Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect

Changing Lives, Not Checking Boxes



Standing on the bluff above the expansive tide pools, I watched as my son made his way to the water’s edge. We were enjoying the sunny spring day with friends at Half Moon Bay. They’d never been there before and were excited to explore the shallow pools at low tide. Picking our way along the slippery kelp covered rocks, I began pointing out creatures I recognized: light green anemones opened like exotic flowers, spiky purple sea urchins wedged in crevices and miniscule hermit crabs not much bigger than the head of a pin. With each discovery, our friends would cry out in wonder and delight. The tide pools were a thrilling, new experience for them.

I thought back to my first visit to Half Moon Bay on a field trip in grade school. The experience had not been quite as exciting. IMG_0333Carrying a clipboard and clutching a pencil, I’d been so intent on checking off the list of creatures I’d seen that I almost missed out on enjoying the amazing surroundings. It wasn’t until I’d finished the worksheet that I felt free to crouch next to the pools and gaze at the beauty and intricacy of the life teeming within them. Being a conscientious student didn’t always serve me well–I’d almost missed the point of the field trip altogether. I was only nine but had already been programmed to check off lists and fulfill obligations without recognizing the purpose or meaning behind what I was doing.

There is something embedded in human nature that makes us prone to labeling, organizing and categorizing everything we experience. We love to cross things off our to-do lists or check off the obligations we’ve fulfilled. Sadly, this can be true in our faith experiences too. We can do “spiritual” things without thinking about the real meaning behind them. That’s why I was thrilled to see Mary Jo Sharp address it in week 5 of Why Do You Believe That? She explains:

“One complaint I’ve heard a few times from non-Christians is they felt like Christians only cared about them as along as they were having a discussion about belief in Jesus Christ. They felt they were someone’s pet project instead of someone’s beloved friend.” (Why Do You Believe That? p. 103)

Armed with our new knowledge about apologetics, it could be tempting to look for opportunities to share what we’ve learned in a way that isn’t especially loving: “Not every situation will be the same, but remember to keep your intentions with individuals in check. The primary force behind sharing the gospel is love for others. It is not just to share what is true, because you think sharing truth, in and of itself, is loving.” (Why Do You Believe That? p. 103)

We shouldn’t engage in faith conversations just to unload information we’ve learned so we can check the box saying we put our lessons into practice.   Rather than letting zeal lead us, our conversations need to be driven by genuine love for others.

I can remember times in my life when I felt more like someone’s project than a person they cared about. Christians with personal agendas were a big turn off to me and I never responded well to them. Maybe it’s because I sensed they were motivated for the wrong reasons. I still remember a certain person vividly- she was an acquaintance in college that seemed insistent that I attend her particular church. The fact that I was growing in my faith with another Christian ministry didn’t seem to “count” in her eyes. I sensed she was more concerned with getting me to follow her program than encouraging my spiritual growth so I stopped returning her calls. Later I learned that her church was an emerging cult on my college campus. (I thank God for the Holy Spirit’s clear discernment in that situation).

Approaching people out of love and not as our next projects to tackle is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when we study apologetics. I couldn’t say it any better than the apostle Paul:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)

We’ve learned some great information in our study of apologetics, but if we share it without love, it’s worthless. So, how does this look in every day life? Let’s use Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 as our guide.

“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

-We don’t have to be in a rush to get people to see things in a different light. It’s important to give them time to absorb new truth little by little. Our kindness will show our genuine love for them. We should never be prideful about the knowledge we’ve gained or condescending to others.

“5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

-We shouldn’t disrespect others when our views differ in faith conversations. We must put personal agendas aside and not try to win them over for the sake of personal satisfaction. We need to keep our anger in check when we disagree about touchy topics.

“6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

-We need to keep persevering in showing love to others, even when they don’t respond to us.

The way we live our lives and treat others is the ultimate proof of God’s love. I guess that’s what makes love “the ultimate apologetic.”   Click on the link to hear a great song on this topic: “Proof of Your Love” by for King and Country.

Sharp, Mary Jo; Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation; Lifeway Press; 2012 & 2014.


Author: mmccullum

Marybeth McCullum enjoys writing and blogging about her Christian faith and how it intersects with everyday life. Her goal in every post is to encourage, challenge and inspire her readers. She is in her 10th year at CPC's Focused Living Women's Bible study and currently serves as Coordinator. She also writes a regular blog and speaks occasionally. You can find her page on Facebook at: Marybeth Mc Cullum- Author. Learn more about her other endeavors at

2 thoughts on “Changing Lives, Not Checking Boxes

  1. This reminds me of something startling I read recently: don’t say that your mission in life is to “help people”, because that means you are depending on others to have problems so you can feel better about yourself. I know that is incredibly harsh sounding, but I think it has much truth to it in the Christian realm. Not only acts of attempted conversion, but also acts of charity are misguided if there is any trace of me feeling as though I am “reaching down” to you. Thanks for a great reminder that I hope gets passed around.


  2. That is such an intriguing thought- and so true. I think often we feel a sense of “superiority” when we feel like we are helping someone else. It is so important to keep love as our motivation, not the need to feel good about ourselves. Thanks for chiming in with some great insights.


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