I witnessed a disturbing exchange a few afternoons ago while waiting in line to pick up my kids after school. Glancing in all directions to make sure no one was looking, a middle-schooler reached up and slid the package into his pocket quickly and deftly. He loitered at the car window a few moments longer to keep suspicions down, make the interchange seem innocent, and then ran off to meet his buddies who had already started walking down the sidewalk away from school. But the passage of cigarettes wasn’t the disturbing part.
When my three were buckled in, I made my way around the still-parked car and took a hard stare at the driver so I could see what teenage delinquency really looks like. To my shock and dismay, the driver wasn’t a teenager or even a young adult, but a middle-aged man. I was appalled. I expect stupid swaps between kids. They make mistakes; they’re vulnerable. The desire to fit in or be cool or escape a harsh reality often takes precedence over common sense or knowing better in the pubescent brain. But to be an adult, to be one who has a mature intellect capable of fully understanding the dangers and consequences of smoking and deliberately passing that onto a child? That’s unreasonable. That’s irresponsible. That’s deplorable.
That’s what I do.
Seeing that interchange between adult and child, between one who fully understands and one who isn’t quite capable yet, between one who has personal experience with the dangers and consequences and one who can’t really grasp the harsh reality, between one who should take the responsibility to be a role model and one who is looking for an example and will listen to the loudest voice—it convicted me. Because while I may not pass alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or other physically harmful substances to my children, friends, family, fellow Christians, acquaintances, neighbors, or anyone else I meet, the bitter truth is that I often distribute soul cigarettes, sometimes without even realizing it.
I spread my toxic, cancer-causing, life-stealing, breath-taking, heart-stopping attitudes. I give out my carelessness freely, pretending like I don’t know better, like I don’t fully understand, like it’s not my job to be an example.
But here’s the truth: I do know better, I do fully understand, it is my job to be an example. People do watch me. People do listen to me—whether or not I think they should, whether or not I want them to, whether or not I try to pretend like they don’t. I—we—represent Christ here on this earth. That’s our job. It’s not just about us making it to heaven. It’s about making an impact. It’s about changing the world for the better. It’s about saving lives.
And I needed that reminder.
What I say matters. What I do matters. Where I go matters. What I watch matters. What I listen to matters. How I spend my time matters, and just as much, what I don’t say matters. What I don’t do matters. Where I don't go matters. What I don’t watch matters. What I don’t listen to matters. How I don’t spend my time matters.
I am not just responsible for me. I am also accountable for those God has placed in my charge— my children, friends, family, fellow Christians, acquaintances, neighbors, or anyone else I meet—for how I represent (or don’t) Him in front of them. I will have to answer for the soul cigarettes—the toxic, cancer-causing, life-stealing, breath-taking, heart-stopping attitudes and carelessness I distribute. Because just as much as there is grace and love in His gospel, there is responsibility and accountability, and the fact that we don’t like to discuss it won’t change the fact that it exists.
What are you passing out to those around you? Be encouraged today. We are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We bear Christ’s name and we are His chosen agents. We must be mindful of the things we say and do. Others are watching. Others are listening. Others are following. Are we leading?
“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (HCSB)
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.” – Matthew 5:13 (HCSB)
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” Then He said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” – Genesis 49-10 (HCSB)