This season is about pumpkin-spice everything and fright. The pumpkin-spice part is easy and fun. On the fright side, I like to write about something ‘scary’ to raise awareness (here’s an article on The Scariest Jewelry) or encourage you in your walk of faith. This time I’m considering rising intolerance toward Christians and Christian values. Have you seen or experienced it? What can you do about it?
Christians have become the most widely persecuted people group in the world. Throughout the Middle East and in countries such as Nigeria and China, churches are leveled and Christians are imprisoned and attacked. Nothing we experience in the West rises to that level of persecution. However, intolerance for Christianity and its symbols has risen in recent years from the vandalism of Catholic churches in France to municipalities being sued to remove crosses from their seals and in public places.
Recently, the government of Quebec passed a law that forbids any employee in an organization receiving government funding from wearing anything that is explicitly religious. This secular law forbids public sector employees working in education, law enforcement, hospitals, and other organizations from wearing religious symbols or clothing. This includes hijabs, kippas, and crosses. Here, intolerance for personal religious expression is codified.
How should we live in the face of intolerance? We still have a command to love others and share the gospel with those around us. Yet, it’s becoming more difficult and the related risks higher. Here are three things we can do to share your faith anyway:
1. Walk the Talk
Live like we are commanded to and people will take notice. Having peace in a difficult personal time, befriending and accepting the unloveable, obeying the not-so-nice boss without complaining. These are very different attitudes compared to the world. People will take notice, and eventually, you’ll have an opportunity to explain how you’re able to do it.
Once I was in a tense meeting about merging similar departments from two divisions. The supervisor of the other department was ready for a fight. Her body language, tone of voice, and words were all in attack mode. I wanted to strike back. Instead, I prayed for peace and understanding. I was able to remain calm through the power of Christ. After the meeting, another participant asked me how I was able to be so calm. That was my opportunity to share the goodness of Christ.
"Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God." - 1 John 3:19 NL
2. Gracefully Engage
Having a robust spiritual practice enables you to gracefully engage with others through the strength of Christ. Daily study of the Word, continuous prayer, and guarding your mind work together to build a strong foundation. From there, you’ll be able to show love and grace to others.
The more I let the busyness of life, including church service, take me away from my spiritual practice the less grace I have for those around me. This is because my mind is focused on the world instead of the Word. The first place it shows is at home in my closest relationships. Snapping at my husband, being impatient with my daughter, losing my perspective of who I am in Christ are the warnings that I need to get back into the Word right away.
Placing healthy boundaries around your spiritual practice ensures that you will have the energy and focus you need to extend grace to everyone around you.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." -- Romans 12:2 NIV
3. Trigger Yourself
Jesus promised we’d experience suffering in this life. All of the apostles suffered. It’s part of the Christian experience. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)
It’s easy to feel anxious when looking at news of persecution, intolerance, and the issues of the day. Keeping subtle reminders of your faith with you helps by triggering your memory of God’s incredible gifts. It doesn’t have to be a cross, a fish, or even a Bible verse. During the early days of the church, members of ‘The Way’ used symbols to identify themselves. This was a way for them to silently communicate like beliefs and remind themselves of their commitment to Christ.
Is there a piece of jewelry that reminds you of God’s peace? Wear it on challenging days. Do you have a picture of God’s creation that sparks joy? Use it as your computer wallpaper or hang it in your space. Even something as plain as a stone can help.
Years ago, a co-worker gave me a stone from Israel. I keep it at my desk because it reminds me of Jesus who had walked there thousands of years ago. Just looking at the stone helped me gain perspective when I’m stressed or frustrated. It reminds me to focus on what’s eternally significant. It also gives me an opportunity to talk about why I keep a stone on my desk.
Start by practicing in your church. Living together in the church community is the training ground for life. What we learn there we put into practice when we leave. Unfortunately, oftentimes we’re our own worst enemy right there in the pews. How often do you talk to the people on the fringe of your church body? Chat them up and pray for them. Did someone in your church ‘do you wrong’? Have you forgiven them or are you holding a grudge? Take the first step; forgive them and seek peace. Did you hear a juicy tidbit about a brother or sister? Stop the gossiper before they finish. Be part of the restoration of the relationship. Your practice inside the church will lead to positive action where ever you go.
I'm far from perfect in these areas. Like every Christian, I'm a work in progress. It's up to each of us to choose the path of maturity in Christ or slide back into our old patterns.
Have you experienced intolerance? How did you do to overcome? What will you do, starting today, to better live in an era of intolerance to Christianity and Christian values? We make the choice, sometimes moment-by-moment, especially in scary times.
P.S. God gives the believer the gifts we need to stand strong in daily life. I make reminders of those gifts by using symbols from Sacred art in my jewelry designs. Motifs like olive branches, blossoms, and leaves are used in the Peace Collection. The Greater Love Collection uses the branch, taken from the most recognizable Christian symbol of the cross. Each piece is designed to encourage your walk and trigger you to focus on God.