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.]

 

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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.]

 

Focus on the Behavior, not the Motive

undoContinued from here.

None of us enjoys being reprimanded, no matter how gently it is done, but without any sort of reprimand, we won’t grow. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, and we all have blind spots that we will never see unless someone else points them out to us, preferably in a gentle and loving manner.

If you believe you need to redirect someone else, first go to the Lord in prayer about it. God does not expect you to change everything that needs changing at the same time, and you should not expect that of other people. Pray for God’s guidance on whether you should say anything at all. If you feel the Spirit leading you to do so, pray for the Holy Spirit to speak through you so the conversation will be constructive. If you sense that God is telling you not to say anything at this time, pray for God to help you forgive your friend and let it go.

If you choose to have a conversation with your friend about something that needs to change, pray and think through how you would best receive constructive criticism from someone else. Use the gentlest words possible, with love as the framework. Most people accept constructive criticism best from someone who they know truly loves them. Often, the negative reaction to constructive criticism is not about the criticism itself but in reaction to feeling shamed or rejected. Thus, constructive criticism should always been spoken in a way that communicates loving redirection.

Also, communicate how the other person’s actions made you feel without making assumptions about the person’s motives. Personally, I receive constructive criticism well so long as people do not accuse me of motives that are simply not true, which is a childhood trigger for me. As long as someone provides constructive criticism in a loving way, I will consider that person’s viewpoint, even if I do not agree with it. I will pray over it and follow what I believe God is telling me to do. I recognize that each of us sees the world through our own filters, and sometimes constructive criticism is really more about the other person’s worldview than about anything I am doing.

However, if the person attributes a motive to me that is off base, I have trouble processing the criticism because my focus goes to why someone I respect has such a low opinion of me as a person. I certainly make mistakes, but I rarely intentionally set out to hurt another person. Calling a mistake to my attention does not hurt me, but accusing me of intentionally hurting another person does because it is simply not true.

Always remember that only God knows what someone else is going through and what is driving his actions. If you feel led to provide constructive criticism, stay focused on the behavior without making assumptions about the motives, and communicate the truth within the framework of love.

[Graphic: Cartoon of  Grace standing behind the computer keys of Ctrl and Z = “undo.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Love

drawing_heartContinued from here.

There is someone in my life who used to have the gentleness of a sledgehammer – she certainly spoke the truth, but she hit me over the head with it, leaving me with a splitting headache. That is the opposite of speaking the truth in love.

God is never initially harsh with people. His conviction is gentle and only grows harsh if it is necessary to bring about change, and He only uses harshness after repeated gentle attempts remain fruitless. Even then, his “harshness” is for our own protection, much like when a parent yells at a toddler who did not obey the gentle instruction not to walk into the street and is now about to run into traffic. The parent doesn’t start out yelling at the child – the harshness only comes after gentle reminders are ignored to the point that the child is now in imminent danger.

Jesus is gentle and humble, and as his disciples, we need to be the same way:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” ~ Eph. 4:2

When others have crossed your boundaries, speak truth, but do it in a loving way – in a way that is gentle and kind. Give them the benefit of the doubt that their behavior was unintentional. Let them know that you love them, and let love provide the framework for your gentle words of redirection.

For example, let’s say you have a friend who frequently cancels plans at the last minute. The sledgehammer response is to yell at her, telling her how selfish she is. A gentler response sounds more like this: “I love our friendship and cherish the time that we spend together. I was really looking forward to spending the afternoon together and am disappointed that you had to cancel. In the future, could you let me know as soon as it’s looking like you might have to cancel so I have time to make other plans? I hope we can get together again soon. I really miss you.” While both approaches are speaking truth, only the second one is doing so in love.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drawing a heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]