“And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.”(Mark 14:72)
We live in times that are remarkably hostile to Christians. I have written before about how at times the wisdom of Mordecai is entirely appropriate for us to follow. In many workplaces people keep it more professional these days and don’t talk about any outside interests. Add to that the antagonism many feel to evangelicals it is no wonder that many of us chose to be God’s secret agents.
There are many in my current workplace who have no idea of my secret other life. Occasionally one of them in an idle moment googles my name. My name is quite unusual, and my photo is on this blog, so an interesting conversation then ensues. Not unusually that conversation contains a comment about how surprised someone is that I would be a Christian. Now one hopes that they wouldn’t be totally shocked. But what they typically seem to mean is “but you are an intelligent and nice person…”
The whole point of Mordecai’s wisdom is that in order to gain access to environments that are hostile to God’s people, and to gain influence and respect, it sometimes entirely appropriate to not openly display and declare our faith.
But there comes a point sometimes when to not own up to our true identity becomes denying our Lord and Savior. Peter was terrified for his life. And when asked directly if he new Jesus he vehemently denied it. No doubt as he was wracked by guilt afterwards he was remembering the words of Jesus:
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33)
Jesus is full of grace and forgave Peter’s denial, even restoring him to a position of significant leadership in the church. But his example is given to encourage us not to make the same mistake.
I remember a few years ago traveling on a plane to part of Africa. I had two cases full of copies of my book to donate to a ministry that was going to give them to pastors. I was also traveling with work.
I had somehow not realized that a colleague would also be getting the same flight. Like every good business road warrior my own luggage was in the carry on. There was one part of my grand plan I hadn’t thought of: my colleague was sure to be confused by me having used my free baggage allowance for what was a short trip!
I had spent years building a relationship with this colleague (I didn’t see them that often and they worked in a different country). So during the long flight I thought I would offer a simple explanation of what I was doing. The conversation began something like this:
“By the way, unusually for me I have some luggage in the hold today. I’m bringing some stuff over for a friend.”
“Who’s your friend? How did you meet him?”
“He’s a guy I met decades ago when he lived in the UK. He has lived in Africa for a long while so I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
“What’s he doing over in Africa?”
“Well, he’s a pastor actually.”
“Interesting, do you ever talk to him about his faith?”
At this point I remember a sense of the inevitability of the next questions. And that I was about to enter one of those moments where you have a choice about whether or not to follow Jesus. I knew I had not choice but still give him an opportunity not to ask the inevitable question that I knew by now was coming my way.
“What kind of Christian is he?”
“I guess you could call him an evangelical.”
“What do you think about what he has to say?”
I answered truthfully, and a remarkable open conversation ensued. I am confident to this day that was the right moment for me to be open. I had prepared the ground. And to that point I’d never had a long conversation with him, not one where either of us had talked deeply about any other personal matters.
I must confess though, I never actually told him what was in my cases! I think he probably assumed it was some kind of charitable supplies or perhaps some stuff my friend had wanted me to bring over for him from UK shops!
So often as a follower of Jesus, the key is knowing when the right time is to do or say something. There really is a time for everything.
Sometimes it’s right to take your fear in hand and just out and out tell someone even if they don’t ask. You never know what will come of it. On more than one occasion I’ve come out of the closet as it were, only to discover the person I’ve just come clean with is also a Christian.
I suppose the challenge is: how can we tell when following the wisdom of Mordecai becomes denying Jesus. To me one key is certainly when we are faced with a choice to lie or admit we are Christians. But there are no doubt other signs. What do you think?