For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God… 2 Timothy 1:6-8
[OK, I keep predicting – even promising – an end to this “conversation” on timidity, and keep saying that I’m going to talk about how “power, love, and self-discipline” counter our fearfulness. But you know how preachers are! We know how to take off and fly around in circles, but the landing part is an altogether different skill that most of us haven’t acquired. I keep finding other things to include, and in this case I feel a need to look at how the tentative expression of our faith might well be influenced by how we feel about his people, the Church. Last time I asked you: Are you ashamed of Jesus? My next question is… ]
Are you ashamed of his followers?
“Don’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord or of me his prisoner…”
You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus. 2 Timothy 1:15-18
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 2 Timothy 4:16-17
If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:16
I wonder if our skittishness about following Jesus in public is due in part to the blunders of his other followers – whether true followers or not. The terrible reputation of the Church in general and many churches in particular is obvious, and because we don’t want to be identified with that, many of us are shy about being associated with such an “organization.” It’s funny that most people I talk to about Jesus say the same thing, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” I always say something like, “We’re not as organized as you might think and you’re smart to flee religion. Religion is bad but Jesus loves you, and so do all his unreligious true followers, of which I am part.”
I know Christians who have lived in their neighborhood and worked on the same jobs for many years and yet no one knows they follow Jesus. What’s up with that? Are they ashamed of him or just embarrassed of those who follow him (or claim to)? Granted, a lot of stupid stuff has been done in the name of our Christ (stuff he didn’t authorize), and we have a terribly bad rap in the world – don’t get me started! As a result, I often apologize to people who’ve been hurt or offended by the mistakes of our supposed brethren, and beg them not to blame Jesus for the failures of the people who love him and the posers who use his name as an excuse to act like idiots. But that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed to be identified with him or with his family.
Among Christians these days it’s in vogue not only to disassociate with, but to diss (slang for disrespect) our family, “I love God, but woe, the Church is messed up!” Trust me, I was a pastor for over thirty years, and I know about all our warts, plenty in bygone centuries and multitudinous in our very own time. I often say to people who are disgusted with the Church, “The Church is like Noah’s Ark. There were eight people and hundreds of animals on that boat for over a year with no Lysol (or deodorant for that matter)! It must’ve stunk so bad they were tempted to jump off and take their chances in the sea. In the same way, the Church may have a foul odor, but it’s the only thing floatin’!”
But I want to say that I’m intensely honored to be associated with my brothers and sisters with authentic faith in Jesus. I’ve had friends over the years who’ve saved my life and sanity, who serve the poor and marginalized in Africa, South America, Russia, and in the streets of San Francisco. I know many simple saints who walk the walk as well as talk and talk. I am proud to be in the company of such heroes who’ve endured in their faith and integrity for decades. Jesus told us that the Church would include both wheat and weeds, until on some future day he would separate them in order to punish the one and reward the other. In the meantime, we’re to do our best to maintain our own authenticity, proudly bear his name, love those who love him, and those who don’t.
[This time I won’t make any promises about the next post… just that there will be one. I think.]