Being a Christian in a non-Christian World

Growing up in church I often heard a quote from the gospel of Luke that tells us Jesus said “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Often this would be followed by an admonition that as Christians we would have crosses we must bear for Christ.

I wondered what my cross must be. Life seemed pretty good to me. Oh yes there were some heartaches and difficulties, but a cross? When I read about the death of Jesus and the sufferings of the Early Church, then looked at the American church, I found it hard to see that we were bearing crosses as they did.

We often had bible classes on bearing our cross for Christ. No doubt we have had difficult times that seem like crosses – death, accidents, sickness. But these are things that come to everyone – Christian and non-Christian and as far as I can see have little to do with suffering connected with sharing Christ. It is true that when we face these difficult times we can be a witness for Christ when we show faith and strength in the middle of these difficult times. It can be a chance to tell others of why we have hope and even joy in the midst of bad times. But I am not sure we can call these things crosses in the sense Jesus meant when He told us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Looking at the suffering Christians face in North Korea, China, Indonesia and many countries in Africa, I realize that cross-bearing is not a discipleship topic for them. They do not have the luxury of sitting in an air-conditioned classroom while viewing PDF slides on “How to Bear Your Cross.” Many of them could avoid suffering if they would simply stop talking about Jesus and/or agree to renounce their Christian faith. They face what Jesus called for – taking up a cross of suffering and danger daily.

Still, as our culture seems to becoming more anti-Christian, I realize the day is fast coming when we may begin to face real persecution. I mean beyond just being called a name or made fun of. I mean real persecution like losing your job, not being allowed to go to school or church or even having your life in danger. When I think about the possibility of the American church being called to “really” bear a cross, I wonder if we would be up to it.

According to World Watch List this past year:

  • Over 340 million Christians are living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
  • 4,761 Christians were killed for their faith
  • 4,488 churches and other Christian buildings were attacked
  • 4,277 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned

Open Doors tells us that

Looking in from the outside, we often want to pray for the trials of the persecuted church to cease. We hear about the decisions parents are forced to make to protect their children, or the prison sentences so many serve because of their beliefs. It’s only normal and seemingly right that we would want to pray for the persecution to end. Yet the reality is that believers in the persecuted church around the world often don’t wish or pray for their trials to end. The No. 1 request Open Doors receives from persecuted believers is prayer, but they don’t ask us to pray they will be removed from persecution. Time and again, persecuted believers tell us that persecution builds the church and their witness. In the midst of persecution, they still live out their calling to glorify God. Instead, persecuted believers ask us to pray with them that they will stand strong and witness with faithfulness.  This “ask” is straight from Scripture. This “ask” is straight from Scripture. Throughout the Bible, we see God’s people and His Church persecuted, but Scripture never tells us to pray for persecution to stop or end. We’re even told that persecution will often accompany us on our journey as believers, with John 16:33 assuring us that “in this world, we will have trouble.” While Scripture tells us that God lavishly blesses and provides for His people, our idea of blessing differs from God’s perspective (the perspective of the first-century persecuted church leaders). Rather, in His Word God shows us that being blessed and having joy come not through our Western mindset of wealth, success, fame or even leisure–but rather through His presence and eternal salvation. In Scripture, we see how persecution is transformative: We are called to find joy in our trials, knowing what God is able to bring about through it: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Knowing that whatever we face for God and His glory on this earth doesn’t compare to the eternal joy He has in store for us, which helps us persevere: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). As we are called to become more and more like Christ, facing trials for His Name helps to sanctify us: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

My prayer for the American church is that we will grow strong in His word and be found faithful as our culture moves to a non-Christian world.

Shut My Mouth!

This past year has been so full of noise. So many voices approving this point of view – attacking that point of view. If the voices had only been speaking of ideas, beliefs, policies, it might have been a good year of honest open debate. Sadly, I have found there was little true debate. It seems we all went into our own corners and listened only to those we agreed with.

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply….Stephen R. Covey

Everyone has a right to be heard, but only if they are willing to listen to others in an attempt to understand….Eric Overby

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen….Winston Churchill

Know these my beloved brethren, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger….James 1:19

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion….Proverbs 18:2

To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people….Titus 3:2

I have been guilty myself of giving my opinion whether wanted or not, adding my own thoughts to all the posts and articles out there. In my devotion today I really felt convicted in my spirit as the Lord reminded me that my primary focus should be on Him and not the craziness around me.

I know many Christians are afraid of the new administration and what that might mean to the Christian freedoms. But looking at the Early Church I want to follow their example.

In Acts 5 we see where the apostles were put in prison for sharing the gospel and then warned not to do it again. Their response:

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Note that they did not argue with the Sanhedrin, they did not complain or start a political movement. They praised God they were worthy of suffering for the cause of Christ and kept on proclaiming the good news about Jesus.

Earlier in Acts 4 after being imprisoned and then released the apostles met with the church and told them of the threats they had received. If that happened today – if my pastor was arrested and told not to speak any more about the Gospel – I imagine the prayer meeting that would follow would be for a cry for protection – for justice – for our rights to speak. However that was not where their focus was. Rather they prayed:

Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them….Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. THEY DID WHAT YOUR POWER AND WILL HAD DECIDED BEFOREHAND SHOULD HAPPEN. Now Lord consider their threats and ENABLE YOUR SERVANTS TO SPEAK YOUR WORD WITH GREAT BOLDNESS. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I know there are times when injustice requires us to speak out. I could also post that famous quote “Bad things happen when good men do nothing.” But to me today I have decided to leave all the discussions and comments to others. Going forward in 2021, this song I have attached is my prayer.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight O Lord!

My “Rights” as an American vs. My Call to be A Follower of Christ

The last few weeks I have missed a lot of Sunday morning services at my church due to some health issues.  Since I hate to have a Sunday without hearing a good sermon I have watched quite a lot of ministers on TV.

Let me start by saying this post is not meant to be a bashing of TV ministers.  I have heard several excellent sermons based on the Bible that were challenging and encouraging.

However, there did seem to be a theme running through many of the ministries on the TV which I found not biblical and disturbing.

One recurrent theme seems to be that becoming a Christian means a life of material blessings and nothing but victories in every area of your life.

One service I watched on video had a pastor praying over the offering.  I could not believe his words.

Basically he told God because the congregation were tithe payers, they were claiming:

promotions at work, increased interest on savings, great real estate deals, new sources of income.

I could not help but think:  really, this is why Jesus died on the cross?

Granted, I believe Jesus has promised to bless those who follow Him and give to others.  In my own life I have seen God provide for me and my family many times when we were in real need.

But I think Christians in America have come to think of material blessings as the main part of the gospel.  Our country has been blessed with many freedoms and for many years Christian believers have been in the majority.  We have experienced little persecution.  On the contrary, until recently, our laws protected and even encouraged the Christian faith.  Instead of recognizing how blessed we have been to be born in this country I am afraid we have come to think material blessings, freedom to worship as we please and laws that protect our way of life are all the “rights” of being a Christian.

Sadly, that is not what Christians in other countries have found to be true.  And that is not what I believe the Bible teaches.

Do not misunderstand me.  I am so grateful for being an American.  My husband, our youngest daughter and I all spend time in another country teaching in a Bible college.  As our plane touched down in Hawaii, I wanted to kiss the ground and thank God for being an American.

But these blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with all that entails is not what Jesus died for.

Jesus came to set up a kingdom but He made it clear it would not be a worldly kingdom with our own leaders.  Rather He would be the one in charge.  In His kingdom things would be much different than what we experience here in the USA.

His gave us an idea of what His kingdom would look like in His discourse we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”  The things He said would make us “blessed” or “happy” were opposite of what we as Americans have come to think are our “rights.”  

As we find our nation becoming more and more post-Christian – even anti-Christian – we are beginning to experience what the first Christians knew, what a large majority of Christians around the world know.

Jesus did not promise us “rights.”  Rather, he called us to a high standard of love and commitment.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? …

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.”

The early Christians did not demand their “rights.”  They were focused on sharing the good news with all who would listen and willing to give up any right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not suggesting that we should not work to keep our government committed to the freedoms our fathers died for.  My own father fought in the Pacific in World War II and my first husband (now deceased) was a Purple Heart recipient from the conflict in Vietnam.  I honor and respect them and others who have given so much for our freedom.

But I am suggesting that we keep our eyes on God and not forget that nations rise and fall, politicians come and go, but God remains forever and His kingdom calls for us to be Christians first, Americans second.

Let us not confuse “success” as the measure of what is right.

“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”….Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No offense meant – but as a Christian I cannot proclaim “America first” or even “demand” my rights.

I’m a follower of Christ first, then an American.

 

How Do You React When Persecuted?

It’s the holiday season and so it begins.  Many Christians complaining because people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  I hear claims that we cannot now say “Merry Christmas.”  But no one is stopping us from saying that.  A few employers may ask their people to use the “Happy Holidays” response to customers, but they still can wish a “Merry Christmas” outside their employment.

Is this persecution?  I don’t think so.

Last Sunday was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Want to know about “real” persecution.  Read my post:

“Miracle Boy”

Now that is persecution!

Reading today from the book of Acts I was impressed again with the early church’s reesponse to persecution.

Ater the apostle were jailed for preaching about Jesus and warned not to do so again, they immediately went to the church and there was a prayer meeting.

Now, if that was us I think our prayers would be:

Lord, we are being so persecuted.  Please save us!  Please destroy the power of our enemies.  Protect us!

But that was not their prayer.

They prayed:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.   They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Consider their threats and make us bold to keep sharing your word.

Let’s stop worrying about whether others say and let’s just keep sharing the love of God.