Last week I gave my son his first pocketknife. It was a big deal because for him to have it, he had to earn his scout “whittling chip” award. Having that whittling chip means that the scout understands knife safety because he has undergone the necessary instruction, demonstrated handling proficiency, and has also pledged to always use a knife safely. To a nine-year-old boy, having your own pocketknife is a really big deal, like a step on the path to becoming a man. And of course, having earned his right to carry a knife, the first thing he wants to do is show it off to all his friends.
Isn’t it our human nature to show others our new prized object, especially when it is something we have really longed and worked for? I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve come home to my own private fashion show as my daughter parades before me all the new clothes her mom just bought her. Whether it be a new phone, engagement ring, car, or new home, we all love to show our friends our new prized possessions. And yet, isn’t it strange that while we love to show others our special belongings, as Christians we are often so reluctant to speak of the one thing we say we cherish most—Jesus?
A number of years ago, I moved to a city where my sister lived. She had been in this town for over forty years without any of her many siblings nearby, and when I moved near her she couldn’t wait to introduce me to her friends. If Jesus really means so much to us, then shouldn’t we have this same attitude—a desire to introduce him to everyone we can? Not only should we be happy to show him off to others, there should be no doubt that we have an obligation, a command even, to reach out and try to bring others to him. His words are clear: “Go and make disciples of all nations in my name, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18 REV). We must ask ourselves, “What is it that hinders me from being more obedient?”
Of course there are many reasons why we are not more open to others about our faith and Jesus. We all like to be liked, and no one enjoys being ridiculed or rejected. Experience has taught many of us that one sure way to get people upset with you is to start talking about Christianity and issues of faith. I heard it said that if a cat gets burned on a hot stove, he will not only be fearful of hot stoves, but he will be afraid of ALL stoves—either hot or cold. Like the cat, speaking of Jesus to others often gets us “burned,” so yielding to intimidation, many times we tuck tail between our legs and walk off with our mouths shut.
Separating Jesus from Christianity
I have come to realize that another reason we fail to effectively present Jesus to others is because we often fail to separate Jesus from Christianity. People generally try to distinguish Christianity from other world religions by saying that Christianity is not a religion, but is instead a relationship between God as the Father, and man as His children. While it is true that this is what distinguished Christianity from other religions, I don’t think it’s correct to say, Christianity is not a religion.” Christianity today is certainly a religious system that has developed over the centuries, and many times it differs greatly from what Jesus said and did. And whether it was well- intentioned or not, the reality is that Christianity is filled with strife, division, erroneous teachings, and ponderously heavy traditions. In many ways, Christianity, as it is today, is not what Jesus intended from his followers. Mahatma Ghandi, the preeminent leader of the civil rights movement in India, eloquently encapsulated this when asked why he did not embrace Christianity, saying, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
One of the reasons people are not more effective at presenting Jesus to the world is because often they are presenting Christianity. But Jesus isn’t Christianity. Sadly, there is a big difference between the two. In his book Speaking of Jesus, Carl Medearis quotes the following story by an author named Donald Miller who was on a non-Christian talk show. The radio host was unsuccessfully trying to get him to defend Christianity:
[The talk show host] asked me if I was a Christian, and I told him yes. “Then why don’t you want to defend Christianity?” he asked, confused. I told him I no longer knew what the term meant. Of the hundreds of thousands of people listening to his show that day, some of them had terrible experiences with Christianity; they may have been yelled at by a teacher in a Christian school, abused by a minister, or browbeaten by a Christian parent. To them, the term Christianity meant something no Christian I know would defend. By fortifying the term, I am only making them more and more angry. I won’t do it.
Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word Christianity, and they will give you ten different answers. How can I defend a term that means ten different things to ten different people?
I told the radio show host that I would rather talk about Jesus, and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and he likes me. The host looked back with tears in his eyes. When we were done, he asked if we could go get lunch together. He told me how much he didn’t like Christianity but how he had always wanted to believe Jesus was the Son of God.
It is my experience that many people are like that radio talk show host. They don’t have a problem with Jesus, but they do have a problem with Christianity. Trying to defend Christianity is a burden none of us needs to bear, nor should we have to. When we focus on presenting Jesus, speaking solely about what he said and did then we are freed from the weight of Christianity, its schisms, denominational differences, and sometimes-indefensible actions since Christ. Separating Jesus from Christianity is like removing the shadow over Jesus’ face so people can clearly see him.
It is never “us” versus “them”
Many approach winning others for Christ as if people are cattle that need to be lassoed and herded into a pen. Then they even go one step further as they try to “mark” them with their particular denominational brand, all in an effort to ensure that the size of their herd increases. The problem is that it’s not my job to get people to join Jesus’ flock. That’s between the person and Jesus, a choice each person must make on their own. Remove witnessing about Christianity, and a great weight is lifted from our shoulders. Instead, our job is quite simple: we merely need to present Jesus to them.
How do we best present Jesus to the world?
When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, we receive the most powerful gift God gives, the gift of holy spirit. This is so powerful that the Bible actually says Christ himself dwells in us (Col. 1:27). The spirit in us seeks to do the will of our Father. Jesus is no longer in the world, but we are; so wherever we go, we can be Jesus to others. When we do his works and say his words, people can see Jesus in us—see me, see Jesus.
The most effective way to show Jesus to others is to love people like he wants them to be loved, which is the singular most distinctive thing he said that would identify his followers from the rest of the world.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35 (NIV)
The kind of love that Jesus spoke of is not a sentimental or emotional love. It is not a love based upon feelings or how other people make us feel. Instead this is a love that is based on truly desiring to serve others. It always seeks the best for others, their welfare and wellbeing. The context in which he gave this command was the Last Supper, a time when he personally got down on his knees and washed the feet of his followers, a very humble act that a servant did for his superiors. When people see me, they will see Jesus if I truly act in ways that are focused on the welfare and benefit of others, acting just like Jesus did.
I love the story that Christian speaker Beth Moore tells of the time she knew God was stirring in her heart to help an elderly man in an airport. As the story goes, she sees a very old man in a wheelchair. He is a strange sight—sitting with disheveled long, gray hair hanging halfway down his back—that everyone around takes notice of him, some stealing a glance while others can’t help but stare at him. Feeling a strong draw in her heart towards the man, she begins to argue with the Lord about “witnessing” to him. “Oh Lord, please don’t make me witness to this man,” she says.
Then Jesus speaks clearly to her: “I’m not asking you to witness to him, I want you to brush his hair.”
“What?” she thinks. “Brush his hair! NO Lord! Not brush his hair…I’d rather witness to him.”
As Beth tells the story, she was obedient, and with all eyes on her she went to the man, knelt down and asked if she could brush his hair. Not having a brush, she even had to go through his carryon bag, and as she did, she felt an overwhelming sense of the love of God flood her body. Soon the room and all the people faded away as she focused on brushing out the man’s long, tangled and snarled ends. When she was done she knelt in front of the man again and asked him if he knew Jesus. With tears in his eyes he explained that he did, his bride of many decades required him to come to Christ before she would marry him. It turns out he had been in a hospital for many, many months and during that time no one had attended to his hair and appearance. He was finally returning home to his wife and had been very concerned about the way he looked. He told Beth that he already knew the Lord but her coming to his side and tending to his hair had been an answer to a quiet prayer in his heart. A prayer that he would be presentable to his wife, the love of his life.
Soon he was wheeled onto the plane and that’s when an airline employee came to Beth. Beth’s actions of love and kindness overwhelmed the employee and she wanted to know what had compelled her to do that for him. It turns out the airline employee did not know Jesus and that opened the door for Beth to speak to her about him.
Jesus called upon Beth to be his hands and feet that day. It was his love expressed through her that brushed that man’s hair—and the world took note. The people who watched Beth that day were actually seeing Jesus. It was a see me, see Jesus moment!
See me, see Jesus is powerful
The world can be so distracting and it has a way of infiltrating my thinking and actions. I know I need to be holier in my words and actions…but, crap, I keep blowing it! I find now that it is so easy to say to myself throughout the day, “See me, see Jesus!” And when I do, I am always aware that my actions as I drive my car, interact with clerks, and meet people throughout my day are all a reflection of Christ. This causes me to catch myself, correct my actions, and hopefully, truly present Jesus to the world.
Coming to Jesus is always a movement of the heart, and the one thing every heart desires is to be genuinely be loved. Our Father has demonstrated His great love for all by giving us His son, and Jesus’ love is so great that he laid his life down so that all who believe in him can live forever with him. Today it is our turn to present Jesus to the world, which we do every time we act in such a way where we can truly say, “See me, See Jesus!”