Faith is hard. Not hard like it is in some countries where you constantly run the risk of real persecution and death for professing Christ, but hard in a different way. I live in the USA and more specifically in the Bible Belt. What makes faith hard in my area is the complete lack of ‘cost’ to me in comparison to other parts of the world.
I’m not poor. Sure I don’t have as much as a lot of people and there are things I wish I could do for my wife and kids that I can’t, but by global standards, it’s hard to be a poor American. We have programs for that. Calm down you guys to my left, I know there is real poverty in the USA, but not like in some other places. Most of us aren’t poor, except maybe by white western American standards.
No one has ever tried to kill me for my faith nor have I been threatened over my faith more than a couple of times. I do know American Christians who have been threatened and attacked because of their beliefs, don’t believe the narrative, it does happen here, but but very, very few. More people get attacked over shoes or sports teams.
I’ve never lost a job or not been hired because of my faith. But, hey, I’m a preacher. I did get turned down for a job once that may have been because of my faith, but I can’t prove it. I know folks who were not hired for jobs and upon further review it seems that they may have been discriminated against because of Christ, but honestly, thanks to the current cultural narrative, you’d be stupid to pursue it. These instances are rare and, outside of more nationally or internationally scoped occupations, rarely happen here. Certainly not as much as discrimination by gender or race. No, these things aren’t what makes it hard. It’s their absence.
In short, I’m comfortable. Even when things are difficult, I’m pretty happy with my lot. As long as I don’t rock the boat either with believers or unbelievers, I can live a pretty carefree life, apart from the normal life stuff which affects everyone. My faith costs me very little and so when I do meet a challenge, it’s of an entirely different variety.
See, according to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, I’m supposed to love you, whoever you may be, and in this culture right now, that can be difficult. Love requires acceptance, warts, opinions and all and while everyone is screaming opinions at each other all the time, there is no place for defense or criticism; no real discourse. Our response to disagreement in this culture at this time is abandonment of the relationship.
Now follow me, as a follower of Jesus, I’m supposed to love you and live at peace with you as much as I can as I said earlier; but I have to occasionally do the prophetic thing and stand up for righteousness. Navigating those rocky waters is proving hard for me.
Relationships matter. Friends matter. So where do I draw my lines? I spent an evening this week with some dear friends who are mostly not believers. We had a great time out sitting in their back yard. There were cigars and cigarettes and a certain amount of vulgarity, but nothing really offensive to me. In fact, I know in that group there are certain habits that are practiced that could get me in trouble or may be considered offensive, but these are my friends and they have never put me in that kind of situation. I don’t pressure them about Jesus, I just try to be a friend. If they are drawn to ask questions, I answer.
Also recently, however, I have had some things come up on both sides of the faith line that I’m not sure how to deal with because they could cost me relationships. I have a lot of liberal friends who really detest what the perceive to be Christianity. It’s not actually Christianity of course, but that’s a hard argument to make when the crazies and the haters get all the press coverage. Still, occasionally, whether in social media or in person, someone will cross a line in my head and I get……..I don’t know……sometimes offended. Sometimes I get angry. Mostly it makes me sad. And I spend days trying to decide how to confront it, or if I should. Do you understand why? The relationships matter! Loving them and treating them correctly matters! But Truth matters as well and I am responsible to my own conscience, according to the New Testament.
How do we deal with people that we know are mocking our faith in Jesus? I know some of it’s justified, I get it, but still…..what do you do when it becomes specifically about who Jesus is and is not? God doesn’t need me to defend Him. That’s silly. But I need to tell the truth for the sake of the Gospel don’t I? And if someone doesn’t actually know who Jesus is or what He stands for, don’t I have an obligation to correct the misunderstanding? I certainly do it from the other side. If I see a Christian give a bad image of Christ, I try to correct that image, especially if it’s public. But, man, it’s so risky.
With believing friends, it’s no less risky! The weirder the world gets, the more Christians feel painted into a corner and the very human, very animal fight or flight instinct takes over. We are supposed to be stronger than that. It’s one of the points of the Jesus journey, but not everyone is in the same place. We have different levels of maturity and are all broken in different places which affects how we think and react. The Bible says of itself that it’s useful for correction. but it also says not to judge others………..conundrum again. Add to that the spirit of the age, that is the current culture as mentioned above, and Christians are also likely to cut you off from relationship if you disagree with them. It’s wrong. It’s bad theology. It is still happening everywhere.
So what do I do if one of my Christian friends let slip with something wrongheaded or unloving? What if they mock others for their unbelief, or malign the poor, or say something racist or sexist that proves they are still worldly in mindset? How do I correct them? Should I? How can I speak? More importantly, how can I remain silent? The Book tells me to speak the truth lovingly, but if I know it will be ill-received and cost me the relationship, isn’t that unloving?
I think the best I can do is lead with my heart. I act out of love and speak out of love and rely on God’s grace for the rest. What else can a man do in this culture, where freedom of speech has become so costly, if you say the wrong things?