“You’re an embarrassment to be around.”
“Please don’t walk next to me – I don't want people to know that we’re together.”
These are painful words that no one ever wants to hear. But does my life speak these words to Jesus?
This is the question that has troubled me since my first day visiting persecuted Christians in the Middle East with Open Doors.
In the heartland of violent anti-Christian extremism, I was confronted with how openly and unashamedly Christians are displaying their allegiance to Jesus. Crosses are everywhere. They dangle from rear view mirrors. They hang on bracelets around wrists. They stand tall, fixed to the top of houses.
I encountered the most striking example on my second day. Less than 14km from the merciless armies of ISIS, I drove past a house that was painted inside and out with a mural of Jesus! That’s right – just minutes from people who wouldn't think twice about burning them alive, Christians were proudly choosing to communicate “I am with Him.”
I felt ashamed. I realised that while as a Christian in Australia I am at greater risk of being killed by a falling coconut than I am by an extremist, I am nowhere near this willing to be aligned with Jesus on a daily basis. In fact, outside of my time at church or with other Christians during the week, my words and actions (or lack of both) often don't declare “I'm proud to be with Him.”
Which is why these words of Jesus are so challenging:
”Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:26
Ouch. This is right up there with Jesus’ heart-stopping “I never knew you” statement in Matthew 7:23. What a devastating feeling to hear these words from Jesus.
And yet, the optional “I’m with Jesus” statements made by our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters got me thinking – what does it look like to be ashamed of Jesus? How would this inner reality be demonstrated in my actions? How would I know if this was how I felt?
I came up with 13 examples – phrased as questions for me and you:
- Am I ashamed to read the Bible on the train?
- Am I ashamed to place a Bible on my desk at work?
- Am I ashamed to pray with a brother or sister in public?
- Am I ashamed to speak out on issues that matter to Jesus?
- Am I ashamed to (ever) mention Jesus in a post on social media?
- Am I ashamed to thank God when I announce the birth of my child?
- Am I ashamed to select “Christian” in “Religious Views” on my Facebook profile?
- Am I ashamed to mention the name “Jesus” when I am with people who aren't Christian?
- Am I ashamed to thank God for my meal when when people who aren't Christians are present?
- Am I ashamed to communicate my disapproval when a colleague or friend blasphemes the name of Jesus?
- Am I ashamed to display of my faith in a way that would be visible to guests when they enter my home?
- Am I ashamed to explain that the reason for my “goodness” (not swearing, being honest at work, etc.) is not because I am nice but because I love Jesus?
- Am I ashamed to meet with other Christians in public gatherings outside of church (e.g. at the Christian group at university, or the lunchtime prayer meeting at work)?
You're probably thinking “I don't have to do these things. They don't make me a Christian. I'm no less of a Christian if I don't do them.”
And you are absolutely right. There is no Biblical command to have a Bible on your desk. You don't have to pray in the food court. You don't have to post regular updates on Facebook about your love for Jesus.
And you might even have good, godly reasons for not doing these things.
But if you don't do them, what is the reason why? Is there any truth, if you honestly examine your heart, that you are ashamed and embarrassed to be seen with Him?
Our brothers and sisters in Iraq don't have to display the cross in their cars, from their balconies, or on their wrists. They don't have to paint the “Nazarene” sign on their front doors. And in fact, given the risks of doing so, we would be quick to forgive them for keeping a low profile.
But they choose to do these things.
For them, being unashamed is so much more than standing firm on the day that ISIS arrive and demand to know if they follow Jesus. They choose to adopt these daily, public demonstrations of faith because they love Jesus and they are not ashamed or afraid to make this known.
What about you?
Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). May we be unashamed to call him Lord.
Related: “Don't Fear ISIS, Fear Your iPhone.“
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This is one of my favourite images of the trip – a cross standing defiant over the Nineveh Plain: