What is the first word? What is the last word? What is the the only word that matters in the end? I have been wrestling with this question for a long time. It is a deep one?

The question is not only about a word that passes through our lips. The question covers deeds. The question asks, “what is the knee jerk response of all my actions and reactions” towards those around me.

I ask this question specifically as a Christian. Several years ago I took my shepherds through David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’s book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. The book is a landmark study of people from the ages of 19 to 29, people now in their late 20s and mid 30s.  What I wanted to do with my elders is come to grips with the reality that “we” have an “image problem” in our culture.

It is possible that some may not care about our image in the community. As someone pointed out to me, “Bobby who cares what the lost think about us?” This was asked in all seriousness. I am surprised by this question to be honest.

Most of us check Yelp to see what “image” a restaurant has before we patronize it. We read through the comments and if there is a string of: “food sux!,” “It is a dump,” “McDonald’s is a five star restaurant by comparison,” “They are rude and act like they could careless that you are there,” then chances are we will not eat there. Such businesses will soon cease to exist.

We should care about our image. Not because “the lost” are necessarily correct but because an image the repels leads to a dead business and a dead local congregation.

We should care because God cares. Remember when Yahweh was about to destroy the Israelites? Moses said to God, “what will the Egyptians think” (Exodus 32.12)? Who cares, right? God cared. Paul tells the disciples on the island of Crete that they need to live in such away that the teaching of God is “attractive” to the unbelievers (Titus 2.10). Peter tells his band of aliens that bad reputations are inevitable. Rumors will always abound. However he says that, as aliens, we need to conduct ourselves as if on a silver screen so that when we are castigated that our good deeds speak in our defense (1 Peter 3.15-17).

So this brings me back to my question, “what is the first word?” Over the last week or so, I have been wrestling with Amos on the heels of six months of reading, rereading, and teaching 1 John. First John and Amos, together, are like a double one two knock out punch. What ever the first word is, it dictates what the first deed, first action, is.

I think Unchristian is more needed today than when it came out a few years ago. When asked what was the primary word, image, thought that comes to mind an entire generation has unbelievably harsh words to say. Many in the research in fact even grew up in Christian home and some went to Christian schools. What they think of Christians is disturbing. There were six primary thoughts.

1) Hypocritical

2) The only thing Christians talk about is “getting saved” and could careless about anything else in the world.

3) Christians are homophobic, indeed they “hate homosexuals”

4) Christians mistake their brand of politics for Christianity

5) Judgemental. Christians are mean spirited people.

The issue is not changing the Bible on any subject. I assume most agree that Jesus of Nazareth knew the Bible condemned sexual immorality. I assume most agree that Jesus of Nazareth was the most holy person to ever walk the face of the earth.

But I promise you that no sinner, no person ever used those six words/images to describe Jesus. Instead Jesus obtained the opposite “image problem.”

Sinners loved to be with him.

Prostitutes loved hanging around him.

Tax collecting traitors for the Roman Empire hosted huge parties for him.

When women were caught in the very act of adultery by the morality police, Jesus dared to side with the accused.

Sinners loved to be with Jesus but seriously dislike Christians.

This generation is leaving Christianity in droves. I am not sure some of us older Christians truly want to ask the questions of why.

What is the first word? What is the last word? What is the only word? It may be simplistic but the answer to this changes our image problem. If outsiders saw that we had a “nasty reputation” of being on the side of the down, the out, the sinners, the adulterers, the “homos,” the divorcees, the single moms, the aliens … the people Jesus ate with then we might find that something amazing taking place.

What is the first word? What is the last word? What is the only word?

Is it not love!

In every situation the first word, the first response, the first reaction, the first deed is love. As the rock star and theologian Scott Stapp sang,

what would love do
If it were here in this room standing between me and you
what would love do?

Believe it or not my friends, our first job as disciples of Christ is not to tell people to “repent and be baptized.” Our first job as disciples of Christ is to love as God so loved, to love as Christ so loved, to love as the Holy Spirit of love is the only reason we are even alive. As Paul wrote about Spirit inspired love.

Love suffers with others.

Love is kind.

Love does not envy.

Love is not arrogant.

Love does not seek its own way.

Love does not easily give way to anger.

Love does not celebrate in others misfortune.

Love rejoices in truth where ever it may be found.

Love bears with the faults of others.

Love endures the faults of others.

Love hopes.

Love leaves a blessing. Love leaves the door open. Love treats with dignity no matter who is in front of us. Love leaves the aroma of Christ. Love is the supreme doctrine of God, for God is love.

Our image problems will change when we, as Christians, answer the question: “What is the first word? What is the last word? What is the word that really matters? Any time, Any day? What is the first word?”

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you as we struggle to have the reputation of Jesus the Messiah.