Jesus asked this question to his disciples after his initial inquiry about what the general public thought of him. I ask it now to anyone reading this, or anyone not reading this, about what you think of me (or what you think of Christians). I am (and we are) not Jesus, clearly, so I do not expect your answer to be “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But I hope through me, that is how you would answer this question about Jesus. I actually don't really care what you think of me (real nice, huh?), unless what you think of me affects what you think of Jesus. So the reason I am asking it is to give myself and fellow Christians a gut check as to the impression we are leaving with the people we interact with, and whether they are seeing more of Jesus or more of us in our example. If they are seeing more of us, that is very bad, because we are sinners who are completely bankrupt spiritually.
Ultimately this question cuts to the core of much of what I have been talking about. The church, or the “universal church” made up of all authentic believers in Christ, represented locally in the form of local congregations and communities of people, should be to the world a personal presentation of the holiness, preeminence, love, and community of the Triune God of the universe, who reveals and reconciles himself to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Body of Christ does not look like this to the world, it is not because the biblical vision of the church is inadequate or that the absolute truth of the gospel is powerless; it means that we have not been faithful to either and thus confused a broken world as to what we are really even trying to say and do.
It is quite obvious that most non-Christians look at Christians in a negative way. Whether it is because they perceive us as hypocritical, closed-minded, selfish, intolerant, arrogant, ignorant, bigoted, violent, boring, weak, uncool, etc. depends on who you ask and what topic you are considering. Somehow, I want to try to boldly respond to some of these perceptions in a way that hopefully is not only loving and sincere, but also reassuring and honest enough to maybe lead some to reconsider their negativity. And if nothing else, what I hope to do is make us decrease, so that Christ can increase, and so that I can present the irresistibly desirable Person of Jesus Christ to both Christian and non-Christian alike. If you have a problem with Christians, I am very sorry, and please know that your feelings are justified. If you have a problem with Christ, I am very sorry for you, because He is the only one who can ultimately justify you. I don’t say that to be mean. I say it because I love you.
The primary category of perceptions that I want to humbly respond to (in this post at least) is that Christians are ignorant, boring, weak, and uncool. In other words, I think it is fair to say that many in the outside world look at the typical Christian as Ned Flanders. I didn’t really watch the Simpsons much until college (what?!), and still am no expert, but Ned Flanders was the devout, overbearing Christian neighbor of Homer Simpson, who in reality was a really good person. Only he was a dork, a weakling, timid, and was to others so smart that he was dumb, especially considering his profession of Christianity. Whether we are actually like this (especially men), or we rollover whenever we are excused of being like this instead of defending ourselves, or we are not really like this at all, doesn’t much matter to those who perceive us this way.
Somehow, though, we have to humbly and lovingly kill this perception because it is not the way Jesus was, or is, and it is not the way his disciples were after they received the presence of the Holy Spirit, and it is not the way that God intends us to be. I think the easiest way to do this is in our sacrificial, bold, faithful, and compassionate love for others we have to leave people with more of Christ than we leave of ourselves. In other words, somehow in our service and proclamation and demonstration of the gospel in authentic community we have to get out of the way and let Jesus Christ remain. This way, even if we are ignorant, boring, weak, and uncool, it won’t matter because they won’t see us; they will Jesus, and He is none of those things. He is the Alpha and the Omega, Savior of the world, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I recently starting catching up on the TV Series The Unit, starring Dennis Haysbert (“That’s Allstate’s stand, are you in good hands?”). It is based on the books Inside Delta Force, and traces the life and missions of the elite Special Forces of the United States Army. I really get into this stuff, and as I’ve gotten through multiple episodes I can’t shake the fact that I really want to be like these guys. A real life, red-blooded, legit, (I’m going to say it) Bad - Ass.
Guys who are so brilliant that they can decipher in multiple languages the best way to resolve a crisis with nuclear implications. Guys who are so street savvy that they can cope with a broken mission and escape from a foreign country with no prior plan by talking their way through international barriers and police in pursuit. Guys who are so disciplined that they can endure physical and psychological torture without compromising their country or their mission. Guys who are so fearless and reckless that they accept life-risking missions every week for the thrill of the ride and the love of country. Guys who are so multi-talented that they can start a broken-down car, diffuse a nuclear bomb, and successfully navigate through an unknown South American town in the same day. Guys who are so decisive and accurate that they eliminate the danger for a baby being used as a shield held in the arms of a terrorist. Guys who are so confident that even when all the forces seem against them and their doom seems imminent, they trust their training and their strength, and a power and a will beyond their control, and return home.
I want to be like that. Reckless, fearless, disciplined, brilliant, sold out to a cause, at the risk of my life. Ned Flanders was not one of those guys. And as I’ve watched this series, it has become painfully clear that the nature of this “unit” is that it doesn’t exist. If they succeed in their missions, they get no credit. If they fail, the government does not claim knowledge of their existence.
That’s kind of how I want to be. That’s kind of how I think Christians should look and act. No, we are not all brilliant, fearless, disciplined (whose fault is that?), navigational and mechanical geniuses, charming, or mentally and physically chizzled – shoot, I struggle changing a flat tire, or getting a bartender to wait on me at a crowded pub, or running from one end of the basketball court to the other, or navigating myself around a shopping mall. But His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. We are fully equipped and have been deployed on a mission that will never generate credit or glory for ourselves, but will fulfill the promises and plans of a holy and gracious God and give Him all the glory He deserves. And our mission is not going to fail, despite the wars and rumors of war. It is not our mission, it is His. We fight the battles in the strength He provides and defer the glory. We need to start acting like the badass that God created us to be, knowing that we are nothing so that Christ can be everything. Then maybe the world will see us that way and praise our Father who is in heaven.