I have struggled, over the years, with becoming a Christian: what does it mean, and what will I look like? I have quite a few friends who don’t consider themselves to be Christians, or have fallen away from the church. I hear them talk about how the church doesn’t meet their problems, the people are hypocrites, or none of it matters anyhow. It pains me that I don’t have answers for them. When I spend time with Christian friends, I hear them talk about wanting to reach the lost or train their children to be missionaries. I have rarely seen one of them actually engage a non-Christian in conversation, and missionary life scares the bejeebees out of me. My “heathen” friends, for the most part, are not solidly against Christianity; they have no problem with Christ or God. Their problems hinge on Christians and hypocrisy. To be sure, many outside the church don’t want their questions addressed. But how many of us are willing to actually reach out in love to those right around us and face the issues each one presents?
Most of my friends see the average Christian as someone who’s been a member of the church since he was a toddler, attending AWANA, VBS, and choir practice weekly. He’s sung Easter cantatas and lit Christmas candles since he could mount the steps. He has no clue who Jack Daniels is, or that Pat Benatar lyrics can be quite inspirational. He scorns the tattoo of remembrance for a fallen brother as so much branding of the wondrous body God gave. Is this really the winsome character of acceptance we as Christians seek to present?
A few years ago, a lonely little boy began knocking on my door daily to play with my children. We avoided him because he had already picked up a lot of irritating habits. I knew I needed to minister to him, but in the meantime, my own children were learning from him how to successfully sneak contraband behind my back and lie about what was done. They were learning to be wicked faster than I could show him how to be good. Out of self-preservation (or was it fear?), I severely limited his access to my children. I have sometimes wished I could have done more, but only after he’d moved away and I couldn’t anymore.
How ironic that the very weaknesses that draw us to God are the very ones that also keep us from him. The same weaknesses He says He’ll overcome. I could see this child needed what our family had, but I threw conditions on his case because he brought inconveniences with him. Of course, as a parent, my commitment is to my own first. Just like in the airplane, if you don’t put on your own oxygen mask first, you may not be able to save your child. I have to get my own to a place of security before I can reach out to others. Looking back, I could’ve done more to strengthen my own and reach out to him. In short, I didn’t trust God for the outcome. God doesn’t ever say that we should wait until we have attained the Promised Land before inviting others. The disciple Andrew hadn’t been a disciple a full day before he brought his brother along to follow Jesus.
I’d like to think that nobody noticed what I neglected with this one boy, but I know this same selfish attitude will shine throughout my life. My nephew is brutally honest with me here, and I love it. He’s got eyes like a hawk and helps me to see in the mirror more clearly than I’d ever be willing to look at myself. But am I willing to be seen (or look at myself) that clearly? I can look to different churches and justify myself against the whole gamut of liberality to legality, but my nephew lumps all Christians together. Do I follow Christ, or not?
I’ve heard too many Christians say, “Y’know I don’t want to gossip, but…” and then tell you more juicy dirt than any heathen ever worried about. It is purported as “helping with discernment” or “guarding the sheep from wolves.” Really? Let’s just call it what it is. I’ve got to give it to the non-Christians in my life; they are honest about what they see. And what they see is too often a clique of people who close their eyes to acceptable sins within the group and truly needy people without. Is it any wonder some disappear from our midst? We should be encouraging our brothers to move past challenges, not keeping the evidence alive. Does being saved exempt us from responsibility for trampling others?
Interestingly, these very limitations of our human-ness are a huge factor in how God gets the glory for whatever we do for him. It’s pretty obvious that much of what is accomplished for God could not have been done alone.
When we invite someone to church, they hear that they must give up life as they know it in order to get what is offered. Doctors know that asking someone to change their lifestyle is so hard they’d rather give you a pill than ask. Yet the devil accomplishes it all the time. I’ve joked for years that nobody would go to hell if the devil wore red tights, horns and carried a pointy stick. It’s because he walks in looking like Miranda Priestley in a Prada-designed dress and up-to-the-minute sunglasses, taunting of something more that so many of us drop everything we stand for to join his team. Luscious lipstick and sexy ankles are a lot more appealing than monastic wardrobes and lists of Thou Shalts. Of course, the world’s lures are not appropriate for Christ’s disciples. Jesus had nothing noteworthy but his loving acceptance of every sinner He met. He asked for hard things, but always with his intended’s best interest in mind. And they knew that. This may seem like a strange illustration, but I saw a study once about women who’d left their husbands for another man. The researchers were surprised that most of the lovers were not as physically attractive as the husbands. Why would women, always security conscious by nature, discard the security of their marriages? Because the lover had met a real need that the husband had overlooked. Over and over, the Bible reports that Jesus saw what was really lacking in peoples’ lives and met those needs. It changed them. He looked beyond even longstanding patterns of poor behavior and said that they could be new. He knew what His Father’s grace could accomplish. One only needs look at the Apostle Paul to see how dramatically an encounter with the risen Christ can change a life. Can He not do the same today, no matter how broken and lost we are, no matter what we’ve done?
Funny, for someone who’s taken as many salesmanship and psychology courses as I have that I didn’t get this aspect of being winsome. One of the first things a salesman learns is that no one will ever buy anything he doesn’t have a need or want for. He will not buy until he sees that you have what he wants.
Many years ago, when I lived in Las Vegas, a young family began attending our church. They seemed so uneasy, but the kids were so nice – and the entire family was very open to accepting any teaching they could get on Christ. I decided this would be an easy way for me to learn how to evangelize. Pretty soon, I noticed that I was the only one speaking to this gal, and I never saw her husband around anymore. It turned out he wasn’t her husband, and she was a dancer at a casino. I am pretty blind sometimes, and it was only once she stopped coming that I realized why she was uneasy. I don’t think anyone said anything offensive to her; they didn’t have to. Their distance and looks said it all. What would Jesus have done?
Oh, gosh – he was in a similar situation! The woman at the well, right? He showed with his actions – he had no fear of repercussions and spoke openly to her – and with his words – that he knew who she was and that she, too, could have eternal life if she’d accept his gift. And did anyone notice what he found next time he visited that town? She’d brought the entire town to faith. Nobody is beyond saving.
Why are we so damn human in clinging to our petty ways, even when we’ve been freed from needing them anymore? Why do we continually tear others down, even while professing a desire to lift them up? I wanted to help that child, but how often did I bring him before the throne in prayer? How often did I ask for protection of my own while accepting this opportunity to share what we had in abundance? How many people tore that poor woman down behind her back with gossip, when she was doing exactly what they’d prayed for in the women’s meetings? How many others are kept away by past sins that Christians cannot let go of? We preach forgiveness; can we practice it?
It is not our place to judge another. We must realize that all of our sins have been paid for – and have patience with those who haven’t grasped that yet. A child of a friend of mine was probably a little too honest one day with me. She told me that she and her sister were frustrated with my lack of understanding of something that was so simple to them. “Mama told us to remember a few years ago, before we realized that. It’s okay; you’ll get it.” Out of the mouths of babes, the true character of the parent will speak. Do my children – the ones who know me best – exude love and acceptance this way?
I’m finding that being a Christian is more than just attending church on Sunday. I need to be aware of my failures so that I can encourage others in their struggles. I need to forgive others for things that I’ve done myself. I need to love those who are unloveable because I’ve been there. I need to incorporate who I’ve been into who I am so that I can show what I’ve found. I need to parent honestly. I’m disgusted at the hypocrisy of Christians who cannot seem to grasp the power of God to surmount frailty and see His hand in others. But in that very instant, I realize I’ve convicted myself.
I just want freedom from the restraints of this world – the silly grudges and mind games, the limitations of my own abilities, and the whims of the natural world around me. I want to be loose of the unseen regulators that hold me down – those character traits I struggle with, the health issues that dog me. I feel like William Wallace, shouting “Freedom!” as he charges across the dale at a completely insurmountable enemy. And I don’t believe I’m alone in wanting these things.
But it’s not an outside enemy that must be conquered; it’s me. My charge is toward my neighbor, and the sword I wield is pointed against my own fears. I must look in my neighbor’s eyes and seek to understand who he is. I must be willing to remember where I’ve been before I can lead him anywhere. Then maybe, walking together, we can make a difference in the lives we touch until that day that the Savior releases us both.
We, as Christians, need to be upfront about our fallibility and stop professing anything but His covering of perfection. Let’s not expect from others, especially non-Christians or those who’ve been battered out of their faith, what we don’t truly possess ourselves. We have the freedom of knowing that we are forgiven and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And since I don’t understand what that means, I’ll assume forgiveness is for everybody.