The rear license plate on my car has a frame that says, “Jesus: Don’t Leave Home Without Him.”
Whenever someone does something on the road that aggravates me, I try to remember that I’ve got that statement back there for the world to see. Often (though not always) I will temper my urge to react to a tailgater or some other clown driving as if he or she owns the road. I want to make sure my actions are consistent with the message I carry on the back of my car.
This is because it has been my experience that when you choose to identify with a particular group, people will pay attention to see if what you do matches their expectations. In such situations words are meaningless, but deeds will leave an impression. This seems especially true of those who call themselves Christians.
Lately, scrutiny of evangelical Christians has been most intense. That’s not a complaint; true Christians should welcome the attention and use the opportunity to examine ourselves in the process. Today, evangelical voters are the focus of a fervent campaign battle, political candidates are chosen (or not) because of their evangelical credentials, and stewardship of the planet has become high-profile pulpit material. More damning, however, may be our reaction to criticism.
My friend Pete Cernoia recently delivered a sermon making that statement abundantly clear to anyone who was listening. I got his notes afterward because the message was very much a complement to a recent column of mine. Here are some thoughts from his opening:
I Corinthians 11:1 says “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
He’s saying I didn’t live this way before, but now I’m an imitator of Jesus Christ, who lived a life guided by the law of love.
We all know that great passage from The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church which says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Paul was a follower of Jesus Christ, and took his cues from Jesus’ example. And so it should be with you and me. Whether we like it or not, we’re being watched and the gospel of Jesus Christ is being judged by our actions, our speech, our attitudes.
Because we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, someone is looking at us and saying, “So that’s what a Christian is? That’s what a Christian father, mother, friend, employee, employer, or teenager is?” And if there is duplicity – if we’re one way in church and another at home, one way when there are people around and another when we think no one is watching – people will notice.
Our friends, family, co-workers, children, and the world, are watching. People are watching how you live when the choices get hard, and to the degree that we adhere to Christ and His teachings is how they will judge if what you believe is real to you or not.
Unfortunately today the people who have been watching think that being a Christian means that you are a Republican; but Jesus is bigger than that. It’s my heart’s desire that church of Jesus Christ should be known for more than being a political force. To imitate Christ doesn’t mean voting a certain way, but working to see Fitchburg’s Mary Magdalenes changed.
I don’t know where that journey would bring any of us, but it would probably look different from how we’re living now.
Indeed, for most of us life would look a lot different.
This is why I take aim at those who seek to use their status as prominent Christian leaders to influence the political process. God doesn’t need our help on election day, he wants our service every day.
I’m trying hard to recall a single time when Christ petitioned the Roman government to recognize His rights, or to require that some element of His teaching be enacted by decree. It didn’t happen.
Instead, He focused on living as an example for others to follow, demonstrating what it means to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That approach changed the lives of a handful of individuals who, by imitating Christ, changed even more lives. In spite of a hostile government and religious establishment, those changed lives changed their communities and, eventually, transformed the world.
If all that politically-minded Christians want is to influence Washington, D.C., I guess they should keep doing what they are doing. But why settle for one city? The world is watching, and if we imitate Christ, we can once again change the world.