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Jesus, Hitler, and my dog.

by: Scott

This week, the contemporary service at my church is covering the topic of “influence.”  Like a lot of things, it got me thinking.  It’s an interesting word, influence, because I’m not sure it means what everybody thinks it means all the time.  Here’s three things I believe about influence:

"Influence" does not mean "change."

This is the most common misinterpretation of the word.  People assume that to influence someone is to change them.  Not so.  Take Annie, the newest member of the Gilliland household.  She has four paws, eats dog food, and hates going into her kennel.  She hates it so much, in fact, that the moment she even thinks Raegan and I are leaving, she makes a B-line for the back door, which by no coincidence is the furthest point in the house from the kennel.   I have tried commanding her, coaxing her, offering treats, leading by collar, everything until I finally just give in and pick up all 55 pounds of my sweet puppy, carry her to the bedroom, and physically place her in her kennel, at which point she spins around lightning fast in an effort to wedge her nose into the swinging door so I can’t close it.

Now here’s the thing, I’ve used all my influence at my disposal to get her into that crate--I mean the darn thing has a soft bed in it and a kong filled with peanut butter, her favorite treat--but nothing gets her in.  The same is true of people.  Sometimes we can pour every ounce of influence we have into someone, and at the end of the day, they haven’t budged one bit.  They’re still sitting, planted by the back door, like a stubborn dog.  And unfortunately, with people there is no option to “just give in and pick up” a person and change what they’re doing.  It’s this pesky thing called “free will” and every parent out there has found frustration with it in the past.  You can tell a kid 25 bazillion times, “Hey!  Don’t touch that iron!” and before you know it “Sizzzz.... OUCH! OW OW OW! MOM! DAD! QUICK!”  

If we accept that we have to take responsibility for our own actions, then we must also be willing to accept that other’s actions are not ours to take.  You could be the best parent, but your kid touches the iron anyways.  You could be the best boyfriend, but she tears your heart out anyways.  You could be the best daughter, but your dad leaves anyways.  So stop beating yourself up and remember, you have all the power to influence another person, but no power to change another person.

"Influence" does not necessarily mean "good influence."

I once asked a high school history teacher who he thought was the most influential person of the 20th century.  In true teacher fashion, he responded by asking me what I thought the answer was.  I thought it over and answered somewhat sheepishly, “Hitler?”  “I would have to agree with you, “ he replied.

And it’s true.  FDR, Stalin, Ghandi, MLK, Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, JFK, Milli Vanilli... all of them pale in comparison to the way one mustached man influenced the course of a century.  Hitler is infamous as a master manipulator who orchestrated the Holocaust, who led a nation to commit the most internationally-visible genocide of recent human history.  And how did he accomplish this?

It all started when a young German nationalist named Adolf spoke to a crowd of six thousand at a political party gathering.  He spoke of anti-capitalism, anti-Marxism, and anti-semitism.  Those six thousand listeners would lead to more than six million victims.  All because they allowed themselves to be influenced by a man with a truly twisted cause.  Hitler did not hold a gun to the crowd, he did not threaten their lives, he simply spoke, and they listened.

How many times do we just sit and listen every day?  We listen to speeches and newscasts and opinion pieces and articles and, yes, blogs without so much as critically thinking about what it is we’re buying into.  We assume because a person is on the right channel or at the right podium or in the right church, that we can believe whatever they are telling us.  And unfortunately that’s just not true.  People with cameras and podiums and pulpits have a lot of influence, and I wish to my core they all treated their power with the right respect, but it’s true with Pharisees, dictators, and radio-show hosts: more often than not, they’re using their power of influence for deeply selfish reasons.  So stop, think, and decide if what you’re hearing is worth listening to.

The greatest influence we can have does not come from us.

Want to change someone?  Want to always be a good influence?  Tough darts.  Ain’t gonna happen.  So what do you do?  Give up?  Stop caring?  We both know that can’t happen.  Otherwise you have a very sad life ahead of you.  Instead I challenge you to do something even more difficult.  Giving up is easy.  Taking control is easy.  Trusting in someone else to come through for you is hard.  But that’s exactly what I suggest.

I had a friend who desperately wanted for their father to change in a radical way.  She saw her dad living in a way that was leaving nothing but destruction in his wake.  And we talked about the limitations of her power over another person, even a father, and that as much as she wanted to help him, her dad had friends and people in his life encouraging his behavior.  We agreed that what she could do was to push as much love into her dad in hopes that God could do something with a softened heart, so that he might be changed for the better.  Not by my friend, but by God.

Now, I’m not sure what belief system you ascribe to, but let us at least agree that humans are limited in our power over each other.  Then we can also agree that there must be hope for something or someone who does have more power than we do--a supreme being or force holding this all together, if you will (you may call this God, Allah, love, universal laws of physics, etc...).  I urge you to lean into whatever or whomever that may be.  I lean into Christ based on what I’ve witnessed Him do in my own life and the lives of others.  Whatever or whoever you lean into, make it something you trust to be an agent of change in the world around you, and then let it speak through you in the way you influence others.  For me, I try to let the love of Jesus be the backbone of my decisions, my actions, and my influence.  I fail often, but I try.  Because I know that though I cannot change another, and my influence is often poor, His power knows no boundaries, and His influence is always good.  

And that is something to be hopeful for.


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