(Note: This list of principles isn’t something I sit around and study, pour over daily, or even consciously consider, but rather an articulation of words expressing practices that have come naturally over time. Sometimes, in my own spiritual journey, I find it’s important to write these things down. That’s really all this is. Nothing more, nothing less.)
A general distaste for labels aside, I am a Christian whose identity is in Christ. I claim it without pride, superiority, self-righteous indignation, guilt or shame. I claim Christ as my only saving grace and aspire to follow Him. We communicate in words and so Christian is as good a word as any for what I am. I’ve found none better.
I’d also wager that because of a growing movement in my own tribe I’m considered by many as a soft, weak, even an unpatriotic Christian. The juxtaposition of those latter two words doesn’t even really work, but that’s where we are today – an entirely different topic. “Libtard.” “Moron.” Suffering from “cranial-rectal syndrome.” Those are a few things other Christ followers have called me, or said about me lately.
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35
It’s possible during the last couple of years I’ve had upwards of a hundred conversations with non-Christians. Atheists. Agnostics. People of other non-Christian faiths. Frankly, they’re among the most constructive conversations I’ve enjoyed, and in many cases the quality of these people’s character is unsurpassed.
If you’re a Christian who’s never entertained a deep conversation with a non-Christian, you should try it. What non-Christians see in the “Christian” community, and the conversation they’ll engage you in as a result might just test you more than you know. Try, without judgment, to explain Christian evangelical support for some high-profile things non-Christians have seen in the last two years. Imagine, without emotion, how you might explain your belief system in those various contexts.
I’ve done it dozens of times, and will do it dozens more, and I’m okay with it, but it ain’t easy. I had one such conversation last night with a couple that I adore and care about as much as family.
Consistently, non-Christians express three ideas about this distaste for the faith. They say:
- That we almost never practice what we preach;
- That we claim forgiveness without repentance. (Those aren’t the words they use, but that’s what they mean.) and;
- They say that we rub God in their faces with language such as “God did this, or God did that,” as if He micromanages the minutia of our daily lives. Did God really cause you to find your keys? Then he also caused you to lose them, right?
Because I’m frequently in these situations (and welcome them) it’s been more important than ever to find the clearest ways to articulate the who, what, where, when, why, and how of my Christian belief. It begins with knowing those things myself, not only how to express them, but how to live them. Witness is how it might be best described.
And here’s an uncomfortable confession: While I’ve never been more at peace with my beliefs based on bible study, church attendance, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, I often tell non-Christians that I’m not the “typical” Christian. And I don’t even know if that’s really the right thing to say, or even if it’s good or bad, but it’s surely how it feels. Ah, the struggles of imperfection. Some things we’ll never understand on this side of the realm.
Since life is less about what we say (although, yes, words do very much matter) than it is about what we do, the following are some guiding principles I try to practice in being the kind of Christian I believe God wants to see in me. I fail at these things, yet try, … in no particular order of importance:
- Know what you believe, and why you believe it. Period.
- Be quick to apologize.
- Listen without judgment and never, never, never condemn.
- Understand every person you see is wounded and in need of a friend.
- Avoid “we vs. them” language and move through conversations slowly.
- Know that doubt is a part of faith and ultimately causes growth.
- If you remain inside four walls, the only thing you’ll ever see or know is the same four walls.
- Don’t be a hypocrite. Keep convictions and actions consistent and be hyper vigilant about it. It’s that simple.
- Be charitable, but low profile. Don’t shout your good deeds from the mountaintop.
- Remember, someone is always watching. See #9 above.
- Create for yourself a mission-field mindset the moment you walk away from the bathroom mirror each morning. This mission begins after you brush your teeth.
- Have a world view, and lose the false notion that God has some kind of special fondness for your homeland.
- In the emotional valleys, remember that the vine dresser prunes the vine so new and better fruit can grow.
- Be the cheerleader you always needed. We’re at our best when we’re cheering for others, plus, everyone needs a cheerleader.
- Jesus is the model. Live like Him. How I live like Jesus is determined by how I learn about Jesus and how I learn about Jesus is entirely up to me. But live like Jesus.