I grew up near Milwaukee, Wis. For many years, Milwaukee was especially known for one thing: brewing beer.
Once upon a time, three of the largest breweries in the nation - Schlitz, Miller, and Pabst - were located there. When you said, "Milwaukee," people instantly thought of beer. Currently, however, only one of those breweries is still in existence, and it merged with Coors a few years ago. So while it may have been true at one time, Milwaukee is hardly the beer capital that it once was. Yet that perception remains. It may not be reality, but Milwaukee is and perhaps always will be known for beer.
What are you known for? That's a question those of us who bear the name of Christ ought to ask ourselves. I'm afraid, though, that we may not like the answer. More and more it seems that Christians are known for politics, hypocrisy, and poking our noses in other people's business. I'm not saying that this perception is correct. In fact, I would dispute it, at least in most cases. But too many people in our society, when you say, "Christian," they instantly think of busybodies who try to force their morality on others.
That's too bad. It's too bad because that means many people will never bother to listen to anything Christians have to say, or learn about what Christianity is all about. Christianity is about Christ. It's about the son of God becoming a man, living a perfect life in our place, dying a perfect death in our place, and rising from the dead in glorious triumph. Christianity is all about God's amazing grace, his unconditional love, and his never-failing promises.
So what can we do about this image? St. Peter had much to say about this subject in his first letter. Peter lived in a time of intense persecution. Under the Emperor Nero, Christians were routinely imprisoned, had their property confiscated, and often lost their lives. But Peter did not advocate that Christians ought to hide their identity. He didn't suggest that they go underground with their faith. Instead, Peter urged Christians to be known as kind, gentle, helpful, law-abiding citizens. He wrote, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."
Living a "good life," according to Peter, includes sharing our faith. He also wrote: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
As we Christians seek to influence those around them and share the good news of our Savior with others, let's start by making it our goal to change people's negative impressions of us and our faith. With God's help, let's be known not as meddling hypocrites, but good neighbors, honest business people and loyal citizens who don't shove their religion down anyone's throats, but are ready to share what they believe with everyone.