May 20, 2014

Set Apart How?

After begging and begging us, my middle son started playing soccer this year. We've now entered the team sports world, which apparently means juggling games on both Saturdays and Sundays. And there is the rub: Sunday games for a pastor's household can be the difference between playing and not playing a sport.

Last year, we had to un-sign-up our oldest son from baseball because of Sunday morning games. Thankfully, he was half-hearted about playing anyway, so the decision to give up baseball was easy for all of us. But my son whose favorite shirt says "Goal-Driven" splashed across a soccer ball? He would not want to give up soccer no matter what time the games were held. I signed him up with trepidation, anxious to see the final practice and game schedule.
In the meantime, I had a conversation with a friend whose child also signed up, a friend who is not a Christian. We talked about what time the Sunday games might be and, to this woman who knows we are Christians, who knows my husband is a pastor, whom we've invited to church multiple times, I complained about the difficulty of juggling church and outside activities. I complained. 

I didn't realize what I'd done until later. I thought back on the conversation and realized that I'd made it sound like church and my husband's job are burdens for us and that, without either, life would be so much easier in the scheduling sense. What was I communicating to her about being a follower of Christ? I was communicating that it's intertwined with annoying and burdensome requirements. 

I don't really feel this way, so I want to be careful how I communicate about my faith and my life as a believer. But that conversation and subsequent conviction got me thinking about how my life and conversation and attitude differ from my unbelieving friends: Does it? And how should it differ? 

When I think of how my life should differ from my unbelieving friends, I tend to think in terms of behaviors: the way I do or don't watch certain things, the way I relate to money or food or drink, the way I serve, the way I dress, or how much I read my Bible or pray or attend church gatherings. The friend I had that conversation with, however, is like me in many of these ways: she serves people, she is a great mom and friend, and she loves her husband well. Perhaps the only behavioral difference is that she doesn't go to church or read the Bible.

I think most of us think of being set apart from the world in terms of behaviors. We value holy living, which is not a bad thing at all and is in fact an important aspect of reflecting our holy God to a world that doesn't know Him. But as I begin to think about what difference my friend might see in me that would cause her to consider the beauty of Christ and desire Him herself, I realized that it would be more of the heart attitudes displayed through word and deed: joy, peace, hope, dependence, sacrificial love, forgiveness and reconciliation, long-suffering, generosity, thankfulness, faithfulness, and all the other words that appear in the "put on" passages in Scripture.

Too often we differ from the world in behaviors, but we don't differ from the world in our heart attitudes. We are fearful, we worry, we are proudly self-sufficient, we hold grudges, we don't always keep our word, and we complain out of ungratefulness. What is this communicating to an unbelieving world about our God? 

I had to ask this of myself, because do I not have hope? Do I not have within me the Spirit, who is the source of all joy and peace and love? Do I not have everything I need for life and godliness? These treasures are what I want to communicate to an unbelieving world about the goodness of our God and what He's done for all those who believe.

"Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life." Philippians 2:14-16