Importance of Representing Christ Well

hangryContinued from here.

This week’s message may have been difficult for some of you to read, but it needed to be said. I do not claim to represent Christ well 100% of the time, but I’m doing it much better today than I was five years ago, and I hope that in five years, I will be able to say the same thing again. In addition to exercising more self-control than I used to, I also find myself apologizing much more than I once did.

As an example, I recently had an appointment run late, leaving precious little time to eat before taking my son to another appointment. I got “hangry” as my blood sugar dropped. I called my son and asked him to fill a bottle with water so I could eat the food I grabbed in the drive thru as I drove him to his appointment. When I got home, he has misplaced the water and had the dog running around the front lawn, so I had to grab the dog and pour my own water (making us late) and then race out to get him to his appointment, all without any food in my stomach. I did not react in a Christlike manner. However, once I got some food in my stomach and my blood sugar rose, I felt convicted and apologized to my son for my behavior.

Years ago, I would not have apologized. After all, my 17-year-old son did not follow my basic instructions, and my bad attitude was fueled by my lowered blood sugar. I had good reason to give him an attitude, right? That would have been my rationale back then. However, I have grown enough in my walk with Christ to recognize that only I have the power to choose my attitude, regardless of how I feel or what anyone else does. What type of Christian example am I being to my son when I fail to extend him grace? I’m not going to get it right every time, but I can apologize when I blow it, which also provides my son with a good example.

The next time you are tempted to let your feelings drive your behavior, stop and ask yourself how God would like you to behave. People are watching you to see what Christ is like. Let’s be a good example to the world, and if we blow it, take responsibility and apologize.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a knife and fork over the word, “Hangry!” and creating a Godzilla shadow. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Representing Christ Well by Submitting to Authority

teamworkContinued from here.

One glaring area for improvement in Christian circles is obeying God about submitting to authority. The Bible is very clear that God expects his people to submit to all forms of authority, such as God’s laws, secular authority, and those in authority over you in ministry. The Bible also tells wives to respect and submit to their husbands. This is not a popular message, particularly in the United States, which was founded upon rebellion from England. However, as Christians, we cannot pick and choose which biblical admonitions to follow. If you are disciple of Christ, you will obey what God tells you to do.

One reason I never wanted to go into professional ministry is that Christians can be the most difficult people to lead. I have led both Christian volunteers and secular volunteers and have found that the secular volunteers are more easily led, which is ironic considering God’s Word emphasizes the importance of walking together in unity. In the secular realm, leaders are not going to put up with much attitude from volunteers. However, in the Christian realm, leaders want to extend grace, and many take advantage of that grace and behave in ways that secular volunteers would not consider doing. This should not be, Church. I make it my mission to be the most easily-led volunteer at my church. One must learn to be a good follower to ever become a good leader.

One thing that the enemy does better than the Church is working together in unity. Even Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand. However, the church has not learned that lesson, which is one reason the Church has divided itself into so many denominations. “Being right” takes priority over being unified, even though the Bible is clear that we are all members of one Body and need to learn to work together in unity, following the Head, who is Christ.

If you have trouble working together in unity with your Christian brothers and sisters, you are spiritually immature. It’s time for the Church to grow up. If everyone in a ministry is following one Head, then they should be able to work together in unity rather than split apart every time the Head makes a decision that they do not like.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace waving pom poms and cheering under the word, “Teamwork!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

You Represent Jesus Wherever You Go

fruitContinued from here.

Because I wear a cross necklace, I communicate to the world that I am representing Jesus, even if I never have a conversation with the people around me. If I meet disappointment or aggravation with anger, the cross around my neck communicates to the people around me that God is an impatient and angry God. Conversely, when I have every understandable reason to blow my stack but, instead, react with grace and compassion, I communicate to those around me that God is both patient and loving. I do not need to say a word to evangelize those around me. My behavior communicates my faith.

Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit. It doesn’t matter how many crosses you wear on your body or how many fish symbols you display on your car. What’s communicated to the world is what you DO, not how you choose to adorn yourself. How heartbreaking when the atheists are the ones showing compassion while the Christians behave badly. While those Christians might be heading to heaven and avoiding hell, they are unlikely to bring anyone else along with them until they start behaving in a Christlike manner.

The reality is that our sinful nature makes each of us selfish. Just because you receive Jesus as your Savior does not magically make this selfishness go away. Replacing our natural selfishness with Christlikeness takes time and requires much effort as we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

I work in professional ministry with a prison ministry. My colleague and I repeatedly remind our volunteers that the inmates are not the only people they are ministering to. How they represent Christ as they go through security and interact with the prison personnel affects how those people see God as well. Are our prison ministry volunteers more patient about delays in going through security than other volunteers? Do our volunteers accept being turned away from volunteering for the night with grace, or do they pitch a fit about not getting to go into the prison that evening? Every action we take communicates something about God to the people around us. How well are you representing God to others?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace leaning on a giant peach. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being Respectful of Those Who Serve You

really_appreciateContinued from here.

I have a couple of relatives who make me cringe whenever we eat out because they behave in a less than kind and gracious manner whenever they are displeased with the service in a restaurant. I frequently remind them that their server has the ability to sneeze in their food, so they might want to consider this before responding. However, that’s not my primary motivator for extending grace and kindness to servers: I do it because God has extended me so much grace and kindness when I did not deserve it.

Jesus said that if you want to be first in heaven, you “must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35) as he was. Jesus deserved to be highly respected and treated as a king. Instead, he served others by washing their feet. If Jesus is truly your master, then you need to follow his example in how you treat other people.

When [Jesus] had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:12-17).

Jesus could have pulled rank and ordered a disciple to wash his feet, but he didn’t. He humbled himself and served those who were beneath him. That is our example to follow. We need to look for ways to honor those who serve us. Serving a Christian should be a joy, not a challenge.

As an example, as I was waiting for my friend to come to the sinks in the bathroom, I noticed the janitor sweeping up pieces of paper towels that the Christian concert festival attendees had left strewn all over the floor. I walked over to her and thanked her for all she was doing to keep the bathrooms clean. After this, my friend came to the sink to wash her hands, noticed the janitor, and said the same thing to her, adding “God bless you!” She had no idea I had said the same thing – she was simply being Christlike in noticing this servant and honoring her. At a Christian event, this reaction to a janitor should be the norm, not an anomaly.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her heart saying, “Really appreciate.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

You are Christ’s Ambassador

my_badOver the weekend, I attended a Christian music festival and had a wonderful time. I haven’t been to concert in a year (was too busy with school and work), so it was quite the treat to praise God amongst thousands of other Christians. My soul soared as I danced and sang praises to my God and King.

So, you can imagine my surprise to learn that many of the same people who were dancing around and worshiping God in their seats were not carrying that joy out to the people who were hired to serve them during this event. My friend and I waited in line to order soft pretzels and water, and the line wasn’t very long. When we got to the window to order our food, my friend made a simple mistake, and the cashier was very gracious. We both thanked her for her grace, and my friend said some kind words to the cashier.

And then the cashier did something that astonished me: she actually thanked my friend and me for being nice to her. I replied, “Please tell me that at this Christian event, you are not encountering people who are NOT being nice to you.” Her response was that my friend’s and my “niceness” was not the norm at this event. WWHHAATT?? I apologized to her on behalf of the Church and told her that a Christian event should be the most enjoyable event to serve, and if that is not the case, then the Church is not behaving in a Christlike manner.

Church, please hear me: You are an ambassador of Christ, so everything you say and do as you go about your life sends a message to the people around you about who Jesus is. When you are kind, the World sees Jesus’ kindness. However, when you behave in the same way the World does (or worse!), you are representing Jesus as being that kind of person as well. This is why Jesus said that whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to him. You will be held accountable for the way you treat other people because how you behave reflects who God is. You don’t want to learn that your selfish behavior turned others away from the One True God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders under the words, “My Bad.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

We Need Others to Be Christians

Continued from here.

A wise man pointed out that Christianity cannot be practiced in isolation. In other words, Christianity isn’t taking place if there is no investment in other people. Tony Evans puts it this way: Christians have a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with others. Without the horizontal beam, there is no cross. That’s the basis of the title of his book, Horizontal Jesus. The book is all about how to live your faith as you invest in other people.

Far too many people are selfish Christians. They want just enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, which focuses only on their own needs. What about the other people who also need to avoid going to hell? Your reaction is likely like mine – I don’t want to be an offensive “Bible thumper” who annoys people by trying to “save” them.

However, Jesus and his disciples changed the world without thumping anyone with a Bible. They did it through LOVE! And love is expressed by investing in other people. In fact, if you aren’t investing in other people, you are not loving them, and God is love. Jesus commanded us to love one another as he loved us. The Bible even tells us that if we aren’t loving one another, then we don’t know God.

If we are living our faith, then Christians should be known as the most loving people in existence. We should be the people who notice someone’s pain first and reach out in love. We should be the ones who are the most willing to slow down to 3 MPH and listen to whatever is burdening someone’s heart. If we were to do this – to live as Jesus did – we would change the world just as surely as the disciples did in the First Century. People were – and still are – drawn to God because of His love, and they should be seeing this love through us.

[Graphic: Cover of Horizontal Jesus. Courtesy Amazon. ]

Community Groups

group_hugContinued from here.

I have been leading Bible studies through my local church for well over a decade. One of my concerns has been seeing people grow in their knowledge of God without becoming the hands and feet of Christ. Don’t get me wrong – I have interacted with many wonderful women (and men!) through these Bible studies, but something has been missing. There’s been a disconnect between the level of knowledge accumulated about the Bible and turning that knowledge into “love in action.”

In seminary, I concentrated on discipleship and learned the importance of leading holistic small groups that have not only an upward (God) focus but also an inward (group members) focus and an outward (missions) focus. Without an inward and outward focus, there’s nowhere for the accumulated knowledge to be applied. Jesus did not sit around with his disciples getting them to learn the Torah better. He led by example in the community and showed them what “love in action” looks like. That’s what our small groups need to be doing as well.

Last week, my church launched its first community group (although it’s using a different name for it) to apply what I learned in seminary, and I’m excited about the potential. The small group will spend half its time each week with an inward focus, encouraging group members to invest in one another. The second half of the session will be a traditional Bible study (upward focus). And then every fourth week or so, the session will consist entirely of a missions focus – either serving in the community as a group or meeting away from the church to discuss how members are serving as Jesus’ hands and feet in the community. My hope is that this balanced structure will help the group members grow as disciples of Christ who apply what they learn from the Bible study into their relationships with the other group members and with people in the community. I also hope that this structure will help meet each group member’s need for intimacy – of being seen and known as we travel this road together.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and standing between the words, “Group Hug.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Developing Intimacy

heart_thoughtContinued from here.

Another point from the documentary Godspeed is the importance of developing intimacy. We live in a world where people have 500 Facebook friends but nobody who actually knows them. The DJs on a Christian radio station were recently talking about a study that America’s Youth do not know how to carry on a face-to-face conversation because their communication is always through text and social media. American life has become very disconnected, and yet God calls us to intimacy, both with Him and with one another. How can we do this if we don’t slow down enough to make eye contact and to know one another’s names and stories?

One of my favorite names for God is El Roi, which means “the God who sees me.” I have spent most of my life feeling unseen. I have oceans of depth to my soul, but few people bother to look. However, God not only sees this depth, but he even understands the complexity in me that I don’t even understand about myself. He knows me intimately, which draws me ever closer to Him as He meets my deep need to feel seen and known.

In my Evangelism class in seminary, the professor said that someone set up shop in a mall and offered to spend 30 minutes listening to whatever someone wanted to talk about for $20. Per the professor, this person had no credentials but made a lot of money because people are that desperate to feel “heard.” However, nobody is listening because we are all racing from here to there, many of us with earbuds in our ears to ensure that we fail to hear as well as see the pain of those around us. This is not the way God designed Christian community to be.

The Church is supposed to function as a Body, but how can that happen when we do not see or hear one another? How can we learn to walk together when each one of us is racing to his or her own destination at 90 MPH? It’s a lot easier to move as a body at 3 MPH, getting to know another’s names and stories as we walk.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with her eyes closed and thinking of a heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Slowing Down

snailContinued from here.

Slowing down is a concept that most Americans cannot even process. When I tell people that I observe the Sabbath each week (on Fridays so I can rest while my family is at work or school), they look at me like I have two heads! How could I possibly afford to take an entire day off from work, cleaning, running around, and getting things done? My response is that I cannot afford NOT to take that day. When I was working full-time and going to school full-time, my Sabbath was my day of sanity – a break from an overstuffed life. I actually get more accomplished in six days while observing the Sabbath than I could possibly complete in seven without it!

I also slow down in the mornings and evenings by spending both blocks of time with God. I don’t how I used to get out of bed and immediately go at full speed, but I did this for many years. I need that time of grounding – of filling up with God – before interacting with another person. The slow pace of my morning provides the foundation for hitting the ground running when I start my day.

A wise woman once told me that I am a human BEING, not a human DOING. A wise man said that America has it backward: Rather than “don’t just sit there, do something,” our motto should be “don’t just do something, sit there.” God did not design people to go at 90 MPH, and that is not how Jesus lived. If he was going at 90 MPH, he never would have noticed Zaccheus or the Samaritan woman at the well. How much do we miss as we zip through our lives to make progress on our endless to-do lists?

Many people tell me they wish they could discern God’s voice as well as I seem to be able to. I wonder how many of those people have any time during the day in which they are only walking 3 MPH so God has an opening to speak to them. God frequently “interrupts” my quiet time because that’s when I am walking slowly enough to hear Him. It’s harder to get my attention when I am racing from one task to the next.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crawling out of a snail’s shell. Courtesy Bitmoji.] 

 

Godspeed

godspeedMy church provides its congregation with a free subscription to RightNow Media, which is a streaming service of Bible Studies and sermons, kind of like a Christian Netflix. Because I have an account, RightNow Media periodically sends me emails promoting one of the available videos. I generally simply delete those emails because I have limited time for viewing them, but the latest one caught my eye. It was advertising a documentary called Godspeed, which you can watch for free here.

Godspeed is the story of an American priest who moved to Scotland and learned about living life at God’s pace (hence the pun in the title Godspeed). In the United States, life races by at a dizzying pace, but God led this priest to a parish in Scotland where everything moves at the pace that Jesus did – at 3 miles per hour. When we move at 3 MPH, we notice things that we simply cannot notice when we are racing from one place to the next. In fact, that’s the pace Jesus used to change the world!

By moving at only 3 MPH, Jesus had the time to notice people – to not only learn their names but also their stories. He got to know the people around him intimately, as they also did with him. This is what the American priest learned to do in his parish. His “office” was the village. He got out and walked, getting to know the people as he walked throughout the parish. He shared a powerful story of feeling led to do a sermon without notes, which was frightening because he didn’t want to freeze up in front of “the congregation.” But then he realized that “the congregation” was made up of individuals he had gotten to know intimately, so freezing up did not have to be scary. These were not nameless people congregated to hear him speak. He was speaking before a room filled with friends who he knew and who knew him.

I was blown away by the simple and yet profound concept of slowing down and developing intimacy among the people around you. I loved the line in the documentary about how we race through life, impatiently waiting for God to catch up with us while if we would simply slow down our pace, we would catch up with God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling over the word, “Godspeed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]