The Credibility Gap

The envelope looks quite official and businesslike, and the little bit of the document that can be seen through the window has the look of a check or certificate. Above the address window are the official-looking words IMPORTANT FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED. Then, out of the corner of your eye you see those immortal words in the corner: BULK RATE. So much for those “important documents.” There’s something about the idea of sending important documents via Bulk Rate mail that really kills their credibility.

You have new mail in your e-mail inbox. It’s from info@xyz.com, and the subject line says “Information You Requested”. You open it and find a blatant “get rich quick” message that claims to have “the answer” to your financial problems. You delete the new message before you even read it. If it’s such a hot idea, why does the sender use a deceptive cover for his SPAM?

A man has an affair with a co-worker, divorces his wife, and marries the “other woman.” The new wife changes jobs because of company policy. The husband gets a promotion, and has to work longer hours, often coming home very late. His wife interrogates him regularly about what he’s doing at work so late, and he says things like, “You know—I’m working!” The relationship deteriorates, as the wife recalls what “working late” meant in the earlier days of their relationship.

It’s remarkable how quickly a person or communication can lose credibility. In today’s world, there are so many deceitful scam artists and straight-faced liars that genuine credibility is becoming a rare and precious commodity, difficult to attain and all too easy to lose.

You can even lose your credibility by association. Consider that “bulk rate” mail you see on a regular basis. There are actually some good offers and opportunities inside some of those envelopes, but you may never get to see them because of the stigma attached to “bulk mail”. In many households, it just gets tossed without being opened. Some of those bulk email messages might actually contain worthwhile opportunities, but there is so much baloney that comes under that same wrapper that I don’t usually read any of it. If it’s unsolicited bulk email, it’s guilty by association.

A man is standing on a street corner with a sign that says “BROKE AND HOMELESS—NEED FOOD.” You’re about to give him a dollar, when his cellphone rings. You walk away and watch from a distance as he answers his phone, talks for a while, and then folds up his sign, walks down the street, gets into his car and drives away. Obviously, the guy is a scam artist. Later, you see another man on another corner with a similar sign. How do you react? Most likely, your first thought is that this guy is a scam, just like the last one you saw. He may honestly need help, but your experience weakens the poor man’s credibility.

Now, think for a moment about your impact as a Christian. If you work with a group of non-Christians, and you lose your temper, rant, rave, cuss and fuss, you’ll harm your credibility as a believer. If you compromise your integrity and tell a “little white lie” to keep someone happy, you compromise that credibility even further. But, you’ve not only harmed your own credibility, you’re hurting the credibility of Christianity in general. On the other hand, if you humbly apologize when you lose that temper, or stop in mid-lie and say “no, I can’t lie to you. Here’s the truth,” you’ve raised your credibility—and by association, the credibility of other Christians —a notch or two. You can’t expect people to take your faith seriously if they doubt your credibility.

Guard your credibility. Be pro-active, and deliberately build on it. In a world where ethical standards have eroded, that credibility sets you apart from the crowd and says something about the value of your relationship with Christ—and somebody’s eternity might depend on it. Don’t let that “BULK RATE” stamp on your forehead keep them from seeing Jesus in your heart.

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