They’ll know we are Christians by our T-shirt

Across the street from where I grew up was a big Catholic church complete with a school, rectory and nunnery.  They hosted robust fiestas, the priests wore floor-length robes, and the nuns were nice to me.  Don’t get me started on the holy water; let’s just say for awhile that year every door in our home had a half-full Dixie cup on its threshhold and an eleven-year-old who crossed herself before going in to the toilet to pee.

I was jealous of my friends who got to go there as I thought the place rocked. My experience with it was only from a distance though, but from my upper bedroom window looking down over the church yard I saw and heard a lot.  But what really got me was the music; Folk Mass was on Sunday nights and the songs were some of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard, igniting my budding musical sensibilities.  This was the beginning of the 70’s… a time of simple words with simple melodies sung with a simple acoustic guitar.  One stanza and chorus of one song said

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. 1

 

I never forgot those words.  But the real impact of them didn’t hit me until much later.

I learned that when He was here, Jesus ticked off the religious leaders of the day when He said the commandment that trumped all others was that we should love God with everything we are and next, that we should love our neighbor like we love ourselves2.  Who wouldn’t agree with that?  But although I called myself a “Christian” for a long time, for years I didn’t live up to what that moniker means, in fact, sometimes not even close.  I didn’t love — I lied.  I judged. I compromised. I put myself first and tried to get away with all degrees of ugly.  But I sure looked good when I needed to.

Oh maaaaan, it seems to be there’s a lot of that going around especially on the public stage. Is it just me, or lately does there seem to be a rash of Christians in the news who seem to be tarnishing the label beyond repair?  As I listen to some of Christianity’s more vocal public critics like Bill Maher, Joy Behar and Jimmy Fallon bashing so much of what I hold dear, I want to shout at the TV  “that’s not Jesus!”  And although I cringe at their vitriol, I have to admit something to you:  I kinda don’t blame them.  I mean, come on.  If all they see “Christianity” to be is a TV pastor who once publicly decried homosexuality but then was caught in the back room with a male companion, or believers picketing a California state proposition in anger, or the singer who sang songs about Jesus but then stole another woman’s husband, or a Christian politician’s family member who (whoopsiedaisy) had a child outside of marriage… what are they SUPPOSED to think it’s all about?

Lest I scare some of you, I hope you’ll hear this: I believe we need to stand up for what we believe and strongly defend our faith.  I do. But when we do, do we sometimes forget people are watching as we claim to represent God Almighty?  Are we only ambassadors of His judgment… but not His mercy and love?  What would it look like in today’s political and moral climate if we “put on love”3 in the way He did?

Here’s how I see it.  I can’t speak for how you’ve “lived love” in your life, but I can sure say I’ve done some of those despicable things they’ve done when I knew better.  Many of the hurtful, selfish, idiotic, judgmental things I’ve said or done would cause anyone to question whether I was in fact a real Christian, or certainly whether or not I knew how to love.  As a result, I know I’ve caused a whole lot of people confusion and pain.  Worse, I have very likely done serious spiritual damage in some who might’ve looked to me for what a Christian should be like.  That’s just the awful truth and although I know God’s forgiven me, I have to live with that.

But here’s the sweet part of the deal: today I know God is the “God of the second chance”.  He forgives, He remembers no more, and He moves on, wanting us to do the same so that we don’t waste one more second of the limited time we have on earth wallowing in yesterday’s news.  That’s the beauty of being His kid!  I will always be a bonehead who blows it but hopefully, those “I knew better” moments will be fewer and farther in between and man-oh-man am I grateful He wipes the slate clean each time I recognize it, tell Him so, receive His forgiveness and MOVE ON.  Hopefully I am learning each day to be less concerned with being the perfect Christian and more concerned about what it means to love Him (action) with all that I am and to love others around me (action) as God asked me to do, whether or not they believe the same way I do.  The rest will take care of itself, I know it.  I am convinced today that I am a member of a royal line who is forgiven, loved, and thought the best of by the King.  I want to live like I believe that and will keep on trying to love the way Christ would want me to, all the way until He greets me at the door of heaven.

How will they know we are Christians?  I’d like to think it’s more than what’s emblazoned on our T-shirt, but rather, by the unmistakable way we love.

 “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I could be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13: 1-3; 13

 

Sylvia is a singer and Christian women’s speaker, and lives in Southern California.

Read Sylvia’s other posts, and LIKE her on Facebook!
1 ©1966 F.E.L.Church Pub., Ltd. Assigned 1991 to Lorenz Publishing Company, a division of The Lorenz Corporation. Reprinted with permission (8/30/12).

2 Matthew 22:37-39

3 I Corinthians 13

4 Isaiah 43:25

81 thoughts on “They’ll know we are Christians by our T-shirt”

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  32. I was raised Baptist. My minister was from Oklahoma and my cousins went to Bible college there. At the time, growing up with all that religion around me, I felt suffocated by it. But as I stepped away from it when I grew older, I see now that it was a tight community with some rules. When I married a Catholic woman and sent our kids to a Catholic school, I still see that sense of community but I don’t see the Baptist ways that I actually miss now. Baptists really know how to rock out on a Sunday morning. There was always lots of pranks in Sunday School and lots of laughs on the Youth nights. I don’t see that in my kids Catholic school.
    But the main thing is that each person treats each other the way that they want to be treated. The Golden Rule, right? Regardless of the religion, that seems to be the main focal point across the globe. It’s just a shame that the religious leaders don’t see communities the same way that their congregations do.

  33. There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile…a Contractor saw the poor fellow and thought he’d help. So He planned and built a better and straighter path ahead. You see, the Contractor was certified and knew what he was doing. The man only had to walk along the new way prepared for him, the contractor did all the hard work. The contractor didn’t see the ‘crookedness’ of the man, it didn’t matter, cuz the man went along the new way prepared for him. The joy in both of their hearts was full. This story is a never ending one.

  34. Your neighbor comment so true. We have a neighbor that had been cold and rude in the past, and called herself a Christian. For awhile I called her crazy. Then I decided to say hi, even when she was appearing to be standoffish. I waved when driving by, and would walk across and ask how her day was. Well it turned out this very sweet lady is in a lot of chronic pain, just moving is awful for her. My horrible judging, and criticism almost closed the door on a sweet lady. Thank you Sylvia for helping me to remember to receive His ness and move on.

  35. WOW! I am not a writer like you. This was so profound for me that all I can say is…wow.
    I am in a state of gratitude for you and the gifts you share with us.
    Thank you.

  36. I just read the last blog. The best part was “I am forgiven. Go on….. I have been learning some tough lessons this past couple of weeks but the Lord has been right there helping me though grief and disappointment. Four simple words….
    Let go, let God! I am working on stepping back and letting God do what only He can do. It’s not easy but it is therapeutic.

  37. You inspire me. I heard you speak a few years ago and never forgot how honest you were. I went home that day thinking “if she can get through that, maybe I can”. Here you are on the web with that same kind of candor with these blogs and I am reminded how much work I need to do to get and stay real. I’m selfish and this blog has helped me to see that. I have allot of work to do and Ithank you for kicking me in the back side to get off the pot and get moving on this love thing. Keep writing.

  38. love….so simple yet so profound….I was raised in a home where we were taught that our only job is to love each other….and that judging is Gods job….easy to say but hard to do…I am a mercy person so my emotions are on my sleeve..Its a gift…and its a curse at times as well but I am grateful that I was gifted with such a tender heart….
    So glad I got to meet you the last FWO event at Hope Chapel…you may not remember me but I will never forget you…I am grateful for the sweet sharing time we had….you are special!<3

  39. The Lord Jesus connected Sylvia and Wolf and I on Good Friday this year. In 20-30 minutes we were sister and brother in Christ. We prayed together for healing and were touched. The next day Sylvia gifted me with three of her CDs which have continued to inspire me.
    Your Sept 10 blog listed the words of one of my favorite songs. I hope that you will record it if you haven’t already. Continue your powerful ministry. Yes, you touch people with the Love of Jesus. A reporter once asked Mother Teresa how she can handle the overwhelming work that she does with the poor. She answered “one by one”. Each Loving individual contact with non believers and by the example of our non hypocritical behavior brings them to Jesus. Love, Peace, and Joy of Christ

    1. Doc, Wolf and I will never forget praying with you in the exam room that day. I love “happy accidents” like that. Thank you for taking the time to comment- hope to see you here on future posts!

  40. Hi Sylvia, I love this post. I’m currently reading a book called “Loving the Way Jesus Loves” by Phil Ryken. Seems like he covers similar themes. I’m beginning to understand that I am precious to the Lord even in my ugliness and so is my neighbor. That sure makes it easier to accept and love other people even in their less than stellar moments. Oh, thanks for turning me on to that song. I just downloaded it and will be singing in my car soon.

  41. Hi Sylvia…I am so excited about your blog! You are a contant source of encouragement for me and God placed this blog just at the right time! I have spent alot of time with the Lord this summer and I’ve taken a step back to look at how my “walk” looks to others. I truly want to “walk the walk” and be a light to those around me. Thank you for shining His light so brightly! Hope to see you soon! Many blessings to you!

  42. I’ve been singing this song all morning, thanks to you. Oh, and memories of sitting in the pews of the church you are referring to, singing this song with gusto, just as my mom did. Your reflections reminded me of why my mother took me to church each Sunday and how she tried so very hard to live her life spreading as much faith, hope and love as she could in the short time she was here on earth. Thanks for sharing. T

    1. It is one of those that you can’t get out of your head, isn’t it. Jars of Clay recently did an updated version of it that I’m sure you would like. BTW, methings you are carrying on your dear mother’s legacy.

  43. Love. It seems to simple. But we make it so complex. In this particular season where we will soon be electing the next President, I am struck by the vitriol I hear from Christians in both parties (contrary to a common stereotype, there are many believers in Christ who belong to the Democrat Party). Power, pride, judgment and greed seem to have replaced reason and a spirit of unity. Loving our neighbor as ourselves could, no, would change that. There will always be sharply differing opinions when it comes to politics, but one can’t help but wonder if by some miracle of God, our country’s leaders began leading with love. Love of our country. Love of mankind. Love of God. One nation under God. Naive? Perhaps, but one can hope. Thanks Sylvia. You put into words what I’ve been struggling with in action. Love really is simple after all.

    1. That’s just it- it should be easy but it isn’t. Is it a “can’t” on our parts? or a “won’t”? I sadly think it’s the latter, but we don’t have to be that way. We can be different. In fact, we’re called to be– thank you for underscoring that and for commenting here!

      1. You’re welcome. This is a great forum. I’m enjoying your posts and the comments others make. Very thought provoking on many levels.

  44. Thank you Sylvia. First you directed me to an amazing Christian concert by Steven Curtis Chapman; then you lead me to read this article this morning after my peaceful walk at the beach, where I was lamenting, (very loudly), about those people in my life who keep messing with me…yikes! Thank you for shaking my tree!

    1. We all need our tree shaken now and then. I like how Proverbs describes it when it says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Thanks for commenting!

  45. Beautifully written Sylvia:) Sometimes it is difficult to love your enemies and your neighbors as much as you love yourself. Until you really love yourself in the way that God loves you, you can’t effectively love others. Thank God I have learned to see myself through Gods eyes so that I can love myself and my neighbors and even my enemies:) God is good!

  46. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” – Mother Theresa. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Ghandi. Regardless of the label you put on it, be it Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, the message is the same: many speak of the love of God, but to live it through every action, every step you take in His name to love unconditionally is how people see who you are, and what creates change in this world.

    1. No matter what religion or creed or nationality, actually doing this thing called “loving” seems to be a huge challenge for us humans. But it’s true: love does conquer all, and I appreciate your comment, Debra!

  47. Thank you for another powerful – and admittedly – CONVICTING blog!

    I love your transparency and willingness to “own” your own less than Christian behavior. Mine has been pretty unloving and judgemental at times also. I can only imagine people saying, “I didn’t know SHE was a Christian!” Loving people first is a much easier way to live. It’s less about inspecting everyone else’s fruit and more about helping each other pick up the rotting pieces and throw them away so we can get on with the feast of grace.

    1. I forgot all about this song…such a great song:

      We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
      We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

      And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.

      And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

      Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. 1

      1. This is the song I thought of when I read the title of this blog. Love…it’s the basis of the 2 commandments Jesus said were the most important – love God, love our neighbors. What a powerful thing love is. When we’re overflowing with God’s love for us and our love for him, it’s so much easier to love others.
        Thanks for your words of encouragement, Sylvia.

  48. WOW. I am going to have to read this over and over to get the full meaning of all you have said. One thing for sure, if we don’t have the capacity to love we are nothing but clanging cymbals. I am reading the book you talked about in your last blog and am blown away by the simple fact that “Love Does”. Let’s strip away the facade and truy “Do”.

    1. It’s a lot harder than it seems on the face of it, isn’t it? Thank you for your comment and I’m so glad you got the book!

  49. I like the part where you said you are less concerned about being perfect and more concerned about loving Him. As usual, you continue inspire me to be better in my relationship with my precious savior. Thanks, Friend.

  50. On the RNC last week I nearly threw up over the comments I heard from politicians on the right who I think are “Christian”s, or maybe it was just the way they said it. It’s all just so tiring. You on the other hand seem to “get it”. I wish I could meet you.

    1. I agree. But there are Christians who live what they say they believe. Ya just gotta hang around long enough to find them cuz their there.

    2. Hi Jennifer, I’d love to meet you someday soon. Not sure where you are located but take a peek at my Calendar page on the website to see if I’m ever going to be near you. (A hug is in order.) And thanks Josh, for responding to her here; Christians are still PEOPLE… flawed, messed up, etc., just like the rest of ’em. But I do believe Christians have something the rest of ’em don’t have, and that’s a supernatural power greater than ourselves in God if we’d just trust Him more…

      1. Wow, thank you for your comment! I live in Perris, Ca and see you will be in Canyon Lake in November. I will try to come because I think you are wonderful. When is your next blog?

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