The Wendy’s restaurant chain has been running an ad campaign that shows the difference between real and fake. Using a clever series of visuals the commercial illustrates that sometimes things that appear real are anything but real. A man precariously climbing a tall building slips and only then do you realize that he is actually on the ground. A green screen background created the illusion that he was in danger. Another shot shows two men with a full head of hair. One brushes his real hair while the other embarrassingly watches a gust of wind blow his fake “do” off his head. The catchy tune is designed to demonstrate that things aren’t always as they appear and, ultimately, you know when it is real. Wendy’s tries to make the point that they use real and fresh ingredients in their menu.
I pondered if the same catchy slogan can be applied to those who wear the title of Christian. Can you know when faith is real in the life of a Christian? What does it look like to be real? And do you really know for sure? I have been following Christ for about forty years and that number of years is sadly appropriate. There has been a fair amount of wandering around in the desert during that time. I seem to have cornered the unfortunate franchise on observing “bad Christians” after my first book (When Bad Christians Happen to Good People) was published. I feel I have a pretty good handle on what it looks like when faith is not real. But I have been blessed to walk with some men and women who lived out the truths of the Gospel authentically and powerfully. I wish the number was higher. But here is the good news. Each one has had a powerful impact far beyond what you could reasonably expect based on their fame and fortune. And they were usually not the ones you would pick out of a lineup to be used in amazing ways by God.
For the past few days I have been remembering the men and women who influenced my life in a positive way for Christ. Why did they have such an impact in my life? Why did I trust that faith was “real” in their lives. There seemed to be a few common denominators in all of the those followers of Jesus.
- Humility. Each one of them was uniquely gifted but they never called attention to their talents and gifts. They modeled humility and simply lived out of their giftedness. There was never a “look at me” mentality. Nor did their demeanor take on the “I am a worthless banana slug sinner” tact. These influencers were grateful for their gifts, they acknowledged freely the source of their gifts and they shared their gifts selflessly. They rejoiced in the talent God had graciously given them without being jealous of others’ gifts. They all got what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (I Corinthians 12, NLT)
- Grace. Every person who impacted my journey for Christ demonstrated the grace that they themselves had freely received. I see so many followers of Jesus who want to receive grace but not dispense it. I think of a couple of dear Christian men who challenged me with truth but it was so lovingly wrapped in grace that the message pierced my heart instead of wounding it. Truth and grace mixed together do not cause shame and hiddeness but lead inexorably to light and transformation. I feel confident that this is the right way to communicate. I have my sources to confirm my theory.
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1, NIV)
I don’t think word placement in Scripture is an accident. Notice that grace comes first. Most of us can dole out truth but to combine that truth with grace does not come as easily.
- Perseverance. Each person that God used in my life had been refined by fire. You do not know the depth of a person’s faith until they have been tested. I am naturally drawn to people who are witty, knowledgeable and good looking. But I have learned the hard way that snappy retorts, vast knowledge and shiny white teeth do not get Christians through tragedy and trials. Trust that God is faithful gets you through those times. And you find that people who may not be the most impressive looking at the covered dish gathering might be the ones who most completely trust God in a crisis. Those are the people who can walk with you through tough times because they have been there already. These are the saints that understand that this life is preparation for the next.
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. (Romans 8, NLT)
- Selflessness. The people who have impacted my faith journey shared another unusual trait for this culture. Selflessness. They always were concerned about others and not themselves. They made you feel like the most important person on the planet when you were with them. There was no shifty eye syndrome (eyes darting around to find a more interesting or important person) when you met with a person who is a discipler and servant to others.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2, NLT)
- Love. No surprise that the other distinguishing quality of the Christians who impacted my walk was love. The kind of love that allowed me to be me. The kind of love that offered grace when condemnation would have been natural. The kind of love that refused to judge when others already had. The kind of love that offered support instead of shoveling shame. That is the kind of love that transforms. That is discipleship in a nutshell. Trusting God to love you and love others as you walk through life with your brothers and sisters.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13, NLT)
This musing is not about who is a Christian and who is not. That is well above my pay grade to judge that relationship. But my experience is that you know someone is real when you see those five traits. Humility. Grace. Selflessness. Perseverance. Love.
The cool thing is that you don’t have to have amazing intellectual or physical gifts to have those traits. The really cool thing is how God will use you when you trust Him to grow those traits in your own journey.