Nothing, and Everything, to Lose

January 13, 2014

In my last post, I observed that the religiously allergic around us need a winsome witness to the gospel and that we must enter into the sort of discipleship practices that will help us give it. Perhaps my readers have had a chance to think about their own resistance to this calling, and in order to do that thoroughly it is wise to count the cost and face it head-on. When we do so, the cost loses its deterrent power over us and puts us into a position to see the mighty hand of God at work in and through us.

Depending on one’s situation and location, the cost can range from social discomfort all the way to direct life-threatening persecution:

Social discomfort. It’s amazing to me how many Christians fear social awkwardness among their friends if they are open about their faith. When we feel uncomfortable about sharing connections to Jesus with others, they too will be uncomfortable and want to avoid the awkwardness. If we learn a few basic skills (evangelical and social), sharing our faith can be as natural as offering a glass of water to a guest.

Open ridicule. When that social awkwardness turns to open teasing or even ridicule, we are even less likely to be verbal about knowing Jesus Christ. I have been laughed at on two particular occasions, and the sting of those moments is still with me 40 and 20 years later. When I told a person close to me that I had decided to follow Jesus, she laughed and walked out of the room in disbelief, and a friendship door closed for ten years after that. On another occasion, as a member of a panel discussion, I was booed and hissed by fellow presbyters when I countered a particular argument with the statement that God went to a lot of trouble to make himself known by name as Jesus the Christ (not Gaia or Sophia). It was one of those “consider it pure joy, my friends, when you encounter various trials” moments (James 1:2).

Loss of job security. Perhaps you have read newspaper accounts over the last few years of court cases that have arisen when religious employees were fired for wearing a discrete cross necklace on the job. Many of us would see a cross necklace or lapel pin as a simple statement of our faith, a gentle witness in the workplace. But who knew that such a small statement could loom so large amongst religiously allergic people? What we see now is the clash between faith-based convictions and social norms escalating and broadening, with significant legal ramifications. How many of us would say, “It’s simply not worth losing a job over”?

Mean-spirited retaliation. Unfortunately, in the course of some presbytery dismissal processes, churches desiring to leave the PC(USA) over conscience issues have been sued or charged burdensome “exit fees.” One presbytery’s representatives went to the bank where a departing church did business and actually attempted to take over the accounts on their word alone. At the national level, there is even one overture coming to the next General Assembly that would kick departing pastors out of the Pension Plan. The GA has no such power to direct the Board of Pensions to do anything, but the attempt illustrates the punitive spirit at work in some halls of the church.

Death threats. This level of persecution is not prevalent in the United States but it is in some countries around the world. Having said that, I did receive threatening phone calls after being quoted in the newspaper in the late 1990s. But Christians and new converts in predominantly Muslim countries, for instance, really put their lives on the line when demonstrating their faith in word and deed. What more can we say? The cost of being a Christian is life-threatening in many places around the world, and yet people do not recant their witness or back down from intimidation. The apostle Paul lived with the threats for most of his evangelistic career. Here’s what he wrote about that:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11).

When we get to the point where we feel we have nothing to lose by sharing our faith in appropriate and properly assertive ways, we will be on our way. By the world’s standard, of course, there is a lot to lose. But in God’s Kingdom, those losses are nothing compared to the joy of knowing Christ and following in his footsteps.

 

 

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4 Responses to “Nothing, and Everything, to Lose”

  1. L. Lee Says:

    Mary,
    I am so happy you are bringing these hinderances to our attention. What a thoughtful list. At our church Adult Sunday school it was suggested that we have a class on evangelism.
    The comment from one member was that we would need DOUBLE the space to accommodate everyone who would be interested. People are fearful, but also want to know how and
    What to say to unbelieving friends. Maybe we have made it about apolegetics too much and not enough about walking in faith that God will give us words and stories of our own to share. There are some brave souls who want to share
    but just need tools and FAITH to do it. This is an area the
    church has neglected. The key is to realize we are not alone,
    God is with us and God is more interested in reaching out to
    the many in our midst that we are. The only ability we need is availAbility to God’s power to do it.
    Thanks for sharing your heart……my prayers are with you.

    Linda Lee

    • emd5542 Says:

      Yes, Linda, we all have stories to tell but how familiar are the stories in the Bible of all those who walked by faith, not by sight, screwing up royally along the way? Beginning with Abraham, continuing with Joseph….What of all those listed in Hebrews 11? Perhaps those would more gently and deeply impact those who question, those who wonder, those who just don’t grasp and on and on. There is such power in the Word. How many Bibles rest in homes just collecting dust for all sorts of reasons. Just putting it out there. Peace, Eleanor Duffield

  2. Jeff winter Says:

    Thank you Mary for being very clear of the cost Christians will experience in proclaiming the truth. You made me think how boring it is to be a liberal who says there are many ways to God. When you share with people that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that life begins at conception and no one is born gay or lesbian…..life gets very very exciting.

    • Charles Arlin Talley Says:

      Boring? Not at all. But neither do I believe that there are many ways to God. Living the truth is not always exciting, but it is joyful. And, sharing our faith “in appropriate and properly assertive ways” is exciting.

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