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?

Am I Loving Jesus?

In John 14, Jesus repeatedly tells us that obeying him equates to loving him. If I claim to love Jesus but don’t obey him, I need to question my claim of loving him.

If you love me, keep my commands.

Jesus, John 14:15

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Jesus, John 14:21

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

Jesus, John 14:23-24

Taking a personal inventory of my behavior helps me see if my love for Jesus is genuine or just lip-service.

Am I obeying Jesus’ Commands?

  • How do I handle insults and rejections because of Jesus? (Matthew 5:11-12)
  • Am I letting my light shine so people may see my good deeds and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16)
  • Am I lashing out in anger, or making sure my words are kind and loving, even when I am upset? (Matthew 5:21-22)
  • How I deal with someone who is upset with me? Do I reconcile with them and settle matters quickly? Do I forgive others? (Matthew 5:23-25)
  • Am I lusting? (Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Do I condone divorce? (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • How do I treat people who hurt me? (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • Am I praying for my enemies and showing them love? (Matthew 5:43-47)

These are just the start of the commands. Matthew 5-7 has many more, in addition to Jesus’ other commands in the Gospels. I need to know what Jesus commands by reading the Bible, meditating on it, and memorizing it. And then I need to put my love for him into practice by obeying, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Serving Jesus by Serving Others

It was just hours before Jesus’s betrayal. By the end of the night his trials and torture would begin.

Jesus sat down to enjoy a final meal with his closest companions. It was the Passover, a Jewish celebration of God delivering them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12) and Jesus had been eagerly looking forward to the meal and time with his disciples (Luke 22:15).

Instead of savoring that last meal and praising and thanking Jesus, what did the disciples do? They started arguing with each other about which one of them was the greatest. Now granted, Judas was the only one of them who knew he’d be betraying Jesus that night and none of them seemed to understand that Jesus’s death was imminent, even though he had told them many times in many ways. But still Jesus had already talked to them about humility and serving others and the first being last. He had also taught by his example of serving.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Jesus, Mark 9:33-35

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus, Mark 10:42-45

How many times am I like one of the disciples? Rather than focusing on Jesus and eternity, I look inward and ask, “What about me? What about my convenience and pleasure and success and satisfaction? What about my rights? What about my self-care and self-esteem? What about my needs and wants?”

Jesus responded to the disciples as they argued that Passover:

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Jesus, Luke 22:25-28

I need to take my eyes off of myself and keep them on Jesus. I should be fully listening to what He is saying rather than being self-absorbed. I should be storing up my treasure on heaven versus earth.

I need to look for every opportunity to serve others. Whether it be my husband, or children, or friends, or strangers.

I need to submit my wishes and wants to God.

I need to humble myself.

I need to view others as more important than me.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Paul, Philippians 2:1-8

Loving vs Sharing the Gospel

Skimming through my Facebook feed yesterday I ran across a sponsored article from Crosswalk.com and I stopped to read it (side comment: Facebook, you kill my productivity!). The article – 5 Signs Your Church Might Be Headed Toward Progressive Christianity – made me stop to think, especially slide #5 about “Love” and the red flag if a church teaches: “It’s not our job to talk to anyone about sin—it’s our job to just love them….”

My church talks about love a lot. Which is a good thing. We are called to love. Love God. Love others. Love is a fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in our life when we are full of the Holy Spirit. Rough estimate: I think my church’s sermons on love vs. sin/redemption are probably close to 85/15. And I think that is intentional because the church I attend has a mission of trying to attract people who don’t like church, people who have been burned by a church in the past, people who are new to the church, etc.

“Love” is a much easier pill to swallow than “sin,” “atonement,” and “hell.”

On the other hand, I grew up in a legalistic church that was all about sin and hell, at least that was my perspective as a child. We aren’t supposed to love on sinners. We were supposed to hand them a track and run, in case their sin rubbed off on us and we were corrupted.

The concept of loving people to heaven is very attractive. Just send money to Haiti. Volunteer at a food pantry. Pay it forward to a stranger at Starbucks. Pray for the unsaved from the comfort of my living room.

But what does the Bible say?

If you read through the entire Bible there is a clear theme:

  • Love
  • Sin
  • Punishment for sin = death
  • Sacrifice/Blood
  • Turning from sin to God
  • Forgiveness
  • Salvation
  • Obedience
  • Love

God absolutely tells us to love. We are to be hospitable. We are to be kind. We are to help the poor and the sick, the prisoner, the orphan and the widow. We are to love them because God first loved us.

But God calls us to take things another step. He called us to share the entire gospel message. Not just the love/heaven part. But the turning from sin part. The leaving your old life behind and following God, no matter what the cost. The penalty of sin is death part. Because you can’t get to the gift of God being eternal life if you don’t first address that the wages of sin are death.

Jesus said: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

And that, my friends, gets me way out of my comfort zone. That makes me nervous sweat a little.

But I also know real love isn’t just sponsoring a girl in Ecuador or going on a missions trip to love on orphans. Real love is telling the truth. The whole truth. Because the gospel truly is the most beautiful love story ever written.

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:36-38

Stay Salty

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. Matthew 5:13 #DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

Warning: this is a long meandering post because I started it six months ago, in the dead of winter (while dreaming of the beach) and then got stumped. The more I studied about Salt the more I was stumped as to what it meant. I kept coming back and adding to the post, but never quite could answer the question: what does it mean for me to be salt? What is Jesus really telling me? I’ve read it means to be a witness, I’ve read it means to add flavor to the world. I’ve read it means to be a preservative. But what does that mean in practical terms? Then today it finally hit me and I finished the post.

I live in landlocked Nebraska. There isn’t an ocean within anything less than a 14-hour drive. If my husband has his way we’ll always live in Nebraska, which isn’t a bad thing, except I love the beach. I love the sand. I love snorkeling with the sun on my back and sea creatures darting below me. I love the aftertaste of salt water on my lips.

In 2002, before marriage and kids, I was walking out of a grocery store and noticed a flyer for Team in Training, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The basic premise was that if I raised a certain amount of money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society I could be part of a group to train for a marathon and run the Honolulu Marathon. My hotel and registration, and even my flight, was paid for. I just needed to raise money and run the race.

I’m not a runner. Never have been. When we had to run the mile in high school I’d walk whenever the P.E. teacher wasn’t looking at me. But standing there in the parking lot with my cart of groceries and the Team in Training flyer in hand I was hit with the inspiration and  I made a decision – I was going to run the Honolulu Marathon and spend a week in Hawaii afterward, enjoying the ocean.

I did it. I didn’t run the whole thing, but I finished. I made friends, I lost toenails. I spent five days soaking my sore muscles in the ocean, enjoying the sun, saltwater, and sand. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. I got a tattoo on my back to commemorate – a hibiscus flower and “2002” to mark the occasion.

I haven’t run since. Nor have I gotten another tattoo.

While wasting time looking at Instagram posts with beautiful pictures of the beach on StaySaltyFlorida‘s page (Yes, my stress relief is browsing beach photos on Instagram); I was again hit with inspiration and I told my daughter I was going to get another tattoo. This one: “Stay Salty” and some waves. She looked at me (maybe with a hint of disgust or fear?) and basically explained that tattoos are for younger and cooler people. So maybe I won’t get a tattoo. Or maybe I will. (Did I mention I passed out during my first one?).

Regardless of my tattoo decision, I do need to “Stay Salty”. And not the “I love having my toes in the ocean and wishing I could surf, salty.” I need the be the Jesus kind of salty.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13

Paul said,”‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6 

Some interesting things about salt to consider:

  • God wanted the Israelite’s sacrifices to Him to be sprinkled with salt: “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” Leviticus 2:13 and “You are to offer them before the Lord, and the priests are to sprinkle salt on them and sacrifice them as a burnt offering to the Lord.”  Ezekiel 43:24 
  • “Salt Covenant”: As mentioned in Leviticus 2:13, and also “‘But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.” Numbers 18:17-19 and “Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?” 2 Chronicles 13:5
  • The word “salary” comes from the Latin word “sal”, which means “Salt”.
  • To “eat the salt of the palace” means that one’s loyalty is to the palace, or that is where you get your substance of life from, who you are loyal to, or who you are obligated to. (“Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king,” Ezra 4:14 ESV)
  • Salt is a preservative and keeps food from spoiling.
  • Salt is a flavor enhancer.
  • We become salty through the trials and fires of life: “Everyone will be salted with fire.” Mark 9:49
  • Salt has medicinal purposes.
  • Our bodies need salt; salt is found in every cell in our bodies. It regulates our body functions and maintains our fluid balance.
  • Our body doesn’t produce salt; we need to get it from other sources.

So that does this all mean to me? How do I be salty and “Stay Salty” from my living room in middle America? That is a good question – the more I read about salt in the Bible and the historical use of salt in ancient Israel, the less sure I was about what Jesus was saying.  I’ve been stumped for the past six months.

And then it hit me: Love

If I call myself a Christian, my life should show it. How? By my devotion to God and my love for others. Jesus said Christians should be known by their love and their fruit.

God wanted the Israelites to sprinkle their sacrifices with salt. He calls Christians to offer themselves as a living sacrifice, by living a life of Love for God and others.

And just like our body doesn’t produce salt – though every cell in our body needs it – the love we are to share with others isn’t naturally produced within us. It comes from God. God loves us and fills us with love that we can share with others.

How do we Stay Salty, my friends?

  • By spending daily time with Jesus
  • By praying for opportunities to love others
  • By thanking God for his love for us
  • By submitting to His will – obeying Him, following Him, sharing Him with other
  • By intentionally loving others

We love because he first loved us.  1 John 4:19

Stay salty.

And send me tattoo ideas . . . in case I get brave enough for another one!

Stay Salty

The greatest of these is love

Love.

Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It doesn’t try to get it own way and it isn’t irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Without Love, all my “good works” mean nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Love is the most important of all of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

All of God’s laws and commands can be summed up by Love: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

Love is a Spiritual Gift. What does this mean? It means if I am walking by the Spirit, He will produce fruit in my life. His love will pour out of me . . . if I am going deep with God, walking with Him, storing up His words in my heart (Psalm 119:11), praying, meditating, fasting, obeying . . . He will transform me (2 Corinthians 3:18). Love will be evident in my life.

Love should be my #1 barometer of how I’m doing in my walk with Jesus. If I notice that I’m being irritable, impatient, unkind, etc. it isn’t an indicator that I need to work extra hard at being patient and kind. It is an indicator that I need to get rid of things in my life that are keeping me from going deeper in my walk with Jesus. I need to keep my eyes on Him. I need to pray and obey. I need to be more disciplined in my daily walk and spend more time with God. And Love will be the result.

‘You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. ‘ Galatians 5:13-18 

 

Am I Loving?

Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a Barometer of my Love Life

#DailyBibleReading

The love passage.  One of three Bible chapters I have ever memorized (along with Psalm 23 and Matthew 5). It is a beautiful passage about love and about what really matters in life.

1 Corinthians 13-13.jpg

But what does it look like in practical terms?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬3 NLT

I can go to church and spout Bible verses and knowledge; but if I am not loving the people in the church it doesn’t matter.

I can go to Bible studies and spend time reading the Bible and praying, but if it never penetrates my heart and changes me . . . there is a serious problem.

I can write a check to a charity or volunteer at a food pantry, but if I turn around and am mean to my husband and kids and co-workers, my “good deeds” don’t count.

The number one “good deed” that God wants to see – and that should be naturally flowing out of me if I am spending time with Jesus and focusing my attention on Him – is Love. Not perfect love because we aren’t going to be perfect until heaven. But if God is filling us we should gradually be becoming more loving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NLT

I don’t think these verses are a threat or a list of actions for us to attempt, but more of a barometer for us to examine ourselves. Is Jesus’s love in us, flowing out to others?  Over years spent with Jesus, am I becoming more loving? Am I becoming more like the list above?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11‭-‬12 NLT

Like a child growing up, change doesn’t happen right away. And I won’t be perfected until after death, but right now I should be becoming more like Jesus. If I am spending time with him on a daily basis, praying, doing spiritual disciplines like memorizing Bible verses, fasting, and meditating; I should be maturing. And the best way to tell if I am maturing? If I am becoming more loving.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.                                           1 Corinthians 13:8-10

When reflecting on my life, if I see I am becoming a more loving person I know I am on track.

If I don’t see growth in this area – if I am not becoming more loving or if I am going backwards –  I need to make adjustments in my life and make sure I am spending my time, mental focus and energy on what matters most: Jesus. Reading the Bible, praying, praising him and meditating on his words. I can’t change myself to become more loving, but when I am full of Jesus, his love will natural seep out of me.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT