…even if you have to fake it
by Jack Popjes
“My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter,” says the bumper sticker on the back of our mini motor home. No Christian slogan or fish emblem, however, identifies our car as being operated by a Christian.
In our motor home, I never exceed the speed limit. Even on the 110-km/h freeway, I keep the speed to 90 km/h. It is the economics— the slower I drive, the less wind resistance and therefore, less fuel consumption. On narrow roads, I happily pull over and let traffic behind me go past. Drivers smile and wave their thanks, and I feel like such a good Christian.
In our Chevy Tracker, it is a different story. I tend to drive it just a bit more aggressively. When it is safe to do so, I sometimes let the speedometer creep over the legal speed limit, do a “rolling stop” through some stop signs and occasionally scoot through yellow lights. Hence, in my car, I would rather be anonymous.
Am I a hypocrite? Or am I just being careful to “preserve a good testimony,” as I was taught in the church I attended as a teenager? It is a small step from living a good, clean life, to hiding the not-so-good parts of my life—all so that people will think better of me than they would if they knew about the messy parts.
It is not easy being authentic all the time, and in every circumstance. In Brazil, our German missionary friends followed their mission agency’s policy against beer drinking during the four-year field term in Brazil, but when they returned to Germany for furlough, many of them drank beer with their prayer and financial partners.
Meanwhile, North American missionaries, working under a mission agency, which had no rules against beer drinking, sometimes drank beer in their homes when they were in Brazil, but never touched a drop when they were on furlough among their archconservative supporting churches. It reminds me of the slogan: “Always be genuine, even if you have to fake it.”
Jesus clearly indicated that there were greater and lesser commands (Matt. 23:23). For instance, He considered Sabbath keeping as one of the lesser commands and repeatedly demonstrated that healing the sick was more important than keeping Sabbath rules (Matt. 12:12).
Driving home from a long meeting in Rio de Janeiro well after midnight, I slowed as we approached a red traffic light. “Don’t stop! Keep going!” a senior missionary shouted from the back seat. “If we stop in this neighbourhood, we’ll be mugged!” I kept going. The greater law, “Avoid muggers!” trumped the legal, but lesser, law, “Stop for red traffic lights.”
We are rightfully appalled when we hear of some hypocritical church pastor exhorting his congregation to live a clean life sexually, while he himself visits prostitutes and is addicted to hardcore pornography. What should bothers us even more, however, is how our North American Christian churches tend to fixate on certain commands (mostly having to do with sex) and related issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, while ignoring global issues that are vastly greater.
A church that is so badly governed that the pastor can continue for years while committing immorality is horrible. What is far worse, however, is tens of thousands of Christian churches that are so badly taught that they ignore the huge global problems in the world around them.
Millions of North American Christians watch the news on television and see extreme poverty, rampant disease, insidious illiteracy, constant wars, corrupt leadership, distressed environment, all exacerbated by a pervading spiritual emptiness. How many of us ask ourselves, “What should the Christian church do about these horrible problems? What should our local church do? What should my family and be doing?”
The Bible is packed with commands to God’s people to build His Kingdom, dealing with these major global problems in His way. At the core of God’s government is faith, which, of course, comes through His Word, translated into the languages spoken by every person on earth.
As followers of Jesus, we believe that. But we must be careful to make sure that what we strongly believe matches what we say, and that both match what we do. I suspect some Christians sitting in church are just going through the motions. We bow our bodies in prayer, but our minds are not involved and our hearts are not engaged.
Some of us stand and sing loudly and passionately about our total commitment to God and His Kingdom, but 10 minutes later, when the offering plate comes around, we drop in a tip—not a tithe—and have no intention of ever helping a local ministry, going on a missions trip or doing our part to solve a global problem.
We have Bibles in our homes and carry one to church. It all looks good, but how many of us consistently read significant amounts of God’s Word every day, asking Him to connect what we read with what we see on television?
Driving home at 1:30 in the morning, we see a stop sign at an intersection on a deserted country road. Do we really need to come to a total and complete stop? Probably. God, however, is vastly more concerned with our need to pray intensively, to give generously of ourselves and our finances, and to soak our minds and emotions in His Word. Then, having closed the Book, He wants us to love Him, to love others, and thus build His Kingdom. Anything less is faking it.
Jack Popjes is a former executive director of Wycliffe Canada. He currently describes himself as a speaker, writer and linguist/translator. Jack and Jo currently live in a cabin on the shore of Sandy Lake, a 45 minute drive north west of Edmonton, Alberta. Check out his web site: www.thewordman.ca
The article above was featured in the May 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.