In the winter of 2013, I decided it was time for a career change, so I stepped out of retail and into a sales position with a wireless provider. I admit, my time there was brief (suits and ties, corporate seminars and commission were not for me), but I did walk away from the experience with a better understanding of myself. Most days, my time was spent at a desk, so every afternoon around lunchtime I would step outside for some fresh air and walk over to the convenient store for a snack. Every day, the same man stood at the counter and over time, we grew familiar with each other. I never asked him his name and he never asked me mine, but we enjoyed making "small talk" - stopping to discuss sports scores, weather predictions, or anything else that flashed on the little television in the corner. Our “fellowship” continued throughout the spring and into the summer. I was never in a rush to get back to work and he was never in a hurry to get me out of his store. One day, as I handed him my money, I noticed him staring down at my wrist. His eyes must have been drawn to the beaded bracelet I was wearing. I had always worn it, but apparently, he had never noticed it before. He stopped and asked me “...are you a Christian?” I paused (as if I didn’t understand the question) and when I opened my mouth to answer, he interjected, “I just noticed the cross on your bracelet.” I looked down and nervously fiddled with it for a moment. “Oh, yes, I am. I’ve worn this for a long time.” At that moment, I almost expected some “religiously intolerant” response, but what the man said to me next reverberated in a more powerful way than any persecution ever could… “Wow, I never would’ve expected that YOU were a Christian...” I paused, smiled politely, grabbed my snacks and left the store- and when I returned to my desk, I sat down and hung my head. The Spirit of God stole my attention and called my mind to scripture...
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.” Matthew 16” 13-17
Now... I want you to ask me that very same question. Yes, really. Go ahead! Ask me who I “say the Son of Man” is and I’ll tell you, “He’s the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I have no shame in openly admitting that. I don’t try to hide my love for Christ. I've confessed it with my mouth and believed it in my heart- and I’ll do it again if I have to. I consider myself a relatively "faithful" believer. I serve the Lord in numerous capacities. I lead worship and help out with the college and youth ministries. I’m present for nearly every church service. I pray- I give my time and I put my money in the offering plate. I own a very nice leather-bound Bible and sometimes I even take notes on the Pastor’s sermons! I rarely leave my house without making sure to wear my cross bracelet. My truck has an "Christian" sticker on the window. I’m a good boy! So, why was I SO discouraged by one little comment made by a gas station attendant who probably meant no offense by it? Because it exposed me for what I truly was… a professing Christian with a hidden Savior. Yes, my “system of beliefs” and the claims I make behind them are consistent. I do admit my love for Jesus (if I’m asked). Still, that doesn’t enable the everyday eyes of a watching world to see Christ in me. I had spoken with that man at the counter for months- even shared stories with him and some laughter in the process, yet, nothing about my attitude, my demeanor or the quality of my conversation led him to an understanding of the Savior I claimed to follow.
It hurt to see such amazement in his eyes at his discovery of my faith and it cut even deeper to know that this realization only came from the jewelry that hung around my wrist. The symbols we wear may draw attention to our religion, but they certainly don’t convey our faith. I began to doubt myself. Was I truly changed by Christ or just another big fan of His work? Did I have the right to call myself a “follower” if my life didn’t display any noticeable evidence of His grace, His power or His presence?
Friends, who do YOU say that the Son of Man is? Do you call Him Christ, the Messiah? If so, it should evoke change within you. Something must be different and it should erupt from the Holy Spirit who has made His home in your heart. If Jesus is truly working in you, you’ll possess a desire to work Him back into your world. Your attitude, your demeanor and your interaction with others should take on the ministry of Christ, not your own.
Now, ask yourself a second question... who does the world say that YOU are? Hang on! Hold your comments! I know, you’re tempted to say “it shouldn’t matter what the world thinks of me,” and you would be right. But, what the world thinks OF you is not part of this discussion. What matters is who the world sees IN you. When eyes look in your direction, what do they see? What do their mouths mutter? “Wow, I never would’ve expected that THEY were a Christian,” or “Wow, THEY undoubtedly live for Christ”? I got my answer with a gas station encounter and brought me to a powerful realization. It was time I stopped claiming Jesus for myself. I needed to take Him out of my pocket!
The kingdom of heaven can’t be hoarded and we can’t keep the Savior for ourselves. The God of the universe doesn’t fit too well in our back pocket. He’s not a last resort when all else fails or a safeguard to call upon in the event of an emergency. Faith in Him is unquestionably displayed through works and motives. The world will not stumble across the Savior simply because you were strategic with His mission. Being indirect is just as bad as being unintentional. We can wear “Christian” t-shirts and crosses on our jewelry- we can slap “fish” magnets and other symbols on the bumpers of our cars- we can even leave our Bibles on the backseat or the coffee table so others can walk by and "absorb" the gospel through osmosis, but this will never reveal any spiritual evidence of Christ’s work in our hearts. If anything, it may cause more confusion for the seeker who is looking to your life to see Jesus. Evidence... those real moments of God’s supernatural intervention in your life are what truly steal the spotlight, but keeping Jesus in your pocket is like asking someone to guess what you have behind your back without offering any hint. If we sent out a survey today to your family, your friends, your teachers and co-workers- everyone from your "church family" - to the stranger you just walked past on the street, would they claim to see evidence of Christ in you? Simple question, eternal implications.
Most of us don’t "intentionally" neglect to show the Lord's hand in our lives, but we do often hide behind the comforts of our ”personal” Savior. We’re taught, from a young age, to call Him just that. Yes, accepting Him as such will welcome the Holy Spirit into your heart. Yes, we can call on Him in the quietest, most intimate corners of our minds. Yes, He is fully capable of being brother, best friend and confidant. Still, He is God Almighty, the one who has commissioned us to go make disciples and live like we’ve been saved. It’s selfish and counterproductive to His directives if we simply believe (and confess) just to stuff Him into our pocket and keep Him for ourselves. The Messiah is not some dollar bill you save for a rainy day. How can we claim to be planted in the vine if we bear no fruit? We’ve all said it before, “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior.” We defend the exclusivity of our relationship with Him, claiming... “things are between me and God,” but how "real" is the change in your heart if you don’t let the world see the difference? If they can’t see the change, how can they seek it?
Obligation is an enemy of true faith. The devil just loves to see Christians who don’t live with any fire in their hearts. Praise and worship- the reading of scripture- fellowship among believers- service to others with love, kindness and generosity- these disciplines can only reveal heaven’s work when they stem from a desire to please God; when they stem from true and honorable motives to chase His kingdom.
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5: 13-16
Salt is an element of flavor and a valuable ingredient for preservation. Light gives hope, revealing the way in darkness. Do you obey God out of love or out of compulsion? Is it your heart’s greatest desire or just the right thing to do? Do you obey the Father with a goal to season, preserve and shine?
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 16:22
Get serious for a moment and take inventory of some key elements in your life. You’re either striving to live like Christ, or you’re not! You're either motivated to be like Him, or you're not! Ask yourself if you're a reflection of your Savior...What kind of attitude do you bring to your world? How do you carry yourself in the day to day? Do you seek to better your spirit or do you try to justify your character flaws? Is your glass “half full” of hope or “half empty” with distrust? Do you evoke positivity or do you wallow in self-pity? Do you strive to encourage others with languages of love? Do you manage your time AROUND God’s kingdom or just squeeze it in when you’re tired, worn out and not in the mood? Are you quick to listen and slow to speak or easily distracted and always edgy? Do you focus on the needs of others more than your own comforts and desires? Do you set down your work and obligations to find rest in the Father? Do you cherish the gift of fellowship or try to go at life alone? Do you truly stop to pray for others (with bold faith) rather than just offering the all-too-familiar “I’ll pray for you.”? Do you present words of affirmation or discouragement? Are you gracious and outspoken with your love or do you keep it for yourself? Do you communicate openly or do you shut others out? Do you reach out with helping hands or are you too preoccupied to care? Is God’s commission prioritized above your job, your hobbies, and your preferences? Do you minister with gusto, even when you’re not “feeling” it? Do you seek the Savior in the midst of the unentertaining sermons, the less than favorable worship songs and the circumstances that may not be to your liking? Do you shake your fists at heaven more than praise the God in charge of it all? Do you thank the Lord for perseverance through the storms or complain about the hand you’ve been dealt? Do you tune yourself to the blessings in the midst of monotony or turmoil? Does God receive your “first fruits” or just whatever is left at the bottom of the basket? Does your demeanor display Christ or does it confuse those around you?
Above all, is there joy evident in your life? Why does it matter? Because the presence of God is unquestionable when it emanates from a joyful heart. It gives you an unmistakable likeness to Jesus. You are faced each day with a proposition; you can fight for the joy of the Lord or assume the weight of the world. Only one choice leads to freedom- only one yoke is bearable- only one reveals the handiwork of heaven. Do not mistake joy for happiness! Joy in Christ is so much more than the smile we wear to hide the pain, so much greater than the laughter we use to cover our displeasure and so much broader than the sunshine, rainbows and silver linings we convince ourselves exist to shield our hearts from reality. Joy is an outward expression of a deep passion burning from the one we trust and serve. Joy of the Lord is the essence of strength. It’s the contagious element in your life that advertises the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Do you want to be like Jesus? You need to share in His joy! Christ had more reasons than anyone to abandon it, but He knew where His joy came from and it gave Him immeasurable strength. I want a joy like that! We all know (or have been) the soul who needs more of it. It’s easy to be the pessimist, the discontent and disengaged- the bored, the blinded and the self-preserved. “Smile more,” everyone says. I know because I’ve been that person. I've kept Christ (and His joy) in my pocket. He doesn't show this way, but He is evident in the joy we wear. Don’t live each day striving for happiness... Fight for joy!
Be the salt. Be the light and let us others see evidence of the Jesus you're chasing. Reach into your pocket and pull out your personal Savior. It’s time to share Him with your world!