"Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matt 7:20 NIV)
This isn't an ordinary devotional; this is a cry from God's heart.
I recently attended a family meeting at the physical rehabilitation centre where I work. It was the Monday following Father's Day and the patient, "Bill", attended the meeting with one of his daughters, "Karen". Bill has another daughter as well, "Barb", who was not in attendance.
Bill and Karen are obviously very close, but Bill is not close to Barb. She has, apparently, been in and out of her father's life for twenty-five years, and each time, Bill reported it was a disaster. She had stopped by for a visit the day before, and Bill was quite obviously upset by this encounter.
So far, this is a sad, but unfortunately not unusual story, and I found myself wishing that this family knew Jesus, the Master healer of relationships. But my feelings quickly went shifted from sadness to horror . . .
"My sister is . . . Very . . . Religious . . ." Karen continued. "Not that I have anything against religion. But she seems to think that all she has to do is waltz in here, pray over him, and dad will get well. She's beating him up with the Bible, and it scares him!"
A knot instantly arose in the pit of my stomach, followed closely by a sudden, heavy sense of grief. I knew the sentiment didn't come from me, for it was far deeper than I had ever experienced. It was God's own grief I was feeling, His grief that His name was being so badly misrepresented, that His power was being so lightly misused. And mostly, grief for those therapists in attendance who went away with two clear messages: Christianity is about a bunch of lunatics who go around "beating you up with the Bible", and Christians are a bunch of unloving, uncaring fanatics.
It's a sad story. But it's an isolated event, right?
Or is it?
I have a "fish" on the back of my van. One of those with the words "Jesus" written inside. The other day I pulled into a gas station to fill the tank. It was nearing closing time, and there was a car parked beside the garage. A two-year-old child hung out one of the window, dropping things from inside the car onto the pavement below. His father came running out of the office. He didn't actually hit the child, but he glanced up at me just before stopping himself.
As I was topping off the tank, the same car drove up behind me, and the man stuck out a hand, holding a lighted cigarette. It was hard to hear his voice over the squalling child in the back seat: "Ma'am," he said, "I'm the manager of this gas station, and what you are doing is very dangerous!"
My dander was immediately aroused. Since when was topping off my tank dangerous? But I kept my voice very calm: "Oh? And smoking in a gas station isn't?"
The man's face went red with rage as the hand holding the cigarette immediately moved back into the car. "I'm smoking in my car, ma'am!" He said.
I calmly nodded my head and said, "Umhum, and you ARE the manager!" Then I closed my gas cap, got into the car and quickly drove away.
I was proud of myself for having stood up the man, and it wasn't until the next day that God's voice was able to finally filter through to my mind: "What kind of a picture of Christianity did you leave behind at the gas station?"
Suddenly I remembered the child! Who would the man likely take the brunt of his anger out on? Certainly not me. I wasn't there anymore. What if my words were the trigger for this man to abuse his child?
Another incident happened around the same time. After a long day on the road, we drove into our campground to find that our site was full of cars! I was livid! First of all, there was a limit to how many cars a person was supposed to have at each campsite, and secondly, that was MY campsite!
The people were very nice about it, and before long the cars were crowded into the laneway and on the outskirts of my campsite. Our trailer pad was free; but our site looked more like a parking lot than a wilderness retreat!
After quite a struggle getting our trailer into the tiny spot left for us, I stormed out of the car and yelled over towards my husband, "Who do they think they are, taking over our campsite like this???"
The nice lady who had been busily reorganizing the parking of the cars looked up at me, but I ignored her.
"Shhh!" my husband said. "They can hear you!"
"I don't care!" I said, in much too loud of a voice. "They should park on their own campsite!"
"Mom!" called my son. "Where's the level?"
The level? That little piece of metal vital to setting up our trailer? I felt suddenly sick as I realized it was still at home. We would have to ask our neighbors to borrow one . . .
And then I remembered the fish on the back of my van . . . The fish that I knew they had seen . . . I cried out in repentance, but it was too late, the damage had been done. I couldn't find the lady again to apologize. She simply went away thinking that Christians were as unkind as the rest of the world.
Friends, as Christians we touch thousands of lives every day. Think about it! Did your neighbors overhear that loud argument you had with your spouse last night, before you discovered the windows were open? Did your coworkers see you "fix" your time sheet? Did they see your little "additions" to your expense report?
The point is just this: As a Christian, we must live for Christ in ALL of our actions, in ALL of our words, and yes, in ALL of our thoughts. If we always strive to live for Christ, then the image of a Christ-filled life will be one that will draw non-Christians to Christ. If we don't, then the image of a Christian life will have the opposite effect.
Think about it!
Now don't go home and take the fish off of your car. Instead, give the world the example that truly says what that fish means!
In His love,
Lyn Chaffart, Author and moderator for the tri-weekly newsletter, The Nugget, and the Scriptural Nuggets website ( www.scripturalnuggets.org), Answers2Prayer Ministries, www.Answers2Prayer.org .