Following Jesus in China

When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a sense of foreboding focusing on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found in on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.

Consider that on Sunday morning we went to church in Beijing. This church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees out yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service and the place was packed. In most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.

When the worship team started the singing on the part of the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. They were either legitimate seekers deeply interested in finding out about Jesus or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.

In speaking with the pastor I got an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects or even programs intended to serve the needy are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the church can’t program that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that churches carry out in the west.

So how is it that the church is packed and growing if it can’t do evangelism programs or serving ministry for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things. And guess what! They are doing it. Without fancy programs and events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.

Is it harder to follow Jesus in China. Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to follower him there because it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no church programs to do ministry I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly and with passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

So in the first Beatitude Jesus tells us we are spiritually bankrupt. Okay so now what do you do with that? Simple: You mourn. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 Jesus said that those who recognize that they are “poor in Spirit”, what I called spiritually bankrupt, will in fact possess heaven. The first step in a relationship with God is recognizing that we have nothing to bring to the table. But there is a crucial second step and it comes in the form of mourning that spiritual bankruptcy.
Blessed are those who mourn is not about the mourning that we all do when faced with the trials and hardships of life. Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted and clearly not every mourning in life has an accompanying time of comfort as promised by Jesus. But there is a mourning that will be comforted, the mourning over our spiritual condition and separation from God.
It is not a pleasant thing to have to deal with the fact of our sin. We want to hide it, deny it, laugh it off, or even proudly boast of it. But deep inside we are still in need of the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ. The only way to truly overcome our bankruptcy is to admit it and mourn over it. With that comes the comfort of the loving arms of Jesus welcoming us into His grace.
If that is true, then why don’t we mourn our sin? Why try to deal with it in so many other ineffective and even destructive ways? At the heart of it all is pride and fear. We don’t want to admit that we are not perfect, that we have flaws and faults. So we try to deny and cover up. And with good reason. We have all seen enough examples of people who have failed and the feeding frenzy of ridicule and loathing that quickly surrounds them. Who wants to risk that kind of reaction by admitting their sin? No one! So instead we go on living our lives in silent sin, as we slowly die inside. In that way we are like the sick person who has a nagging suspicion that something is seriously wrong inside but they refuse to go to the doctor for fear of what they will learn.
The only way to truly be comforted is to deal with the sin in our hearts in an honest and forthright way. We need not be ashamed. God wants to remove our shame and guilt. The only way to do that is admit our need, mourn our sin, and ask for Him to forgive and restore us.
There is one additional thing that is crucial. If you are able to mourn your own sinfulness then you should also be willing and able to give grace and forgiveness to fellow sinners. One of the main reasons we don’t confess our sin and find the freedom that brings is that we have too often experienced the rejection that comes from others who will not admit their own sin. If we had a lot more honesty and transparency about our weakness, we would be a great deal healthier when it came to our relationship with God.
Mourn your sin, seek God’s forgiveness and then experience not only the comfort but the joy and freedom that is found only in Christ.

When Your 5 Year Old Has Brain Cancer

I am posting this link to the blog of a friend. Josh and Lisa have a five year old named Ava. Six days ago they found out she had a tangerine sized tumor in her brain. Surgery followed immediately along with the word “malignant” Three days later they learned what kind of malignancy and that medically the doctors have no hope. What Josh has to say about their situation is something that everyone should read. It is an honest and powerful look at how followers of Jesus are to live in the midst of some of the most devastating news imaginable. Please read Josh’s blog, then pray for the Hunters and little Ava. Finally, if you have any ideas for alternative treatment please pass them on to Josh.