I once heard someone say, “When we get to Heaven, we’ll be surprised at who is there-and who isn’t.”
The topic was images, the ones we sometimes have of what Christians should look like. For many, it’s the clean-cut style of the fifties- the nicely dressed, conservative parents with their Bibles in hand. Smiling, they’re walking towards the church, followed by their children, each one fresh-faced and crisply attired on this golden Sunday morning.
It’s a pretty picture.
On the subject of image, my 11-year-old says, “The outside appearance isn’t what matters. It’s what’s inside that counts.”
I have to smile. This from my pre-teen, Mr. I-Wear-Abercrombie-Only. He’s right, though. It is the inside that matters, but like any adolescent blinded by a brand name he thinks radiates “cool”, so can adults harbor an image we think says “Christian.”
I was at a casual gathering once when I was approached by someone interested in Buddhism.
“Okay, little Ms. Church-goer,” she said, “tell me what you know about it.”
Well, I didn’t know much about Buddhism, but I did know that this was a great opportunity to share Christ. A colleague was in the crowd, a guy who fit the bill as far as Christian images went, from his conservative attire to his abstinence of alcohol to his profession of never missing Sunday pew-time.
Ready to witness, I looked to him for support. But instead of the bold, armor-wearing warrior I expected, my eyes beheld a wimp-one who sputtered and stammered, sweated a rainstorm and scurried away, mumbling that it wasn’t the appropriate place to discuss beliefs.
“Hey!” I wanted to shout after his high-tailing backside. “THANKS A LOT, you big chicken!!!”
Now, I’m not judging the state of his heart-what Christian hasn’t lamented a meltdown in the face of opportunity? I’m just saying that, based on images, what I got was not what I expected.
That same week, I was sitting outside someone’s office, biding time before an appointment. I reached into a potpourri of magazines, drawing out one that serviced fans of secular music, and had a circulation of over one million readers. Thumbing through it, I came across an interview with the lead singer of a popular rock band.
In it, he spoke of his long addiction to drugs, describing a bondage fit for nightmares. He then spoke of his sobriety and freedom, giving all the glory to…God.
I remember absorbing the words, then finding myself sputtering and stammering.
Wow…hmmm…whatda ya know…well…ROCK ON!!!
I was impressed, much more impressed than I was with the other guy-the devout church-goer who couldn’t exalt God in front of one person, much less one million.
Again, based on images, what I got was not what I was expecting.
It was an eye-opener about images, and the Lord has only widened my eyes since. Later, while working as a freelance reporter for my local newspaper, I was assigned to write an article about a motorcycle gang.
Arriving at my interview, I was greeted by about 20 gang members, mostly men-now, we’re talking Harley Hogs, black leather jackets, chain-link jewelry and walking-talking tattoo parlors…and more love for Jesus Christ than I’ve felt at packed church services on Easter Sunday.
These people were chapter members of a worldwide motorcycle ministry devoted to preaching the gospel of Christ. There were former ties to the Hells Angels and testimonies I couldn’t print, but these guys were proof of Jesus’ power to change lives. Besides that, they were taking the message into places that a lot of “good” Christians wouldn’t dare go-Biker Weeks, swap meets and gang rallies.
No, they didn’t fit the typical image of good Christian folks…but they were some of the finest, most upstanding Christians I’ve been blessed to spend time with.
It takes a lot of people to make the world go ’round…and so it will be in Heaven. Nehemiah 9:6 says there are multitudes in Heaven. Jesus promises in Matthew 8:11 (NIV): “I say to you, that many shall come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven.”
In December 2003, my husband and I, along with our oldest son, J.R., traveled to the Ukraine. Our mission was to adopt our new son and brother, Daniel, who was living there in an orphanage
Our first night in the Ukraine, we stepped into this foreign world in search of a restaurant, our mastery of the Russian language limited to “Nit” for no and “Da” for yes.
Our cab driver was gruff with no knowledge of English. Zipping through one city street after another, we jibber-jabbered at each other to no avail… then my husband noticed a cross dangling from the rear view mirror.
Touching the cross, my husband asked the driver, “Jesus?”
“Da!” the driver yelled, suddenly so excited that he sideswiped a lamppost. “Jesus! DA!”
With nods, laughter and high-fives, it was easy to assure him that we, too, were Da for Jesus.
There we were, people with different backgrounds, cultures, languages, clothing styles and appearances-images, you might say-linked together by one sweet name: Jesus.
Once that was established, the bond between us was instant.
It should be that way with all believers, but how many blessings do we miss because we’re stuck on images of a single Christian mold? Are we so busy judging the outer image that we don’t bother looking for an inner one-the image of Jesus on someone’s heart?
“May the God who gives you endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15: 5-7, NIV)
Outer images can be deceiving-even our own image of ourselves. This brings me to what I believe to be the scariest words in the Bible, spoken by Jesus.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!” (Matthew 7: 21-23, NIV.)
I think everyone who professes Christ should heed those words-should examine their hearts and answer this question: Do I really KNOW Jesus…or do I just know OF Jesus?
There’s a big difference-and let’s face it-there are people who spend their whole lives living up to their image of a Christian, and still manage to miss the main point: their need for salvation.
May we all be sure that the image of Christ lives in our hearts! And as we find His image on the hearts of others…may we be blessed through the versatile, unique and creative packaging of those we’ll spend eternity with!
Donna Morton is a Christian writer from the Atlanta, Georgia. More about her and her writing can be found at FaithWriters.