Archive for May, 2014
A very sad situation occurred this past weekend, one that has caused me to examine my own life in regards to how I help others. My children and I took my wife out for Mother’s Day since we where not able to the weekend of Mother’s Day. It was her night so she got to choose what we did. One thing she said she wanted to do was go get ice cream (actually it was not real ice cream but that frozen yogurt), so we went to an establishment that she particularly enjoys. You get to fix your own frozen yogurt however you want, like a salad bar but with “ice cream” toppings. As we were sitting there we notice a little commotion around the register, nothing serious, but one of the employees went and got the manger or possibly even the owner of this establishment. My wife was seated where she could see what was occurring and said “I feel bad for that guy at the register. His card was declined.” Now we have all been right where this guy was, whether it is a problem with our card, with the machine, or maybe we really do not have the funds, but whatever the reason it is embarrassing. I looked around and saw this gentleman who looked like he could use some “ice cream”. I decided that I wanted to and should go help so I walked up and handed the cashier my card to pay for it. The cashier looked surprised and said “Are you sure?” well, as I informed her, I absolutely was sure, this was something I needed to do but also something I wanted to do. The guy looked at me and was very appreciative and said “Nobody has ever done that. That made my day.” Wait! What?!? The simple act of buying someone some frozen yogurt made his day?? That is when it occurred to me and I thought, “God now I know why you impressed on my heart to do that, you wanted to pour Your grace into this guy’s life and you allowed me to be the vehicle of taking that grace to him. Awesome!!!”
I went back to my table knowing that God had just used me and my family to show His love. It was great and humbling….and then it happened. The part that I said was sad. The manager, or owner, came up to me and said “I just wanted you to know that that guy does this all time. He goes around to all the businesses and tries to get free stuff like that. It is just a scam. Just wanted you to know.” and with that she just walked away. Now one thing to understand is that this establishment is Christian based which made this all the more sad and infuriating. After she walked away I kind of just sat there in shock, “What just happened? Why does she care what I do with my money? I just paid for what would have been her loss and that is how she responds?” I did not care nor was I looking for a pat on the back or a “that was so sweet” comment but to make it a point to come up to me and tell me about what she thinks that guy is doing and then just walk away, floored me. What she did is exactly why people make comments like “Christians are so hypocritical”, she is the reason that Christians are looked at with a bitterness too often and that angers me.
I do not tell that story so you will think so highly of me because for every story I have like that I have twenty others where I blew it. I tell it because to0 many times we try to get around the act of helping others or giving sacrificially by trying to justify it by saying “Well they are just going to use it for beer and cigarettes”, “They are just lazy. They could work if they wanted to.”, “They haven’t looked hard enough for a job.”, “It is just a scam.”, and on and on we make excuses for not reaching out and helping lift others up. But allow me to ask you this, what if just one out of ten that you reach out to actually is lifted up from the pit they are in and they are changed? What if all they needed to get a step up in the right direction was a hand reaching down to help pull them up? Would it be worth it? What if it were only one out of twenty or thirty or a hundred? If only one is ever lifted up it is worth it.
As Ashely and I talked about the “ice cream incident” on our way back home we both believed that what we did was what Christ wanted us to do. My wife made this great statement, “It doesn’t matter what the intentions of the other guy was, what matters is the intention of our heart.” and she is spot on. When we extend our hands to lift someone else up we need to be sure our intentions are right. Who cares who is watching or who is around, that is not what matters. What matters is making ourselves available so whenever God calls on us we will always be ready to be used as His vessel to pour out grace, love, and mercy to whoever He wants us to. So what if someone is seeking a handout, let God handle that, we just need to say “God I am yours and all I have is yours so whenever and whoever You want me to lift up I will do it whatever the cost.”
Allow me to add one more point that is pretty significant. I said in the last paragraph that it does not matter who is watching, well that is not entirely true. My son who is four years old and my daughter who is almost two were watching. True my little girl may not have known what was occurring but I can promise you this – my son absorbed it all. He heard that manager/owner say what she did but I pray that seeing his parents be willing to be vessels of grace regardless soaked in his heart and made him deaf to her words. If your children see you be people who lift others up no matter the cost they too will very likely become adults and parents who lift others up and then their children will see them do it and in turn become adults who lifts others up and it will continue to extend to the generations that follow. You can start a chain reaction of grace if you are just willing to reach out your hand.
Can I tell you a story? It is a true story about how one statement affected my life. I worked at the YMCA for over six years and during that time I lived just however I wanted, actually I acted how I wanted before that and for sometime after that. I would always claim that the Bible never says this or never says that as a way to ease my conscience. One summer was especially bad, it seemed as though I was going out doing things in direct contradiction to the Scriptures every night. There was this one counselor who I believe was placed there by God. Her name was Jennifer Antal, now it is Jennifer Antal Smith. I had heard she was a Believer so I decided I was going to prove how Christians really were. I was going to show that Christians were really no different then myself, because even at that time I called myself a Christian. I started trying to convince her to come with us every time we would go out, which remember was a lot. Time after time she would graciously decline. Finally the last time I tried to get her to go out with us she looked at me and said “You know I’m a Christian, if you want to go out fine but Christ has made all the difference in my life.” that was all she said. That was all she had to say. I had no response. That has stayed with me all my life and was key in God bringing me to Himself. See Jennifer was a different kind of Christian then I had known in the past or was myself, since I wasn’t truly a Believer. Oh she never judged me or any of the other counselors. She never said things like “You know what, if you keep doing that you are going to go straight to hell you heathen!!!” Instead she was normal just like all of us. She was kind, she treated everyone the same, I never heard her cuss, she respected the authority over her, she had great work ethic, she was fun to be around, she knew how to joke around but most importantly and what set her apart is that she exemplified Christ through her life.
“…among whom you appear as lights in the world…” – Philippians 2:14-16
Now does that story prove that Jennifer never did anything wrong, like a lot of Christians would have you think about themselves? No. Does it prove that Christians don’t know how to “have fun”? Absolutely not. What it does prove is that we do not know who is watching how we live our lives. What it does prove is that it does matter what Believers choose to participate in. What it does prove is that Believers who are different yet genuine will be difference makers in lives. So there is a question I would like to ask those who claim to be Believers, not Christians in name sake, but true Believers in Christ. And I will give the direct answer as well.
Why aren’t we different? Because we choose not to be.
Let me be honest with my opinion of what I perceive is developing within the Church. Is that alright? Great. Here I go.
There seems to be a troubling trend among Believers. A trend that affects those who just come Sundays and seat in the pews and those in positions of church leadership, whether they are paid or volunteer. A trend that I am tempted to fall into and have fallen into. A trend that will not, I repeat – WILL NOT, bring people to Christ. And most importantly it is a trend that does not bring glory to God. What is the trend? Making sure that we, who claim to be Believers in Christ, aren’t different or at least not that different from our friends, our neighbors, or our family who are not Believers. We don’t want to be out of the loop or be called judgmental. So what do we do to bring the lifestyles together? We use our “liberty in Christ” card to act as though we can do whatever we want so long as we do not “cross the line” or go beyond moderation into excess. I realize this has been around since the birth of the church but it appears to me that it is gaining acceptance instead of admonishment.
Now I know some, many in fact, will say I am being judgmental (although I have not mentioned anything specific). They will say “Jesus was called a friend of sinners.” I get that, I truly do, but that is not the point. I am not advocating abandoning our friends and family and move into a commune where all we do is quote scripture and sing hymns everyday. There is a difference between abandoning our friends and choosing not to talk a certain way, go to certain places, participate in certain activities, dress in certain ways, or choose what we allow into our minds by what we watch, look up on the internet, or listen to.
I am talking about being different by the standards Christ set. What is that standard? Holiness. 1 Peter 1:14-16 tells us that we are not to be “conformed to the former lusts which was ours…” Lust actually means desire, passion, or longing. We are then told to “be holy in all your behavior” Now here behavior means conduct. So what is the standard again? That we are to be different in all our conduct and not allow our desires, our passions, or our longings that we had before we were changed to have a part of our new life. When we allow those former things to stay around in our lives it is only a matter of time before we conform back to the way we were. When that happens our friends and family will say “Yep, that is what I thought. You had a religious phase but you are back to the same old person.” Let it happen enough times and eventually you will not have any influence for Christ in their life. To be honest it will become a joke, we all know people like that.
When we let Christ change us He does not change our personalities, He makes them better! He does not give us a new nature with the same old desires, He gives us a new nature, with new desires! When we let Christ change us He does not keep us in the same old lifestyle, He gives us new life that is different! When Christ changes us He calls us to be a difference maker in the lives of those around us but in order to be that we must be different. Different in a way in which is appealing not judgmental. Different in way which is freeing not enslaving.
I thank God that someone was willing to sacrifice their rights, their freedom in Christ to show me a better way. I thank God that Jennifer choose to be a difference maker by her actions. Her difference helped in changing an eternal destiny.
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.” – Brennan Manning
** A personal note of appreciation to my brother Josh who looked over a first draft and gave me reasons to pause and think. We certainly are of different mindsets but without his input this blog would be drastically different (no pun intended). Also to Jennifer Antal Smith for allowing me to share that story and for being a difference maker.**