Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sunday Christians

Happy New Year and welcome back!

Today, many Christians celebrate Epiphany, which commemorates the Wise Men's visit to the Christ Child or (to Eastern Christian churches) the baptism of Jesus. Either way, the word "Epiphany" comes from the Greek word for "make obvious," and the day marks an early revelation of Jesus's Messiahship to the larger world.

Especially since it occurs about at the time for New Year's resolutions, Epiphany is a good day to reflect on how well we manifest Jesus to the world. Are we living faithful, Christlike lives: lives that refuse to surrender integrity for the sake of earthly success; that overflow with compassion even for our enemies; that shine with joy even when circumstances give us no shortage of obvious excuses to fret and fume? When non-Christians look at us, will their first impression be, "These people know something worth finding out"?

Too often, it isn't. Society has no shortage of professing Christians who go to church on Sunday and live as materialistically as everyone else for the rest of the week; who sing "Joy to the World" at Christmas but wear perpetual expressions of misery in everyday life; who can quote John 3:16 verbatim but spew hate at the world. While it's tempting, and sometimes valid, to chalk up outside criticism of Christianity to "stubborn refusal to accept Christ's exclusive claims," the sad truth is that many accusations of hypocrisy are solidly grounded. Even most nonbelievers know that love was at the core of Jesus's teachings; yet all too many have been verbally abused, or snubbed when they most needed understanding, because their religions or lifestyles or past sins spelled "untouchable" to Jesus's professed followers. Sadder yet, some Christians treat other Christians no better. Many people have left their churches, even turned their backs on God, because they were mocked for their incompetencies or shunned for their failures.

Granted that we must not compromise when it comes to actual wrong, neither must we forget that God wants us to hate sin, not people. It was, after all, the super-religious, ultra-pure class who despised Jesus for loving the sinners they felt so superior to.

Being the light of the world means more than not being afraid to tell people we're Christians. It means more than exposing the wicked deeds of darkness. It requires that we make obvious, in our actions no less than our words, that there is a positive alternative.

There are many who "follow Jesus"
Every week in the church at prayer,
But, when busy at work on Monday,
Will give hardly a thought to Him there.

There are many who pray each morning
Because that's how it's always been,
But who treat it as mindless duty,
And can't wait till they get to "Amen."

There are many who claim they're Christians
If it feeds their own self-respect
To regard themselves "better people"--
But, when Scripture convicts, they object.

Are you merely a lukewarm Christian,
Or do you seek, in all life's tasks,
To be truly on fire for Jesus,
Set to do anything that He asks?

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