While watching the endless pre-race ceremonies for the Daytona 500 today, I noticed something that I should have noticed long ago. Maybe I've noticed before but put it out of my mind. Or maybe it was just too obvious. But after sitting through a program which looked like a watered-down Super Bowl halftime extravaganza (complete with an off-key former Beach Boy), we finally arrived at the National Anthem. As Vanessa Williams began to sing, there were the typical camera shots of race teams fidgiting while waiting for the song to end. We were treated to shots of crew members, some of whom actually stopped working for a minute to honor our country. There were the shots of guys fixing their hair which was out from under a ball cap for the first time today. But there were two shots which stood out to me today like never before.
One shot was of the crew around the #16 car which is sponsored by the
U. S. National Guard. The other was a satellite camera focused on a small unit of soldiers on the ground in Iraq. In these two scenes there was no primping. There was no one looking at a watch or looking through the crowd for women in tube tops. Not one person was getting ready to cheer for someone to yell, "Gentlemen start your engines!" You could tell that those pictured in these two scenes loved their country. The Anthem meant something different to them than to the guy with the Budweiser t-shirt and the Earnhardt cap. You knew by their actions that they were respectful of their country. It mattered to them. The Anthem wasn't just a pre-race tradition. It allowed them to express their allegiance to the U. S. A.
Those scenes meant something to me -- probably for a different reason that you might imagine. I began to think about outward signs of inward commitments. The troops in Iraq and the National Guard members at Daytona showed without a doubt that their commitment was real. What kind of outward signs do Christians have?
If I asked a non-believer about what Christians do, what would come to his mind? The things I usually hear are: intolerance, holier-than-thou attitudes, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, hatefulness and a few others I won't type on a family blog. Some of this is undeserved, but some truly isn't. I see far too much of this type behavior out of people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ. Why are we like that at times? Well we're sinners, for starters. But that's hardly an excuse.
Jesus told us plainly how the world was supposed to tell us apart from the world. In the words of the old camp song, "They'll know we are Christians by our love." So why can't they know us that way? That is supposed to be our defining quality.
In the days of the early church, the believers were looked upon as great people to be around. "Sure, we may not want to be in their little cult, but they're good folks!" They noticed just how different the early Christians were. They were loving while the rest of the world was looking out for selfish interests. How things have changed! Too often Christians look just like everyone else. The only sign of our allegiance to Christ is a visit to church most Sundays.
There is an old question that preachers like to toss out to the congregation every so often: "If you were accused of being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?"
What would the evidence look like? It would start with love. Not the false kind of love that supports a friend no matter what bad decision she makes, but the true kind of love. Love standing for truth without condemnation. I cringe when I hear of homosexuals turned away from churches. Certainly Jesus didn't turn such people away. These are the very people who need the truth, spoken in love. We aren't the ones to be looking down on others. They are fellow sinners, after all. Our actions as followers of Christ should be modeled after Christ. Stand for love, not for acceptance of every sin. Stand for truth, not for condemning a fellow sinner.
As the National Anthem started today, the troops in Iraq snapped a salute. I could easily tell what was in their hearts. I hope and pray that as I go about my everyday life that my allegiance to my God and Savior is showing.