life to being a "good shepherd." But I struggled with others in our church.
One of the most difficult parts of my church experience was how judgmental people were. They passed judgment on the clothes people wore, the things they did or didn't do for God, and whether they kept the church's rules for "holy living." Holy was not defined by how loving you were but by how extreme you were. But in my later teen years, that same religious attitude crept into my own heart. What I despised, I became.
Growing up with religion made me feel like a failure. I lived with feelings of false guilt—though at the time I didn't know the guilt was false! I continually felt a sense of shame and tried to prove myself worthy of the church's blessing. I hid my sins and weaknesses from others in the church, while I sought their approval and acceptance.
How God's Love Became Real to Me
One of the best things that happened to me was going to university. I loved sports, which became an important part of my life. I achieved success, as well as a fair bit of notoriety, and my self-confidence grew. I became the captain of our basketball team, and we traveled the country, defeating teams from universities ten and twenty times our size. Newspapers across the United States wrote about us. Professional scouts from the NBA came to watch us play. It was exhilarating. But I was still in turmoil regarding my faith.
During this time, one of my professors had a huge influence on my life. I liked him as a person; he was honest, spent time with the students in the resident halls, attended student activities and sports events I was involved in. He became a role model to me.
This professor was a very devout man but devoid of "religion." This fascinated and intrigued me. At the end of each of his lectures, he would push back his notes, stand up behind his desk, and speak to us from his heart. He pleaded with us to be people who would change the world. He spoke passionately about being free from the chains of religion. He invited us to be fully human and fully alive.
One day, he spoke about the difference between religion and God's love. He told us the difference between performing and living our lives from the heart—and I realized that up to that point I had lived to please people; but that was not what God wanted from me, nor did it somehow persuade God to love me. As my professor pleaded with us to be free from religion and alive with the grace and love of God, a light went on in my heart. In my inner person I agreed, and I walked out of the class a free man. I realized that I had been taught most of my life that devotion was duty to God, not delight in God. I quietly determined to live for delight, not duty.
The Change Jesus Made in My Life
As a result of that inner transaction, the weight of religion with rules rolled off me like a heavy backpack falling to the ground. Who took it and how it was lifted off me, I wasn't sure, but it was gone. I felt free. I knew from that moment, I didn't need to do anything—indeed could not do anything—to make God love me. I didn't have to do things to earn God's love. I was free to love God simply because He loved me first. I felt light, free, and full of hope.
Since that day, I have lived like a man unshackled from prison chains. I live like an orphan who has been adopted into a loving family. I feel fully human, alive, set free to enjoy God. I don't feel alone or that I have to do things to gain the approval of people or of God.
I now wake up every day with a deep sense of God's love and acceptance. I know I belong to God. Being loved by God is incredible! Accepting His love and forgiveness is my response to that incredible love.
Loving God begins with the discovery that He has created us for intimacy and friendship with Him. It is accompanied by a longing to live life to the fullest; to see and taste and hear all life has for us. God has adventure waiting for us, beauty to share with us, dreams and purpose and security and significance to give to us.
What Does It Mean to Love Jesus?
Our theme in the first part of this book is loving Jesus. I know, and I hope you know as well, that loving Jesus is a heart response to His love for us, involving a commitment to obey Jesus each day of our lives. But we must allow God to love us to the point where He captures our complete devotion.
To be captured by Jesus is to be captivated by Him, fascinated and intrigued with who He is and what He has in store for us. Loving Jesus means opening our hearts to Him, holding back nothing, confessing everything—our weaknesses and fears, dreams and longings.
Loving Jesus has to be lived out in the face of constant temptation to conform and compromise. This pressure can come from myriad sources: from the influence of our culture and its more depraved and dehumanizing demands, to the more naive, but sometimes painful, interactions with friends and family. It can come from people we work with or go to school with, and from movies, TV, and certain types of music. Jesus wants to give us the strength to withstand the pressures contrary to His way so that we can live our lives for Him and His purposes.
We're all slaves to something or someone—either willing love slaves or unwilling slaves to private prisons we make. We were created to be fully devoted to God, and if we're not fully devoted to God, we'll give that devotion to someone or something else.
Paul the apostle speaks to the Roman believers of this capacity for devotion: "You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so- called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits" (Rom. 6:16 MSG). We cannot serve two masters.
We don't behave differently in order to be loved by God, but because we are loved by God.
We serve the one we love, and we love the one we serve. When we allow Him to love us, we unshackle our hearts to love Him back. This is good news to religious people who want to be free of religion!
Paul goes on to say these incredible words about the love of God:
For all who put their trust in God are children of God. As a result you are set free from acting like fearful, beaten slaves. You should believe and behave instead like God's very own adopted children, loved and accepted into His family. You can freely call out to Him, "Dear Father." And know this with certainty: The Father has sent the Holy Spirit to speak to you deep in your heart—and He keeps on speaking to you until you finally believe it—that you are God's loved children. (Rom. 8:14–16, author's paraphrase)
Though we were once slaves to our passions, desires, fears, and hurts, we are set free to love God with our whole hearts. No longer do we have to be prisoners. This is the good news of the gospel!
God's love invades our minds, changing our core values and transforming our behavior. We don't behave differently in order to be loved by God, but because we are loved by God. We realize that God is not trying to punish us for our past sins but deliver us from them. He is not out to heap shame on us for past failures but to take our shame away and give us the great gift of finally, fully belonging.
What Hinders Us from Loving Jesus?
Nothing hinders us from receiving the love of God as much as the lies that build up in our minds about who God is or who we are. Paul describes these lies as "strongholds" in our minds, like fortresses where debilitating accusations wage war against us. A friend of mine describes these lies as the script we try to live by, but a script that is not the "real us." We learn this script from our upbringing, our culture, and painful experiences in life. Our scripts get lodged in our hearts despite what we believe in our minds, becoming a deafening cry of the false self—what matters most is what I have, what I do, and what others think of me—instead of the stunning truth that God likes me; He loves me and unconditionally accepts me.
The Bible tells us that we must fight to hold on to the truth; we mustn't be passive about these lies: "We are human, but we don't wage war with human plans and methods. We use God's mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil's strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:3–5 NLT).
You can tell when you believe lies about yourself or God, because they produce hopelessness and mistrust. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and free us from these lies. That great act of redemption provides the power we need to be free from the false self, to be the person God created us to be. We must resist the lies, receive God's love in Jesus, stand for what is true—and forgive those who have communicated those lies to us and about us. There is great power in forgiving and taking responsibility for our feelings and choices. In fighting for truth, we become strong. We overcome passivity and fear and anger and hate. It is not easy, but fighting to take hold of the love of God is well worth the battle.
To love Jesus and allow Him to love us is to fight for what we know in our minds to be true. In doing this, we allow the doctrinal beliefs we know to be intellectually true to become deeply real to us, to go deep into our hearts. It is then that the love of God in Jesus transforms us. Believing in Jesus is not just a nice religious thing to do. Integrating that belief into the deepest part of our being transforms every aspect of our lives.
The Price of Being Free
You can be free to love God with your whole being, as a whole, passionate, free person. And in doing so, you are freed to become intensely aware of being loved by God. Loving God unlocks your heart and frees you to live above your fears.
But there is a price to pay. God invites us to turn away from lesser pleasures as our source of meaning and purpose to the ultimate pleasure of knowing and loving Him.
Jesus told a parable of a man who went to build a tower but did not have enough money to complete it. He said the man, to save embarrassment and wasted effort, should have sat down and calculated the cost before starting. "So therefore," Jesus says, "whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33 RSV).
Those who are considering becoming, or are already committed to being, fully devoted followers of Jesus must count the cost of putting Him first in their lives. That doesn't mean renouncing who He created you to be, but renouncing the false beliefs and behaviors that have kept you from being all He created you to be.
What Loving Jesus Does Not Mean
In order to grasp what it means to love Jesus, we need to consider what it does not mean.
Becoming a "religious" freak
Loving God does not mean that God expects you to become religious or speak "Christianese." My friend David, full of newfound faith and enthusiasm for Jesus, joined a church and was immediately handed a set of regulations covering everything from where he could go and when, how long his hair could be, and even with whom he could associate. Tragically, the rule book dealt with everything except what mattered most—a heart of devotion to Jesus, which can't be reduced to a set of rules. The implication of the rule-book approach to spirituality is that it can produce conformity without pleasure, zeal without genuine maturity. Sometimes, zeal lacks depth and produces so-called model Christians who are plastic imitations of the real thing. Some religious leaders fear or resent this perspective, but maybe that's because they can't control people without it.
Jesus spoke scathingly of the religious leaders of His day because they had reduced a relationship with God to a set of detailed and often ridiculous regulations. Yet some Christian leaders today unfortunately think in the same way. Their way of making people "holy" is to load them down with a long list of dos and don'ts or a strict conformity to their definition of spirituality. This approach, however, only produces fear, dependence, and condemnation. The more control and rules there are, the greater our sense of failure when we are unable to please our earthly leaders. Looking back at my time as a brash young leader who demanded that type of loyalty, I now realize how detrimental my actions were to people's delight in God. I tried too hard, and as a result, I got in the way. The older I am the more I realize that my role is to stay in the background.
Excerpted from FOLLOW by Floyd McClung. Copyright © 2010 Floyd McClung, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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