If I started asking non-believers what they think of Christians, I don't think I'd be all that delighted by the answers. We don't have a particularly great reputation anywhere in the world. Take Isabel Allende, for example, the author of the autobiography La suma de los dias that I'm reading right now. Speaking to her daughter who died years ago, she says (forgive my inferior translation):
Here, in this world that you left behind, God has been kidnapped by men. They have created nonsensical religions, that I don't know how have survived through centuries and continue expanding. They are relentless; they preach love, justice and charity, and in order to impose them they commit atrocities. The principled men that propagate these religions judge, punish, and furrow their brow against happiness, pleasure, curiosity and imagination. Many women of my generation have had to invent a spirituality that fits us . . . . I like the idea of an inclusive and maternal divinity, connected to nature, synonymous with life, an eternal process of renovation and evolution (p. 282).
Now compare her vision of Christians/Christianity with what is said of the Early Church in Acts 2:42-47:
The believers studied what the apostles taught. They shared life together. They broke bread and ate together. And they prayed. Everyone felt that God was near. The apostles did many wonders and miraculous signs. All the believers were together. They shared everything they had. They sold what they owned. They gave each other everything they needed. Every day they met together in the temple courtyard. In their homes they broke bread and ate together. Their hearts were glad and honest and true. They praised God. They were respected by all the people. Every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
What happened? Where did we go wrong? When did we stop being a community characterized by love and the respect of others and become people who offend others so much that they “have had to invent a spirituality that fits” them? How can we reclaim what we left behind?
Jesus said, “Let your light shine in front of others. Then they will see the good things you do. And they will praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That's the kind of life I'd like to live. One that brings praise to my Father in heaven instead of condemnation. About that life, Paul wrote (Philippians 2:15, the Message version), “Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night."
When I reflect on the life of Jesus and His first followers, some of the points that stick out most to me are love, generosity, worship, and purity (specifically in the Acts passage above). How can I put those into effect more in my life? What are some immediate and simple steps I can take?
- I can love by listening more and speaking less.
- I can show generosity best with my most precious resource, my time, by not being too busy with my to-do list to attend to the needs of others.
- I can worship with a heart more deliberately grateful, recognizing the Lord and delighting in His gifts around me.
- I can seek purity in the places often left behind or hidden- my thoughts, my attitudes, my intentions.