Be the Gospel You Wish To See

Be the Gospel You Wish To SeeChristmas is the season for receiving presents, waiting for Santa Claus, singing carols, and decorating your home. Right? For a growing number of Americans, these are “the reasons for the season.” In a recent book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled Unchristian, the authors share stunning statistics from their recent research on the perceptions of non-Chrisitians. They call these individuals “outsiders” – those viewing the faith from beyond the church walls. This group includes agnostics, atheists, those who identify with another faith other than Christianity (such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, and others), and other unchurched adults who are not born again Christians.

Samaritans in our midst
Outsiders are increasingly less of a fringe sector of society. They make up one-quarter of Boomers and Elders, one-third of those 30 to 41 and two-fifths of those between the ages of 16 to 29. As you may notice, each generation contains more than the last. Houston, we have a problem.

As we drive through the streets of South Florida, we see bumper stickers, magnets and yard signs that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” For a growing group of Americans, the bells of this statement do not jingle. According to the authors of Unchristian, many of these individuals attended church growing up but, for multiple reasons cited in the survey, they no longer feel connected to the church of their youth. While the media has had an influence, its impact was surprisingly small when compared to other factors such as church experiences and interpersonal experiences with Christians. It is important to note that interpersonal and church experiences were also cited as playing important roles in bringing people to Christ.

The authors found the three most expressed perceptions of modern-day Christianity include anti-homosexual (noted by 91 percent of young outsiders), judgmental (87 percent of respondents), and hypocritical (85 percent of respondents). While many may feel defensive, surprised or even embarrassed by the negative perceptions held by outsiders, there is hope. On the positive end, three-quarters of outsiders affirm that Christianity has “good values and principles.” The most favorable perception of Christianity is that it holds the same basic ideals as other religions.

See the good
As we consider impressions held by many “outsiders,” we must consider the good that is being done in order to sidestep the path of becoming downgraded and disconnected by the ills of our collective walk. There are endless examples of Christians shining God’s transforming light into the homes and streets of South Florida. Sheridan House Family Ministries is changing the trajectory of families by giving them the tools to thrive. Hope Women’s Center is saving lives of the unborn and their mothers. Your local church is leading ministries that are leaving concrete footsteps for the glory of God. The question is not about whether there are good ministries, projects, and organizations doing important work. The results of the survey by Kinnaman and Lyons point, rather, to interpersonal experiences with Christians as the main way outsiders form their perceptions of Christians.

The gospel we wish to see
As we enter this Christmas season, how might we be the gospel we wish to see in the world? Outsiders are correct; Christianity holds many of the same good values and principles as other religions. These include service, honesty, love, kindness, sacrifice and faithfulness. But God has gifted Christians with the experience of unearned grace, unexplainable hope, and insurmountable power demonstrated through and rooted in the Christmas story. We are distinguished by and hopefully distinguishable by our fervent love, surprising grace and generous sacrifice that flows from God through his people. How do our stories, our lives, our daily walk tell the Christmas story to those standing outside, or sitting in the back row, of the church?

God sent his son as a model to help prideful, self-centered, wayward human beings (all of us) live as Christ-followers. With that in mind, Christians might consider how we can be like Christ beyond simply calling ourselves Christian, wearing a cross, or going to church. Attending church and publicly professing our faith are important throughout the year. However, the difference between simply believing in principles and transforming people’s hearts and minds emerges from the greatest story ever told. Christ’s gift to us was unearned and unexplainable. Why is Christian love different from that of other religions? Simple. It is fueled by winds of gratitude, overflowing love and wellsprings of joy. We can never match God’s goodness or grace. But we can reflect it, channel it and be fueled by it. As we begin to decorate our homes for Christmas, tis the season for adorning our hearts with the Christmas message.

The Christmas challenge
This Christmas, will you accept the challenge? Be the gospel to someone each week this month. Opportunities are endless and you will only fail if you do nothing. Can you offer one sincere word of encouragement or act of kindness to a friend or co-worker? Is there anyone that you can express words of gratitude to or a personal note with a prayer for blessings? Can you make cookies for a neighbor or co-worker and, and ask if there is anything you can pray about for them…and immediately pray? What if you were to offer to babysit for a single mother you know and show God’s love to her child? Do you have someone in mind that you could invite to join you for church followed by a football game and burgers at your house?

May we be the gospel we wish to see at Christmas, both to those inside our churches and to those standing outside the faith through simple acts of kindness, grace, and love.

Dr. Terry Morrow is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She has a Ph.D. in conflict resolution and is in the process of becoming a Certified Christian Conciliator. She can be reached at [email protected].

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