Pick out a local church leader and pray for him and his family for several minutes, being very specific in your petitions on their behalf.
Email a missionary to encourage them and get an update on how their work is going.
Buy a gift card and try to give it anonymously to a young or struggling family you know.
Thoughtfully select several people to compliment and encourage by writing on their Facebook wall or other social media platform.
Briefly visit a brother or sister in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Ask a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor what you can be praying for them about.
Listen to a book of the Bible in its entirety on your commute.
Let go of a grudge or deep-seated resentment.
Do an unexpected deed of kindness for a random stranger.
Speak to someone you see regularly about your faith–what God is doing in your life, what’s going on at church, etc.
Spend some one-on-one time with one of your children (playing a game they enjoy, going for a walk, taking them out to eat, etc.).
Show love to your mate in some tangible way you know he/she enjoys (speak their “love language”).
Practice pleasantness with everyone you meet today, being mindful of your facial expressions and body language.
Carve out some time for meaningful, personal devotion (including Bible reading, singing, and prayer)–make worship more than a Sunday matter!
None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus! See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.
Some years ago an AP wire report yielded this incredible, true story. Apparently a dirty joke was sent by a company employee to 6,000 people! What was so unusual? The perpetrator, intending to send a daily report to reporters and government officials, was a federal communications commission employee! The headline read, “Joke Is On The FCC” (via Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/9/99). The FCC, charged with setting decency limits on various media outlets, was guilty of that which they are employed to prevent. Ironic!
The jokes abound. Plumbers have the worst pipers. Electricians have the faultiest wiring. Doctors are the sickest people. Preachers’ kids get in the most trouble. They learn it from the elders’ kids. While these are more axiomatic than true, there are guilty plumbers, electricians, doctors, preachers, elders, lawyers, politicians, and the like out there. They get such attention because they fail at that which is supposed to epitomize and characterize them!
Christians become Christians through grace and obedient faith (Eph. 2:8-10). But Christianity is more than a state of being. It requires certain characteristics to be in one’s life. A Christian is part of a spiritually “chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation” and is a person “for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). Moreover, a Christian is one redeemed from all iniquity, purified unto himself, and zealous of good works (Ti. 2:14). A Christian is one who has put fleshly deeds to death (Col. 3:5). A Christian takes on “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), which means assuming a code of conduct and disposition of heart that is clear before the world’s eyes (Matt. 5:14-16).
There is an irreconcilable irony when a Christian is indistinct, indifferent, immoral, and inconsistent! Like salt without taste, a Christian who dresses, talks, and behaves like a worldly person cannot be properly used by God (cf. Matt. 5:13). A Christian without ethics, morality, honesty, and integrity is a walking oxymoron. A Christain who talks one talk and walks another makes no sense and draws no following, at least none leading to Christ (cf. John 12:32; 1 Cor. 11:1).
Will the “Great Report” reveal that we, as Christians, spoke and showed the saving message or the wrong message? What message are we sending to others? Let it not be the irony of wearing a name we are not honoring.
Seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Each remembered for an overall characteristic. The same is true for individual Bible characters, isn’t it? Most remember Moses, Samson, David, Jeroboam, Jonah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Judas, Peter, Paul, and John for a particular attribute, whatever else could describe their lives. That’s more than fascinating. It’s sobering.
What about you and me? Is there a word others–those we attend school with, work with, live near, attend church with, or share family ties with–would use to describe us? Here are some possibilities:
Such attributes are the cumulative result of the attitude, words, and actions that we portray each day we live. Everybody has good days and bad days. But, there is an overall tenor and flavor to our lives that cause people to associate something with us. However, the word might be different:
That, too, is being built moment by moment, day by day.
With both groups of words, we can think of people who epitomize characteristic above. But I want to know, “Which one would best describe me?” Don’t you want to know that about you?The good news, if you don’t like the answer there’s time to change that. Dickens’ Christmastime novel about Ebenezer Scrooge is written to make that very point. Infinitely more importantly, the Bible is written to make that point. We can be transformed through the influence of Christ in our hearts and lives (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18). How will you be remembered?
A comedienne draws attention for being mean-spirited and cutting when roasting a White House press secretary recently. While cringe-worthy, it’s hardly an isolated incident. Nor is it confined to Washington politics, being seen across the spectrum of society. Civility has taken a beating in the current culture. Social media may be a breeding ground for insults, attacks, hostility, and animosity, but it’s hardly confined to just that forum.
Make no mistake, a lack of kindness is a hallmark of worldliness and unrighteousness. It is the antithesis of a quality God demands of the Christian. Ephesians 4:32 commands, “Be kind to one another….” The original word translated “kind” here is found seven times in the New Testament, and it is a divine quality. In fact, in six of the seven references, God demonstrates it. In Ephesians 4:32, it is to be exhibited by us in view of God’s having shown it to us through Christ. It means “pertaining to that which is pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability” (Louw 246). It causes no discomfort, meets a high standard of value, is morally good and benevolent, and is beneficent (BDAG 1090). In common usage in New Testament times, the word, when referring to people, was synonymous with being decent, of good disposition, gentle, good-hearted, and morally upright (Kittel 1320). In other words, people in society could and did recognize its presence in people. Its absence is also, sadly, noteworthy.
The old adage “kill them with kindness” might imply utilizing kindness to get an advantage or revenge on someone unkind, making us look good and them look bad. God calls for something more out of those of us striving to hold up the Light to a dark world. The world is sin-sick, and rude, coarse, hateful attitudes, words and actions are but a symptom of this. We have the medicine the world needs, even if it fails to see its need. Some will be drawn to it when they see it in us.
Paul counsels Rome with inspired advice that will help us cure the rude, ugly, spiteful, and vicious behavior we often encounter. He says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21). Look closely at what he says. Avoid the payback mentality. Go to great lengths to preserve peace. Leave revenge to God. Don’t stoop to the world’s level.
This imitation of God with revolutionize the places where we practice this. The moral malignancy plaguing our world cries out for medicine, and we as Christians know where to access it. Let’s discipline ourselves to use it, even in the face of those spreading the spiritual sickness of spite.
It has been said that visitors make up their mind about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit. Before they’ll even discern the doctrine we teach or form an impression about the distinctiveness of our worship, they’ve already decided. If you will walk through the first ten minutes of each time you come to services, you can discern the needs visitors have when they “enter” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-24) our midst. Consider these needs.
Where to park. Designating visitor parking and having members park as far from the main entrance is thoughtfulness. Having a greeter or greeters in the parking lot who can make contact quickly and facilitate with friendliness makes a positive impression.
Where the restrooms are. Good hospitality ought to drive us to be thoughtful and even proactive (i.e., when greeting, point out the nearest facilities). Along with this is showing them where the nursery is. If they have infants, toddlers, or small children, they are likely to have needs during their time in attendance.
Where to sit. An obvious practical help here is not to crowd the seats at the rear of the auditorium. It’s less awkward to be seated without parading past rows and rows of people. If there’s a full crowd, have designated personnel, pleasant, friendly, and considerate, to help them find a seat. Never, ever, never have a designated pew! “Pew-itis” is a disease that should be eradicated from every congregation.
What to expect. This is something worship leaders can do, explaining periodically why we do what we do in a “user-friendly” (as opposed to browbeating) way. Door greeters and those at a welcome center can help, as can visitor packets that cogently explain things. Such packets can include not just activities we do, but a map of where we do them.
How to find out more. Have a “new member orientation class” or a “Church 101” class available for those who are “seeking.” It can include an annual church calendar of events, ministries, church leadership (complete with pictures and bios), ways to be involved, and the like to orient newcomers.
At first, it may seem hard to identify book, chapter, and verse for the foregoing suggestions. But consider these principles. There’s the Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12; Luke 6:31). There’s the principle of the Law of Moses, which says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Colossians 4:5 urges wisdom with outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Being Christians, we should be ever increasing in the mentality that puts others before self (Phil. 2:3-4). How do we best serve Jesus? By serving others, including our visitors and newcomers.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What will they put on your headstone?” It’s the kind of fundamental questions that accompany us all along the road of life. We want to have significance, to serve purpose, and to matter. Whether motivated by legacy or something larger than self, the thoughtful periodic evaluate the difference they are making to those whose lives they touch. Of all people, Christians should take that matter seriously. Consider this.
You Are Leaving A Footprint. Your decisions are observed by friends, family, and even those who only know you incidentally or even not at all. You are a leader. So many people will eventually wind up somewhere because of what you do with and in your life. Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In the most dramatic facet of this fact, people will be led toward an eternal destination through your influence. You are leading people toward or away from heaven. It’s in your heart, attitude, words, priorities, conduct, and passions. To a line of folks longer than you could imagine, you are yelling, “Follow me!” Ask yourself, “Where am I going?”
You Are Leaving A Fingerprint. You are touching people’s lives. Your hands are in a variety of endeavors—your occupational life, your social life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. You are a servant of something and someone. Paul says it’s inevitable (Rom. 6:16). Everyone works at something, even if it’s laziness. It’s a legacy of labor. Where will people remember that your hands were most often seen? Will your chief legacy be whatever your occupation was? Your civic service? Your material accumulation and notoriety? Your pursuit of pleasure? Or will it be your involvement in people’s lives and with people’s souls? Consider this challenge, to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Heb. 12:12). Your hands will find something to do (cf. Ecc. 9:9). Make it count for God.
You Are Leaving An Imprint. Isn’t it sobering to think that all of us are associated with some quality. When our name is brought up, something—either directly or indirectly—is attached to it. For some, it will be: “grouchy,” “gossipy,” “complaining,” “foul-mouthed,” “critical,” “selfish,” “dishonest,” “arrogant,” “icy,” and the like. Fair or not, such broad labels are typically made interaction by interaction. For others, it will be: “humble,” “sincere,” “encouraging,” “dependable,” “loving,” “joyful,” “godly,” “positive,” etc. You may feel yourself plain and insignificant, but you will leave an indelible impression on others throughout your life. Even the one talent man, who tried to bury his talent, had to give an account for it (Matt. 25:14-30).
Leadership, labor, and legacy. These are gifts given by God to us all. What a powerful opportunity, one that lies before us daily! The great news is that if we don’t like the footprints, fingerprints, and imprints we have left and are leaving behind, we can change course. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol (and the best version!) is the one starring George C. Scott. He captures the remarkable transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a malevolent miser who becomes a merry mirth-maker. Charles Dickens shows us that anyone is redeemable if they’ll genuinely and fervently change. Of course, the Bible beat him to that message (Rom. 12:2; Acts 3:19; etc.). Our time here is so short. May we all have the wisdom to know what is most important and pursue it relentlessly.
A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination. The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!” Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.
But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?” If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be? For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).
Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:
“We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
“We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
“We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
“We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
“We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
“We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
“We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
“We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
“We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
“We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).
The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.
There is a famous line from the longstanding game show, To Tell The Truth, that is so apropos here. On the show three people would all claim to be someone and make their pitch to “prove” it, then at the end the host would ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?” Recently, a real-life version of this game surfaced in Pasco County, Florida, regarding a seemingly harmless man with a normal life in Zephyr Hills. He was a husband, father, landlord, pilot, and upstanding citizen, and he carried off the ruse for over 20 years! But the real Terry Symansky drowned in 1991.
Richard Hoagland, who had once boarded with Terry’s dad in Palm Beach, Florida, learned of Terry’s death, stole the death certificate to get his birth certificate from Ohio, which he used to obtain an Alabama’s driver’s license in order to obtain a Florida’s driver’s license! He also married Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995, with whom he has a teenage son. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Hoagland has a wife and four children whom he abandoned with a story that the FBI was after him for embezzling millions of dollars (The Washington Post, “He Left A Family And Started A New One Using A Dead Man’s Identity, Police Say,” Peter Holley, 7/24/16). Think of the carnage for at least three families: the real Symanskys, the fake, Florida Symanskys, and the Indiana Hoaglands. Untangling this mess will not be easy, all because a man decided to try and be someone he obviously wasn’t. A professor who studies identity theft summed it up rightly, saying, “It will all catch up with you” (Holley).
Sure, this is outrageous and despicable. But, have we stopped to consider that something far worse than this happens, spiritually, more times than can be counted? Whenever a Christian behaves one way among the saints but another way away from that fellowship and environment, a similar phenomenon unfolds. Some would be blown away to learn that their co-worker, fellow team parent, neighbor, classmate, and the like, is actually a Christian. Were they to see them participating in worship, they would be baffled, using God’s name in a reverent, respectful way. To know that they, perhaps, were a church leader would be beyond the pale. In this way, it can be quite easy to assume an identity. All it requires is keeping “Group A” (the church) separated, as much as possible, from “Group B” (worldly associations). But, persisting in such a life will, sooner or later, catch up with the perpetrator (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24).
God sent Jeremiah to stand at the “front door” of the “church building” (so to speak) and tell the people entering for worship, “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place” (7:2-3). He specifies, “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the Lord” (7:9-11). They thought a day of worship substituted for six days of ungodly living, but the last word is most chilling. God says, “I, even I, have seen it.” Whoever else we may fool with a double-life, we cannot fool God.
Integrity requires honesty and strong, moral character. There must be genuineness, wherever we are and whoever we are with. May God help us to be the genuine article, all the time.
A customer who ate at Randy’s Southside Diner in Grand Junction unluckily left $3,000 in a bank envelope at his booth. Fortunately, his busboy was Johnny Duckworth. Johnny gave it to his boss, who through the ATM bank slip in the envelope was able to track down the rightful owner. That unnamed person gave Johnny a $300 tip, but strangers started a “gofundme” page for the struggling Duckworth and have raised nearly $4000 for the young man. In an interview, he said he did not for a moment consider keeping the money, adding, “I work for a living” (denverpost.com).
You’ve not likely had honesty pay so well for you. At least not financially. But, as the proverbial adage goes, “honesty does pay.” How?
In reputation. Honestly builds businesses, friendships, leadership, and the like, when people have implicit confidence in your word (cf. Proverbs 14:25).
In relationships. People trust you and are closer to you when you are honest with them. The opposite is true, too, that people keep their emotional distance from you if you are dishonest (Ephesians 4:25).
In righteousness. Your character is built through dedication to unconditional truthfulness (Proverbs 12:17).
In reliability. Who will people come to, lean on, and go to? The honest. They know where they stand with such a one (Proverbs 12:19).
In respect. While you may fear hurting feelings and alienating others through courageous honesty, you gain the admiration of most through transparency and scrupulous speech and behavior (1 Kings 22:13-14).
Sadly, doing the right thing was once routine but now it merits newsworthiness. May the tribe of Johnny Duckworths increase. When we as Christians are renowned for our kind honesty, we will draw a world in search of goodness and trustworthiness to the One who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2).
Positively traumatic. I don’t know another way to describe it. Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.” Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top. I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting. There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium. OK. My bald spot. I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.
That blind spot was more vain than dangerous. There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious. Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there. But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.
It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action. We marvel that they seem oblivious to them. After all, we see it all so clearly. Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly. We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others. Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them. After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.
Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23). As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better. How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill! This is about more than vanity. This has more serious far-reaching implications. May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.