When I was in college, I went to a pool party. I remember it being pretty tame by college standards. The parents were home! However, the dad of the house was a lot of fun. We joked around, laughed and carried on. Later in the evening, we were sitting by the pool and the father asked me what my major was. I told him it was religion. He laughed and said, "Yeah, right." I said, "No, I'm serious, it is religion." He asked, "Why religion?" I told him I was going to be a preacher. He said, "A what? You don't seem like any preacher I know (I took it as a compliment). You laugh and joke and have fun. You seem normal." Before I left the party, he said something to me I will never forget, "I'm in my 50s and you are the first Christian I've ever met that I actually enjoy being around."
I don't tell you that story because I'm the hero, because believe me, I'm not usually the hero of my stories! I share it because that dad at the party was not alone. There are many people who have never had a positive experience with Christians.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers."
Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary, "I have been to church today, and am not depressed!"
Of course, Gandhi was famous for saying, "I like your Christ. It is Christians I have a problem with."
Shane Claiborne put it well, "Over the years, Christianity has lost its fascination because it looks less and less like Jesus."
Sadly, when many of your friends, co-workers and neighbors think of Christians, they don't think of Jesus, love, or kindness. They think of people who are judgmental, opinionated and hypocritical. Are we surprised there are so many empty pews in churches?
As a Christian, have you ever thought about the kind of impression you make on others? What words would people use to describe you?
Jesus is clear about the impression he wants us to make in this world. In Mark, when Jesus was questioned about the supreme commandment of the faith he replied, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Notice the key word is 'love'. What was most important to Jesus had nothing to do with theology, biblical interpretation, or rules to follow. It had everything to do with how well we love.
I believe that's what Jesus had in mind when he commanded, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -Matthew 5:16
Imagine if every Christian in this world (that's 2.2 billion people, over 30 percent of the world's population) got up every day, read these verses and said, "Today I am going to let my love light shine. Today everything I think, say and do will reflect the greatest commandment." Can you imagine? It would be a different world!
Unfortunately, many Christians hide their lights under a bushel by favoring judgment over grace, hate over love, rules over relationships, dogma over forgiveness, and despair over hope.
Many years ago, while serving another church, an angry lady came to see me. She sat down in my office and said, "I have problems with your sermons." I replied, "Well, what's that?" She said, "You preach on love too much!" I replied, "Come again? Before we go any further, I want to suggest that you never repeat that. You'll not come across very well to others." That did not go over very well, but she was not deterred.
She continued, "You preach on love too much. Where is the judgment? Where is talk about sin?" I responded, "Well, I believe those subjects deserve attention, but last time I checked, Jesus said that the world will know we are his disciples not by our judgement or self-righteousness, but by our love for one another." I'd like to tell you that she had a change of heart, but she didn't. She left my office angrier than when she came in. Sitting in judgment was more important to her than it was to Jesus.
Jesus didn't say let your judgment and opinions shine so that no one in their right mind would want to be a Christian. Unfortunately, this is often the reality. Too many Christians are known by their opinions than by their love for others. Bob Goff said, "Only Jesus has the power to change people, and it will be harder for them to see Jesus if their view of him is blocked by our big opinions."
When we uncover our light by removing our judgments and opinions, we will be a lot more attractive to the world. Believe me, there is nothing more attractive than the gospel. Our message is the most attractive message in the world! God created us, loves us, redeemed us and wants a relationship with us.
The late Aretha Franklin understood the attractiveness of God's light and love. She once said, "When God loves you, what can be better than that?" She was right. There is nothing better than that. But there are a lot of people who don't know that love - who don't know they are loved. This is a cold and dark world filled with people who are desperate for our light. Many are wondering if the violence and evil around us is all there is.
Are you letting your light shine? This beat up world is watching us wondering if our faith is genuine. If not, why should they bother with our faith? They don't expect us to be perfect, but they do expect to see some evidence that the love of Christ is real. And how can they know unless we let it shine?
Either we believe Jesus Christ is the help and hope of the world or we don't. Either we believe Jesus is the light of the world or we don't. Either we believe the light of Christ is within us or we don't.
I like the movie The Incredibles. It's about a family of superheroes who try to save the world from destruction. In Bob Goff's book "Love Does," he writes about the superhero dad in the movie. He is an insurance claims adjustor, but he really wants to use his superhero powers. He begins drawing pictures of the superhero suits he wants to wear. Of course, all the suits he draws include capes.
The dad has a friend named Edna who makes superhero suits and she keeps telling him that he needs to lose the cape. She mentions how capes cause big problems for super heroes. They get caught on things like fences or jet engines. Edna is famous for saying, "No capes!" You get a lot more stuff done if you lose the cape. Bob Goff thinks Jesus agrees and so do I!
You know what I think will draw the world to Christ? When Christians lose the cape. So many of us who follow Christ do it with a cape representing something - an issue we are against, our opinions or judgments - a cape symbolizing our denomination or political views or how we interpret Scripture. Soon we become known by our capes and not by Jesus. Our capes hide our light.
Another problem is that if we go around serving Jesus with capes, they eventually get snagged on something - our pride, other people's feelings, people's perceptions of Christians. Our capes get in the way.
Goff reminds us that Jesus never wore a cape. Jesus hardly ever talked to anyone about what he had done, the way he loved people. He just did it. And all that mattered to him was that God knew it. When we lose the cape, we don't get confused about what our purpose is, which is to love. We don't forget that it is God who is making things happen. All our energy is channeled into doing great things for God and loving the world like crazy.
Let's lose the cape as Christians and just go out and share the light and love of Jesus. When we serve Jesus without a cape, people will want to know more about Jesus.
Be the change you want to see in the world! I don't know who said that, but they were spot on. If you prefer, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!" Lose the cape and let your light shine.