BY REV. KARL K. WHITEMAN--MILFORD UNION MEMORIAL CHURCH
I once sat next to a Jewish woman at a function, and when she found out I was a Christian pastor, she had a question all ready for me.
"Maybe you can explain this," she said. "A young man came to my door recently. He was a college student painting houses. My house needed painting so I took his card. When I asked him about the fish symbol I noticed on the card, he smiled and said: 'Oh, I'm a Christian painter.' Now what do you suppose he meant by that?"
I laughed and told her I really didn't know except that he was a Christian who was trying to make some money painting houses.
When it comes to our place in the world, it's much better to be a "Christian" (aka a Christ-follower) than to be a "Christian" something-or-other. In other words, we who are "Christ-followers" should stay away from using the term "Christian" as an adjective. No one knows what a "Christian painter" is anyway. Even most Christians don't know. We just think we do, because we use these terms all the time.
I then asked the woman how she responded to his comment about being a "Christian painter" and she said, "Oh, I just asked him if he could paint and if he had references."
I like this lady. It's really pretty simple isn't it? It made no difference to her if he was a Christian painter or a Muslim painter or a Buddhist painter. She only wanted to know if he could paint her house. There is a great lesson here for each of us who call ourselves "Christians."
When it comes to our work in the world, our work comes first. The Apostle Paul tells us, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24).
The young painter, as well-meaning and as passionate about Christ as I'm sure he was, got his witness too far out in front of him. It seems almost that he was hiding behind his beliefs in hopes of his beliefs making him superior to his actual abilities as a painter. In reality, his witness is (or should be) to do a good job as a Christian. He, like us, needed to again heed the words of Paul.
"Work wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do..." (Ephesians 6:7-8a). How we do our job is not a means to a witness, it IS our witness. The Apostle Paul reminds us, "... whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31b).
In the marketplace (for the most part) no one cares if you are a Christian. They just want to know: Can you paint? Can you compute? Can you run a company? Can you market this product? Can you manage this store? Can you operate this cash register/computer and can you smile at all my customers? Are you responsible? Are you going to show up when scheduled and work? Once you prove yourself as having integrity and value to your employer, then the fact that you are a Christian will mean something. As King Solomon said "Every time you find work to do, do it the best you can ... " (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).
Most people have so many religious preconceptions today. And that is exactly what they are "religious" having nothing to do with faith or commitment. To announce your allegiance up front means you will have to fight through all those preconceptions just to be heard; and even then, the stereotype is hard to shake because of other "so-called Christians" (this should be read, as practitioners of "religiosity" or "churchianity") whose witness was/is anything but "Christ-like" that may have come before you. If you establish credibility on other levels first, you can then clear the deck of all that other stuff that follows. It is then that you might have a better chance of getting someone to consider what it really means to be "a Christ-follower."
So I have to ask the hard question of those of us who call ourselves "Christian." Are we putting our religion ahead of our (supposed) priority in life, Jesus?
On my office wall, I have a sign with my favorite quote on it. It challenges me daily and says this: "The Greatest Enemy of the Radical Message of Jesus Christ is . . .
Bono, the lead singer of the rock group "U2" is also a strong (and often controversial) follower of Jesus Christ. He has boldly made the following statements.
"[Jesus as] Son of God isn't that farfetched. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: 'No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: 'I'm the Messiah.' I'm saying: 'I am God Incarnate.' And people say: 'No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the 'M' word, because, you know we're gonna have to crucify you.'"
And he [Jesus] goes: "No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah" At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes and says: "Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this."
So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was; the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was strapping himself to a bomb and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the cross, was going: "OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it." I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched.
If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s--t and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it."(Excerpted: 'BONO' by Michka Assayas Pub: Riverhead Trade 2006 -- Out of Print).
In the end, what you claim to be is nothing compared to who you are ... "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I alone am God!" (Isaiah 43:10a)
Remember: "You may be the only Jesus some people ever see!" and you also may be the only example of the Bible they will ever read" so... "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31b)