Every morning for the past 4 years I've read chapter or portion from four sections of the Bible. Usually, it is a chapter in the OT, one in the NT, a Psalm and something in Proverbs. It has been very helpful to me to read this way and see the overarching themes throughout scripture. Over the past couple of months, I've read through Genesis and part of Exodus. This morning, something struck me: The people of Israel "looked" a certain way. They stood out from the other people around them.
Israel was a people, a nation, a culture. They were set apart by dress and practice. What they ate and did not eat, what they wore, what they did each day, when they rested and how they worshipped their God was seen by and set them apart from others.
Their faith wasn't just in the tent or temple, it wasn't just about rites and feasts on certain days, it was what defined them as a people. And they were a decidedly peculiar people.
It doesn't seem to me that it would have been easy for them to "blend in" without seriously compromising their faith.
But Christians today tend to look like everyone else, sound like everyone else, and do what everyone else does. We are at the same schools, restaurants, movies and malls, we drive the same cars, live in the same neighborhoods, wear the same clothes, talk about the same things and observe the same holidays. Unless we are wearing a big, bold Jesus T-shirt, no one can really pick us out in a crowd, or in our office or classroom or family gathering.
Certainly, the balance has shifted due to Christ's influence. The people called the "children of God" is no longer limited to 12 tribes, but now includes people from every tribe and tongue and nation. But is it OK that we can blend in so easily and go virtually unnoticed? Is it OK that our faith isn't always the first thing people know about us?
If you see a devout Muslim on the street, you will know. Sit next to a Hindu at a restaurant, and you will know. The Mormon, Jehovah's Witness and Scientologist will let you know right away who they are and what they believe.
What about us?
We are called to be a peculiar people, but it seems mostly we are just like everyone else. It seems the average Chrisitian lives and moves and seeks after the same things as the world, struggles with the same issues, makes the same choices - the only difference, it seems, is that we have a something to keep us from completely dispairing.
We are gluttons, sexually immoral, entertainment hounds, fearful, angry, selfish, lovers of self, just like everyone else. We use drugs, drink, fornicate, get divorced, mistreat people, lie, buy, and fill our minds with the same things the world does.
How is this peculiar?
How is this right?
How is this so?
These were the questions ringing in my head after my quiet time this morning. And, I think I got an answer to the last question from Carolyn McCulley's recent blog post Daughters of Hope.
In it, she shared a little bit about a book she recently read titled, Daughters of Hope: Stories of Witness and Courage in the Face of Persecution, and includes this excerpt:
In India we had just listened to a group of Dalit women tell of the harsh persecution they had endured because of their stand for Christ. Before we parted I asked our usual question: "Is there anything you would like to ask us?"
They looked at me curiously, shyly. Before we came, none of them had ever seen a North American woman.
Finally, through the translator, one woman said, "Did you ever go hungry because you're a Christian?"
"No," I said. "I never did."
"Did you ever have your house taken away?" asked another.
"No," I said. "No, I didn't."
"Did you ever lose your job because you're a Christian?" inquired another.
I shifted uneasily in my seat. "No," I said.
"When people find out you are a Christian, do they throw rocks at you?"
"No. No one throws rocks."
"Has anyone ever thrown you in a fire because you are a Christian?" It was the first woman again, and she was leaning forward eagerly awaiting my answer. I did not have to ask the source of the scars on her own dark brown arms.
"No," I said. "You see, in America those things don't happen. In America it's against the law to throw people out of their houses or take away their jobs or stone them or throw them in the fire because they are Christians."
The women stared at us uncomprehendingly. Then one said, "But if it doesn't cost you anything, how do you in America know what it means to be a Christian?"
As I was thinking about how to answer, the first woman asked, "If you in America did have to suffer, would you still be Christians?"
I took a deep breath and answered her honestly: "Some of us would and some of us wouldn't. We need you to pray for us that when we face persecution, we will have the strength to stand up under it as you do."
Here in America, and in most other parts of the world, we don't face persecution. We just don't. Our faith doesn't cost us more than a few awkward moments and sideways glances, most times. The faith which we claim cost God His Son, Christ His life, and the lives of countless others. It should have a weight to it. We should feel that. It should also have a look, an aroma, a differentness which is immediately noticeable...and I don't mean T-shirts and bracelets and big heavy crosses around out necks. I mean that we, as believers should live in a way that leaves a mark, a noticable, palpable mark on us that is evident the moment someone meets us.
What does that mean exactly? How will that look? How then should we live?
I don't know. But I believe the Lord does and pray He reveals that to His church soon!