What’s your sign?

As the Fourth of July holiday nears, I’ve noticed the number of American flags increases. Actually, I started noticing it around Memorial Day. Most of our neighbors seem to have small ones lining their flower beds in their front yards. The flags are so prevalent I asked my husband, “Did we miss the free flag giveaway?” Last night on our walk around the block, we noticed a neighbor had put up a flag on a very short flagpole. The flag was just barely touching the ground while hanging limp from this too-short pole. We shared a look that indicated our appreciation for the effort at patriotism but disappointment for the execution. My husband, a veteran, is passionate about properly and respectfully displaying the flag.

Is it ironic, then, that we don’t have an American flag on display? I wonder if our neighbors, whose lawns are covered with small American flags, would consider us unpatriotic or un-American? I don’t much care if they do think that because flag or no flag, my love for my country is what it is.

So it is with symbols of my faith. I went through a couple of cross necklace phases (and a WWJD bracelet phase) but over time I abandoned those outward declarations, preferring to let my life speak for itself. (Disclaimer: I have no problem with anyone who chooses to wear a cross necklace, earrings or bracelets of any kind that proclaim a message about the Christian faith.) Granted, my life hasn’t always spoken well of the faith I profess, but I think sometimes the symbols immediately closed doors of conversation where without them, they could have been opened. Sure, the cross is offensive to those who don’t believe, but do we want people to be offended by us before we even have a chance to get to know them?

The Bible says people will know we are Christians by our love for one another, not by our jewelry, T-shirts, bumper stickers or fish magnets. (Or for my PA Dutch readers, by the black bumpers on our minivans.) If we aren’t loving each other in the church, and loving people outside the church, then the symbols of our faith that we wear will mean nothing to anyone.

I’m becoming more aware of how loudly my actions speak. What good does it do me to call myself a Christian if I don’t help those in need, pray for the hurting, visit the lonely and comfort the broken-hearted?

I’m reading this book, “Amish Grace,” about the shooting that happened at an Amish school near here several years ago, and how the families affected by this tragedy demonstrated forgiveness to the killer and his family. The authors describe how forgiveness is woven into the lives of the Amish for generations and is taught by example even to young children. It’s an essential attribute of their faith and lives, so when tragedy struck, they didn’t have to think hard about exhibiting forgiveness. That’s not to say it was easy, but they knew it was the right thing to do.

What is it about my life people will see? And will it move them closer to Christ? Most days I feel broken, unworthy and unable to carry the living water the Lord so freely offers. I mess up. I ignore. I judge. I dismiss. I see an opportunity and I pass it right on by. At least I’m honest, right?

Really, I guess what I’m saying is I don’t need to display a flag once a year or from Memorial Day to Labor Day to prove I’m patriotic, and I don’t need a cross necklace or a fish magnet on my car to prove I’m a Christian. Neither of those acts go very far in my mind to prove anybody’s commitment to anything.

In short, let your life speak, even if you think it doesn’t have much to say.

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