Living as a Christian in a Hostile World

We live in a crazy, lost world. Political divides, war, genocide, infanticide, suicide. Mental illness, poverty, and violence, all amplified on social media as part of our daily feed. And while the screaming might seem louder and the voices amplified by the media, this discord is nothing new.

Two thousand years ago Jesus lived in a time when Rome was trying to take over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It was conquering nations and seizing control. In Asia, dynasties battled for control of China. There were coups and assassinations. There was civil war, tyranny, and greed.

Jesus was born at a time when Judea had been conquered by Rome and was ruled by the emperor Augustus, adopted son and great-nephew of Julius Caesar. Tiberius ruled when Jesus was crucified and the early Church blossomed during the rule of some of the worst Roman Emperors: Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. Life under these rulers included torture and death.

Knowing he was soon to face death, and that his followers would also face persecution and possibly death, Jesus said:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Around the world, Christians are facing persecution. In America, we don’t face physical persecution, but a growing sentiment that Christians are bigots, hateful, and stupid. Some of this sentiment in the U.S. is deserved because of some Christians disobeying Jesus’ command to love. But some of this prejudice toward Christians is Satan at work, to turn the world from the truth of the gospel.

How are Christians to live in a world of darkness and hostility?

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How to Talk about Jesus with Unbelievers

How should we respond to people who are questioning our faith? How should we bring the truth of the Bible into everyday conversations? How should we talk to unbelievers and share the gospel message?

In Luke 20, Jesus was always prepared to give an answer to the questions he was given by the Pharisees and Sadducees. They tried repeatedly to trick him with their questions, but every time he came back with an answer that stopped them in their tracks. Jesus frequently used scripture to answer those who questioned him (Luke 20:17; 41-43).

We are commanded to always be prepared to give an answer, but to do it with gentleness and respect.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ‘ 1 Peter 3:14-16

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6

Lessons Learned on How to Talk to Unbelievers About Jesus

  1. Know the Bible. Read it every day. Memorize it.
  2. Know my own personal testimony. Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I have my hope in Jesus? Take time to write out my personal testimony with examples of how my life has been changed.
  3. Do not be afraid to discuss Jesus or share my faith.
  4. Speak and act with gentleness and respect.
  5. Revere God. Submit to Him. Don’t let my personal pride, fears, or anger get in the way of sharing in a loving way.
  6. Pray. Pray for opportunities to share about Jesus. Prayer for strength, peace, wisdom, and clear-speaking when those opportunities arise. 
  7. Make sure my behavior matches what I say. Don’t be a Pharisee who talks a good talk but doesn’t walk the walk.
  8. Look for opportunities to share and make the most of the opportunities in front of me.
  9. Be full of grace and love.

Loving an Unbelieving Child

Jesus knows the experience of loving a child whose eyes are blind to the truth of the salvation he offers.

In Luke 19, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, with crowds praising him and singing about the miracles he had done. He came up on a road between two towns called Bethphage and Bethany to a mountain ridge called the Mount of Olives. (If you are a visual person, I highly recommend checking out this video and these photos to get an idea of where Jesus was and what it looked like).

From the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked down at Jerusalem. Looking down the slopes he could see his beloved city, full of God’s chosen people. His heart was so full of love for his children, but also full of sorrow. He knew that salvation, and peace, and healing were were offered to them, free of charge. He also knew that they were rejecting the gift they were being offered. And that the consequence of that rejection would be their own destruction and death.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:41-44

For all you moms out there whose hearts are breaking watching your children make bad decisions and reject Jesus, Jesus knows exactly how you feel. For all you dads who wish you could just fix things and open your kid’s eyes to see the truth, Jesus understands.

Jesus knows what it is like to share the truth in love and have it rejected. Jesus knows the pain of watching a child suffer and not being able to stop it because it is the child’s choice to make bad decisions. Jesus knows what it is like to be willing to sacrifice everything to save a wayward child.

He knows because he did it. He gave his life for Jerusalem. He gave his life for me. He gave his life for you. He gave his life for our children. He loved, sacrificed, and told the truth. He prayed and cried for his and our wayward children.

And he didn’t stop.

Moms and dads, don’t stop. Keep praying. Keep loving. Keep sharing. Take the hurt to Jesus. Take the love to your kids.

 

 

The Other Samaritan

In Sunday School I learned about the “Good Samaritan.” He demonstrated “loving his neighbor” by picking up a hurt man on the side of the road and caring for him. This was the model of the second most important command to love your neighbor as yourself.

‘One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”’ Matthew 22:35-40

Today in my #DailyBibleReading (Luke 17) I read about another Samaritan, this one embodying the first command: loving God.

Jesus was traveling by foot when he met a group of men with leprosy. They were outcasts with debilitating diseases. Shunned by society. Considered unclean. Nine of the men were Jewish, like Jesus. One was a Samaritan. (And as much as I’d like to geek out on the biblical history of the Samaritans and Jews, I’ll control myself!)

The group of men saw Jesus and starting calling out to him to have pity on them. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. Again, not to get too much into history and law, but if someone had a skin lesion or leprosy they would have to show themselves to a priest – and show that they were healed – to be considered “clean” of the disease. (Leviticus 13).

I am sure these men were thrilled. They had probably heard stories about Jesus healing people, casting out demons, and feeding thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and fish. Maybe they had even heard about him raising people from the dead. And now Jesus was sending them to the priests which could only mean one thing – he was going to heal them and they would be declared clean and could return to society.

As they were going to find a priest to declare them clean, Jesus healed them. I imagine they looked down at their hands and arms as they walked, and the blisters and ulcers on their skin vanished. The pain in their joints was gone. The sensation on their skin returned. They could feel the sun and wind.

One man – the Samaritan – saw he was healed and stopped in his tracks.

The other nine men kept running to find the priest, probably more eager to get to the priest than ever before.

The Samaritan turned around and headed back to Jesus.

He was praising God in a loud voice.

He threw himself at Jesus’ feet.

He thanked Him.

Who am I? The one who returned to thank Jesus or the nine who were too busy?

When I am feeling lonely or outcast, do I praise God? When I am healed, and rejoicing do I humble myself and throw myself at Jesus’ feet? Do I praise God in a loud voice, regardless of my circumstances, because He has saved me?

No, usually I behave like one of the nine.

But, like the Samaritan, I am a foreigner. I was unclean and sick in my sin. But God took pity on me and saved me. Healed me. Made me clean.

And I should express my gratitude daily. With all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind.

 

Meditation for Christians

Tips for incorporating meditation into your daily walk with Jesus.

“Meditation”

What comes to mind when you hear the word “meditation”? For me, several things:

  1. Julia Roberts in the movie “Eat Pray Love” – sitting in a serene setting in India, meditating;
  2. My mom warned me as a child against Eastern religious meditation practices that involve clearing my mind;
  3. Meditation is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible.

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. Psalm 104:34 NIV 

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. Psalm 119:15 NIV 

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.  Psalm 1:1-3 

How should a Christian meditate? Most meditation guides are geared toward Eastern practices and the mind-clearing practices my mom warned me about, while the Bible clearly says when we meditate it should be focused on God’s laws, precepts (rules), and ways. Over the past several months I’ve been working to incorporate Christian meditation into my daily walk with Jesus. Below are some tools that I have found helpful:

Bible Meditation Podcast: Most mornings, before I start my #DailyBibleReading, I listen to a 10 minute guided meditation podcast by Nikki Rach. I love the format – breathing and meditating on a verse, followed by reflection and prayer. I highly recommend. For more information, visit her website here or listen to the podcast on iTunes or other podcast players.

Meditate on a verse or passage in the Bible: Start with taking 10 minutes before bed for first thing in the morning. Keep your mind focused on a Bible passage or list from the Bible. Keep your eyes closed, stay relaxed, and when your mind starts to drift to other things, return to the passage or list. Some good starting points:

  1. Psalm 23. Memorize the 23rd Psalm and then meditate on it. See yourself in the green pasture. Imagine God refreshing your soul and leading you on the path of righteousness.
  2. Love: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Memorize the attributes of love and say the passage over and over in your mind. Keeping in mind that these are also the attributes of God as He is love.
  3. Fruit of Spirit: Galatians 5:22-25: Memorize the fruits of the spirit and go over that list if you mind. Breath deeply. Think about love. think about goodness. Think about gentleness.
  4. 10 Commandments: Go over the list of commands, just as King David did.

Meditate on God’s Mighty Deeds (Psalm 77:12): This is why reading through the Bible is so helpful – there are so many stories of God’s power and might from Genesis to Revelation. I love just to sit still and visualize and think about some of the examples below:

  1. God, in the form of fire or a cloud, leading the Israelites. I imagine the sights, smells, power, provision of God.
  2. Jesus dying on the cross: the ultimate sacrifice, out of love for me. I imagine the pain God was experiencing. The pain Jesus was experiencing. The unconditional love they have for me.
  3. Jesus as a vine, me as a branch.
  4. God parting the sea for the Israelites to pass.

A few other tips:

  • Start slow, 10 minutes, once a day.
  • Find a quiet, relaxing, comfortable place to sit.
  • Unless you are listening by podcast, put all your electronic devices away.
  • When your mind starts to drift to other things, refocus back to God.
  • It is okay to converse with God during meditation – pray, confess, praise.
  • Don’t quit just because it gets difficult or you don’t “feel” results.

I wish you well on your meditation journey. Please message me with any tips or helpful practices you’ve incorporated into your meditation.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 NIV

 

 

Should I Stay Married for my Kids?

I’ve often heard people say you shouldn’t stay in an unhappy marriage just because of the kids. What if the opposite is true? What if God intended children to be the glue to help keep a couple together as they go through hard phases of marriage?

Did you know that divorce doesn’t make people happier? According to a 2002 study by American Values, when unhappy people got divorced on average they weren’t any happier:

Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages
Signatories

Does divorce typically make adults happier than staying in an unhappy marriage? Many Americans assume so. “Does Divorce Make People Happy?” represents the first serious effort to investigate this assumption empirically. The finding? Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier, on average, than unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.

Another study showed that 68% of couples who were unhappy in their marriage – but stayed together – were happy in their marriage 10 years later.

For those of you going through a rough patch in your marriage – there is hope. I’m not talking to you who are experiencing abuse or being cheated on. For the rest of you, your marriage won’t always happy, but don’t throw in the towel. There are ups, and there are downs, just like everything in life. You’ll experience joy in marriage. You’ll experience pain in marriage. I’m talking as a child of divorced parents and divorced in-laws. I’ve been divorced myself. I’m currently in a marriage that has seen some very dark days where all I could do was cling to Jesus.

My marriage has also seen some great days.

But mostly, my marriage sees ordinary days. We bicker. He annoys me. I nag him. We laugh at inside jokes and at our kids. We coordinate schedules and run errands. He mows the lawn, and I handle the bills. He buys too much junk food, and I complain (while eating it). He’s a spender, and I’m a saver. I wish he’d be more romantic and he wishes I wouldn’t be so critical. We occasionally have date nights and occasionally have huge fights. We love each other, but don’t speak the same love language. Our life isn’t glamorous. There isn’t anything Instagram-worthy (outside of our pets and sometimes our kids). We are humans.

For those of you in a dark place in marriage, the pain doesn’t last. For those of you thinking you made a mistake in who you married, God doesn’t make mistakes, and He’ll use your marriage for His glory if you cling to Him. Try not to focus on your spouse – concentrate on making yourself the best version of you possible by spending time with Jesus, praying for your spouse, intentionally loving him or her.

For those of you wondering if you should stay married for your kids: Yes. Stay married for your kids. Stay married for your spouse. Stay married for Jesus. Stay married for yourself. 

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  Matthew 19:3-6