The Way We Were

By DANNY MINTON

A preacher was making his rounds on a bicycle when he came upon a little boy trying to sell a lawnmower. How much do you want for the mower?’ asked the preacher. “I just want enough money to go out and buy me a bicycle,” said the little boy.  After a moment of consideration, the preacher asked, “Will you take my bike in trade for it?” The little boy asked if he could try it out first and, after riding the bike around a little while, said, “Mister, you’ve got yourself a deal.”  The preacher took the mower and began to crank it. He pulled on the rope a few times with no response from the mower. The preacher called the little boy over and said, “I can’t get this mower to start.” The little boy said, “That’s because you have to cuss at it to get it started.” The preacher said, “I can’t cuss. It’s been so long since I became a Christian that I don’t even remember how to cuss.” The little boy looked at him happily and said, “You just keep pulling on that rope. It’ll come back to ya!”

Many of us never “grew up” in the church. Before we ever really came to know Christ, our lives may have been much different. The jokes we told, the language we used, or the things that clouded our minds were not things that we would be proud of or for those who may see us as Christian to know that we used to be so worldly. 

Even today, we may find ourselves having the occasional flashback of something that we said or did, which is now an embarrassment to know we were that way. A bit of off-color humor or a slip of the tongue in private reminds us of where we’ve been. 

Christians are just “normal” folks who struggle with being like Christ in a non-Christian acting society. Jesus shared with his disciples what their relationship was with the world in John 15.” If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

It’s easy to let the world influence us, especially in areas that we have struggled. The problem is that we put too much stock in the world’s opinions letting them determine how we react instead of letting Christ teach us how to act. For some reason, people allow the views of celebrities, athletes, major company owners, the famous, the rich, or well-known to affect how we respond in our own lives. The truth is that their opinion matters no more than the opinion of the scores of people we see each week in our lives. Fame and fortune don’t necessarily make someone smarter when it comes to life. Yet what they say will often cause us to react in a non-Christian manner, frustrated, pulling the rope, and eventually stepping back into that area of life we left behind.

Paul struggled with the same things we do, trying to be an excellent, strong servant, but failing to achieve it fully. He wrote in the letter to the Romans, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

One of the keys to a better life is teaching ourselves to act, not react. Jesus tells us how to act. His disciples have written down how we are to act. Love, joy, kindness, goodness, self-control exist among the lessons taught for Christians to follow. Making the teachings of Jesus be the center of how we act keeps us from reacting in ways that do more harm than good in bringing people to Christ.

Have you ever paid attention to when Satan tempted Jesus after his baptism? Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time arguing with him after each temptation. He always answered with, “this is what God says.” In the end, it’s what God says that counts, not the opinion of men. 

It reminds me of a young preacher sitting across from a man, discussing the Bible. The man would ask a question, and the preacher would answer, “The Bible says,” then go on with the teaching. The scenario went on for half a dozen questions when the man finally said, “I don’t care what the Bible says, what do you think?” The young preacher looked him in the eye and calmly said, “I believe what the Bible says, and the Bible says.”

In a world that sometimes seems to be pulling away from God, the only way to hold it together is for Christian men and women to refuse to let the world change them back to their non-Christian ways. Live like Jesus, follow God’s ways, and let Him take care of the rest.  

There are times that we can become so overwhelmed with the task at hand, so frustrated with people, and even overzealous to get something done that we can take a momentary step back in time to who we were before we knew Christ. It’s human, it’s natural, and it will inevitably happen to everyone at some time or another. The key is when it does, how do we handle our slip? How do we make sure we back off and not let Satan take hold of our emotions and the situation? How do we not go back to the way we were?

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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