Thursday, January 04, 2007

The aroma of Christians

I've been reading Philip Yancey's book, What's So Amazing About Grace. Funny that up till now I haven't read it. It's been on my list, and it's finally in my hands. So far, it's as good and honest as any other Yancey book I've read, which by the way is The Jesus I Never Knew. :)

Passage from What's So Amazing...

Mark Twain used to talk about people who were "good in the worst sense of the word," a phrase that, for many, captures the reputation of Christians today. Recently I have been asking a question of strangers - for example, seatmates on an airplane - when I strike up a conversation. "When I say the words 'evangelical Christian,' what comes to mind?" In reply, mostly I hear political descriptions: of strident pro-life activists, or gay-rights opponents, or proposals for censoring the Internet. I hear references to the Moral Majority, an organization disbanded years ago. Not once - not once - have I heard a description redolent of grace. Apparently that is not the aroma Christians give off in the world.

I have often sensed that that is the way the world must view Christians, at least here in America. I have even, at times, wanted to shy away from the word 'Christian' (identifying myself with that name), just because I know that the image that is conjured up in the minds of people is so far from what I know is in my heart. Bluntly: I'm not ashamed of Christ, I just sometimes have a hard time with Christians.

Today on a local rock station (mainstream, not Christian), there was a contest in which a rock artist was heard talking, and to win you had to identify the band he was in. I didn't stay tuned in to find out the answer, but I heard the voice of the artist. His words had to do with why he wanted nothing to do with religion. He said he had been baptized as a Presbyterian, but as he grew he found that it just wasn't what he wanted. Something about all the hypocrisy. I so much wanted to tell him (inside my radio) that I, too, wanted nothing to do with the Christian religion!

You all know what I'm talking about. I love Jesus and I love all my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I'm far from perfect. Hypocrisy runs through my blood too. But many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are so caught up in what they're against. So much of the time, it really is hard to find any grace. There can be 99 wonderful illustrations of grace around, but the focus ends up on the 1 thing that is just so terribly horrible in the eyes of God.

Or, while they may understand that there's forgiveness for the tax collector or the woman caught in adultery, they want to make sure those people repent and apologize publicly and show true signs of change before they think about putting their arms around them. Again, you all know what I'm saying. I'm just as sad as anyone else that there's a lot of sin in this world. But I'm just as sad, well, much more sad, that there's a lot of JESUS in each of us believers, but we somehow think we're still Moses, and we come across as hypocritical, finger-pointing Pharisees!

Grace and forgiveness don't come after one overcomes sin. Grace and forgiveness given freely and unconditionally are what leads to the overcoming of sin. This world doesn't need the Ten Commandments posted in every classroom. The New Testament reminds us that the Law never had any power to change a person. Therefore the world needed JESUS and this world still needs JESUS flowing out of each and every one of us who know Him!

But we don't turn the other cheek. We get a boycott going. We don't embrace those who don't live our 'Christian lifestyle.' We try to get another law passed. We don't try to win them to the Savior. We beat them up with the cross of Christ (our version of Christ). We don't pray for them. We just talk about how bad they are. We talk about how rotten the world is getting, but instead of offering up the sweet aroma of Jesus, with His love and compassion, and His grace, mercy and forgiveness, what we end up offering is the putrid stench of the filthy rags of self-righteousness. Often, the three words that best describe us are as follows, and I quote, "Stink, Stank, Stunk."

I'm speaking of myself. I mean, I hope in my years so far of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus I've overcome much of my self-righteousness and hypocrisy, but I know there's still a long way to go. I pray for the LIGHT of Jesus to shine in me, so people may see my good deeds and glorify my Father who is in heaven. They don't really care what I'm against. But what will smell good to them is the sweet aroma of grace. They'll know it when they see it.

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