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Only when necessary

This weekend, we had a garage sale to help raise money for our ministry, The Community Chaplain. Wonderful friends and ministry partners had donated furniture, clothes, books and other goodies for us to sell, and with help from my husband and our daughter, I set up everything and settled down to make sales.

It wasn’t exactly a booming success. We had customers, but in the mysterious nature of these sales, sometimes what is in great demand one month doesn’t move at all later. Still, every little bit helps . . .

We’d hoped to do this a few weeks ago, but here in Florida, the rain has been so torrential that we had to postpone until June. As I sat watching people browse, more than one remarked about how warm it was, how much the sun was beating down on us. I responded that after so many weeks of rain, I was thrilled to see the sun and the blue skies.

A few minutes later, everyone else had wandered off, but one man continued to go through our rack of clothes. I brought over a bag to help him, and he said to me, “This is a benefit sale, isn’t it? You have some kind of God thing? A church?”

I confirmed that the sale was benefitting a ministry, and he nodded. “I thought so. You have . . . something. People were complaining, and you were cheerful. You were looking at the bright side, and you were so nice to them, even when they weren’t.” He moved to another pile and added, “I don’t go to church. Maybe I should. But I don’t.”

Laughing, I assured him that going to church isn’t necessary to knowing God. But as our conversation went on–and after he left–I was utterly convicted by his words.

“Preach the Gospel, and if it’s necessary, use words.”

For centuries, that quotation has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though there is much rigorous debate about whether or not he might have said it. However, who said it is not as important as the meaning of the phrase. The point is that our actions–how we live our lives–often speak more loudly than anything we might say, particularly if those actions contradict our words.

I’ve known self-proclaimed Christians who use pious words before they go out and drive with the sort of selfish recklessness that compromises themselves and others. I’ve heard people within the church speaking with cruel judgement about others. I’ve known pastors and priests who, behind the scenes, deride church members who miss Sunday services or who don’t participate much, and I’ve heard those same leaders make mean-spirited, disparaging comments about those outside the church.

I’ve seen first-hand how hurtful and unkind Christians can be–to both other Christians and to non-believers. These are the same people who will quote Scripture moments later.

Let’s face it: none of us is perfect. We are not called to be perfect. But if we’re believers–followers of Christ–we carry an additional responsibility. Being a Christian doesn’t give us any free passes–on the contrary, following Jesus means we have to act with more humility, more kindness, more grace and definitely more love than the rest of the world. We can’t just say it: we must act it.

And it’s more than striving to be Christ-like. There are times when I am so down-hearted that I know it permeates everything I say and do. I’m so incapable of seeing a way forward that I can’t pretend to believe the light might shine again. It’s reflected in my attitude, my speech and even in my posts on social media.

God doesn’t expect us to be Mary Sunshines all the time, pretending that everything is roses and rainbows, but He does call us to be people of hope. That means that even when I can’t see the path, I have to live within His hope.

We are pressed but not crushed,
Perplexed but don’t despair.
We are persecuted but not abandoned.

I could expound for hours on the importance of hope and trust, but if I don’t live it out, those words are meaningless. William J. Toms noted, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”

I’m trying to be more mindful of this. It reminds me of how some companies demand better behavior of their employees when the workers are wearing uniforms or name tags with the business name. Those employees are representing the company. In the same way, we who bear the mark of Christ–whether that is a cross we wear, a T-shirt with a slogan, a bumper sticker on our car or simply the read acknowledgement of Him have a responsibility to be act out grace and love on so extravagant a level that those around us ask, “Why? What makes you act like that?”

Let our actions be so infused by outrageous love that no one can ignore them. Live out Christ without speaking on a daily basis. Preach the Gospel . . . but only use words if absolutely necessary.

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