Many years ago, my parents took my young kids and me to a seaside park near their home in Florida.
The sandy-soil loving cedars near the shore were subject to constant sea breezes and often, hurricanes. The trunks of these spindly trees had been bent by the wind. The branches only grew on the leeward side.
Swayed by soil and circumstances, these trees were growing the best they could. But they were struggling and could not use their energy to grow tall and strong.
I think about those cedars often these days. We are surviving a time of constant turbulence. The resulting political, pandemic and societal winds seem to be forming some bent-ness in us Christians.
I keep asking myself: How will people know we are Christians?
I wonder what people from the “outside” are seeing in us these days? I wonder whether we are drawing people to the gospel with our current “Christian climate”? Not only that, I wonder if we Christians are driving away younger believers by some of our behaviors? (I’ve been reading Christian bloggers musing about why younger Christians seem to be leaving the church.)
Are we Christians, Christian? If so, how can people know we are Christian?
Jesus answered that question himself in John 13:35:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV)
These days it can feel pretty hard to love some folks. Especially when the current events are mighty winds that are billowing anger, hatred and fear all around us. We Christians can get to looking like those poor old cedars on the shoreline: bent and half-bare.
I’m going to carry the metaphor a bit too far, but anyway, those cedars had no choice where they were planted. Their seeds simply landed there after some ancient storm and they had to grow there.
We Christians have a different choice. We can choose where we plant the seeds of our faith. We ourselves are the soil and we can choose to make ourselves poor soil, choking out the fruit of our faith. (Visit Luke 8 if you don’t know the story.)
OR we can make ourselves good soil. Those… with a good and noble heart, who hear the word and retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15 NIV
The idea is, if we pay attention to the things in God’s word (Jesus himself being number one in who we should listen to) with good and honorable intentions, that word will grow in us. When it grows it will bear the fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5: 22-23 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is:
So if we want others to know we are Christians, we need to be producing fruit of the Spirit. We make that possible when we are listening to God with good and honorable intentions. (In other words, we need to be careful what and who we are listening to.)
You may notice what Jesus did NOT say. He did NOT say:
- They will know we are Christians because we stand up for our freedom to behave any way we want, even if it is impolite or endangers others (such as *ahem* refusing to wear a mask or follow social distancing regulations because our freedom is more important than other folks’ health).
- They will know we are Christians by our political party, news provider, or social media platform. (Actually, unfortunately this IS how a number of people can spot “Christians”. Unfortunately these platforms are not known for showing them anything about love and are certainly not drawing folks to Christ.)
- They will know you are Christians by how afraid and angry we are.
I have Christian friends who are riddled with fear and anger right now. They are firmly convinced that the end of the world is coming because of the election results (or at least, they are convinced that the Democrats and a bunch of foreigners, socialists and antifas are going to slaughter them on January 21). Their response is terror and anger at anyone not “one of them”. They look like Karens, not Christians.
We Christians have lost our fruit. Time to renew the soil by planting the good word of God in our hearts with goodness and honorableness. Time to make ourselves known as Christians by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, beginning as Jesus said, with love.
We don’t want to be bent Christians (btw- if you are a CS Lewis fan, remember the Space Trilogy and the bent people?…sorry, rabbit trail…)
We want to grow strong and bear fruit! Love one another.
Parting words, again from Jesus himself:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27 NIV