What are the characteristics of a person following the example set by Jesus Christ? How can you know you are a real Christian?
A look of dismay swept over the waitresses' faces as the family with several children entered the busy restaurant and waited to be seated. Families with children always created problems for them. One of the young women rolled her eyes heavenward, shrugged her shoulders, took out her order pad and escorted the" group to the largest table. It was obvious she expected the worst: squabbling, noise, crying and food and silverware scattered on the floor around the table. But the waitress was amazed. The family was courteous, quiet, orderly and patient — all of them. The children looked respectfully to their parents and politely let their choices from the menu be known. Neatness and smiles prevailed all around the table as the meal progressed. The impressed restaurant personnel complimented the couple and their children as they paid the cashier, and warmly invited them to return soon. That family — members of the Church of God — let their light shine brightly, honoring the God they serve. Some time ago as my wife and I walked down the street in an unfamiliar area of the city, we saw, walking ahead of us through a crowd of shoppers, two strangers. They stirred our interest and I commented, "I bet those two are members of the Worldwide Church of God." We discussed it somewhat, proceeded into a store and soon forgot about them. Later, as we checked out, we saw this same man and woman in an adjoining aisle paying for their purchases. We overheard some of their conversation and became convinced that they were members of the Church. We began a friendly conversation with them and discovered that we were right. The four of us were delighted over that brief contact. What is it about God's people that lets others know we are servants of the living God?
Conversion in action
Conversion is more than acceptance of what you have heard, seen or come to believe intellectually. As a person truly convicted, called of God and repentant, you realize there is much you must do. Christ said: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (John 6:44-45). The proof that you belong to God becomes visible through service to others. You have a growing sense of satisfaction in service that requires sacrifice of your strength and personal time. The greater reward by far will be yours at the resurrection and the return of Jesus Christ. Christ showed how to identify truly converted people, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20). Let's hope your fruit is all good. Let's hope you are the salt of the earth. Let's hope yours is a brilliant light shining out in a darkened world. At Holy Day gatherings, at Feast sites, at services with God's people in other towns away from your home, you discover an aura of brotherhood, a reassuring warmth of friendship. Years ago, prospective members requesting a ministerial visit were oftentimes called upon unannounced because few gave telephone numbers. When the minister and his wife were met at the door and introduced themselves, they found they had been already recognized as representatives of Herbert W. Armstrong. What is it that identifies God's people to others immediately, without a word being spoken? Clerks. and receptionists quickly recognize people of God's Church and students of Ambassador College when they come into offices and shopping centers in Pasadena. God's people are known by their courtesy, patience, attractive appearance and conversational pleasantries. Others "just know who you are" before you open your mouth. They appreciate what they see and hear. They commend you to others. They wish the whole world could be like you. Why do Christians shine this way to others?
Because you are spiritually begotten, you will have the mind of the living Christ motivating you through God's Holy Spirit. You will have the in-depth spiritual discernment required to understand the things God is revealing to His Church. Are sermons and Bible studies a wealth of spiritual nourishment to you? Do you absorb the messages hungrily and constantly desire more? Do repeated or lengthy sermons become an extra treat to you? Does time in Church pass too quickly? Do you search for correction and receive it thankfully? Do you never apply corrective sermons to your neighbors, but always to yourself? Do you realize how far from the perfection of Christ you really are, and are you moved spiritually by sermons and Bible studies? How eager are you to associate with your brethren? Do you linger as long as possible after services to meet and fellowship with them? The Church grows through hospitality exercised by its members. How hospitable are you — to the point of extravagance, encouraging — and welcoming visits by brethren and the ministry? The "book of your heart" should always be open to the needs of others, both in the Church and in the community. Really! You have nothing to hide and everything to share. Always be aware of and thankful for God's blessings poured out on you and your family. Step out and correct yourself if you are weak in any of these areas. Ask God to correct you — in His mercy. Retain an awareness of God's loving care for you, and your trust in Him will glow in your personality. A beautiful poem expresses it perfectly:
Loving Father of All A little brown bird sits atop my tree And warbles a cheery "Good Morning!" to me. He seems so contented, so happy and gay, Come sunshine or shadow, come blue skies or gray. He sways on the treetop and sings with a vim; The state of the weather means nothing to him. Evidently he knows that his needs will be met, With no cause for worry, no reason to fret. Though mankind should ever be keenly aware Of his kinship with God, and of God's loving care, We tend to be fearful or worried or blue; We accept false beliefs, close our minds to the true. Instead of relying on God as we should, In seeking His Guidance to our ultimate good, We shoulder our problems and struggle along, And wonder why everything seems to go wrong, Forgetting that God, loving Father of all, Is ready to help us; we have only to call. Let us ponder a while... Can it possibly be That the little brown bird is much wiser than we? — Hazel Thomas Wright
Fighting this world's god
Of course, there is another consideration you must face when you bear good fruit in this world. Years ago, one of God's ministers was called upon to answer a visit request in an institution for the mentally handicapped. As the attendants led him down the corridor and through a recreation room, he was abruptly interrupted by one of the patients. To the amazement of the minister, the patient began shouting repeatedly that he was a servant of the most high God! As the attendants hurried the minister into safer corridors, they asked him if he knew the patient. The answer was an emphatic "No!" Though the others did not realize it, the minister knew the man was under the control of a demon that knew him, identified him for what he was and intended harassment. Not everyone is pleased with and supportive of those who radiate the attributes of Jesus Christ. Some hate what we so obviously stand for and refuse to accept or praise our best efforts to please God. When you on occasion enter a place of worship of a different faith, do you feel uncomfortable? Each of the other churches in this world seems to have its own motivating spirit that makes the church distinct. And there is a clash between different spiritual characteristics. The Holy Spirit of God cannot abide any other spiritual influence than that of God. Unusual tensions exist in individual ecclesiastical groups whenever the Holy Spirit makes itself felt in their presence through you. When people from other faiths visit Worldwide Church of God activities or services, we find that they are impressed, but uneasy. Satan is the god of this world. All its systems and religions are contrary to the way God's Holy Spirit works in you. Others can see the Spirit's good fruits in you. They hate the purpose and plan of God, and so they hate you! They can neither see nor understand what you do. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:18-19). God said that there would be many afflictions for the righteous along the way, and that only through much tribulation will we finally be with Him. Peter was inspired to write, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (II Pet. 1:10). Read the preceding verses also, where Peter explains "these things." Do you immediately see and agree with the decisions reached and announced by God's apostle, Herbert W. Armstrong? The Church is to act upon them all. Avoid the terrible mistake some make in setting themselves up as watchdogs of the Worldwide Church of God. In so doing, they expose a profound lack of understanding and conversion. Christ has no need of such in His Church. If you find yourself tempted to criticize the Church's leadership, take immediate corrective steps through more study, fasting and prayer. God is fully capable of managing His Church and His servants. Your Christian light must shine to all the world. How brilliantly is it shining?
Turn your life around
If you radiate the fruits of God's Holy Spirit to others around you in your daily activities, well and good. You are on the right track. But suppose you find yourself far off base. What then? Realize that it is never too late in life, nor have you strayed too far afield. God is interested in what you do with your life now. "But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14). God is not interested in what happened yesterday. He is interested in what you do today and tomorrow. Are you constantly beset by the troubles of life? Are you fearful, afraid of the unknown and the unexpected? If you take extreme precautions for your safety, examine your spiritual life. Prayer, Bible study, fasting and meditation have probably become sporadic or nonexistent. Through concerted, energetic effort now they can be reactivated to turn your life around. David was well aware of his own weaknesses and how alarmingly God acted in his life to stir him to action. "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.... It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Ps. 119:67, 71). And again, "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them" (Ps. 119:165). David's light did not always shine out to others commendably. He had to take hold on his life and turn his heart completely around. Neither did the apostle Paul shed a very glorious light before his calling. For the next 20-odd years of his active ministry he struggled with his faults and weaknesses. Both of these servants of God overcame and will sit with Christ in His throne when He return's. They warned of the many pitfalls you and I would have to avoid today. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19). The apostle Paul instructed his disciples in the same vein, "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). David's cry to God must have echoed in the heaven of God's throne: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Ps. 51:10-12). David became the servant God called a man after His own heart.
Plunge into giving
Keep current with all the news about the Work. Prove to God you are a faithful laborer performing His great commission. Become involved. If all you can do is smile and always be cheerful — nothing more — remember that it exemplifies the joy of God's message for mankind. Volunteer to handle the unsavory jobs nobody likes to do. Put your hand more firmly to the plow. Be always willing to do more than you're asked to do, remembering, "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10). It will amaze you how rewarding and satisfying your life will become as you plunge selflessly into the giving way of life within God's Church. It's the get way most of us live that saps us of the light that should shine. We only select as our true friends people who have learned to give of themselves. Are you one of them? You've been given the greatest calling ever offered in the history of the world. Make certain you have enough oil for your lamp, lest the light flicker, fade and die out. It takes effort, dedication, prayer and study, but the rewards for all who put their shoulder to the task are now just around the corner.