What comes to mind when you hear the term Christian?
<Pause to allow yourself to really think about that term for a minute.>
For me, the focus is on the first part of that word – Christ. And, to me, that is good. It represents goodness, even perfection. It represents love. It represents peace. And so much more.
But for many the word has a very different meaning. It represents judgment, hatred, hypocrisy, and so much more.
And I get that.
Many so-called Christians do not live as Christ lived. But the name actually was given to people for living differently – in, not of, you might say.
Last week, I faced one of the most significant challenges in my life. I had a kidney stone. For those that have had one, you know the pain. And mine got stuck in the ureter (it was about 5mm wide, and the ureter is only about 2-3mm, so it was really stuck!). The pain began Sunday, and while it was not constant until Wednesday, I did not get it removed until Thursday. As a woman said to me later, it was like you were in labor for parts of five days. (Yes, a woman said that!)
Now, you might be asking what a kidney stone has to do with fotonni. That is a fair question.
For me, all of life is lived through the lens of my faith in Jesus. Please not misunderstand me. I am not perfect. And I do not live my life by faith as often as God would want me to do so. However, I do live my life through the lens of faith.
What do I mean?
I cannot separate my life from my faith. And thus, I cannot separate faith from my life. This guides my thinking, and, in turn, should influence my actions. Again, I am not perfect. But the goal is to become more like Christ.
So, let me get specific as it relates to the kidney stone.
I was in a lot of pain – more than I have ever experienced. And I never want to experience that kind, or amount, of pain again. But the pain was mine. And the decision for how to respond to that pain was mine. I do not mean medically, although that applies. I mean emotionally.
By Wednesday morning the pain was so intense I went to the hospital. I could barely move. I was groaning. I was writhing. I was miserable. But, it was not the fault of anyone else (and, perhaps beyond some dehydration, it was not my own fault). So, how I responded to others in these moments speaks about who I really am.
Let’s face it, when we are in pain, sick, stressed, etc., we tend to let our emotions get the best of us. We often have a shorter fuse and even lash out at others over minor infractions, including (especially!) at those we love (or to whom we are closest).
Again, I am guilty as charged. But I believe God gave me grace last week to see my reactions in the moment, and hopefully avoid responding negatively last week (while in the hospitals, I was on narcotics for part of the time, so only He knows!).
In the local hospital, I tried to be thankful. I was particularly thankful for the medicine to remove my nausea and pain. I am not a fan of needles. However, given my pain in the moment, I welcomed an IV. I recall a conversation with the nurse about how many people take out their frustrations in the moment on the staff.
Again, I get it. Pain has a tendency to remove our senses and sensibilities. But that does not mean that we should not treat others with respect. And, if you are a Christian, that is a part of the Golden Rule that Jesus gave us for kingdom-based living. Do unto others…. I do not want others to yell at me when I am helping them, so why would I yell at others?
Of course, locally, this issue is even bigger. In a small town, everyone knows that I am a pastor. So, even if the nurse (and staff) understand that any response I have might be in pain, what kind of example am I setting?
But even beyond being local, the issue is more about who I am (or desire to be), not where I am. The following day, the pain was worse, in part, because I was not able to eat or drink anything. The middle of the day was approaching and I had not had any pain meds. By the time I finally got some medication, it was shortly after noon. And with another needle (IV).
Again, I am not fond of needles. (Did I mention that already?!?!?) And I had a lot of concern over what was going on inside me, and exactly what was about to happen to remove it. But the nurse in that hospital (in a town nearly an hour away), who does not know I am a pastor, deserved the same respect. And I believe I gave it to her (again, fentanyl, and whatever else might have been in me, may have caused some lapses, but I don’t think so).
Most importantly, my wife, who watched me struggle, and tried to care for me by driving, filling out forms, getting my prescriptions, keeping family and church members updated, etc. deserved not only my respect, but my love. Did I treat her as well, or better, than the strangers who were trying to help? I hope so.
See, living fotonni (in, not of the world) is not about choosing to live well when life is good. Living fotonni is choosing to live for God in each moment of every day.
Is it easy? NO! If it was everyone could do it. Many would still choose not to even if they could. But I do not believe it is possible without the presence of the Holy Spirit.
So, if you are a Christian, the question is are you living like it? Again, we are not perfect. But we focus on the first part of that word – Christ – then we should find ourselves becoming more like Him over time.
And that includes how we respond in the midst of life’s challenges.
So, whatever challenge you may be facing – whether it is great or small, physical or emotional or especially spiritual, how are you responding? I encourage you to seek God and ask for His mercy in the situation and then turn that mercy into a measure of grace that you can pass on to someone else.
After all, that is what Jesus did. And if we are to be following Him, it is what we should do too.