Contagious

Have you had your flu shot this year? Millions line up each winter to protect themselves against the flu, and this year’s H1N1 pandemic has multiplied the need and the panic. Like the common cold, influenza is spread by a virus. As we walk through malls, enjoy a meal at our favorite restaurant, or travel to and from work, we find ourselves walking through clouds of air that might be filled with the flu virus.

If you skipped the flu shot this year, chances are you find yourself ducking away from those who are coughing and sneezing around you, and they seem to be everywhere you are. You’ve probably got a handy bottle of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer in your purse or coat pocket, and you can’t wait to get hold of a bottle of Lysol.

The flu is one of those illnesses that can cycle through a household for a number of weeks. My mother-in-law lives behind us with my wife’s sister, her husband and their three children. It seems the common cold lasts several months instead of 7 to 10 days, since it’s repeatedly passed from person to person to person. Everyone’s contagious, and everyone is susceptible to the virus.

I was paging through a magazine recently and came across a familiar advertisement for the book, Becoming a Contagious Christian. Its message is about showing how simple it can be to share your faith, but today I couldn’t seem to keep the thought of being contagious out of my mind.

The Church is a melting pot of people from a myriad of backgrounds, experiences and personalities. How we interpret, participate in, and react to the goings on in our churches is processed through each of these lenses. Each of these is unique to each individual, shaping our thoughts and behavior uniquely.

As the Body of Christ, the Church is also a vast organism. Many parts have become one body, but each part is still its own identity. Sickness can enter the whole through the various parts. In reality, we are like the house full of extended family members: everyone is contagious, and everyone is susceptible.

We take our physical bodies to the doctor’s office, usually once every year, for a physical checkup. A good doctor will ask some general, probing questions to see if there might be anything wrong with you that you haven’t taken notice of. He will also try to find out if you’d experienced any issues that might show a pattern of risk or other concerns.

Each part of the Body is a carrier of viruses that spread through the rest of the Body. Like coughing or sneezing on a crowded commuter bus or subway car, you and I spread viruses that take root, grow and multiply. We carry our attitudes, feelings, beliefs and values with us everywhere we go. They are passed on to those we have coffee with, write e-mails to, post Facebook and MySpace messages to, worship with, and sit beside at potluck meals.

Like that regular physical at the doctor’s office, we must take a look at our health in the Body of Christ. There are three crucial questions we should be asking ourselves.

1) Which viruses am I spreading?

Each of us is host to numerous contagions. Recently the news media reminded us that a smile is contagious. You can even visit http://www.contagioussmile.com to find tools to help you spread the “disease.”

What impact are you having on those around you? Are you spreading values of community, servanthood, and giving? Or are you multiplying dissatisfaction, selfishness and pride?

Think about the interactions you’ve had over the past twenty-four hours. Chances are that you have been to work, home with a loved one, at a restaurant with close friends, in line for mass transit, or chatting on the internet. What sort of conversations have you had?

Did you discuss the sermon from Sunday? Maybe you vented to a friend about a person or situation that you’re having difficulties with. What goal did your discussions accomplish?

Paul gave us some advice that we often forget when we open our mouths to friends.

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

With every response delivered to the circumstances of our lives, we blast out attitudes and beliefs to those all around us. What damage can a casual word here or there do to others, your own reputation, or that of the Church? In contrast, what can a kind word, positive interpretation, or encouragement towards biblical living do to increase Christ in the life of another?

2) Which viruses are my system defending against?

Our bodies are created with a system designed to protect us from viruses, the immune system. Once a virus is recognized by the body and determined to be harmful, the immune system begins production of antibodies that neutralize the virus.

It’s natural for us to reject certain influences that come our way. The human defense system seems to stand at DEFCON 1, loaded and ready to be deployed at the first sign of trouble.

Sometimes we defend ourselves against timely biblical instruction for our lives. Our first strike missiles launch at the first sign of danger to our personal comfort or beliefs, keeping us from the truths that spur us on towards a better relationship with Christ and man. Other times we barricade ourselves behind personal interpretations of authority, service, or morality, and plug our ears to the Word that requires a different way of life than we think we are entitled to.

One of the filters that we often fail to process information through is to consider how the dialogue affects the speaker, the listener, and the subject. We can guard against harmful viruses in the Body by remembering Paul’s words to the church in Philippi:

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, NKJV).

Do you remember seeing video from Asia as SARS swept the continent? Men and women walked through the streets wearing hospital masks, putting their faith in a paper filter. In his book AquaChurch, author and speaker Leonard Sweet describes a helpful filter for our words and actions.

“The church is filled with too many Golden Rule Christians, whose motto is ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and not enough ‘Platinum Rule’ Christians: ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’ What is most lacking, however, is Titanium Rule Christians, practicing the most powerful command of all: ‘Do unto others as Christ has done unto you.'”

Are you keeping dangerous and destructive attitudes at bay? Are you looking out for those around you? Or are you looking out for number one, holding true to your own preferences at all costs? It’s good to be on guard, but are you guarding against the wrong viruses?

3) Which viruses has my system embraced?

The honest truth is that sometimes our bodies either don’t recognize a virus, or are unable to effectively combat it. One of the problems with HIV is its ability to constantly change a sequence of proteins in order to evade the body’s immune system.

We are often infiltrated with thoughts and attitudes that don’t materialize into anything right away or in all situations equally. New thought patterns often surface unexpectedly, like a preprogrammed answer to a difficult math equation. It’s not so much that you thought about the question and figured it out. You just spit out the memorized response.

When you start to notice that things are changing, take the time for a quick trip to the emergency room. Does it align with the teachings of Scripture? Did it develop from something personal or from the words or experiences of others? What will happen if I leave it untreated?

Changes in our attitudes, feelings and values are a natural and positive part of our Christian walk. We cannot stay at the same place we begin; we must move forward. If we are truly being sharpened by one another “as iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), then we should be looking for new and improved edges to appear.

Being influenced to grow in Christ is an important facet of joining the Body of Christ. But we must guard against infections that can destroy us like a cancer.

* * *

Every church is full of influence, viruses that we blast around, usually without a second thought. What are you at risk of catching? Take the time to examine your relationships in the church and what they are feeding into your life. Shield yourself from those viruses that will destroy you, but don’t be afraid of the ones that draw you closer to the Great Physician.

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