Let Your Dim, Sin-Stained Light Shine Before The World

Important Message

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Verses like this one lead to statements like these:

“Your lifestyle is as much a part of evangelism as your words.”

“Let your marriage be a light to the watching world.”

“You’re an ambassador for Christ at your workplace.”

Have you heard similar statements, or made them? They’re true – a godly life, loving marriage, and honorable conduct in the office really can be examples to non-Christians. And it’s also true that religious hypocrites can do damage to the gospel: pastors who commit adultery, hucksters who defraud with Bible verses, or Sunday afternoon restaurant patrons who stiff their waitress a tip and leave tracts on the table instead.

But for most Christians, trying their best to be faithful but aware of their failings, statements or verses that call us to live our lives as examples to non-Christians can feel like an impossible burden. I know I’m a poor excuse for a Christian parent – now you’re telling me I’m damaging the cause of the gospel as well as my kids. Thanks!

If exhortations to “be an example” have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There’s a way out from under the burden. Here’s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means? You don’t have to be perfect!

When the call to let your light shine comes as a burden, we have a basic confusion about our message. Instead of the good news that Jesus came to save and transform sinners, we are believing some other “good news” (that really isn’t so good after all!). The false message might take different forms: if you use biblical parenting techniques, your kids will always obey and never try to strip naked and run screaming through the grocery store. If you put God first in your marriage, you’ll never have a conflict or ever see things differently than your spouse. If you love God more than money, you’ll always be the perfect employee. I’m exaggerating, of course, but do you see the common thread in all these message? “If you…” But the message we witness to as Christians begins with God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” (Eph. 2:4).

The gospel is not simply the best self-help news out there, nor the hottest parenting or marriage techniques to transform your kids and your communication. It is the message that God, through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and transformed. We have been and being redeemed, day by day, situation by situation. Even our failures and ongoing battles with sin testify to this message. Asking forgiveness, admitting failure, honestly facing our weaknesses and temptations – these do not deny our message. Instead, they can testify to its truth. Jesus saved, is saving, and will save us – sinners though we remain!

Don’t confuse the message. You’re not living a life of perfection so others can learn from you the secrets of self-mastery. You’re living a life of redemption, so that others can meet the Redeemer who is at work in you. And that message is truly good news.

Photo by Patrick Denker

The Problem With Not Caring What Other People Think

origin_2486574722

Everyone wishes we could be that one person who really doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. “I don’t care what anybody thinks” is a sentiment that is lauded. The care free, do-whatever-I-want mentality strikes jealousy in our hearts. It exudes freedom and a certain “above it all” quality we long for because expectations and pleasing others is so burdensome and self-defining.

Nobody doesn’t care about what other people think. That’s a farce. “I don’t care what people think” is just another impression people try to give so that they look carefree. What they really mean is “I hope I look to other people like I really don’t care what they think . . . because I really care what they think.”

If someone manages to not care what others think they’re usually pretty much a jerk. If you don’t care what other people think you likely care far too much about what you think of yourself. Your own proclamations and opinions become far too impressive in your own mind. If you only care what you think you only seek to impress you, everyone else be damned.

There is a fine line between caring too much and too little what people think. If we care too much we become wishy washy shills and tools in the hands of fads, trends, and influencers. If we care too little we become irrelevant, unkind insulters. If we care too much we are at the mercy of others and their whims. If we care too little we are the mercy of our own blind spots and propensities for failure.

Common wisdom says “don’t let what others think of you dictate how you make decisions.” That’s largely true, but we must let what others think of us influence how we make decisions. We cannot determine how people think of us, but we can guess how they might. This guess allows us to communicate effectively. It helps us come across lovingly and winsomely. It allows us to avoid being insensitive and hurtful. We don’t get to decide how people receive what we say, but caring what they think pushes us to try to connect as effectively and carefully as possible.

Like so many areas of life, this is not a black and white thing. We must care what people think enough to respect them, teach them, and influence them. But we cannot care so much that they determine what we think, what we do, or who we are.

photo credit: Bryan Bruchman via photopin cc

Being On the Internet Doesn’t Give You Permission To Be A Jerk

secret

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

I’ve noticed a strange, somewhat disturbing phenomenon in recent years. I honestly don’t quite understand it. What is that phenomenon?

Christians treating other people in the most hateful, angry, unloving ways.

Recently, due to circumstances I still can’t quite figure out, my name ended up on a particular blog. That, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I’ve got a blog. I do the whole Twitter and Facebook thing. Some people are going to disagree with the things I say. I’ve got no problem with that.

What did surprise me was the things other Christians said about me in the comments section. These people, who don’t know me, don’t know my family, and will probably never meet me, resorted very quickly to straight out name calling. I’m not talking, “I disagree with Stephen,” type stuff. I’m talking, “Stephen is a complete and total idiot,” kind of stuff. I was also called a brainwashed kid, which, if you know anything about me, is pretty hilarious. I digress.

Now, call me crazy, but I thought one of the distinguishing marks of Christians is the way we treat one another. In John 13:35, Jesus said:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to understand this passage. The world will know we are Christians if we have love for one another. One of the primary things that sets Christians apart from the rest of the world is the way we treat one another. When the world sees the love we have for one another, they’ll know that something is different about us. When the world see the words we speak to one another, and the way we serve one another, and the way we care for one another, they will know that something is dramatically different about us.

If an unbeliever hopped onto various Christian websites, and started scrolling through the comments section, would he notice a distinct difference from any other website? Other than an absence of profanity, I don’t think he would. And that is really, really jacked up.

If we’re going to call ourselves Christians, it’s time to start acting like Christians. It’s fine to disagree with another Christian. It’s fine to point out erroneous teaching. But every action, online and offline, must be ruled by love. The command to treat others as we want to be treated, applies just as much to our online interactions as it does to our real-world interactions.

Before we post something online, we would be wise to ask:

  • Would I want someone to say the same thing about me?
  • If I were having coffee with this person tomorrow, would I say these words about them today?
  • Do these words pass the Ephesians 4:29 test? (No corrupting talk, gives grace to those who hear).
  • Am I using the phrase, “Speaking the truth in love,” as simply an excuse to gossip and slander?
  • Am I, under the guise of “protecting the sheep”, simply being mean or angry?

The Internet is already loaded to the gills with meanness. As Christians, let’s not add to the noise.

Don’t Get Drunk on Power

large__12181690795

Power is intoxicating. This is just a fancy way of saying it makes us lose our heads. We gain power and we get stupid. It gets into our blood stream and affects our thinking and our actions.

Likely you don’t think you have power. Think again. If you are parent you are a concentrated force of power. Teachers, coaches, and managers all wield significant power. Anyone in a position of authority does, but so too does anyone who is respected or looked up to. The salesman who can talk a negotiation into his favor and the pretty lady who can get her way with a bat of the eye lashes are both powerful. If you are richer, smarter, or more disciplined than others you have power. Really, only infants and the desperately poor lack any sort of notable power.

As Ben Parker once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” He was right, but he missed something significant: with any power comes great temptation. As sinful people we constantly look to gain the approval of some at the expense of others. We look to climb over those we can to gain higher heights just to make ourselves feel better. We abuse the power we have.

We threaten our kids and yell at our kids to get them to obey. We intimidate and coerce those in our influence. We manipulate those we see as weaker. We treat people weaker than us in ways we would never dream of treating our equals. Basically we do things we wouldn’t ever do if we were in our right minds. Kind of like a drunk person.

We need to know our limits. How much power can we handle without getting tipsy? When over-do it, what kind of dumb choices are we prone to? It won’t be streaking, a regrettable tattoo, or bowing to the porcelain god with a wicked hangover. More likely it will mean someone is hurt badly. Power intoxication doesn’t leave cars wrapped around phone poles, but it will leave relationships in burning ruins.

We can’t always help what power we have, but we can handle it responsibly. We must know ourselves enough to know when to walk away or back down. Intoxication comes from abuse, from over-doing it. Know your limits. Be willing to say no thanks, even (especially) if it is just to yourself. The damage of power-drunkness is incalculable.

photo credit: pavlinajane via photopin cc

Come On, Be Reasonable And Do It My Way!

“Let your reasonableness be known to all.” That command is in the Bible, though you wouldn’t know it if you were surveying the American church today. We have forgotten it completely, and I don’t mean “forgotten” as in “rationalized away.” I mean legitimately wiped from church memory.

If you were to choose labels for what you see in Christianity today “reasonableness” would be nowhere near the top of the list. Outrage, bombast, extremism, polarity, partisan, sectarian, reactive, over-reactive, accusatory, judgmental, defensive, insulting, ignorant, fearful, hypocritical and others would likely come to mind first. If you wanted to find a more positive description you might go with well-intentioned, determined, or industrious. Of course no one of those terms, negative or positive, accurately sums up the church, but they would be higher on the list than “reasonable.”

Somewhere along the line — you can blame the Enlightenment if you’d like — we decided reasons equaled reasonableness. If we could defend an idea or an action then it was reasonable (even if the reasons were poor). Our hope, and much of our identity, rests in argumentation. And ironically this is often at the expense of being reasonable. Our arguments are loud, long, and aggressive. We “win” them with shows of force and pointed slogans. And we do make them known to everyone.

Real reasonableness is a blend of conviction and patience blended with some empathy and a willingness to engage multiple perspectives. “Engaging” doesn’t mean fighting; it means interacting with graciously. To be reasonable one must be able to stand firm and be gentle at the same time, to know what you believe but communicate it without any of the ad hominem or straw man foolishness so prevalent today. A reasonable person observes much, listens much, then processes and responds. He doesn’t react.

Underpinning all true reasonableness is a constant acknowledgment that God is God. Nobody who is trying to play God in any part of life can be reasonable. Instead we ought to have a confidence in God, in his sovereignty. Sometimes this looks like gritted teeth and a bitten tongue and other times it’s as smooth as butter and as sweet as honey. But no matter what, only by remembering that God is God can we love the unlovable, even our enemies (another forgotten command). If we rest in the reality that God is sovereign we are able to set aside our reasons and actually become reasonable.

photo credit: Vic Acid via photopin cc