by Howard GlassBefore I was converted, a lot of Christians seemed like pretenders to me. One of my best defenses against a Christian witness went something like this: "Christians are not real people." I never had to explain to anyone what I meant. The strength of my argument was taken for granted. Now, as a Christian, struggling to be seen as a real person, I see how unfair my earlier judgments were. I understand how easy it is to appear phony. It's because part of being a Christian is being kind to other people. Even those people whose lifestyles make us uncomfortable. One aspect of the problem is how to be kind and not alienate persons we want to influence for Christ-yet being unafraid to speak out against sin. It is a balancing act most of us do not do well and the unsaved can easily come to think that our faith is just a hobby. Do you suppose Jesus was eager to touch the lepers? Tough call, but surely most of us have a hard time with that sort of thing. We mask anything distasteful for the sake of love. It is a form of pretending. Jesus was often accused of being wicked, partly because people misunderstood Him. Active Christians encounter something like that. Commissioned to influence a world we no longer fit into, we can expect to be misunderstood. It is a lonely feeling to find yourself out of step with the world and sometimes with people you love. The temptation to equivocate is strong. It is easy to get wobbly and seem unreal. Pretending is an option our flesh knows well. But Jesus calls us to be, not to pretend to be. The distance between these two points can span a lifetime. If we are insecure in our relationship with other Christians or with God, pretending allows us to deceive ourselves; to pander to our fears of being different. However, being different is unavoidable if we grow closer to God's intended design for us. The more we grow the sharper our contrast with the world. That brings discomfort and a wistful temptation to reject the growth-I suspect some do. There is no easy way to overcome this desire to pretend. But, struggling with our flesh is a necessary spiritual exercise. I have learned to examine my motives when I sense my flesh wanting to dominate. It helps. Usually I find that part of my problem is the desire to project the perfect Christian image. Thankfully, this is getting weaker with time, and it should. I pray one day it will completely die and take with it, the temptation to pretend.