“Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
-St. Francis of Assisi
The more I hear this quote twisted to give Christians an opportunity to hide, the more I’d rather listen to fingernails scrape down a chalkboard.
Now that I’ve in turn irritated several (only now with me rather than the quote), let me emphasize that the quote itself has a point. Our actions SHOULD reveal Jesus … ALWAYS, but why is our culture so afraid to speak the truth?
It’s not just our faith that we hesitate to articulate … “I don’t talk religion or politics.” “Oh, I would never impose what I think on others … I keep my beliefs to myself.” “We don’t bring up anything controversial here.” How many times do we hear … or say this?
Nice people can be as quiet as they want … there are others who have no intention of holding back. And who do you think is winning in our culture? Stop just a minute and look around you. Or read a few headlines on a news site. Or think about the shows that were on TV last night.
My “ah!ha!” moment came during a doctor’s appointment yesterday as I listened to a man and women, barely acquaintances with one another, talk. Filled with innuendo in a nonchalant, common place tone right in front of everyone there, the entire, uncomfortable conversation was about sex as a recreational sport. And why not? Our movies, our advertisements, our music, our wardrobe styles, our books, and even – yes – politics … are saturated with sexual messages that promote sexual “freedoms” above most else.
Sex. Violence. Idolatry. Greed. Rebellion. This is our world. This is considered normal, but it shouldn’t be. It’s messy. It’s weird.
Christians should be loving and nice. Definitely! Consider, however, a conversation of another sorts, which I heard in a coffee shop a few months ago. This one between a woman and someone unseen on her phone.
The woman was defending her character. She and her invisible friend appeared to be discussing someone who had challenged her life from a biblical perspective.
“I am committed to doing good,” the woman insisted to her phone. “It gets me, that people seem to think that if you’re not thumping the Bible or a professing Christian, that you sneak around snatching candy for toddlers and stealing parking spots from old ladies. I bet I am far more involved in charity and caring for others than him. Honestly!I am definitely more of Christian than he is, and I’m not even one.”
The woman nailed what bugs me. Americans equate Christianity with being nice, with doing good things. Good people who gather blankets for the homeless and raise money for orphanages must equal Jesus. Maybe, but not exactly. Christians are NOT (by far) the only ones who do nice things for other people.
I think back to what made me surrender my life to Christ A fellow student at the University of Washington told me how her life was different after she repented of her sin. She seemed a little afraid to use the “r” word and the “s” word in the same sentence, but did any way.
Then, months later, a group of young people who looked pretty normal did something crazy. They stood up in the middle of campus every day at lunch for a week and read from the Bible. One of them stated what my friend had insisted — that one thing, and one thing alone, made Christianity stand out from all other faiths and ideas — Jesus. He defeated sin and offered forgiveness.
Something had troubled me all of my life to that point, but now I could face it … I was a sinner. I needed forgiveness. This gospel message, spoken out loud AND lived in the actions of others, drove me to see for myself what the Bible said. Result? I surrendered to seeking God’s will in my life rather than my own.
Statistics vary from survey to survey, but the number of Bible-trusting, God-fearing followers of Christ have dwindled largely in America, especially among younger people. Lot’s of factors contribute to this, but I can’t ignore the push to make Christians “seen” (if that) and definitely, not heard. Not wanting to deal with the push back and these days – vitriol – I’ve happily embraced the safe refuge offered by the St. Francis quote. Now, I step back and ask, “How’s it been working for me? For the church? For lost souls?”
By the way – curious – I did some research on the quote. Check out this blog, by one of St. Francis’ biographers. It’s fairly improbable that the saint ever uttered these words, besides the fact that his life was a “two-edged” sword. In other words, he was said to be a kind, compassionate man, BUT ALSO, he was bold and brassy – known for his frequent preaching. This doesn’t sound like someone who stood behind a silent veil of actions only.
When it comes to how Christ-followers should live out our faith, I felt utterly revealed last week when reading the Bible.:“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!”
This is Paul, exhorting Timothy. My pastor has been teaching from the book of II Timothy of late, framed on the idea that this Timothy is a seasoned, but disillusioned, battle weary Timothy. Compare that to the Timothy in the first book who is just setting into ministry, brimming with enthusiasm and high expectations.
After a few encounters with deceitful, hardened people and their personal agendas that sway from the first blushes of the gospel, Timothy is weary. Could he be about ready to give up? If nothing else, Paul’s exhortation hint that Timothy has been tempted to cave in … to not be so outspoken, to soften his convictions.
I have caved. The American church has caved. You can argue with me all you want that the Church is thriving in America, but I say, look at the fruit. Yes, it’s visible … sometimes … but the power of God at work in surrendered lives is sharply decreased. The American “gospel” is a weak, withered, and confusing representation of the power of a Holy, Sovereign God. And young people are walking out the door as a result. (On a positive note, check out this interesting article on what WILL keep today’s younger generation in church.)
I realize it is very unpopular to be so outspoken and to dance anywhere near language that sounds judgmental, so, I won’t judge you, but I will ask, who are you trying to please? If it is not Christ, are the things you and I will choose to do today really worth much?
The best way to please God, is to first talk to Him. American Christians need to head back to the prayer closet for long, long hours – starting this very moment. But don’t forget to come out. It’s then (after heartfelt prayer and intercession) that our actions will portray power. It’s then that we will find the boldness to also speak. Other than to add, let’s stop wasting time by hiding the truth that lives within, I end with the full passage of the Apostle Paul’s words to a tired, battle-worn Timothy:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [From II Timothy 4]