Tearing down or building up?


Today’s readings:
Psalms 43; 149, Jeremiah 13:1-11, Romans 6:12-23, John 8:47-59

Upon passing a site undergoing renovation, a quick glance may not reveal whether it is in the stages of demolition or construction. They can look similar for a long time. The church has been undergoing renovation for centuries, and to bystanders (and members) the status may not be quite clear.

What do we think when we hear someone described as “religious?” Even if we consider ourselves religious, we may not automatically assume that person is similar to us. Increasing numbers of Americans—including those who regularly attend Christian churches—identify as “spiritual but not religious” to avoid the stigma of religion. For their book unChristian, David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons surveyed a group of young Americans—Christians included—and 85% or more described Christians as hypocritical and judgmental. 70% described them as insensitive to others. We can be reasonably skeptical about statistics, and some of the authors’ conclusions about how the church should respond are debatable, but are the results surprising? Not really.

As the church, let’s follow Paul’s advice to the Romans and spend less time denouncing the world and each other, and more time building each other up. When people hear “Christian” they should think of people who share with anyone in need, who visit the sick and imprisoned, and who love God with “gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).

If Christianity is known mostly for the things Christians won’t do and the people they won’t embrace, whose fault is that? If our main concern is moralizing when we are as prone to sin as anyone, why wouldn’t the world see us as hypocrites? Some people will always be intractably bigoted against the religious, but our reputation is our own responsibility. We can change the perception of the world by choosing to build rather than demolish. This broken world needs people who participate in mending it, not in grinding it into irrecoverable pieces.

Early Christians stumbled and lost track of the Good News when they began judging each other. Maybe we can avoid the same mistakes by asking not who is sinning, but who is hungry, ill, poor, or unloved.

Comfort: If you’re doing what’s right, the world’s judgment doesn’t matter.

Challenge: Be a builder, not a destroyer.

Prayer: God of creation, help me represent my faith well. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever caught yourself being a bad representative of Christianity?

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Reputation Matters


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, 1 Kings 13:1-10, Philippians 1:1-11, Mark 15:40-47

Sometime in our lives, most of us have had the unfortunate experience of having to send a meal back to the restaurant kitchen. Maybe it’s under- or over-cooked, or not prepared the way we asked, or just plain bad. There’s nothing wrong with expecting what you’ve paid for and letting a business know when you didn’t get it. An apology is the minimum expectation for good customer service. Many times, to show they value your patronage, the manager comps part or all of the meal, or offers a discount for your next visit. How they handle the complaint often determines whether a customer returns in the future.

Is it also possible the seriousness of your complaint might be weighed against your insistence on getting something for free? Complaint scams for free food are not unheard of. Would you consider refusing the compensation to drive your point home?

When the Lord sent a prophet to tell King Jeroboam to stop building temples to idols, Jeroboam wanted to thank the man for interceding on his behalf. Jeroboam invited the prophet to his home for a meal and a gift. The prophet said he had received these instructions from God: “You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.”

Accepting a meal or a gift, no matter how innocently, might have compromised the prophet’s integrity. In many businesses, especially non-profits, employees are advised to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Reputation has a real impact on how well we are trusted to conduct our personal and professional lives.

If we want to be taken seriously about our faith – especially by people who are looking for reasons to discredit us – we might also want to consider avoiding behavior that appears hypocritical or self-serving. That includes things like holding ourselves and our representatives to (minimally) the same standards as everyone else. For example, if we gleefully condemn and deride our political opponents for their perceived sins, yet make excuses or preach forgiveness when our political allies do as bad or worse, we can’t pretend our primary concern is justice. It also includes being involved in justice issues which don’t benefit us directly, or even cost us.

A reputation is far easier to keep than it is to restore. And when we claim to act on behalf of or as followers of Christ, it’s not just our own reputation on the line. Let’s be who we say we are.

Comfort: Christ shows us the way of integrity. 

Challenge: Try to be vigilant about your own hypocrisy and motives.

Prayer: God of Truth, help me live in the light. Amen. 

Discussion: Reputation can get tangled up with seeking worldly approval. How and why do we keep them separate?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Daniel 2:1-16, 1 John 2:1-11, John 17:12-19

When a person or company sells software or another intangible product that isn’t complete (or perhaps doesn’t exist at all yet), that product is called “vaporware.” It’s not always an intentional deception; sales people are often genuinely optimistic the product will be ready by the delivery date. Unfortunately they can also be genuinely wrong.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was too smart to fall for what may have been one of the world’s earliest vaporware scams. He summoned wise men – magicians, sorcerers, and astrologers (stereotyped as Chaldeans) – to interpret his disturbing dream. He wanted them to first tell him what the dream was, as proof of their abilities. The astrologers stepped up and promised to interpret the dream if only the king told them about it first. This angered the king because he knew they were intentionally misleading him and could not interpret. He decreed to reward them if they told the dream and interpreted it, but to execute them and destroy their houses otherwise. The astrologers protested no one could possibly do what the king asked (despite having promised it minutes before) and it made him so furious he ordered the execution of all the “wise men” in the land.

When we promise more than we can deliver, we risk more than our reputation; we gamble with the well-being of others. Businesses, lives, and relationships can be ruined. We may not be getting our peers executed, but claiming overblown profits and capabilities, selling snake oil to the desperately ill, or reneging on personal commitments leaves other to pick up the pieces of inconvenience and even disaster.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and others about the limits of our time and ability. In business and life it’s much better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa. The world won’t always cooperate: bosses will want it faster and friends will want more. If saying “yes” now only delays an inevitable disappointment … say “no.” In the long run you’ll both respect you more.

Remember that we represent more than just our own brand, but Christ’s “brand” as well. Walk in your integrity.

Comfort: It’s okay to say no when you need to.

Challenge: Consider your current commitments. Can you keep all of them? If not, responsibly decline the ones you can’t before it’s too late.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the time and talents you have given me. Teach me to use them well. Amen.

Discussion: How do you feel when you let someone down? When someone lets you down?

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