This will probably be the most basic sermon you have ever heard. Nothing I will say is new or profound. You have heard it all before, but it needs repeated because the very simplicity of what I will be saying is the reason it is so often overlooked and ignored. So many times we want to plunge into the depths of the Christian life and forget the foundation of what it means to be a Christian, and how it plays out in everyday life. I am going to assume today that you understand that a Christian is not just a good person, but a person who has been transformed by the grace of God and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. You already know that a Christian is one who has come to God in humility, asking for the forgiveness of his sins and wanting God to take control of his life. That is the crisis experience that ushers us into the Christian life, but what does this look like, or should I say, what should it look like in everyday life?
I will give you the three points of the sermon in the very beginning. The three attitudes which will help you to enjoy life are: 1. Be nice, 2. Be positive, and 3. Be thankful. I told you it was going to be simple. Let’s begin with the first point: Be nice. This, like the other points, should go without saying, but nevertheless the Christian community seems to have more than its share of people who walk around with scowls and disapproving looks on their faces. Sometimes people who say they are Christians are just downright mean. They have a sour religion, and an unpleasant disposition to match. They always see a problem, a fault or a reason for suspicion. They have a negative attitude toward most everything. They are sharp and impatient with people. They are always better at seeing what is wrong than they are seeing what is right. They are insulting. They are judgmental and critical.
It is even worse in the non-religious world. Many of the observers of our society have commented about the coarsening of our culture. Good manners and courtesy are things that seem to have become lost in our world. Simple kindness and social graces have been left behind. People are rude and pushy in the fast-paced world in which we live. Roadways and other public places are filled with rage. Our speech is vulgar and our humor is crude and gross. We live out of the dark side. We need to return to being nice.
I think that we have so overreacted to the misconception that just because a person is nice they are a Christian, that we have forgotten that being nice is an important part of being a Christian. What does it mean to be nice? It means to be a genuinely good person. To treat people with patience, kindness and respect. It means to be humble and gentle, thoughtful and considerate. It means to be self-sacrificing and generous. It means to tip the waitress well. It means to smile at the person who is serving you at the store, even though they may be rude.
I like the way the Bible tells what happens to us when we genuinely encounter God: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The problem is that many people who claim to be Christians seem still to have a heart of stone. I have never understood why the church is so intolerant of some sins and so accepting of others. If someone falls morally we are all over them, but if someone is mean, divisive, gossiping, and have a critical spirit we don’t take it nearly so seriously. Someone may cut others to pieces with their tongue, yet we say, “Oh, he is such a good worker in the church. You just have to understand him. I know that she talks about people a lot, but she does so much for the church that you just have to overlook her.” How is it that we tolerate someone who attacks people, but we do not tolerate a struggling parent with a fussy baby? Help me to understand this. Especially when the Bible says things like this: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10).