In February 2019 my family and I moved to the Illawarra region in NSW, Australia. It was meant to be a very temporary stay as we prepared to move where my husband’s work was to take him next. However, due to the virus, we are still here. I could never have imagined I would live here for so long! I suppose, around the world as we navigate this Coronavirus, millions of people are experiencing similar sentiment: “I could never have imagined…!”
I must confess: I did not like this town before living here. As a child I spent many Sundays here visiting my grandparents in their small apartment across the road from the beach. The weather was always a bother. It was either awfully windy, the kind of wind that causes the sand to ‘bite’ your legs, or it was pouring with rain. In summer the tidal surf, made worse by the wind, was dangerous, so swimming even on a very hot day was unpleasant. I did not romanticize the area at all so the idea of staying here long-term didn’t excite me. But, as it turns out, God knew better. I can see that God brought us here with intention and purpose and it has been one of the most rewarding (and confronting) times of my life. It’s the friendliest town I’ve ever lived in and as a result I’ve made more new friends than I ever thought possible. And once I came to accept the wind as it’s own character, I have come to see the certain charm and true beauty to the place.
Regrettably, If I had known that I was to be here for over a year, maybe even two, I would have put more effort into making friends during those first weeks and months but then I don’t really think it would have mattered: people here are so nice! Also, with the town being a little over one hour train ride from Sydney, there’s a steady flow of new families into the area eager to make new friends. I now have a local circle of friends and acquaintances far greater than I ever could have imagined. It’s going to make it tough to leave! Eighteen months ago I did not realize that God would reveal his promise in Romans 8:28 to me so succinctly: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”
The more I read the Bible the more I learn that God is all-caring and loving. He knows what we need (even when we don’t) and he plans how to meet that need. (Some examples of God doing this can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Esther, Mary, Peter and Paul.) Before moving here I was not aware that I lacked connection with people and that I needed to make new friends and work on my social skills. I had forgotten that I used to be more of a people person (Having four children close together in a foreign country (USA) can be isolating). But God knew! Psalm 138:8 says: ‘The Lord will work out his plans for my life’. As God makes his plan work out in our lives, He often reveals ideas, beliefs, pain, fear, or worry that may be hindering our character from becoming more Christ-like. For me, God has cleverly used my new friendships to reveal the fear and discomfort I have about revealing and discussing my faith in the most embarrassing way.
“That’s my son. His name is Isaiah. But we’re not religious at all. In fact we’re atheists”, is what Isaiah’s father said to me when our children happened to play together at the beach. His atheist beliefs didn’t surprise or shock me but the manner in which he made his statement did. It was said in such a matter-of-fact way I wasn’t sure what my reaction should be. Mostly, there’s either a hesitance or confrontational sound in people’s voices when they mention religion but Isaiah’s Dad said it in the exact same way he discusses the weather (and I know this, for my family has now spent much time with his). I was taken aback because he had no emotional connection to what he said. I however, felt so thrown about his unexpected admission, I was rendered silent. I said not a word.
Recently, I have come to think what a strange statement it was to make for unless a person knows there is an Isaiah in the Bible, the name wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Either this man had some association with Christianity in his earlier life or he has met with braver christians than I whom have questioned his faith connection when they hear his child’s name? I’m going to guess it is the latter. I’m also going to guess that Isaiah’s Dad does not want to be associated with religion and that he has made this simple matter-of-fact statement many times before because he has not yet come across a Christian who questions him on it. He is trusting, and assuming, that most people around his age are faithless.
Isaiah’s Dad is not the only person in this town to have woven into generalized, and unrelated, playground chit-chat their atheist and agnostic beliefs. Every time it is brought up, I note my reaction: their confession makes me nervous! I find myself nodding along, smiling politely, and doing everything I can to disarm myself from any potential conflict and conversation. I don’t want them to talk about their lack of faith because I don’t want to talk about my growing faith! I feel myself become anxious because I am very aware that I don’t want to say or do anything that might offend them. Yet, here they are, brazen in their speech with the assumption that I must agree with them, because in their mind there’s no way that I could be one of those ‘silly brainwashed people’ who could believe in such a thing as God, particularly the Christian God. In such circumstances, I do the one thing I want to do: I change the subject.
Would it surprise you to know that these ready-to-confess atheists and agnostics make up the majority of my new friends? If this is a trend or just the way the western world is going, I’m not sure. However, Jesus does wonder if he will find the faith at all on earth when he returns (Luke 18:8).
Are you familiar with the verse in Mark 8:38 that says: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man (Jesus) will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”? I am. I’ve known the verse for quite some time and still, I hide my faith.
You might be very kind and wish to come to my defense in thinking that changing the subject is not a shameful act! Surely, you might say, isn’t it better and wiser NOT to challenge the atheist beliefs of those people we spend occasional time with THAN appear like a bully Bible basher -someone who forces the beliefs of the Bible on someone else? Don’t Bible bashers only confirm the suspicions and prejudices non-believers have about us, thereby making the salvation of the unbeliever more difficult? Isn’t it better to show our faith by the way we live than what we say? Jesus did say that ‘it is by their fruits that you shall know them” (Matt 7:20) and if that’s true, why not stay silent when someone brings up the subject of faith, particularly when my the answer might make me look bad…or dare I say it, dumb?
It is absolutely true that we should act out our faith and that our lives should reflect the very character of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as example to our non-believing neighbour. God created us to be set apart from the world (LEV 20:24) so that we live as witnesses to God’s truth and goodness. But what about those times it feels inconvenient or embarrassing to live set apart? What about when it’s just easier and less controversial to just go with the crowd? What if keeping silent, or ‘hiding our light’ (Luke 11:33) means that people will like me more, that I will fit in? Surely that’s ok? God doesn’t want me to be lonely, right? What if I just fit in now and then pray about it later? It’s too hard, too awkward, too embarrassing to talk about God in front of my friends! None of them agree with me anyway, and what if they don’t like me as a Christian?
I confessed at the beginning of this blog that I didn’t like the town I was to live in, so let me confess something really embarrassing now: I cringe at the thought of my new friends seeing evidence of my faith. It’s one thing to say I’m a christian, it’s another thing to have evidence of how seriously I take my belief. The simple acts I’ve done speak deeply about who I am: I’ve hidden my Bible and other books about Christianity when non-believers have come to the house, I’m always embarrassed by the cross hanging on the wall that is visible from the front door, and I’ve shut the door so that anyone passing by the house won’t hear the Hillsong worship songs I’m playing. It’s a real effort I have made to hide evidence from my new non-reliving friends? Is this an act that ultimately shows I am ashamed of Christ? Yes. Absolutely. He knows my heart. He knows exactly what it is. The reality is, and what God has shown me, is that I’ve been keeping my faith secret my entire adult life. Thankfully Mark 8:38 serves as a warning to me.
There is irony here too, it’s not all bad and embarrassing. Though I make effort to hide the little light I have and cower at the prospect of entering into a faith discussion with my friends, this has also been a time of such growth of faith and knowledge. I could never have imagined that I would read and love God’s word so voraciously. I could never have imagined that the scriptures would begin to make so much sense. I could never have imagined that with my Christian friends I now speak about God, His Holy Spirit and His Son so openly with passion and conviction. I could never have imagined the swelling of my spirit within. And, I could never have imagined that I would dare to blog about any of this before either! So, what’s up? How can someone be such a contradiction?
This week I read John chapter 7 and God in his eternal wisdom, opened my eyes to verses 12-13: “There was a lot of grumbling about him (Jesus) among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble…”
There’s nothing new about the controversy of faith! Jesus is as controversial now as he was then! There’s always been people who openly dis-believe and there’s always been people who hide their belief in fear! Jesus said himself that he did not come to bring peace, he came to cause division, to ‘render judgement – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’ (John 9:36) Must admit, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one but it is also terrifying to think of how many people stay silent when they know the truth.
Another example of being to afraid to show faith is in John 9. Verses 20 -24 describe the actions of parents who are brought into the synagogue to confirm that their son whom Jesus had miraculously given sight to, was actually born blind. They are able to confirm this but when asked how his eyesight was suddenly made possible, they defer the answer to their son because they are too afraid to say what they know and believe. “Ask him” they say “He is old enough to answer to speak for himself.” The Bible is very clear in the explanation as to why they do this in verse 22: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue”
It’s apparent then, that since the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth right up to now people have been afraid to speak their faith…for fear of consequences.
This I now know to be very true of myself. Though I am delighting myself in the scriptures, relishing reading His Word, and honored to feel His presence in my life, I am deeply afraid of being ‘the christian’ to my new friends. What Christian means to my friends is another discussion but for the purposes of today’s blog, let’s just take it as it is; a person who believes in Christ.
To clarify my fear a little more: I’m not ashamed of my faith and I’m certainly not ashamed of Jesus, his message, miracles, life and resurrection, I’m embarrassed to be known as Christian first because I am in fact, afraid of the questions my new friends may have. I’m afraid of how I am going to act, what I am going to say. I’m afraid of the conversation because deep down, I am afraid of what God is going to say through me. I don’t mean that I will get all preachy or rain down fire on them, not at all; God always wants us to responds to people in love. But I think that in his strength and light and, as my weaknesses and failings are made known to me, I am more aware of the importance and relevance of his message.
There’s another thing I think I might be afraid of: to speak is to become the person God wants me to be and I’m not sure I’m ready yet! There’s so much I don’t know. Surely, it’s better for me to be well prepared and equipped with knowledge and experience before I tackle the topic of God and faith with anyone, right? Wrong! Absolutely wrong.
I am ready now. You are ready now. For the Word of God in Luke 21:15 says not to worry: “I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!”
That’s the NLT translation. Here it is in other interpretations just so there is no misunderstanding: The NIV: “for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”. Now the ESV: “for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.
Thank you for taking the time to read my confession, embarrassing as it is. I know that what I have to do is simple: stop hiding! Leave my Bible out to be seen, keep the doors open when I play Hillsong Worship and then pray without ceasing when, if ever, one of my new friends asks me about what I’m reading (currently Knowing God by J.I Packer). For most certainly, God will answer their questions through me, without fear and with much love. Jesus did say in Matt 9:37 that “the harvest is great but the workers are few.”
My prayer for you, for me, is that when the time comes, we are counted among the workers.
If you have something similar to share, please do so at the bottom of this page in the comments section. Thank you!