Archives For The Christian Life

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Second Mile Logo without nameIt’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Epitetus

 

There is a wonderful scene in the hit 1991 movie City Slickers. The three friends who always went on vacation together were on a cattle drive. They decided to share their best and worst days ever. Ed, who definitely had problems with relationships, told about his best day. He was 15 years old when his mother caught his father cheating on her again. It was at that point Ed realized his father had really been cheating on the whole family. Confronting his father, Ed said, “You’re not good to us.” The man cocked his arm, preparing to hit Ed, but then hesitated; he then backed away and left, never to return. Ed went on to explain, “But from that day forward, I took care of my mother and my sister. That was my best Day.” When his friends asked him about his worst day, he thought for a moment then answered, “Same day.” 

This scene is a great reminder that it’s often the problems we face in life that make us stronger. Moreover, Epitetus was right. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Knowing this doesn’t always make it any easier to deal with difficulties at the moment we are facing them. But it does help us answer one of the most frequently asked theological questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” This awareness can also help us accept our struggles without becoming bitter, angry, or resentful.  

How we react to problems can make us or break us. It can make us better or it can make us bitter. How we deal with difficulties in life is a prime indicator of our Christian maturity.  

I love the story of Paul and Silas at Philippi as recorded in the 16th chapter of Acts. They were arrested for having cast a demon out of a slave girl; in other words, for doing something good for another person. The evangelists were stripped of their clothes and severely beaten with a rod. They were then thrown into the innermost cell of a prison and placed in stocks.  

I don’t know how you would have responded to this injustice, but I probably would not have handled the situation well. I likely would have sat there in fear, feeling sorry for myself. But what did Paul and Silas do? They were praying and singing, no doubt praising God! And what happened? “All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.” 

The jailer awoke, and seeing the doors opened he was about to kill himself. (Under Roman Law the jailer would have been charged with any crime committed by a prisoner he allowed to escape.) The evangelists cried out, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here.” At this the jailer was so amazed he brought them out of their cell, fell at their feet, and cried, “Noble lords, what must I do to be rescued (saved)?”

This jailer had observed how Paul and Silas had dealt with injustice from the very beginning. He didn’t understand what empowered them to respond in such a remarkable way, but he wanted what they had. “It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to what happens.”

QUESTION: Are you growing in Christian maturity? How well do you handle adversity? What are some lessons about adversity you could share with the rest of us? Please respond in the Comments section below.

QUESTION:

Second Mile Logo without nameTwo young brothers were being registered for Sunday School  by the superintendent. Upon asking for their birthdays one of the boys responded, “We’re both seven. My birthday is April 8, 1976, and my brother’s is April 20, 1976.” 

But that’s not possible!” said the superintendent. “Yes it is,” answered the other little boy. “One of us is adopted.”

“Which one?” the superintendent blurted out before thinking. 

The two boys looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Finally, one of them answered, “We asked mom and dad a long time ago, but they said they loved us both so much they couldn’t remember any more which was adopted.” 

The Apostle Paul wrote in Roman 8:12-18 about our adoption by God: 

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if you put to death the actions of the body with the Spirit, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him. I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (CEB). 

It’s wonderful to think about what it means to be an adopted child of God. We are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” We inherit the kingdom of God! PTL. But wait. Paul went on to explain this is true “if we really suffer with him.”  

I hear preachers on television often expounding on the benefits of being a child of God. I seldom (read: pretty much never) hear them mention the cost of discipleship. Paul never hid the cost. Neither did Jesus. He repeatedly made it clear his followers would pay a price for their loyalty to Him. 

Jesus said, “Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This is a theme he repeated many times. He went on to say, “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. . .  Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him?. . .In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple” (Luke 14:27-33 CEB). Jesus warned would-be followers to count the cost because Christian discipleship can indeed be costly.  

The good news is that the rewards of discipleship is worth the investment. Not only is “the present suffering nothing compared to the coming glory” as Paul states in Romans 8:18, but our lives are richer and more fulfilled while we await the coming glory.  

There is an old story about Alexander the Great that serves to illustrate our role as Christians. After each battle Alexander would hold a tribunal and reward or punish those who had performed well or poorly in battle. One day a young man was brought before him who was charge with cowardice.  At first Alexander seemed to show some compassion for the very young soldier. The great king asked the frightened man’s name.   

“Alexander,” he replied.     “What did you say?    

“My name is Alexander.” 

At this Alexander the Great sprang from his seat, grabbed the young man and threw him to the floor. He shouted, “Either change your actions or change your name!”  Many call themselves Christians. However, the scripture is clear that we should only take that name if we are serious about following Jesus in obedient discipleship. 

QUESTION: Have you counted the cost of discipleship? Are you following Christ and discoving

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 We are called every day to bring new life into the world by serving others. Life with meaning and purpose and joy and peace.

It seems like another life–so many years ago when I attended that little rural elementary school. There was a boy in our class who had an embarrassing physical problem. Billy could not control his bladder and so every day would wet his pants. It was obviously a difficult situation. I was reminded of Billy recently when I read an email that has been making the rounds:

“Come with me to a third grade classroom. . . There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden there is a puddle between his feet and his pants are wet in front. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It’s never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they’ll never speak to him again as long as he lives.

The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer, “Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I’m dead meat.”

He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered. As the teacher is walking toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy’s lap.

The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!”

Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy. The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. The sympathy is wonderful. But as life would have it, the ridicule that could have been his has been transferred to someone else—Susie. She tries to help clean up, but they tell her to get out of the way. “You’ve done enough, you klutz!”

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie whispers back, “I wet my pants once too.”

Sometimes I think we have difficulty connecting Biblical concepts with our daily lives. As I write this it is the last Sunday of Easter on the church calendar. Next Sunday is Pentecost. I’ve been thinking about Easter and the resurrection of Christ and the story of Pentecost.What has all of this to do with me ? Of course, it is a profound reminder that this life as we know it is not the end. But it is also a poignant exemplar of a God-given paradigm: new life follows self-sacrifice. We are called every day to bring new life into the world by serving others. Life with meaning and purpose and joy and peace. Susie was willing to take ridicule in order to save a friend from ridicule. The best way to celebrate Easter and to understand the miracle of Pentecost is to renew our commitment to Christ and follow his example of self-sacrifice.

QUESTION: In what way is God calling you to bring new life into the lives of others around you? Please respond in the Comments section below.

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We hear a lot today about our loving God. However, I sometimes wonder what happened to our Holy God who calls us to a life of holiness.  

 

 In Ephesians 4:30a we read “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”. The Greek word here is lypeō, which means to be grieved, afflicted with sorrow; to offend, insult; to distress, inflict emotional pain. The CEB translates this verse “Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy.” 

The passage in Ephesians goes on to explain, “Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. Therefore imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons. Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving. Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy–which happens when things become gods–those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.”  

“Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth” (Ephesians 4:31-5:9 CEB). 

Wow! This is strong stuff. We hear a lot today about our loving God. However, I sometimes wonder what happened to our Holy God who calls us to a life of holiness.  

Do you sometimes lose your temper? Get angry? Do you have trouble loving some of your neighbors, perhaps the ones with the dogs that bark all night. Do you have trouble forgiving someone? Are you engaging in some form of sexual immorality? Obscene language? Do you like to tell dirty jokes? Is money more important to you than it should be? Do you let your job come between you and your family? You and God? (For a whole set of questions to help you evaluate your spiritual condition, check out my Spiritual Life Assessment.)

Paul Harvey once told about a medical student who was working at a rotation in toxicology at a poison control center. A woman called in and explained that her daughter had eaten some ants. The medical student assured the woman the child would be fine; the ants would do her no harm. 

Having been told her daughter would be all right, the mother was about to hang up when she happened to mention she had given the child some ant poison to kill the ants. Of course, the student then explained she needed to get her daughter to the emergency room as quickly as possible.  

Sin in our lives is like ant poison. It needs to be dealt with as soon as possible or it can kill us spiritually.  When the Apostle Paul wrote letters of instruction, he typically began with some theological material, but eventually moved to practical instruction in holy living. For example, in his first book to the Thessalonians he began the fourth chapter, “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God. . . It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (NIV).  The definition of sanctified is “To set apart for sacred use; consecrate. To make holy; purify. 

This blog is all about our helping each other to become the saints (obedient disciples) God created us to be. Paul believed in the grace of God and the transforming power of His love. But he also encouraged believers to grow spiritually, not grieving the Holy Spirit, but pleasing God more each day. 

QUESTION: Are you working to become sanctified, “to live in order to please God?” What are you finding helpful on your spiritual journey? Please respond in the Comments section below.

 

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Mother’s Day reminds me of the story about a little boy who was talking to the girl next door. “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day.”

The little girl answered, “Well, you could promise to keep your room clean and orderly–you could go to bed as soon as she tells you–you could go to her as soon as she calls you–you could brush your teeth after eating–you could quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” 

The boy looked at her and said, “No, I mean something practical.” 

One day a crowd of people came to hear Jesus teach. “Jesus,” they said, “give us some advice on how to live that we might please God.” So, he did. 

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”   

“No,” they responded, “give us something practical.” 

“If anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” 

“No,” they answered, “something practical.” 

“Give to him that begs from you. Love your enemies. Forgive people their trespasses.” 

“No,” they continued, “something practical.” 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neighbor moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 

And the people said. . .

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There is tremendous power in the act of forgiveness. Of course, forgiving is not always an easy thing to do.

 

 

In the days of the Revolutionary War, there lived at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, a Baptist pastor by the name of Peter Miller who enjoyed the friendship of General Washington. There also dwelt in that town a man named Michael Wittman, an evil-minded man who did all in his power to abuse and oppose this pastor. One day Wittman was arrested and charged with treason. He was tried and sentenced to death.  

The old preacher walked seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for his enemy’s life. Rev. Miller approached Washington and implored the general to save the life of this traitor. Washington refused the request saying, “No, Peter, I cannot grant you the life of your friend.” Miller responded, “He is not my friend; he is the bitterest enemy I have.” 

Washington was flabbergasted. He exclaimed, “What? You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon.”  

Peter Miller and Michael Wittman went back home to Ephrata, no longer enemies but as friends. The reader probably recalls the famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.”

 There is tremendous power in the act of forgiveness. Recent studies have confirmed that those who learn to forgive experience less anger, depression, anxiety, and stress. They live with greater hope. Isn’t this one of the core principles of the Christian faith? In the Sermon On the Mount as reported by Matthew, Jesus said, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” (CEB) Pretty strong stuff! God really won’t forgive me if I don’t forgive others? Wow! 

So, forgiveness can bring liberation to those we forgive. It can unlock the key to our own forgiveness. But there is more. It can also liberate us from the burdens of resentment, anger, and enmity. 

My old classmate Gordon MacDonald relates how this happened in his life years ago. In his book Restoring Your Spiritual Passion he tells about a plane flight he took to an extremely important meeting that could lead to a major change in his ministry. He was desperately seeking God’s direction for his life. Unfortunately, his life was mired at that time in resentment toward a colleague. Gordon wrote: 

 “For days I had tried everything to rid myself of vindictive thoughts toward that person. But, try as I might, I would even wake in the night, thinking of ways to subtly get back at him. I wanted to embarrass him for what he had done, to damage his credibility before his peers. My resentment was beginning to dominate me, and on that plane trip I came to a realization of how bad things really were. . . 

As the plane neared its destination, Gordon cried out to God from the depths of his soul, asking for the power to forgive this colleague and to find the peace and liberation from his “poisoned spirit.” He wrote:

 Suddenly it was as if an invisible knife cut a hole in my chest, and I literally felt a thick substance oozing from within. Moments later I felt as if I’d been flushed out. I’d lost negative spiritual weight, the kind I needed to lose: I was free.” 

Gordon MacDonald went on to the meeting, renewed with spiritual strength, where his life did in fact take a major change in direction.  

Of course, forgiving is not always an easy thing to do. We should remember, however, that it’s easier to act your way into a new way of feeling, than feel your way into a new way of acting. You can make a decision to act in positive ways toward someone you may still have negative feelings about. I can’t always control my feelings; I can control my actions. If I keep acting in a loving way toward a person I still resent, and I keep asking God to transform my heart, in all likelihood my feelings will eventually change.  

QUESTION: Have you had any experiences with forgiveness that you are willing to share that might be helpful to the rest of us. Please respond in the Comments section below.

 

Logo Transparent jpeg without words It’s time for us to return to the Biblical principles of disciple making and stop relying on our marketing skills. It will be hard work, but it’s also smarter.

 

The number one New York Times bestseller Chicken Soup for the Soul records a story by Price Pritchett. He tells about watching a fly try to exit a motel room through the glass of a nearby window. The tiny fly flew faster and faster, “burning out the last of its short life’s energies in a futile attempt to fly through the glass of the windowpane.” The Fly’s strategy was obviously: “Try harder.” 

Pritchett goes on to write: “But it’s not working. The frenzied effort offers no hope for survival. Ironically, the struggle is part of the trap. It is impossible for the fly to try hard enough to succeed at breaking through the glass. Nevertheless, this little insect has staked its life on reaching its goal through raw effort and determination.” Unfortunately, the fly died on the windowsill while the door had been open only ten steps away! 

Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen introduce this story and conclude: “Trying harder doesn’t always work. Sometimes we need to do something radically different to achieve greater levels of success. We need to break out of our paradigm prisons, our habit patterns and our comfort zones.” 

Note that Canfield and Hansen didn’t suggest working harder is always the wrong thing to do. In fact, it is just what the doctor ordered in many situations. There have certainly been times in my life when a little extra effort could have transformed failure into success. I love that quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” 

They are suggesting, however, that working harder is not always the right answer. Sometimes we need to work smarter. If we are not getting the results we want, we may need to change what we are doing.

 work smarter

I know of no place where this is truer than in the church. It’s true for many individual Christians. Many of us attend worship services week after week, listening to our pastors tell us how we should be living. We leave with a renewed commitment to doing the right thing, but soon are feeling guilty because of our failure to live up to the challenge. Something is not working for us. 

It’s true for the institutional church. Every few days it seems someone reports additional evidence the church is in trouble. The nones are coming! The “nones,” in case you are unfamiliar with the term, are the increasing number of people who claim no affiliation with any organized religious group. Some insists the nones of today is the same group who were never really believers. They simply reflect the fact that people are now more willing to admit their lack of interest in organized religion. 

Whatever your interpretation of the evidence, it spells bad news for traditional churches who have a “build it (a building) and they will come” attitude. Fewer and fewer people are going to attend our churches because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. If you have doubts about this, I suggest you take a look at Europe. It means business as usual will not get the job done in the future. Working harder, doing the same things we have been doing in the recent past, will not suddenly attract the lonely crowd that populates our neighborhoods. It’s time for us to return to the Biblical principles of disciple making and stop relying on our marketing skills. It will be hard work, but it’s also smarter. Smarter, because it works. Smarter, because it’s God’s strategy for transforming lives. 

QUESTION: Are you working harder or smarter? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe Serving Leader for the People of God: 5 Powerful Actions That Will Transform Your Team, Your Church, and Your Community

 

Elizabeth Wourms recently sent me a copy of her book The Serving Leader for the People of God, co-authored with John Stahl-Wert (SHIP LLC, 2011). The book is based on Stahl-Wert and Jennings’ The Serving Leader text. This presented a bit of a problem in reviewing the book since I don’t own a copy of The Serving Leader. However, the authors do provide an overview of the latter book in their Prologue. Both books are built around their subtitle: 5 Powerful Actions That Will Transform Your Team, Your Church and Your Community.  

The five actions as summarized on page 17 in the book are: 

1.     Run to Great Purpose–serving leaders must provide their followers and their organizations with a truly compelling vision–a reason why–for their lives and work. The book and its training resources teach leaders how to do this.

2.     Upend the Pyramid–serving leaders must put themselves at the bottom of their organization in order to serve the success and accomplishment of the people who work for them. The book shows leaders how to make this shift in position and attitude.

3.     Raise the Bar–serving leaders must establish an organizational culture of excellence and high engagement by leading from values. The book and its training resources coach leaders how to grow in discipline and integrity in the course of daily management.

4.     Blaze the Trail–serving leaders must teach the business distinctives of their enterprise and remove the distractions and obstacles that hinder their team members as well as progress. The book shows leaders how to make mission clear, and keep great focus on those essentials that are at the heart of success.

5.     Build on Strength–serving leaders must know what the capabilities and passions of their workers are in order to build strengths-based and complementary teams. The book and its training resources guide leaders to know their workers strengths and to build strong team alignments. 

One might further summarize these five actions with the words purpose, humility, excellence, act, and  focus. Anyone familiar with leadership literature will quickly recognize these principles. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of things that can improve an organization, I agree putting these into actual practice could indeed transform a team, church, or community as promised by the authors. 

One of the things I particularly like about the book is the way each chapter is organized. Each chapter begins with a Narrative and Chapter Overview. Each moves quickly to a significant Biblical Foundations section followed by Theological Foundations. To help put the actions into actual practice the authors then include a section they call Key Behaviors and Practices and conclude with an example they entitle A Real-Life Story. 

Any Christian organization, especially a church, should find this book helpful in training their leaders. It offers an unusual combination of theoretical, Biblical, and theological foundations with a significant amount of supportive material that can help any organization apply those action principles.

QUESTION: What are some action principles that you believe will transform a team, church, or community? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsOne of the greatest obstacles to Christian discipleship is our materialistic culture and what David Riesman called an age of consumption.

 

As society has moved through the different periods of history, we see the interrelatedness of the religious, social, and economic realities. David Riesman wrote as early as 1950 in his book, The Lonely Crowd, about the movement to what he called an age of consumption. 

In this influential book he traced the changes in the “social character” of Western humanity since the Middle Ages, including the changes of family life. However, he expressed greatest concern in a second “revolution” he described as “a whole range of social developments associated with a shift from an age of production to an age of consumption.” 

Over a hundred years earlier Alexis de Tocqueville warned that American democracy could erode into a selfish materialism. Tocqueville believed this collapse of the public sphere would come from our success. 

Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow surveyed 2,000 people and found that 89% agreed “our society is much too materialistic.” Seventy percent believed American society would be “better off” with less emphasis on money.  

Materialism affects how we think and the way we see our world. It not only shapes our tastes, desires, and preferences, but as Wuthnow suggests, “alters our capacity to pray, the nature of our prayers,” and the way our religion “instructs our values.” Remember, this is a sociologist, not a preacher, making these statements based on his research. He goes on to suggest that when we sell our souls for “stuff” it is difficult to hear any prophetic message regarding “the suffering of the poor, the need for economic justice, and the desirability of seeing God’s handiwork in simple things or in nature.” 

There’s a wonderful story about an old fisherman sitting on a pier beside his catch of fish. A rich businessman came by and asked the old man why he wasn’t out catching more fish. The fisherman responded, “Why?”

“Well,” the rich man opined, “So you can make more money, of course.”

Again, the old fisherman asked, “Why?”

“So you can buy more boats, more nets.”

“Why?”

“To make more money,” the rich man responded with increasing frustration.

“Why? “Well, man,” the businessman practically shouted, “so you can sit back and take it easy.”

“So, what do you think I’m doing now?” the old man asked, with a twinkle in his eyes. 

I’m not recommending laziness or sloth. But I do wonder if many of us have lost a sense of balance in our lives between work and play. Are we choosing the material over the spiritual? Are we choosing the good over the best? Are we choosing our work over our families, Mammon over God? 

There is literally a world of difference between the values of a mature Christian disciple who follows Jesus and the values of our materialistic culture. Augustine called these two worlds the City of God and the City of Man.  

Jesus put it this way, as reported by Matthew in chapter 6, verse 24. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

QUESTION: To which kingdom are you loyal, the spiritual kingdom of God or the material kingdom of this world? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Living Up To Our Label

April 24, 2013 — 1 Comment

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe greatest obstacle to making disciples may be the discrepancy people see between the Christian label we wear and how we live our lives.

 

Soon after we were married my wife Robin decided she would rather do the grocery shopping by herself rather than have me accompany her. Oh, she never stated this explicitly, but volunteered to do it alone. I realized I slowed her down too much. I spent much too much time comparing prices and reading labels. Robin simply pulled what she wanted off the shelf and placed it in the shopping cart.

Reading labels can be educational and entertaining. What about orange juice labeled “Fresh” but which in truth is made from concentrate? What about that purse labeled “GENUINE Manmade LEATHER?” It seems to me that genuine should mean the “real” thing, authentic, natural.

So, what does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Sometimes I wonder if we mislabel ourselves. From time to time I see people who call themselves Christians acting terribly unlike Christ. (Sometimes I see that individual in the mirror.) Jesus Christ loved his enemies, had compassion for the least, the lost, and the last. Many people who label themselves Christians express hatred for their enemies and show little compassion for anyone, especially those who are different in some way.

Perhaps we should all ask ourselves if we are living up to our label. We are called Christians because we are supposed to be followers of Jesus who was killed for his radical call to love others. As Christians we are called by God to share our time, our talent, and our treasure with others, especially those less fortunate.

Years ago I read something that might be a little test of how well we might be living up to our label: If your car starts one out of three times, do you consider it “faithful?” If your paper doesn’t arrive Monday and Thursday, would they be missed?’ If you fail to come to work two or three days a month, would your boss call you “faithful?” If your air conditioner quits for a day now and then, do you excuse it and say, “Oh well, it works most of the time.” If you missed a couple of car payments in a year’s time, would the bank say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad?” If you miss worship one third of the time, are you faithful?” Here’s the point: Do you give the same commitment to God and His church that you do to the rest of life?

And what about our call to make Christian disciples? The greatest obstacle to our success in this endeavor may be the discrepancy people see between our label (Christian) and our lives. It doesn’t matter much about our methods if those we seek to disciple don’t see the transforming power of God at work in us. It will be impossible to convince others to commit themselves to radical discipleship if the product they see before them is no better than all the other people they know. The first step to discipling others is working on our own holiness, learning to live up to our Christian label.

QUESTION: When others look at your life do they see something that would make them want to be like you? If not, what do you need to change? Please respond in the Comments section below.