You don’t get a second chance to make a first expression

One of my true passions for the church is transparency.

I wish we church people would stop faking it. I wish we would be so real that no one, either inside our church or in our community, would falsely assume that Christianity is about self-declared good people getting a little bit better, instead of sinful people getting saved from their worst by Jesus.

I wish people who battle addiction or deal with depression or question their gender didn’t have to keep those struggles to themselves. I wish the suicidal and those who are itching for their next high could send a text to their church friends and find encouragement, strength, hope, and truth. I wish moms who resent their kids and dads who feel totally inadequate at work could talk openly about their issues.

I’ve seen glimpses of that wish come true. I’ve witnessed what happens when we crucify “Facebook You” and get real with one another. I’ve seen the powerful effect of leaving our “representatives” in the car (that’s what my friend calls her public persona) and actually doing life together.

Shame gets erased. Community gets created. Jesus gets mentioned.

Which is why I want to give you a massively important piece of advice upon which true transparency lives and dies. Ready for it? Here goes:

You don’t get a second chance to make a first expression.

When someone confesses something real to you, there is only one chance to react. There is only one moment—and it lasts less than one second—for the confessor to figure out if he/she will ever confess again. The picture on your face will speak a thousand words. Even if there are others in the room, your expression will be noticed and interpreted.

That expression will tell your son, who has been Googling “Gay Christian,” whether he should talk about those sexual desires with you or not.

That expression will tell the woman from your Bible study, who hinted at abuse in her past, whether she should shove that secret back into a dark corner of her heart or keep reaching out for help.

That expression will tell the porn users in your church (there are lots, I guarantee), whether they are gross or covered in God’s grace.

Your expression will say almost everything. And you only get one chance to make it.

Which is an incredible opportunity! Your expression—one of acceptance, of understanding, of forgiveness—can be a type of nonverbal gospel, giving a glimpse that real sinners are really welcome here. It can keep the conversation going long enough to walk to the cross and find the beaming expression of the Father, whose face and extended arms declared forgiveness before he spoke it to his prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32).

The gospel is good news for sinners. Good news in the Bible’s pages. Good news on Christians’ faces.

Two weeks ago, I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel the Scarlet Letter. It’s a story about a man who commits adultery and tries to hide his sin, plunging him into a deep spiritual darkness as the secret erodes away his soul. But then, at the pivotal moment, he confesses his scarlet sins and finds true freedom.

In the edition of the book I read, Hawthorne’s daughter commented on the moral of her father’s story. She wrote, “To acknowledge our sins before men is, in very truth, to acknowledge them before God; for the appeal is made to the human conscience, and the human conscience is the miraculous presence of God in human nature, and from such acknowledgment absolution is not remote.”

“From such acknowledgment absolution is not remote.” There is something powerful about hearing the good news of our forgiveness from the lips of another person. Or seeing forgiveness on their faces even before the words leave their lips.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

I pray that all those who confess their sins in our presence find mercy in our message and in our expressions.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.


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