'Be anxious for nothing..." ~Philippians 4:6

Thursday, July 13, 2017


A Sunday school teacher at a local assembly told me of his plans for his Sunday School class, and asked if I'd write my thoughts or a lesson guide about being a Christian. He was frustrated by the "lack of growth" in the class. He said it occurred to him that the teacher/leaders of the class were coming week after week with "really powerful messages", but some of the student's responses weren't reflecting that they were gleaning anything. He said that neither he, nor any of the other teachers had ever bothered to ask any of the students if they were Christians or not. "Maybe that's why they weren't more enthusiastic", he concluded. He was wondering if anyone had been influenced or helped at all by the weekly lessons. "Some just sit and say nothing", he lamented. "I don't even know why they even bother to come. It's like we're not getting through to them. Seems to me, they ought to show some signs." 
I told him that people have different learning styles. Some people need to listen attentively, some write a zillion notes, while others need to see visual aids or be more hands-on. Instead of being frustrated that sister or brother so-and-so were so quiet, how about being happy that they show up faithfully?  
He seemed to be more concerned about a pat on the back for the carefully crafted, thunderously delivered lessons, than the students' actual grasp and application of them. I wondered if there was an underlying need for the students to see, applaud, and worship the teachers, as opposed to worshiping God; absorbing and applying his Word, and living it out in their own homes and communities after the class was over. 

I told him I think it's a good idea if we all look at ourselves first before poking into the spiritual lives of others, or holding ourselves up as pristine examples of Christiandom. Were any of the teacher/leaders sure about their own faith? Who would they use as an upstanding exemplar? Christ or themselves? Whose life would be measured against the lives of the students'? Christ's or the teachers'? I told him that, perhaps the discussion should be more introspective, sensitive, Bible-based and centered, and not a Sunday school witch hunt based on superficial criteria such as, who comments or answers questions correctly the most, who can quote the most scripture, who can speedily find scriptures in the Bible, who's the loudest, who wears a suit and tie, or floor length attire, who sits quietly week after week and says nothing at all, or who always has their book, pen and paper. Maybe, after a little self-searching, leaders might find that they could learn a thing or two about authentic Christian living from their students. Maybe they'd find that they weren't exactly the best qualified to go around evaluating other people's relationships with God, and should dust off and improve their own. Maybe performance-based religiosity at a place erroneously called church, could be replaced by actually BEING the church. This way, the influence of the body of believers, bound together by their loyalty to and love of Christ could extend beyond the walls of the sanctuary. Before Christ died on the cross, he said, "It is finished." It's time to influence the world with the hope and joy of that "it", instead of the extra, meaningless fluff we've manufactured for public use, to convince others of what a Christ-centered life looks like.

Here's the lesson:

I was surprised that the word "Christian" is only used three times in the New Testament scriptures. Before discussing what a Christian is, or is not, it would be a good idea to see what criteria was used to identify early followers of Christ. Read the following: 

 Acts 11:26
Acts 26:28
Peter 4:16
How do we measure up to the standards today?

Read Acts 2:37-39. A Christian’s life is unique and different. A Christian’s way of life should follow Christ’s example. 

Read 1 Peter 2:21. A Christian should endeavor to live by the scriptures.  

Read Luke 4:4. A Christian is an individual who has positively responded to the call and invitation of God

Read Matthew 5:13-16. A Christian understands and embraces the truth of God’s word. 

Read 1 Corinthians 2:11. Who knows what’s truly in the heart or mind of another person? It is best that each individual examine him or herself.

Read the following passages of scripture:
2 Corinthians 13:5
2 Peter 1:10

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 
Romans 10:8-13
1 John 2:24-25
Luke 6:46John 3:3-7 
Romans 8:14-23
1 John 2:3-7 
John 1:12
Are you a Christian? People who do not believe in God, or in the deity, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have no problem answering this question. Theirs is an emphatic, “No”. Many people admire Jesus as a good man, teacher, or prophet, but don’t believe he is the Son of God. Many call themselves “Christians”, but on what is their declaration based? Is it the redemptive work that God has done, or are they resting and relying on their own works, rules, biases, traditions, or opinions? There seem to be too many people still thinking that because they're not promiscuous, chain-smoking alcoholics, that they're more "down with G.O.D." than the people in the next pew.
Is it possible to think that you are a Christian when you are not? Does church membership or a leadership position, owning or reading a Bible, memorizing or quoting scripture make a person a Christian? Does abstaining from the vices that most people think are sinful or shameful qualify as the action of a Christian? How can a person be sure that he or she is a true follower of Christ, and who decides if they meet the criteria?  Does anyone have the right or qualifications to evaluate whether another person is a Christian or not? What signs would you look for? Are they inward or outward? Is it their clothing, hairstyle, demeanor, personality, education, or tone of voice? Is Christianity obvious? Do some people just look the part? 
When the world picks and chooses what elements of Christianity to emulate, replicate or portray, are they impressive, complimentary and helpful, or clownish, cartoon-ish and embarrassing? When the people we know view us in the light of the faith we profess, are we light and salt that inspires them to want to know more, or emitting repelling scents that chase them away?

Read Titus 3:5. Good works, church attendance, and lip service are not enough. God did the necessary work. Each person should always examine him or herself to make sure that he or she is in the faith. We must not look at our own lives and behavior as better than or holier another person’s. We brag about what we don’t do and decide that’s what proves our Christianity. This is a mistake.

It’s easy to point fingers at others and criticize what they do, and praise ourselves for abandoning what we used to do. It’s not that we are so perfect, sold out for Christ, or disciplined. There are some things we no longer do, not because we don’t want to, but because we can’t do it anymore! It’s not that our hearts and minds have been renewed. It’s not that we are so dedicated to Jesus. A lot of what we don’t do anymore is because our bodies won’t, or can’t cooperate, or our finances aren’t what they used to be! God, who delivered each one of us from eternal damnation, is still willing and able to be merciful, and deliver others! The call to be a Christian is still being made! God’s call is universal. He “so loved the world”, not just a precious few! The same grace that God showed us when we were deep in our sin, and not even thinking about our souls, is the same grace that he can, and still shows others. God is being patient and merciful, so why are we so quick to condemn and send people to Hell? What if he had not helped us to see the light? Why are we so hard on others as if God is powerless to redeem them? Failing to see our own flaws is dangerous. Harping on one sin and ignoring all others is a mistake, too.  If you were a whoremonger and God saved you, how can you be so hard on the person who is a whoremonger today? If you could be changed from a gossiper to an encourager, and be forgiven, there’s hope for everyone! If you were a thief and another person was a liar, whose sin was worse? Sometimes, the only difference between two people is that one person escaped prosecution, and another person got caught. The mercy we show is the mercy that we will receive. We ought to always be careful that we do not confuse sharing the Gospel with condemning others. If you are saved, and a Christian you should be humbly thankful and grateful! You should joyfully share the good news of the Gospel --not puff yourself up and appoint yourself a judge who sternly and aggressively monitors the lives of others.

Read 1 John 5:17. ALL unrighteousness is sin. It’s not just what others do or say, but what we, who declare ourselves as Christians, do and say as well! God sees and hears all. Unrighteousness, all unrighteousness, is considered disobedience to Him. 

Read Proverbs 28:13. I can’t whitewash or cover up or excuse my own sin while exposing the sin of someone else. I can’t look at myself as more spiritual or closer to God than someone else. I can’t give myself credit for fleeing from sin. It is God whose help I need in order to be more like him, and more like Christ.

Read Psalm 51:2. If I am honest, I know what I have done in my life. God certainly knows. I have to always look at myself; examine myself FIRST. I have to ask and depend on God to scrub away my own guilt, shame and sin. In doing so, I have little time to study or gossip about the sin in the life of someone else. 

Read 1 John 1:8-10. If I boast and claim that I am sin-free, I am not only fooling myself, but everyone else with a working brain! To say that I don’t sin at all is nonsense! I must not think that what I do, that is disobedient to the word of God is excusable, but condemn someone else, or question their Christianity.

We are very good at comparing and contrasting sins, and declaring one sin worse than another. The consequences of illegal acts vary. There are many different crimes that a person can commit, and many different laws and penalties. Some people seem to get away with what will send another person to prison for years. The consequences for breaking the law depend on the seriousness of the crime, or the final word of a judge.  All sin, however, is disobedience to God no matter how minor we think it is. 

Read James 2:10. We cannot pick and choose what laws and rules we will follow and not expect there to be easy consequences for ourselves and harsh penalties for others.

Read 1 Corinthians 6:18. We can’t live however we want to. That doesn’t just apply to a few. That applies to everyone.

Read Romans 3:23. God, in his wisdom, mercy and love got all of us out of the hot messes we were in! He did it all without our help! How dare we point fingers at someone else or attempt to discern whether or not someone else is worthy of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace? How dare we decide who is or isn’t a Christian based on our own silly or superficial criteria! We should never forget that we all needed and still need grace!

Read Matthew 12:31-32. Never reject the Holy Ghost. Acknowledge the work of God’s spirit in your life. We all need what the Holy Ghost provides to help us continue on this Christian way. Christianity is less about religion and more about relationship—a relationship that God himself initiated by sending his Son into the world to redeem mankind.

Read James 5:19-20. Instead of gossiping about what other people do, or questioning whether they are Christians or not, how often do we help them, witness to them, or pray for them? Do we draw others to Christ with our sanctimonious, religious, churchy behavior or do we drive them away? Is our Christian behavior continued when we leave the sanctuary? Can it been seen in our homes by those who interact with us the most?

Our acceptance of God’s great love and willingness to be followers of Christ and his teachings is what makes us Christians. The love we show is what others see and equate with Christianity. It would be a shame for the world to love and admire Jesus, but be appalled, embarrassed, and repelled by the people who say they are his representatives. 
Examine yourself soberly and honestly. 
The Word of God is the best guide.


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