I had to write a recommendation letter recently for a student, and to do so I had to write the recommendation letter on school letterhead.
I didn’t expect the process to be such a pain.
Back when we actually wrote letters with pens and papers, getting school letterhead was as easy as skipping down to the administration office and asking for the fancy paper with the university crest at the top. The administrative assistants, who kept a list of professors and staff, knew us and happily gave us as much as we needed.
Now, though, most recommendation letters are submitted electronically, which means I needed a digital letterhead. I asked the administrative assistants how to go about accessing one; they directed me to a special place on the university website where I could go to download the university’s logo to put in my recommendation letter.
But before I could download it? I actually had to sign an electronic release.
Yes, I promised, I was a professor and an employee in good standing of the university. Yes, I was using this letterhead for university business only. Yes, I understood I could not use this letterhead for non-university business. Yes, I understood that by invoking the university seal and letterhead I was representing the university in honesty, discretion, and good faith.
I didn’t think it would be such an onerous affair to download a letterhead, of all things. But I get it. The university doesn’t want someone going rogue and misrepresenting them by misappropriating their seal for personal or private matters. When someone writes a letter with the university letterhead attached, they are saying implicitly, I am writing this on behalf of the university. They know me. I am representing them.
As Christians, though, we don’t have a letterhead option. We can’t stamp our lives with a giant cross and say hi, today I’ll be representing God’s kingdom and then, later, remove the cross and say, whoops, it’s just me for now. What I’m currently doing doesn’t reflect on God, so, uh, don’t pay it any attention. We’re believers all the time, 24-7, and if that truth doesn’t scare you just a little, it should.
Because friend, you’ve misrepresented the kingdom. I have. We all have. Whether it was simply an off day or a deliberate decision, we’ve done things bearing the office of Christian faith that have embarrassed the God we worship. We have taken the Name we bear and we’ve dragged it through the mud.
Worse – and perhaps more frighteningly – is we misrepresent the Name so casually, not realizing that the things we say and the opinions we hold and the actions we take are all being done in the implicit Name of God. Whether we mean to or not, our identity as Christian often implies that God advocates what we do. Think about that.
What boggles me is that God knows this and permits us to represent Him anyway.
He really is forgiving. And we believers know that, and it’s why we’re able to crawl out of bed in the morning and start all over again. You better believe that if I misused the university letterhead in a particularly egregious way the cost would be my job. But God doesn’t yank our salvation or our relationship with Him away when we mess up. He waits, patiently, for us to make it right and to repent, and He starts over with us.
And honestly? That bewildering grace is what non-believers need to see at work in my life. I know that believers get tired of being told over and over again that “the church is full of hypocrites,” but I suspect we hear it so much because many people perceive us as thinking that we are, if not flawless, certainly a lot better than anyone else out there.
A comment I saw on Amazon in a review on a Christian book a while back sums it up completely. “Most Christians when they first get saved swear it is by grace,” the author wrote. “But afterward they act as though they earned it!”
Some of us do act that way. And that isn’t true. God came to us and He said, Here is my name. If you want to have me in your life and have a relationship with me – if you believe I am who I say I am – then you can adopt my Name and use it, and lean on my authority and my privilege, even though you aren’t worthy of it.
The wonder of our relationship with God is that God is willing to lend His Name and His stamp of loving acceptance to whosoever believes – knowing full well that we will misrepresent Him both unintentionally and on purpose in a thousand-and-one different ways. That is what grace looks like. That is what love is costing God. And the sooner we admit it to ourselves and the world, the better off we’ll be.
A reminder that my Bible study Humility: The Misunderstood Virtue is available for free today on Amazon as part of the week-long buildup to the release of my new study, The Hunger Blessing, on Friday. More info here.