A number of years ago, a colleague and I stopped for a quick bite at a small fast food restaurant after a spiritually inspiring event. We had spent the afternoon with a large crowd of fellow United Methodists. We worshipped. We prayed. We shared ministry hopes and dreams. The preacher for the event had been inspiring, reminding us all how important it was for Christians to live beyond Sunday morning piety. Amen! Yes indeed! It had been a great afternoon!
As we sat down to enjoy our meal, a young family sat down at the table next to us. The parents looked travel-weary. Mom sat down, juggling a bottle and a baby. Dad herded three small girls to the undersized table. He then pulled over another chair from a neighboring empty table so that everyone in the family could sit and eat. As we watched, my colleague and I shared memories of traveling with our young families, and we smiled knowingly at the parents.
Four adults sporting United Methodist name tags from the same conference we had attended came into the restaurant. They claimed the only available table left in the small eating area. One of the four realized there were only three chairs at the table, and that the young family next to them was using five chairs. To our utter amazement, this United Methodist sister turned to the young mother and informed her that her family had one of “their” chairs, and she wanted it back. Never mind that it meant someone else would be without a chair. The chair belonged to her table! And so the young family graciously juggled children, drinks, and hot dogs to accommodate the woman’s demand.
I was both stunned and ashamed in the same moment. In less than 30 minutes, the ministry and witness that was celebrated in worship was forgotten in practice. I found myself muttering, “Well, the least she could do was take off her name tag so no one would know she was a United Methodist!” My colleague responded with his own disappointment in the whole scene: “No wonder the world believes Christianity is irrelevant!”
This self-righteous attitude is not a new problem. The Apostle Paul instructed the Colossians: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6). Paul understood that if our daily living does not match what we profess on Sundays, we lose the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. If our faith is not real for us, how can we expect others to accept it as real for themselves? Do we at least attempt to live with integrity? How do we treat other people? The world watches to see if following Jesus truly makes a difference in our lives, or if Christianity is just another slick sales promotion that totally fails to deliver.
Yes, I realize each of us has a “bad witness” day from time to time. Thankfully, the Lord gives us many brothers and sisters to help stand in the gap. This day, it was my colleague’s turn to do so. He offered his chair to the struggling family, much to the chagrin of the demanding United Methodist woman. I do not know if this young family was Christian or not; I can only pray they were forgiving of our sister’s entitled, self-centered behavior.
“Conduct yourself wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.” Paul’s words to the Colossians continue to challenge me to be more aware of how I “conduct myself toward outsiders,” especially in the ordinary places of my everyday living. What we do in our daily walk with Christ really does make a difference!
Yours for the Journey, Pastor Kerrin