Have you heard of Jeff Foxworthy? He made a name for himself as a comedian largely through his jokes that would start out with "If you…." and end with "…you might be a redneck". For example, "If you ever cut your grass and found a car…you might be a redneck." Or "If you think the stock market has a fence around it…you might be a redneck." The jokes are borderline offensive since they do poke fun at a certain segment of the population, but they often elicit much laughter because the listeners recognize themselves or people they know in the sentiments expressed or examples described. It seems that Foxworthy, who hails from Georgia, might also be poking a little fun at himself. That can be the source of the best humor.
Recently I found myself starting to compose a similar sort of "If you ever…" list, but mine was actually not as funny. It did start with a situation that made me laugh at myself though. I was focused on reading about spirituality and having some quiet time for prayer when my mom knocked on my door to ask if I thought it would be alright to have a bagel for supper. I'm quite embarrassed to say that I got very frustrated because I was really enjoying my quiet time and not wanting to be interrupted, and I had a strong instinct to say something mean like, "I don't want to talk about bagels right now! I'm trying to pray! Can you just leave me alone so I can pray?!" I didn't quite say that, but I don't think my response was abundantly kind. Some frustration surely came through.
I felt unhappy with myself after the interaction, and it suddenly struck me how ridiculously unchristian it would be to say something like "Can you leave me alone so I can pray?!" I laughed out loud. And then I started composing a mental list of "If you ever…" statements, with the end of the sentence being "…you might not really be a Christian." Starting with this one: "If you ever tell someone to leave you the heck alone so you can pray, you might not really be a Christian."
We probably could come up with a long list, right? "If you ever told your ex-boyfriend you would never forgive him for dumping you….you might not really be a Christian." Or "If you ever judged a fellow church member for missing a few Sundays…you might not really be a Christian." Why? Well, Jesus did sort of say something about forgiving 70x7 times and about not judging. Care to add a few more to the list?
Jesus gave a pretty simple, clear test for what it means to follow him in John 13:35: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." So, simply put, if we're doing anything that does not show love for one another, everyone will not know that we are following Christ. Or…everyone will know that we are not following Christ!
Of course it's important to point out here that Christians are people too, so they make mistakes. And the Christian message encompasses so much about grace and forgiveness that it would be wrong for us to say, "If you mess up, you're not really Christian." Each new moment is an opportunity for redemption. But it is worth considering that a lot of the things Christians do sometimes come across as being anything but Christian.
I was somewhat saddened to see a comment on a friend's Facebook post recently that said, "Jesus was cool. His followers…not so much." I imagine this comment may have been based on hearing about extreme examples like Fred Phelps, the very visible, vocal, and viciously anti-gay pastor who passed on recently. Most Christians are not so obvious in their unchristian behavior perhaps. Maybe for a lot of us it is more subtle things that could often go unnoticed outside of our close circles of family members who witness us in a ruffled state after interrupting us with a question about bagels. But if we are really striving to be followers of this guy who even many non-Christians would agree is "cool", it is sort of an all or nothing endeavor.
If you find yourself unexpectedly engaging in unchristian behavior of a relatively harmless but still troubling sort, you might take a moment to add that particular infraction to the "If you ever…you might not really be a Christian" list. Then you can pause to laugh at yourself, right what is wrong if possible (through prayer and maybe an apology or by some steps ordered and inspired by Divine Love), and move on. Remember that bumper sticker that says "grace happens"? Well, it does. Even for Christians who really don't seem like Christians. Yes, even, believe it or not, for Fred Phelps. Don't beat yourself up. There will be many more opportunities to be Christian and to show that in fact some of those who follow Jesus are really cool when they're at their best.