Archive for Christianity’s PR problem

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 7: The PRize

THE PRIZE

 

            So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service.

            We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives by visibly living out or faith. 

            But let’s face it, all that service can be tiring.  If we put too much emphasis on pouring ourselves out for others, it can be all too easy to neglect the refilling process.

            Fortunately, we don’t need to look any farther than the Ten Commandments to find out how to solve this problem:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work . . . (Exodus 20:9-10a NIV)

God gave us the Sabbath for a reason.  He knew we would need the rest.  To paraphrase Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,   you can’t sharpen your saw if you never stop sawing.

            Now I don’t want to get into the legalistic argument of what constitutes “work.”  Keeping the Sabbath is not about following the letter of the law.  That’s religion.  Jesus came to set us free from that.

            The point is that we were created to love God, love one another and serve the world.  We can only do that effectively if we take time to chill out and recharge.  With the concept of the Sabbath, God gave us a simple template to follow to make sure that we stayed refueled in order to carry out His ministry effectively.

            Paul knew that he would need this refueling when he wrote:

…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.  (Philippians 3:13b-14 AMP)

If life were all about pressing on, with no time for resting, we would burn out.  Thus, we would not complete our mission and win the PRize.

                So what is this PRize of which Paul speaks?  It can’t be the salvation of our souls.  As we already covered back in Part 5, we are saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor, and not through our own efforts.  In other words, we don’t earn our golden ticket to Heaven by “straining forward” and “pressing on.”

                So what is the PRize then?  Would you believe, more rest?

                I’m not talking about the Sunday-afternoon-nap-on-the-couch-with-the-ball-game-on-after-killing-the-all-you-can-eat-buffet-after-Church kind of a rest though.  This PRize is much bigger:

So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered into [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own.  (Hebrews 4:9-10 AMP)

                The PRize that I am pressing on toward is to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and enter your master’s happiness.  Take the free gift of the water of life and enter into my rest.”

                To that end, I will continue pressing on—toward the PRize, and toward His rest.  I’m glad to have you along for the ride.

               

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 6: PRove It!

 

PROVE IT!

 

If Christianity really does have a PR problem, the greatest single source of it may be the perception of hypocrisy.

It is not only possible but common for someone to have a set of ideals that they occasionally do not live up to.

On the other hand, an actual hypocrite is someone who deceptively and intentionally elevates their own outward image while inwardly or privately behaving in a completely different manner.

Unfortunately, throughout the centuries, many people within the church have done just that.  Even more unfortunately, we live in a culture that is equally self-seeking rather than Truth-seeking.

As a result, people who do not want to believe in God, instead of trying to learn more about Him and His followers, will instead seek out examples of why NOT to be a follower.  The most common excuse seems to be, “Christians are hypocrites, so why would I want to be one?”

Even so, our primary concern should not be to defend ourselves against the charges of hypocrisy by merely saying that we are not hypocrites.  Our job is to PRove it.

If anyone is to believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and that we, the Church, are His ambassadors, then it is imperative that our walk matches our talk.

Jesus summed up our mission in this excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-16  NIV)

Notice that the motivation for a Christian’s good deeds is so that people will praise God, not the doer of the deeds.  Another person could do the very same deeds, praising Jesus with his mouth the entire way, but with self-serving motivation.  The world will notice this, and affix the label of “hypocrite” appropriately.

So here are a few PRactical ways to PRove to a skeptical world that your faith is genuine:

  1. Know your Bible.  If someone twists a Bible quote, you need to be able to call them on it in such a way as to correct the misinformation without condemning.
  2. Show an attitude of gratitude, rather than one of entitlement.  People perceive what you value most by how bent you get if you lose it.
  3. Persevere through trials; don’t be a whiner.  Anyone can complain, but complainers never see the view from the top of the mountain.
  4. Speak only what is beneficial for building people up and meeting the needs of all who listen (see Ephesians 4:29). Hint: the best way to find out what their needs are is to LISTEN before you speak.
  5. Invest time and energy into relationships and consider other people’s needs more important than your own.  People tend not to care what you know until they know that you care.
  6. NEVER COMPROMISE THE TRUTH!!!  Just as we do not serve the world by preaching at them from a judgmental stance, neither do we serve them by blending in.

The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is Christ, but that difference makes ALL the difference.

(Next, Part 7—The PRize)

 

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 5: PRactice Grace

 

 

You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Some of us are blessed with great relationships with our extended families, others not so much.    But we keep going back to the cookouts, don’t we?  Because, well, they’re FAMILY!  It’s always a little easier to put aside differences when you’re tossing beanbags with brats on the grill.

But after the cookout, and the cleanup, and the kisses goodbye, the differences remain.  Every family has them.  However, the differences are thrown into sharp relief in a family where some of the members are Christians and some are not.

If you, like me, are among the first in your family to come out as an evangelical Christian, it can be uncomfortable at first.  Not only do you stick out like a sore thumb, but you see everyone else differently. 

No matter what your family situation is or what kind of relationships you have with them, there is one thing you must never forget.  It wasn’t anything you did that made you different from them. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9 RSV)

Now I do not want to assume that everyone reading this knows what is meant by “grace.”  Basically, it means “unmerited favor,” or getting something you didn’t earn.

Say for example you’re speeding down the interstate, and you get pulled over.  You know you deserve a ticket.  Getting what you deserve is justice.

What you HOPE will happen instead is that the officer will let you off with a warning.  Not getting what you deserve is mercy.

But what if instead the officer comes up to your car window and says, “You and I both know you have broken the law.  But nobody’s perfect.  So instead of a ticket, I’m just going to give you this Hershey Bar.  Have a nice day!”

 That’s not normal.  Not for a regular person anyway, but Jesus wasn’t a regular person. 

 He didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up and be “good enough” for Him before He called us to follow Him.  We’ll never be good enough.  That’s the whole point of grace—we can’t do it ourselves.

Meanwhile, back at the family reunion. . .

 

Take a look around the yard at all these people getting on your nerves–these people you feel you have nothing in common with anymore.

Now look at them again, Christian.  You DO have something in common with them—genetic material.  Before God, in His mercy and grace, saved you, you were just like them.  In more ways than you care to admit, you still are.

So PRactice grace by loving your family for who they are, not who you think they ought to be.  PRactice grace by appreciating them for what they do, not for what they can do for you.  PRactice grace by looking past the rough edges to the heart inside—the heart that has a God-shaped hole in it just like yours once did.

But most of all, PRactice grace by simply hanging around with them.  Look past the differences and find the common ground.

After all, they’re family.  And you’re stuck with them.

(Next, Part 6—PRove It!)

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 4: PRovide

PROVIDE

 

Generally, the first thing that comes to our minds when we think of PRoviding for our families is our jobs.  But there is so much more to PRoviding than bringing home a paycheck. 

Children are more concerned with being loved and being led than they are with whether or not the bills are getting paid.  The family’s finances aren’t their concern, so they don’t think about it. 

What children need to know is that their dad is in control.  They need to know he’s the Man with the Plan and he cares for them deeply. 

Let me be clear on what I mean by “in control.”  This does not mean, “controlling.”  Dads, how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?  If you have to tell your children that you’re in charge, that’s a pretty good indicator that you aren’t.

Dads, if you want your sons to grow into men of character, then your first PRiority as fathers is to show them what that looks like. 

Be a man of integrity.  Say what you mean, mean what you say and do what you say you are going to do.  Do not be wishy-washy with your sons, or they will not have confidence in your promises.  Do not be lax with your discipline, or they will think they can get away with anything.  And most importantly, FOLLOW THROUGH with whatever you say you are going to do. 

One of the most vital things that we must do as fathers is to throw off EVERYTHING in our lives that hinders us from following through on our words.  Children are experts at making it look like they are ignoring us, but they are always watching.  .  Not only are they more likely to do what you do rather than what you say, but they are more likely still to NOT do what you DON’T do. 

But it’s not all about discipline, of course.  Children do need to be led, but they also want to be loved.  This is especially true for the girls.

Face it dad, your little princess is going to grow up someday.  Chances are she’s going to look for somebody just like you to marry.  So ask yourself—are you the kind of guy you want your daughter to bring home? 

If that doesn’t get your attention, how about this?  There are few things in this life a daughter wants more than her daddy’s approval.  If she gets that, she will grow up secure and confident, knowing that she can be loved for who she is.  If she doesn’t, she will do whatever she can to create an artificial feeling of being loved.  (Guys, if you’re not catching my drift, I’ve got two words for you: back seat.)

Finally, as the spiritual leaders of our home, the most important thing we can PRovide for our children is knowledge of our faith.  The reality is that if children aren’t learning about God, the Bible or the Christian life from you, dads, there’s a good chance they’re not learning it at all. 

Fathers, the reputation of your family and the integrity of your children will be determined by what you PRovide and how you PRovide it.

(Next, Part 5—PRactice Grace)

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 3: PRotect

PROTECT

 

Men, short of your relationship with God, your marriage is the most important thing in your life.  If you disagree with that statement, stop right now and make a list of everything you can think of that’s more important. 

OK, now take that list to your wife and say, “Honey, I love you, but I love these things more.”  Then read the list to her. 

(What?  That’s a bad idea?  I agree.  Read on.)

The reason marriage is so important is that a marriage is the closest that a man and a woman ever come on this earth to being like God.  God is one, yet exists in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Each personality in this Holy Trinity is unique, distinct, and has His own function, yet they are one, completely unified in purpose.

Likewise, in a Christian marriage, the man and woman remain a man and woman, with their distinct personalities and functions, yet they no longer serve themselves, but each other.  With their shared faith as the bond that holds the marriage together, the trinity of husband, wife and Holy Spirit echoes the unity of the Holy Trinity.

Also, as the Holy Trinity is responsible for the creation of all life, so the trinity of husband, wife and Holy Spirit bring forth new life with the birth of their children. 

This is the closest we will ever come to appropriating the creative power of God.  As such, this is why both life and the marriage through which it is created are sacred.

The primary role for a husband toward his wife is that of Protector.  That notion frequently rubs the womenfolk the wrong way these days, as our culture supports the notion of independent women who “don’t need a man.” 

Nevertheless, every strong independent woman started out as a frightened little girl, looking to her daddy for protection.  When a father makes clear to his daughter that he is there to protect her and take care of her, she grows up secure and confident (more on that in the next post).

The main purpose of the husband is to take over the protective role of the father when the woman no longer has need of it.  This is the meaning behind the father giving the bride away at a wedding.  He is saying, “It’s your turn now.  Take care of my daughter.”

The protective role is now different, however.  Rather, a husband is charged with protecting his wife’s heart.  She has put her trust in him to love her, to be faithful to her, to lead her and to lift her up in her time of need. 

Men, there is no job we have that is more important than this.  We need to make PRotection our PRiority.

(Next–Part 4–PRovide)

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 2: PRaise and PRayer

 

 

 

PRAISE AND PRAYER

 

God must come first, because He is first.  When you put God first in your life, you are not doing Him a favor; you are doing yourself one.  As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

 

 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)

 

So what is the best way to keep God on top of the list?  Well, the obvious answer is to pray.  But how?

 

Too often, our prayers sound like we are making God into our own personal vending machine.  We need or want something, so we push our prayer button and expect that we will receive an immediate answer to our prayers, all wrapped up like a Three Musketeers. 

 

Since we wouldn’t be asking God for something if we didn’t believe he was capable, and willing, to provide it,  why not start our prayer by praising Him for being that kind of a God? 

If we need His help, He is obviously greater than we are.  Starting our prayer time by meditating on just how much greater He is puts us in an appropriate posture for prayer.

 

Of course, once we’re there, standing in the glory of His greatness, we realize how unworthy we are.  This is a good opportunity for confession. 

You can’t help but call to mind where you’ve missed the mark when you have entered the presence of the Most Holy One.  But that’s just it.  Even though we have missed the mark, and will do so again, He still welcomes us into His presence. 

 

Once we begin thanking Him just for paying attention to us at all, we become more aware of all the ways, great and small, that He is acting in our lives.  Thank Him for all of those things, because He didn’t have to do any of them. 

I have found that the joy of the Lord comes to me in the course of my thanksgiving.  As David wrote:

 

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (Psalm 28:7 NIV)

 

It is through this strength that we finally get around to presenting our requests to the Lord.  Because now, instead of feeling confused and helpless and needy, we are renewed and refueled. 

(Next–Part 3–PRotect)

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 1: PRiorities

 

Many folks today say that Christianity has a P. R. problem. Like it or not, they have a point.

Whether the P. R. problem comes from people outside the church speaking from ignorance, or denominations within the church at each other’s throats over doctrinal issues and such, pretty much anyone disposed to do so can find something about the church with which to take issue. 

Why bother with that drama?

No, dear readers, instead of blathering on about the P. R. problem, I am here instead to propose some PR solutions, though not perhaps in the way you are thinking. 

I believe that the Church’s image problem is best addressed from the top down.  Just as the head directs the body, so the heads of churches set the tone for their congregations. 

Likewise, as the heads of their families, fathers set the tone for their wives and children.   When the leaders of both churches and Christian families have their houses in order, the world can not help but notice.  It is my position that the most effective way to fix the church’s  P. R. problem is by living out these “PR” solutions.

(I am going to be speaking primarily to the men here, seeing as how I am one.  Ladies, especially single moms, feel free to listen in too though, as I expect you’ll find something useful here as well.)

 

PRIORITIES

Guys, your main thing is keeping your main thing the main thing.  Too many of us men have lives that are out of balance.  We have so many responsibilities that sometimes our priorities get confused.

Here is a simple way that I have found to keep my priorities in their proper order.  When you find yourself overwhelmed, overbooked or overcommitted, this is a good way to sort out your to-do list, whether you actually have a list or just keep one in your head. 

I call this the Hierarchy of Service Priority (mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else to call it–please feel free to come up with a better name for it if you like).  It goes like this:

  1.       God
  2.       Spouse
  3.       Kids
  4.       Extended Family
  5.       The World (friends, acquaintances and basically everybody else)
  6.       Yourself

The point of this hierarchy is to keep in mind that if you are spending energy serving someone on this list without having first given priority  everyone else ABOVE that level, that is a good sign that you are out of balance.  For each level of PRiority on the list, I have a PRactical solution to help you remember.

(for more on that, tune in for Part 2–PRaise and PRayer)