Dear Christian: Be an Example Worth Following!

Ruby, my soon-to-be six year old, wants to be "a momma" when she grows up. Or a teacher. I tell her that she can be both. When she's older, she says, she'll get to take care of the babies all day and "milk them" {aka nurse them}, "just like mom." She talks about it with a sense of pride & hopeful expectation. I've never once had a conversation with her about how to be a mom, or what a stay-at-home mom does all day--she knows because she's been watching me. My husband says it's a testimony to me and the kind of mom I am, that she wants to be like me when she grows up. I say it's all God, because He knows how many times I mess up each day and still by some miracle she wants to be like me. It's a sweet thought, though.

Just like Ruby watches me and forms an opinion about motherhood and all that it entails, so do we form opinions about many important roles in life. We all set an example for someone. People, especially children, are always watching and learning. How to be a mom or dad, how to be an employee, an artist, a teacher, a businessman, a day laborer, a grandparent, a manager, a friend....a Christian. 

If someone were to watch your example today on how to be a Christian, would they want to be like you?

Would they even know by your example that you were a Christian? 

I heard an alarming statistic recently which stated that within three years of becoming a Christian, most people will no longer have any non-Christian friends. I can look back on my own life to times when that was true. And for me, it wasn't even that I didn't have any non-Christian friends. I just chose to let those friendships fall by the wayside. I didn't call, I didn't seek them out, and soon I stopped spending time with them altogether. They were sinful, after all, and my new found holiness self-righteousness just couldn't handle being in close proximity with that anymore. It was uncomfortable. After all, they might swear. Or smoke. Or offend my delicate Christian sensibilities. Or tell me that they're gay, and what in the world would I do with that?? So I chose to walk away.

I was happy to go on missions trips or walk down the streets in the city and tell people about Jesus and the difference He made in my life, but none of those relationships were lasting, nor did they require any risk or vulnerability beyond my testimony and a track. Here's the information, I hope it changes your life like it did mine {as you can see from my WWJD bracelet}, now have a nice day! 

I was happy to hang out at church with my Christian posse. It's safe to be around people who look like you, talk like you, and think like you. It's comfortable. We Christians like comfortable--most of us, at least. We go to our church services on Sunday and bible studies on Wednesday. Like infants, we are happy to allow others to spoon-feed us the Bible. We fill up and fill up and get fat on the Word of God. We listen to sermons, we read books, and we listen to podcasts while our bible sits idly by, collecting dust on the nightstand. 

We drive past the man in tattered clothing, standing on the side of the road with a small, cardboard sign in the rain. We give money to the mission in the city but have never once set foot on those city streets, in their shelters, or in their soup kitchens. We send a shoebox with toys overseas at Christmas so we can feel charitable while the children next door don't have money to buy food for dinner, let alone Christmas presents. We get on Facebook and make sure that the world knows that we eat at Chick-Fil-A, are boycotting World Vision, and are appalled at the heresy in the movie Noah. We could create a #ChristiansofFacebook hashtag, and seriously folks, many of the posts tagged would be downright embarrassing. Like mud, we sling around careless words in the name of truth, and we forget that there are real people with real feelings on the other side of the computer screen.

But here's the thing. Letting the world know what Christians "hate" or "what we stand for" isn't going to make them love Jesus. Quite the opposite, actually. You can't debate someone into loving Jesus. You can't bully them, shame them, chastise them, rebuke them, picket them, or criticize them into giving their heart to The Lord. And yet, this is how many of us operate. Or worse, we ignore them completely.

I think there's a degree of memory loss that occurs in some people after becoming a Christian. We somehow forget that we used to be one of them. There was an entire portion of our life that we did not believe in nor follow The Lord, and it's only by the grace of God and the conviction of the Spirit that our eyes were opened and we accepted Him as our Savior. We somehow start to believe that we are better then non-Christians, that we are somehow responsible for this miraculous change in our lives. 

Or maybe it's not that, maybe we're just afraid. Because, let's face it, real relationships with real people are scary. People have thoughts and opinions of their own, and they might be different then ours. They might be downright opposite or hostile to ours. Real relationships require risk and vulnerability, which open the door to conflict, pain, and just plain messiness. And how do we apply this Jesus of ours to that? How can Jesus help your next door neighbor who's addicted to painkillers? What about your friend who just lost her husband and is now going to lose her home? How about your family member who is sick or dying of cancer? What about the single mom on welfare? The army veterans? The homeless?

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:12-17 NIV)

I want you to go stand in front of a mirror, and take a good long look at that face staring back at you. Now look down at your hands, and then your feet. The Holy Spirit, by very definition, is unable to be seen. But you, YOU, my Christian friend, are not invisible. YOU can be the hands and feet of Christ. Jesus with skin on. And the world will know that by the way you LOVE, by the example you set.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV)

Friends, if you do not LOVE, all the world hears is a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal--nothing worth paying any attention to. Just meaningless, annoying noise. What the world needs is a little less Christianity and a little more Jesus. A little less judgement and finger-pointing and a little more unconditional love. Jesus was a "friend of sinners." He ate with them, talked with them, walked with them, and healed them. He met them in their brokenness, in their mess, and he offered them hope. A new life. Do you think they would've spent time with him--the tax collectors, prostitutes and criminals--if they didn't see something different in Him? Something alluring? Something that they didn't have, but wanted? 

He wasn't like the self-righteous Pharisees, judging and condemning and quoting and getting offended. He was totally other. New. He loved with actions, and so can you. You can get out of your Christian bubble, if you are in fact living in one, and get to know the real people around you. Real people who most likely don't look like you, talk like you, or think like you. They're on your street, at the store, in your schools, and on your kids baseball team. 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19 NIV)

Learn their names. Invite them over for a cookout. Welcome them into your Home. Bring them a meal when they are sick. Rake the leaves in their yard in the fall. Shovel their driveway in the winter. Offer to watch their kids or carpool to school, for free. Develop a relationship with them. Listen, without an agenda, to their hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs and concerns. Earn the right to have an opinion before you give one. Be less concerned about the world knowing what you believe or stand for and more concerned about setting an example for the real people in your everyday life. An example that is totally other and new. One that begs the question, why are you so different? An example that makes them want what you have, too. 

And you know what? You don't have to SAY anything. When you truly love others, as Christ did, your example speaks for itself. People will know that you're different, and eventually they will want to know why. Then be ready to give a reason for the hope you have, for the joy in your heart.

But you cannot impart what you do not possess, so are you joyful, Christian? Are you hopeful? Are you FREE? If Christians really believed God is who He says He is and lived accordingly, the world would never be the same.

Dear Christian, if you're truly an example of Jesus, a conduit of his unconditional, unfailing love to a broken world, your home should be a better place because you're there. Your workplace should be a better place because you're there. The restaurant where you sit, the coffee house you frequent, your hair salon, your PTA Board, and your business meeting should be a better place because you're there. Your neighborhood, your community, and your tangible world should be a better place because you, Jesus with skin on, are there.

Are they? 

How do you change the world in the name of Jesus? One person, one soul, at a time. And now is a great time to start. Be an example worth following & lead on.

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