Living Upstream in a Downstream World

Against the grain. Swimming upstream.

These thoughts swirl in my head a lot. I heard them again over the weekend as I listened to a sermon.

I looked up a couple of things I wanted to share with you. First, when you sand against the grain, it’s not pretty. Sanding against the grain results in the appearance of scratches. Keep this in mind as we talk further. Second, salmon and other fish swim upstream for the benefit of future generations. It is pre-disposed in certain species and they return to where they were born to birth the next generation.

So, how do these two things apply to our lives—more specifically the Christian life? It helps me remember that living the Christian life isn’t supposed to look beautiful, or easy, and it comes with a cost. It is also supposed to be others-focused concerned not only with this generation but also future generations.

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

Christians have the balancing act of living in the world but following the ways of a leader, many don’t know and might not ever know. That’s not easy. It requires Christians to know what they are supposed to do in the first place. This begins with reading the Bible—the handbook for Christianity. It becomes quickly apparent what is good in the sight of the Lord and what is not after reading just a few chapters. If it doesn’t, you might want to start over, seek the Holy Spirit, and/or ask a friend or pastor for help with understanding.

If we, as Christians, are allowing the current to take us downstream only seeking the calm water and want to remain or blend in with the culture, we are more concerned with how we look (remember the against the grain concept?) and don’t want to put in the hard work for future generations.
There is a time to go with the grain and swim downstream, but there is also a time to go against the grain and swim upstream. Far too many choose the former and never find themselves doing the latter. It is partly why western Christianity looks like the mess it has become and why many can’t recognize Christians from non-Christians in many circles.

Jesus’ words in John 15:19 are brutally honest. He said the world hates His followers. Before His followers would say a word, they would be hated simply because they loved Jesus. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

We see it today as people burn Bibles in America and around the world. We see it as people burn church buildings. The fire is only going to get hotter, not colder, as the day of His second coming approaches. Those labeled as “against the grain” and “swimming upstream” in this culture will stand out. It will be hard not to. Our lives (should) look a lot different than the norm.

I still believe there is a silent majority in this country desperately wanting to speak up—but we can’t be heard with just our words, we need to be seen in our daily lives. The daily repetition of ordinary tasks done unto the Lord is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. When we give our lives to Christ as Savior and Lord, we submit to Him. We should start and end our days with Him, as well as every minute in between.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24–25)

“Cancel culture” is a threat in today’s society, but you know who else knew a little about “cancel culture”? Jesus. The culture of Jesus’ day canceled him by taking His life—at least they thought they did. They couldn’t cancel Jesus’ life because Jesus lives forever.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24–25)

Some people boldly take a stand against the injustices of today. That is a good thing, but solely speaking out against evil without also speaking out about the truth, hope, and goodness (Jesus and salvation) is only half of the equation. We cannot afford to be silent or back down as evil continues to infiltrate every facet of our culture. We need to care about our own, care about the lost, and care about what we are setting up for future generations.

Are you willing to look a little beat up and embark on a journey of swimming upstream knowing that your sole purpose is to lose your life for the sake of others? Jesus did because He had your name and the names of so many others on His heart and mind.

Erin Olson

Founder and CEO of Sandalfeet Ministries

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