It sounds like a slobbery sneeze, but to first century Christians it was a symbol of identification. More subtle than a secret handshake or a password, with one swipe of a stick or a toe, a believer could extend a tentative feeler. If the other responded with a mirror-image swipe, completing the rough drawing of a fish, the Icthus was complete. Each knew the other was a brother in Christ. Fellowship was instantaneous and sweet.
Today Americans worship and meet together without fear of persecution, but in some ways we’re more cloaked than ever. With the exception of the occasional religious t-shirt or Christian bumper sticker, we move in and out of society without identifying ourselves or each other as believers in Christ.
Until we see an Icthus in the sand.
I saw one recently. Walking the beach on Edisto Island, South Carolina, I almost missed it as I squinted into the late afternoon sun. I’d already passed a few messages scrawled in the sand: Joe and Pam—True Love Forever, IAN WUZ HERE, and one I’m still puzzling over: John Is My Boss.
But this one was different enough to make me turn around and look again: I LOVE JESUS it read in big bold letters.
Capturing the message with my iPhone camera, I turned to look for its author. A smiling dark-haired lady was watching me from her beach chair. I smiled back, gave her the thumbs up, and mouthed, ME TOO. Her message in the sand, my thumbs up--two parts of the Icthus. We were sisters in Christ. Fellow believers. Jesus lovers. Our smiles lingered long after I walked on.
This exchange made me wonder why we seldom identify ourselves as Christ-lovers as we move through our days. The early believers did—at great peril to themselves. Yet every time they found a fellow Christian, they enjoyed instant kinship, sweet fellowship, and mutual encouragement. What if we, like the early church, found creative, figurative ways to draw the Icthus? Here are a few of mine:
1. I wear a cross. When I see others wearing one, I comment on it and ask them what their necklace means to them. Then I tell them what mine means to me.
2. I look for ways to insert my biblical worldview into a conversation. If I’m talking about the weather, I say, “God has certainly sent us plenty of rain this summer.” If a patient, in for his or her 6-month dental checkup, asks me how I am, I say, “God has been very good to me this year.” Many times a comment like this will trigger a similar response, and we’ll spend some time bragging on God together.
3. If appropriate, when someone shares a concern with me, I ask if I may pray for them. If they say yes, I pray on the spot, either aloud or silently. A long-time patient of mine was facing serious heart surgery. I asked for permission to pray with him as he sat in my dental chair, then made a note of his surgery date. I prayed again the morning of his surgery and followed up with a phone call to his wife to find out how he was.
4. I tell faith stories. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying to a coworker, “You’ll never believe what God did for me this morning.” Other times I share something I read in my Bible and how it applies to my life. If a person has a relationship with Christ, they’ll often respond with a faith story of their own, and we are mutually edified.
5. When I meet someone who’s recently moved to town, I ask if they’ve found a church home yet. Their response will often identify whether or not they are believers. I’ve made countless new friends this way and encouraged more than a few new transplants to visit my church.
Sometimes I need a reminder to name the name of Christ as I move through my day. As I do so, I often discover other believers, allowing us to encourage, edify, and enjoy each other.
What about you? How do you meet other Christians? I’d love to hear your ideas. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.
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