Christians are like a great work of art that was lost in a garage for decades. But it’s been found – a beautiful masterpiece discovered beneath a cheap, contemporary portrait.
The media has slapped a cheap caricature of Christians over the masterpiece of Christian identity. The counterfeit portrays us as shallow, anti-intellectual, judgmental, disengaged, and uncool hypocrites. But we’ve begun peeling back the substitute work to reveal the original. The accumulation of dust and grime is being gently brushed away to reveal the brilliant lines and colors of who we really are – the beauty of our origins and the beauty of the world-changing work done by those who have gone before us.
The lords of media are fond of their image of Christianity, though it is a far cry from our Revolutionary Leader and His scrappy band of radicals. The engines of media rarely portray the truth about the scope of Christian work on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. They highlight other things. Gay Anglican priests, for example, generate weeks of saturating “news” coverage, while a Rwandan Anglican bishop serving the orphans of that country’s genocide remains a nobody.
Sadly, media outlets shape our understanding of what’s going on in the world. And, incredibly, they inform our perceptions of ourselves as well. We have bought the caricature and held it up as a mirror.
How we see ourselves is important because it has a lot to do with who we will become. It shapes what we expect from ourselves and determines what influence we will have on the world. As said by Walter Rauschenbusch, “As long as a man has a low conception of what a perfect human character would imply, his idea of salvation will consist in slight reforms of conduct. The higher the conception of personal or social possibilities, the larger is the task set for us.
What does it mean to have a perfect human character? What would being like Jesus mean for our world? The possibilities are staggering.
I would say the church needs to hire a better PR firm.
Mother Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, has a policy prohibiting press and interviews. In her book No Greater Love, Mother Teresa writes, “The work of moral rearmament is carried out with discretion and love. The more discrete, the more penetrating it will be.
No doubt she was motivated by Matthew 6, which says,
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. – Matthew 6:2
And it is humble, but it must be held in tension with Jesus’ other teaching in Matthew 5:15–17:
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.
This is the tension – to exist between the beautiful, spiritual practice of secret generosity and the beautiful, spiritual practice of letting your light shine that others may see your good deeds and glorify God. If we hide our lights under a bowl, we might be robbing God of glory, and yet when we let others see our good deeds, we risk cozying up with pride. On the other hand, it’s possible to “let your light shine” and hardly be aware that it was your light at all, while a secret act of generosity can still be motivated by a heart filled with awful self-glory.
We who are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) have some major challenges to overcome. Our opponent is the father of lies who wields strong power to shape public opinion about Christ and His movement. Since many of us have bought into the caricature, we fulfill our own expectations that people like us don’t do amazing and cool things. Those who are doing them – the thousands of anonymous Mother Teresas – remain, well, anonymous.
The tragic result is that we don’t see ourselves as the kind of people who end extreme poverty. Yet we are.
Don’t believe the dark image projected by the media. Believe the image of Christ revealed in us, and live in the light of His truth. Look at the uncrushable movement to which you belong. The countless examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the name and power of Jesus Christ.
Since the dawn of Jesus’ movement until now, His kingdom continues its advance as His people align their wills to His own. We, His people, have a legacy. We have in our generation the opportunity to live in that legacy. To run our parts of the race. To bear witness once again.
Alongside Stephen, alongside those who ministered to the sick in ancient Rome, alongside Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle, and alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, in the ranks of those who poured themselves out to create a river of justice in the world.
As we search for the kind of people who will bring an end to extreme poverty, we need to look no further than those who bear the Name of Christ, embodying their two-thousand-year legacy, and who can do all things through Christ’s strength.
That strength, His power working in us, is why we dare to hope to end poverty.
But do we understand that strength?
Excerpted with permission from Hope Rising by Scott Todd, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2014.
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Do you think of yourself as someone who can do all things through Christ’s strength? Or as someone who has the ability to end extreme poverty? To help the poor? To do extraordinary things for the Kingdom of God? Why or why not? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily