The Lucas family lived on C Street next to a junk depot.  Men with pushcarts came streaming by all day long with newspapers, rags, and whatever metal they could find in the alleys and abandoned houses.  Mark Lucas and his wife, whom we all called Big Mama, lived in this drafty old house with their grown daughter Lorene and her three children. 


Big Mama was a very large woman and rarely left the house.  Mark spent his time hanging out with the guys.  Their daughter, Lorene, supported the family by working as a cook in a Holiday Inn. 


Our church was nearby, and Lorene and her children came to Sunday School every Sunday.  I can still see Lorene, sitting in the class, big tears running down her cheeks, saying, "When is my Daddy ever going to come to the Lord?  I pray and pray!"  It was a litany Lorene repeated over and over for years.  "When is God going to answer my prayer and bring Daddy to Jesus?"


Then one Easter, old Mark Lucas surprised his daughter.  Sunday School was over.  Church was about to begin.   And here comes Daddy Lucas, all dressed up in a black suit and white shirt and tie.  Lorene was torn between crying and fainting.  It was a joyous day, that Easter!  Mark had come to church.  His heart was beginning to melt.  He was coming close to the Lord.


"See you next Sunday," says Mark as he shakes hands on the way out, with a radiant smile on his shining face.  But the next Sunday, no Mark.  And the next…and the next---no Mark. 


"Go, talk to Daddy," says Lorene.  So I did.  It seemed like everything was fine that Easter, as he walked up Vinewood Avenue after church.  Until his old drinking buddies caught sight of him. 


"Hey Lucas!  What you all dressed up for?  You gettin religion?  Who you tryin to fool, Man?"


Old Mark Lucas's tender heart toward God suddenly hardened.  "I ain't putting myself through this!"  Mark wasn’t up to being ridiculed and rejected by his peers.  And back he sank into his old lifestyle. 


It would be another two years before Mark Lucas was ready to walk the gauntlet again---and this time he made it!  "I don't care what they think.  I'm goin to follow Jesus."  And he did. 


Now we may think we're more sophisticated than Mark Lucas.  But we have the same problem.  It doesn't keep us out of church, because no one gives us a hard time about going to church.  But it does keep us living inside our spiritual turtle shells, only sticking out our necks when we know it's safe.


The fear of rejection---


Scared to death someone might think I'm a fanatic.

Scared to death to ever utter the name of Jesus, except in church, when I sing a hymn. 


            Why, they'll think I'm some kind of kook!


So here's the issue:


What if they do think you’re a kook?

What if the word went out among your friends that you've turned into a fanatic?


            Would it ruin you life?


You know what?  It might just set you free. 


When you and I get serious about following Jesus, we can be certain of this:  We will experience rejection on some level.  Somebody's going to be unhappy with us.  Somebody's going to be disappointed in us.  Somebody's going to give up on us as a lost cause.  But with that very rejection will come a freedom in God, a power in the Spirit we never knew before.


In Jesus' home town he was a good Jewish boy, a fine young man---until he stood up in the synagogue that day and read Isaiah 61.


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind…


This fine young man followed the reading with, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  That's when they began to wonder about their good Jewish boy.  Who does he think he is!


"Is not this Joseph's son?" 

And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'"  And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.  But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."


When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.  But passing through the midst of them he went away.

                                                                        Luke 4:22-30


Jesus knew rejection was coming.  And when it came, he did not shrink from it.  He did not soften his message to avoid it.  Because the more he was rejected by family and friends, the more clear it became that he was empowered by the Spirit of his Father.  He was a free man.  He was not intimidated by the culture around him. 


If I'm rejected because I'm an obnoxious hypocrite, shame on me.  I deserve it.  But if I'm rejected because I'm bearing witness with my life---and my mouth---to the crucified and risen Son of God, then the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon me.  I'm a free person!   Why should I crawl into a spiritual shell and hide like a coward?  


Saul of Tarsus was the pride and joy of the religious heavies in Jerusalem.  He was smart.  He was gutsy.  He was passionate.  If there was any one who would be able to stamp out this new "Jesus sect" it was Saul.  The man had a future---until Saul was himself turned around and became a follower of Jesus.  Suddenly their golden boy was an embarrassment, a disgrace.  His bright career was destroyed in a single day.  Was Paul upset?  Not at all.  Now a free man, and free from the fear of man.  


But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.              Philippians 3:7-11


What we seem to have these days is polite, respectable churchianity.  "Oh, you still believe in going to church?  Well that's nice.  Say a little prayer for me some time."


Nobody bothers us.  Nobody gives us a hard time. They won't throw us to the lions as they did in the days of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian.  They won't lock us up, here in North America, as they will if we start handing out Bibles on the streets of Istanbul. 


But we can be sure of this: the day we start coming out of our spiritual turtle shells and commit our lives to the Lord Jesus as disciples, and obey his command to bear witness---with our lives, with our mouths, with our money, with our time---that's when we suddenly become the Town Leper.  "Don’t get too close to me, I don't want to catch what you have!"  And it's exactly at that point where we will begin to experience the power of God in our lives.


Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

                                                                        I Peter 4:12-14


I'm not saying that we should all go out and start preaching on the street corners.  Or that we should grab our friends by the collar and ask them if they're saved.  But what if each of us reading these words were to simply start by opening our heart to heaven and say:


Okay, Lord, here I am.  By your grace I will live as your disciple out there in the world, without trying to hide it.  By your grace I will open my mouth and give a straight answer to those who are trying to figure out why I live the way I live. 


By your Spirit's power I will no longer be ashamed to confess your name when the opportunity comes.


And I will give glory to you every time a door is slammed in my face, every time I am ridiculed for your name's sake.


If we are willing to make such a commitment to the Lord Jesus, starting now, we will immediately experience in our lives the freedom and power that comes to those who are ready to walk through the fires of rejection and keep right on serving God. 


Don't go out there looking for persecution.  Just start living like a disciple, without fear, without shame, and God himself will walk with you through whatever fires he has arranged for you to pass through. 


And those very fires will set you free and make you strong.