Three days into 2017, are your New Years resolutions still intact? I’m not one for making such resolutions, but I do strive (however feebly) to live by the Scriptures every day of my life. The very end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us some good things to shoot for as believers in Jesus in 2017 (and beyond, should the Lord tarry). His last three statements (prior to the “amen”) are powerful:
- “Our Lord, come!”
- “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”
- “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.”
If we could wrap all of that into one resolution for the new year, it would look something like this: Long for the Lord’s return while living in the light of His grace and loving one another.
Can you imagine how transformed the Church of Jesus Christ would be if our lives were so defined? Can you imagine the focus we would have? Can you imagine the trivial things that might fall by the wayside in our lives as the things that really matter rise to the forefront? Can you imagine the impact we might make for Christ?
I arrived at the church yesterday morning to see a tag hanging on the door knob, informing me that a gas company meter reader had been here earlier and I had missed him. (The meter readers have to be let in since our meter is behind a locked gate). I found this curious, given that I had set up an appointment a couple of weeks ago to have the meter read between 1:00 and 400 pm yesterday. So I called Nicor to get it straightened out.
Turns out, they did have us on the schedule for between 1 and 4, and the customer service rep did not know why someone had shown up earlier. She asked me if I would be willing to read the meter myself and tell her the readings. After receiving a quick tutorial from her on how to do that, I left her on hold, made the walk to the meter, wrote down the readings, and returned about five minutes later to find her still holding for me. I gave her the readings. She said, “Wow, you did that really well.” I have no idea what it was about the numbers I gave her that made her say that, but I chuckled and said, “Well, I may be needing a part-time job in the near future.” She laughed and told me they were hiring and that I would probably be good at it.
I give all that detail just to show how the conversation went. It was a nice, pleasant time on the phone over a mundane bit of church business. It had taken a little bit of time for her to sort out the scheduling confusion, and she had had to put me on hold at one point. But we just progressed, showing common courtesy and friendliness toward each other. Which leads to how the call ended.
As we were ready to say goodbye, she said to me, “Before I go, I just want to thank you for being so kind and patient and polite as I was straightening this all out. Not everyone is.” I replied, “Well, I think that’s how Jesus would have me be.” She said, “You would think so, but it’s not always the case.” She noted that she, too, was a Christian and that some of the rudest people she deals with are those who call from churches. That broke my heart. I think it says something about why people view Jesus and the Church the way they do. As I think about it now, it bothers me that, though I try not to be, I may have been that rude Christian on the other end of the phone at sometime. I hope not.
I’m struck by the power of common courtesy to make a good impression for Jesus. This goes along with what we read in Titus 3:2. Paul instructs Titus there to remind his congregation “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”If we are not able to do these things, perhaps we have become too full of ourselves and need to spend some time meditating on Philippians 2. Perhaps some humility is in order. If I think I am better than someone, I may tend not to show courtesy to that person. But the fact is, I am not better than anyone else.None of us are. We all stand before God as condemned sinners apart from having had our sins washed in the blood through faith in Jesus.
As ambassadors for Christ, we Christians need to take note of this, especially given the reputation we have with at least one customer service rep.How we treat people matters. It matters to the Lord who suffered and died for them. It even matters for how people may ultimately view Jesus. This is not earth-shattering spiritual truth here. It’s just a matter of being nice, polite, friendly, and things like that. It’s just common courtesy.
With the passing today of one of my sports heroes, Arnold Palmer, I got to thinking about the privilege I once had of attending all four rounds of the 1976 US Open golf tournament in Atlanta. Arnie was my golf idol, and I was following his group when lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and the horns signaled a rain delay. Arnie was whisked off through the trees on the left side of the fairway to wait out the delay.
My friend, Randy, then said to me, “We didn’t come all this way (from Tampa) for you not to meet Arnold Palmer. Come on!” We headed off through the trees and found Arnie sitting in a golf cart by (as I recall) a press tent. Some guys were standing around talking to him. One guy told a joke. And Randy led me, in all my shyness, into the presence of the man they call “the King.” I remember telling him he had made a nice birdie putt a few holes back (it was all I could think of to say). He smiled and said, “Thank you,” and sounded very genuine. He gave me an autograph, and I’m pretty sure we shook hands (it’s funny that I can’t remember for sure). But I do remember this: Arnold Palmer made me, an 18 year-old kid, feel like he was glad to meet me.
I just preached a message today from 1 Peter 2:11-17 about being good representatives of Christ. Peter calls in that passage for believers to give a good testimony for the Lord by how we handle fleshly desires, how we respond to authority, and how we treat people. I talked about how, if people are going to hate God, let’s not have it be because of anything we have done.
I don’t know what Arnie’s spiritual condition was. But tonight, Peter’s message to believers converges in my mind with my memory of having met Arnold Palmer, and I can only hope that I make people feel about Jesus the way Arnold Palmer made me feel about himself.
Dear Fellow Evangelical Christians:
In the eyes of man, I am a nobody from nowhere. I pastor a very small church. Some of you host small groups in your homes that are larger than the congregation before which I stand each Sunday. Some might thus consider me unqualified to write what is something of an open letter to evangelicals. Well, sorry, but I have something to say that I think needs to be said about the way many of us are responding to the culture that is changing rapidly around us. I speak from an American perspective, but these principles apply across all cultures and time periods. Here goes.
Liberals are not our enemy. Muslims are not our enemy. Homosexuals are not our enemy. Transgenders are not our enemy. Atheists are not our enemy. Some from among these groups and others may hate us, but they are not our enemy. And to be frank, some of us hate some of them, which is not our right to do, given who our Lord is and who we are apart from Him.
You may think you are better than people in the groups I have listed, but you are not, nor am I. Viewing people as our enemies tends to puff up our pride and give us a sense of superiority, which is hideously unChristlike.
So who is our enemy? If you know your Bible, you should not have to think very hard to answer that one. But just in case, here’s a hint: Ephesians 6:12. Look it up. It says we do not wrestle with flesh and blood. What are liberals, Muslims, homosexuals, transgenders, atheists, and others? Flesh and blood! I don’t think I have to spell it out, here.
Now, of course, if we embrace the Bible as God’s word (which is essential to evangelicalism), we will disagree with many things espoused by these various groups. Some things with which we disagree we will even call sin because the Bible calls them sin. Disagreeing is not hating, nor does it require hate. We may be accused of hate for disagreeing, but we cannot control what people think of us. All we can do is respond as Christ would have us respond. If our response is good with Him, then it is good, period. And so what should our response be? The apostle Peter gives us good instruction on this:
“. . . in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16, ESV).
Notice those words “gentleness and respect.” Do we respond that way? I hear a lot of us not doing so, and there are times when that includes me. But even when we are imperfect in this, we must not justify our bad behavior and somehow view it as sanctified. Rather, we must repent and purpose by the grace of God to respond properly the next time. We may even need to humble ourselves and apologize for how we said something. Apologizing doesn’t mean you have to surrender the point under discussion. You can simply say something like, “I do hold to the point I was trying to make, but I was out of line in how I made it, and I’m sorry.” Gentleness and respect.
Notice that Peter’s comments above refer to speaking of the hope that is in us. In our cultural and political discussions with unbelievers, I wonder if that hope is often not even part of the conversation. While we are certainly going to have political and cultural opinions and engage in conversation and debate about those things, ultimately, the Lord would have us stay on message. And what is that message? Our hope in Christ.
We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Sometimes, a country’s ambassador may be nice and respectful and well behaved yet still be hated simply because the country he/she represents is hated. We represent Christ, who is hated by the world. His word is rejected, and His cross is an offense to the world. But our calling is to represent Him well in a world that is not our home (Philippians 3:20-21). This calls for us to don the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff) so that we might stand against our true enemy–the enemy of our souls–and speak the truth, yes, but the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Because, after all, Christ has not called us to drive people away from Him, a sad consequence that sometimes follows our attempts to maintain a culture that is to our liking, one with which we are comfortable. He has called us to serve in His rescue mission to the very people we sometimes treat like enemies.