Bearing the Cross of Awkwardness
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” -2 Timothy 3:12
“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” -John 15:20
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” -Acts 14:22
What do we make of passages like these? The theme of suffering is unmistakably present in the New Testament, and it seems that this promise of suffering transcends all cultures and times. Simply put, persecution should be normative for any who follow Jesus as Lord.
So where’s the persecution? Of course it’s a reality for many of our brothers and sisters around the globe, but what does persecution look like for us in 21st century America? That’s actually an important question for the Church in our day to wrestle with. No matter the context or culture, as citizens of the kingdom of God living in the midst of the kingdom of this world, there must be some cost of discipleship or it’s not discipleship.
That is not to say that all persecution takes on the form of imprisonment or martyrdom. Not at all. Each culture has a unique cross to bear and the duty belongs to God’s people to willingly bear it no matter the form. So what shape does persecution take in the Bible-belt of America?
It is amazing to me how many Christians today are utterly paralyzed by the fear of awkwardness. We don’t stand for justice, we don’t tell our neighbors about Jesus, we don’t testify to truth, all in the name of avoiding awkwardness.
What are the roots of this unique intimidation in our day? I think it is the convergence of two cultural trends—one from outside the Church and one from within.
The external trend is the subtle marginalization of faith, values, religion, spirituality, and certainly the person and claims of Jesus. Our society is too progressive for barbaric forms of persecution, but the effort to silence the proclamation of God’s people is alive and well. So the modern strategy is simple—we won’t kill you, we will make you feel stupid, unrefined, archaic, and even deficient for believing in such things. Jesus is allowed to exist within the private spheres but is not given any serious consideration in public discourse. It’s fine for you to believe those things and still be a successful and respectable member of society. But the moment you bring those beliefs into shared spaces, you are quickly corrected with the inevitable awkwardness of breaking the unspoken but very real social agreement.
The internal trend is the subtle fear of being identified with the evangelical fundamentalism of the past. The Church in our day is reacting to the vision of Christianity personified by loud, angry, preachers thumping Bibles and threatening hell. We are trying to correct that strategy embodied in the door-to-door evangelism with its programmatic approach and disingenuous love. In other words, the Church is desperately attempting to shake the evangelicalism of previous generations and reinvent itself with a Christianity that is contextualized, authentic, relational, inviting, warm, friendly, and on and on I could go with the adjectives. The Billy Graham crusade has been replaced by the one-on-one at Starbucks. And the number one faux pa of this brand of Christianity is confrontation. Christians today are wonderful at loving, serving, and relating to non-Christians, but when the moment comes where it is time to turn the conversation or relationship toward repentance and faith, we crumble with the fear of awkwardness.
Take these two trends, the external marginalization from society, the internal reinvention of Christianity, add to them the death of relational abilities at the hands of social media, throw in a little southern culture with its social graces, and you now have a people utterly terrified and paralyzed by the great enemy of awkwardness.
Okay that’s the diagnosis. With that said, I believe the Lord Jesus is asking you to bear the cross of awkwardness in His name. When was the last time you were perceived as weird because of your convictions? When was the last time you asked your neighbor a pointed question that led to an awkward silence? When was the last time Jesus cost you a relationship? When was the last time it was painfully obvious to others that you were a follower of Jesus Christ?
If you are like a lot of Christians I meet, you can’t remember the last time Jesus cost you anything relationally, if He ever has at all.
Where do we find the confidence and strength to embrace the awkwardness in Jesus’ name? I think it’s found in the same place the martyrs go for strength. We cling to promises that Jesus is worth the suffering. I think because our persecution isn’t as “radical” as historical forms of persecution, it almost feels patronizing to apply New Testament promises to our situation.
“The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us!” We can imagine claiming verses like this in prison for Jesus, but isn’t it silly to apply them to our fears of awkwardness? No it’s not. Persecution takes different forms. You could even argue that the subtle strategies of our secular society are more dangerous than the overt attempts to kill Christianity. Regardless, every Christian has a cross to bear. Whether it is your life or your reputation, that cross will only be embraced when we believe that Jesus is better than the cost. And He is. Jesus is infinitely more valuable than your social esteem.
So turn to the many assurances of Scripture that Jesus is worth the suffering, pray for boldness, and go get awkward for Jesus.